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Anita Rufus

Words have meanings.

In the hyped-up atmosphere of the presidential campaign season, words are being used as political weapons—apparently assuming the audience is ignorant.

I want to change that, particularly with regard to words like “sexist” and “feminist” and “enabler” and “abuse.”

If a wife defends a philandering husband, is she an enabler? Not necessarily. If a man is a womanizer, is he therefore an abuser? Not necessarily. Can someone be a feminist AND be sexist? Unfortunately, yes, and that can describe either men or women. These words are not interchangeable.

Sexism is an attitude based on traditional stereotypical gender roles. (All definitions used are consistent with both dictionary.com and Webster’s Dictionary.) When someone, male or female, judges another on the basis of the role they’re supposed to play, they’re being sexist. Donald Trump is sexist when he denigrates a female candidate’s appearance based on the stereotypical assumption that women are supposed to be, first and foremost, attractive. Criticizing a woman for her tone of voice not being soft and sweet is sexist. A woman is sexist if she believes that the husband in a relationship should be the breadwinner, and the wife should fulfill the role of mother and homemaker.

Feminism is the advocacy of social, political, legal and economic rights for women equal to those of men. A woman who believes in equal pay for equal work (feminism) can simultaneously believe that women should stay home (sexism); they expect fair treatment out in the world, but they still hold sexist attitudes about what goes on inside a relationship.

A philanderer, or womanizer, is a man who has relationships, often of a sexual nature, where he cannot or has no intention of having a lasting relationship—a man who carries on flirtations regardless of his marital status. A womanizer is the guy almost every woman knows, from junior high school on, who has the compulsion to pursue every woman as a potential sexual conquest. They can be married or single; they flirt with every woman they meet. Some are insecure; others just like women. They’re not necessarily sexist and may be feminists.

When a woman acts in that same manner, constantly flirting whether married or not, she is called a slut or a nymphomaniac—a woman with unquenchable, even “abnormal” sexual desires. Where a man is described as a shameless flirt, a woman with identical behavior is considered abnormal; after all, “boys will be boys.” Sexism is evident in these definitions.

During the 1970s sexual revolution, I knew a couple who believed in open marriage, in which each partner was allowed to have sexual relations with others; they drew the line if the outside relationship included dinner. For them, the sexual act was purely physical, but dinner implied a relationship, an intimacy that would threaten their marriage. One of my friends recently dated a man who was quite happy to periodically “service” the wife of one of his old friends, a man who had become ill and could no longer satisfy his wife sexually. The woman’s husband knew of and was not threatened by his wife’s “affair.”

There are couples who stay together for financial reasons, or who stay married but live separately. Some couples no longer relate to each other with sex as an essential part of their intimacy. There are couples who, despite their partner’s flirtations or affairs, stay together “for the children,” or for financial reasons, or because they love each other in ways that those outside the relationship cannot understand. Some spouses don’t want to know what their partner is up to, evidently believing that “ignorance is bliss”—if they knew, they’d have to do something about it, and they don’t want to change the status quo.

I respect people who have figured out their own relationships and seem satisfied with their arrangements. How they work it out is their business—and shouldn’t be part of a political campaign.

We live in a time when 1950s rules no longer apply in the workplace. Harassing is persistently disturbing, bothering or pestering. What at one time seemed acceptable, or was tolerated, is now sexual harassment—meaning unwelcome sexual advances, especially if compliance is a condition of continued employment or advancement.

“A ha!” you might say. “That means Bill Clinton was a harasser. After all, Monica Lewinsky was a subordinate working in the White House.” But the Clinton/Lewinsky relationship was consensual, not unwelcome, and she was an adult. Did he act inappropriately? Of course he did, and I can’t forgive him for the public humiliation of his wife. Yet his wife seemed willing to forgive him, and they worked out their marriage in their own way, so who am I to judge?

“What about all the other women with whom Clinton was involved?” It’s clear he was a philanderer, but however inappropriate, his extramarital activities were consensual with adult women. (A claim of rape has never been substantiated.)

A good case can be made that Bill Clinton is a feminist and is not sexist. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Donald Trump, who does judge women differently that he judges men, based on stereotypical assumptions. Trump would probably not want to be labeled a feminist, but by touting equal treatment for women, he’s a shining example of how one can be both feminist and sexist at the same time.

Trump says Hillary “enabled” (condoned or facilitated) her husband’s extramarital affairs and thus cannot stand up for women. Wrong. Accepting and even defending a spouse’s infidelity does not mean one is not still a feminist regarding public policy.

Hillary accurately described some of Donald Trump’s boorish statements as indicating a “penchant for sexism.” Trump responded with, “If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband (on the campaign trail), with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women’s card on me, she’s wrong!”

In an editorial responding to Trump, The New York Times said that Trump’s aim is clearly “to dredge up an ancient scandal and tar Mrs. Clinton with it in a clearly sexist fashion.” In other words, holding a wife complicit in her husband’s behavior is based on the underlying belief that if a man strays somehow, his wife is at fault. Her role is to keep him satisfied. According to Trump on Fox News, “She’s not a victim. She was an enabler.” Enabling would mean Hillary facilitated her husband’s behavior, rather than merely tolerating or forgiving it.

How does the general public see all of this? A Fox News poll indicates that voters see Bill Clinton as more respectful of women than Donald Trump—50 percent for Clinton, and only 37 percent for Trump, so Trump’s play may backfire. We’re not ignorant.

Spouse attacks were tried against Sen. Dianne Feinstein and vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro based on their husbands’ business dealings, and against John McCain for his wife’s alleged drug use. All of this is nothing more than dirty politics—an attempt to put an opponent on the defensive and dominate the news cycle.

We should not reward such sleazy attacks.

Words have meanings.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

It’s that time of year when we’re supposed to articulate our intentions about how we plan to be better human beings in the coming year.

Resolutions imply that we have to stop doing something, or give up something—which assumes we’re not already perfect.

Plan to exercise more? What’s stopped you so far? Think that’ll change?

Resolve to eat smarter or exercise? Why not start today?

Commit to repair your relationship with someone? What are you waiting for—an engraved invitation?

The older I get, the faster time seems to go by, and there’s not much life left to get “me” right. With all of our daily responsibilities—kids, deadlines, bills to pay, family and friends with issues that inexorably involve me in some way—focusing on myself and becoming a better person seems hopelessly counterproductive.

Besides, I’m not sure I need to figure out how to get better. I have a good friend who says, “I’m perfect … and improving!” I think maybe I’m as good as I’m ever going to get. However, I do expect to keep making new mistakes; heaven knows I should by now have learned enough from the old ones.

When 2015 began, I thought it was going to be a good year. All the bad stuff from 2014—a major downsizing move, my car dying—was behind me. Think again. Side effects from a supposedly simple surgery took a few months of recovery. The implant to replace my front tooth took more than eight months to get right; a false tooth that kept coming loose and made it difficult to eat, let alone smile. The man in my life went through his father’s death, gone more than he’s been here. Major illnesses afflicting several people important to me have kept me on edge for their survival. Financial problems complicated everything.

George Santayana said it best: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So first, it’s important to list those things I know I won’t change. I’ll push the speed limit up to 10 mph over what’s posted—I know it’s technically breaking the law, but they don’t seem to stop you if you don’t go over that. I’ll keep smoking as long as my lungs seem to be OK; I know it’s not healthy, but I’ve been doing it for more than 60 years, so promises to stop are basically useless. I’ll occasionally eat things that make me happy, but may not make my body feel good: crispy chicken skin, hot salsa, crisp bacon, and popcorn with that buttery stuff and lots of salt. I’ll continue to give myself permission to cancel appointments. I’ll limit talking to a particular relative who is so critical about my kids that every conversation feels like I have to defend myself.

Life is too short to keep butting your head against a stone wall. Some things, no matter how much you know they might be good for you, aren’t worth the stress of actually doing them.

Now, my resolutions for this coming year?

I resolve to remind myself that I already have all the time there is. There will be no getting frustrated because traffic ahead of me is slowed; no need to dart from lane to lane to get somewhere two minutes earlier. No point in cursing out another driver when that idiot can’t hear me anyway. No need to keep looking at my watch in line at the post office. Although “patience is a virtue,” I feel no need to be virtuous; I just refuse to feel anxious about things over which I have no control.

I resolve to accomplish at least one constructive thing every day. It may be doing the laundry or sweeping the patio. I could decide to walk to the market instead of driving two blocks—if my 93-year old neighbor can do it, so can I. It could be to finally drop off those clothes I’ve been putting in a bag for the past six months so someone who needs them can actually get them. I resolve never to go to bed without acknowledging that I’ve accomplished at least one thing that day—beyond watching old shows on TV, that is. 

I resolve to “pay it forward” daily. Of course, this means I have to pay attention to the little things others do for me, like letting me go first at the market when I have fewer items in my basket, or giving me the parking place for which I’ve been patiently waiting, or letting me pull pennies from the stash when I’m only a couple of coins short. Whatever it may be, I will notice whenever it happens, and consider it my job for that day to pay it forward toward someone else.

I resolve to give at least one compliment every day to someone, whether I know them or not. I was once waiting in line at the movies, and the woman behind me tapped my shoulder and said, “I can’t help noticing that you have an absolutely perfect haircut.” As someone who generally hates her own hair, I still remember that, and how unexpectedly flattered I was. I want to do that for at least one person every day.

I resolve to never let hateful comments go by without saying, quietly and calmly, “I find that very offensive.” No further conversation is necessary. No matter what the other person says, my response will be, “Let’s just change the subject,” and I will refuse to be drawn in any further. People need to know when their lack of manners has gone over the line. I hope you’ll do that if you hear something hateful about me. Remember: Silence is tacit approval.

I resolve to give myself permission to be selfish. When I was growing up, being called selfish was the worst criticism my father could hurl. As I grew up, I realized that “selfish” just means caring about yourself. I won’t exclude caring about others—it means I have to be OK before I can help anyone else, just as airlines tell you to put on your oxygen mask before you attach your child’s mask. You can’t take care of others if you have nothing left to give.

Will these resolutions make me a better person? I’m pretty much who I’m going to be. But if these resolutions mean I don’t spend the time I do have worrying about losing time; and that I cross at least one thing off my “to do” list every day; and that I’m conscious about the little things even total strangers do that make me feel good; and that I quietly but firmly stand up for my values; and that I take care of myself so I can be of use to others—then 2016 will be a good year.

My bottom line advice for the upcoming year comes from a website called InspireMore: If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’ll always be in the same place.

Happy New Year!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

I admit I’m feeling unnerved.

The terrorist attack in San Bernardino followed seemingly unrelated events including the shooting of Black Lives Matter activists in Minneapolis, and the murder of three people at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Then came the fire-bombing at the mosque in Coachella, and the death of my old friend George Zander after the gay-bashing he and his husband, Chris, suffered in downtown Palm Springs. (As of this writing, it is not yet clear whether Zander’s death was directly related to that assault.)

Coincidentally, I recently ran out of new books on my nightstand, and began re-reading two old favorites: 1984 and Brave New World. They are both incredible novels—but reading them at the same time is perhaps an unnecessary punishment at a time when our own country’s future seems to be so precariously hanging on the next presidential election.

George Orwell’s 1984 is set in a world of never-ending war, invasive government surveillance, the manipulation of history, tyranny dominated by the presence of Big Brother, and the control of society by a privileged class via a party motivated purely by power. The book was published in 1949, after World War II, and uses the destruction of London as its physical backdrop (not unlike the devastation depicted in Mad Max or Clockwork Orange). It also envisions a society in which citizens are controlled through fear and intimidation.

Orwell introduced concepts we use today. When things are described as “Orwellian,” we mean they go too far in manipulating or depriving the population of the basic necessities of life. The concept of Big Brother became a reality television show on which a group of people live together, isolated from the outside world—and always under the watchful eye of the television camera. “Doublespeak” and “groupthink” came straight from Orwell’s frightening vision of a totalitarian future in which children spy on their parents, and the ultimate punishment for independent thinking is to be confronted by the thing that frightens one most. Anyone who has ever read 1984 cannot possibly forget Winston Smith and the rats.

Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, casts the future as a perpetually happy utopia in which people live in a clean, efficient, technically advanced society, without traditional marriage or family—embryos are artificially manufactured with restricted abilities and ambitions. Class distinctions are fully accepted based on sleep-programmed education from infancy, and the size of the population is strictly controlled so each class can be provided with everything it needs. A drug keeps the population docile, and those few who dare to see themselves as individuals are banished to uninhabitable parts of the globe. Individuality is discouraged, and society is run as a benevolent dictatorship.

How do these two books relate to my being upset about the beating of the Zanders and the bombing of the mosque? These two local crimes seem motivated by individuals willing to use violence based on their individual visceral opposition to gays or Muslims; a recent study by Nathan Kalmoe, a University of Michigan doctoral candidate, articulated a broader explanation of the willingness of individuals to use violence for political gain.

At a time when the leading candidate of one of our two dominant political parties is shamelessly using demagoguery—attempting to gain power by arousing the emotions and prejudices of others—to play to the fears of Americans in exchange for political support, it is no surprise that Kalmoe found that combative and even violent political rhetoric can make some Americans see violence as an appropriate means to an end.

“The rhetoric of ‘fighting’ for a cause, declaring ‘war’ on problems, and suffering ‘attacks’ from opponents, is how political leaders, journalists and citizens often talk about politics,” says Kalmoe. “Political leaders, pundits and citizens regularly demonize opponents and emphasize the righteousness of their own goals. Language like that may facilitate moral disengagement, which allows people to rationalize the harm they do to others.”

To be fair, most people in the study opposed violence, but a significant minority, ranging from 5 to 14 percent, agreed with the use of violent options, while between 10 and 18 percent were indifferent. That means millions of ordinary Americans accept the general idea of violence to gain political ends. Not surprisingly, Kalmoe found that young adults are more prone to adopt violent attitudes after exposure to such language—possibly explaining the appeal of groups like ISIS and domestic militias that seem to offer a way for disaffected young people to act and not just feel powerless.

Both Brave New World and 1984 are cautionary tales, and each depicted a future that has not come to pass. But we do have elements of each: surveillance; calls for a greater invasion of privacy, even of citizens; the manipulation of language to mean something other than what it means (in 1984, the three central principals are “War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength”); conformity in the name of assimilation; the use of drugs to minimize distress; turning on each other in the name of security (“If you see something, say something”); and class consciousness.

More than 25 years after Brave New World, Huxley wrote a nonfiction work, Brave New World Revisited, in which he considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision. According to Wikipedia, Huxley concluded that the world was becoming like the future he had envisioned much faster than he originally thought it would.

My conclusion, after San Bernardino, the attack on the Zanders, and the Coachella mosque is that we are much closer to 1984 and Orwell’s prediction that fear would be the ultimate motivator of political power.

If we are to retain our values and head toward a more optimistic future—one in which our religious houses of worship and the Zanders of our world are secure—we need to recognize that casting every conflict in apocalyptic language and falling for demagogic rhetoric must be rejected.

If you think your vote doesn’t count, think again—while you still can.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

The past few months have brought me one ailment after another, side effects from treatments causing other issues, a lack of appetite (which is not a way to lose weight I would recommend) and no energy. (I’m not a hypochondriac; this is atypical.)

I admit I’ve been a little cranky. OK, VERY cranky. Luckily, I’m finally feeling better.

I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles at the home of an old friend, with my daughter and assorted family. On the Wednesday preceding Turkey Day, that friend had a house guest in addition to me: a young woman named Kelly, 42, who is recovering from a heart transplant. (For privacy purposes, I’m not using Kelly’s real name.)

My friend volunteers at a major hospital once a week in their patient and family care group. She’s assigned to a floor where patients are waiting for or recovering from transplants. Her job is to interact with the patients and their family or friends—and basically do a lot of listening. She has personally bonded with some of her patients, including Kelly.

Kelly lives in Houston, but flies into Southern California monthly for follow-up protocols. Although she has successfully come through the threat of rejection of the heart she received, she is now facing kidney problems requiring dialysis. Her weight is down to 89 pounds.

“I watch the Food Channel all the time,” she confided. “I keep thinking it will make me feel hungry.”

She walks haltingly, but is obviously very independent and taking control of her recovery, almost a year since she got her new heart.

After spending an evening with Kelly—someone who is so valiantly battling to keep herself alive—I feel ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself over the ailments I’ve suffered over the last few months. Yes, we all handle what we have to handle, but my issues feel so insignificant and self-indulgent by comparison.

All of this made me think about how lucky we are—palm trees included—compared to at least 90 percent of the people on the planet. Therefore, with the holiday giving season upon us, maybe there’s something we can do for those whose lives revolve around physical challenges we will most likely never have to face.

There are more than 122,000 people in this country officially waiting for an organ—heart, liver, lung, kidney, eye and/or tissue—according to the Universal Donor Registration Site, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than 20 people die every day while on the lengthy waiting lists, and there are as few as 15,000 donors each year. Some people need more than one organ—a heart and a lung, for example. Some patients’ bodies may reject an organ and require a second procedure—and, therefore, a second donor. Matching donors to those in need is a complicated process. In America, federal law makes it illegal to “knowingly” buy or sell a human organ. It is true that there are countries where those with lots of money can cut in line.

I’ve written many times about having conversations regarding end-of-life choices and how important it is to NOT leave those critical decisions to others (who may not have a clue what YOU want). But even if those discussions and plans seem too difficult to confront, ask yourself: Have you at least made arrangements to be an organ donor? One organ donor can save as many as eight lives—but medical professionals must know you are a donor when your time is up. Otherwise, those legally empowered to speak on your behalf must be found; discussions must be held; and conflicts must be resolved. For example, what if you have more than one child, and they don’t agree? Don’t you want this decision to be yours?

When you get a California driver’s license, you have the opportunity to indicate that you want to be an organ donor. Your license arrives with embedded information that tells anyone treating you after an accident or during an emergency that you have made the decision to donate.

Even if you didn’t indicate your willingness to be a donor on your license, you can still register by going to Donate Life California, the state authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. In California, almost 13,000,000 are registered.

Both the HHS and Donate Life websites offer information that can help you make your decision. If you are reluctant to donate your heart, you still might be willing to donate a kidney. In 2014 alone, more than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the U.S.—and of those, more than 11,000 kidneys came from deceased donors. Donate Life California says that 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 12 people die each day waiting for one.

There are those who, for religious reasons or because of cultural traditions, would not under any circumstances want their organs removed and transplanted. Most of us who have not registered as an organ donor, however, just avoid thinking about things related to the end of our lives. We somehow seem to believe that if we can push off those decisions, maybe death won’t really happen. Good luck with that.

My sister-in-law Denise has a combination of three auto-immune diseases, and the treatment for one can often make another worse. She eats very little of very few foods (again, not a recommended diet) and has been through years of treatments and protocols. Yet if you met her and my brother for dinner, you would never know she had ANY condition that impinged on her ability to be herself and enjoy the evening.

Not too long ago, Denise emailed to ask how I was feeling. I wrote back saying I was now fine, and that I felt silly complaining about anything compared with her every-day reality. She replied, “You take it a day at a time and make the best of it. That’s all we can do.”

When I asked Kelly, the heart transplant patient, about the impact of all she has been through, she said, “Some days it’s really hard, but it’s worth it.”

Pris, a desert friend, perhaps said it best: “There’s always something out there to put things in perspective.”

Enjoy the holiday giving season—and give someone the gift of life.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

I have two local friends who hail from London: Rupert in Rancho Mirage, and Gillian in Palm Desert. They often laugh at how Americans react to their British accent.

“Well,” I tell them, “Americans can’t really differentiate between British, Australian, South African or New Zealand accents, let alone between North and West London. We just assume that if you have that accent, you must be smart and educated.”

Many of us have similar trouble differentiating between Vietnamese and Filipino, Japanese and Chinese, Saudi and Syrian, Egyptian and Liberian. They’re all either Southeast Asian or Middle Eastern or African—if we know enough to make those distinctions.

With what just happened on Nov. 13 (more than 125 dead in Paris), as well as what happened only a day before in Beirut (43 killed) and a couple weeks before that on a Russian plane (224 dead), it’s also difficult for us to differentiate between who is “us” and who is “them.”

I’ve written before about this tribal hangover in our evolutionary journey, whether about “mean girls” or political correctness or motorcycle gangs or the local “us” versus “them” in Coachella after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris earlier this year. It feels urgent to me that we consider how important it is for Americans to not only preserve our sense of security, but also act based on our values. If we can be pushed into knee-jerk policies based on fear—not unlike the internment of law-abiding and loyal Japanese Americans during World War II—“they” will have already won. There should be no fear worth abandoning our basic concepts of freedom, equality and respect for human rights.

After the most recent Paris attack—amid reactions that include concerns about accepting Syrian refugees, even if they’re fleeing death and destruction; rushing to commit troops to harm’s way; voicing political rhetoric without acknowledging the need for allies whose philosophies or way of life may be vastly different from ours; and a call to shut down American houses of worship (First Amendment be damned)—I had the great pleasure of interviewing Deepa Iyer, author of a new book, We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future. A South Asian American, born in India, Iyer immigrated to Kentucky at age 12. She has served as executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together and is a senior fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion, as well as an activist in residence at the University of Maryland.

Iyer’s book chronicles some of the shameful incidents that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, including Islamophobia in the Bible Belt, the massacre at a Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin, the violent opposition to an Islamic Center in Tennessee, and the demonstrations against building a mosque in Lower Manhattan. She also looks at public policies adopted after Sept. 11, like rampant profiling (as if we could suddenly distinguish between a Muslim and a Hindu—can you?).

Not coincidentally, we’re witnessing campus protests by young people who decry stereotyping, exclusion and hate crimes. The Black Lives Matter movement seeks to highlight institutionalized racism.

Iyer has a particular take on hate crimes: “Hate violence affects everyone in America. A hate crime affects not only the person being targeted, but the entire community to which that person belongs. Acts of hate violence can disrupt and affect even those who do not belong (to) the community being directly targeted.” She cites, as an example, the massacre in Wisconsin, where afterward, non-Sikhs also experienced fear and anxiety and felt forced to change some of their behaviors.

Are home-grown hate crimes different from what ISIS is doing? Local bullies want a sense of power. ISIS terrorism is designed to frighten anyone who might be inclined to oppose their desire for power—including other Muslims. As a nation, if we react based on that fear by abandoning our principles and beliefs, including our historical willingness to integrate people from other cultural and religious traditions, then ISIS will have been successful in pushing their notion of “us” and “them.” ISIS wants to be seen as a legitimate state. Granting that status to ISIS is antithetical to defeating what we should recognize as nothing more than a worldwide hate crime being perpetrated by armed bullies.

In addition to our revulsion at indiscriminate killings, there is at least a smidgen of a desire to distance ourselves from the possibility that in each of us, there still lurks that tribal impulse toward violence against “the other.” Being “civilized” means we have mostly found ways to transcend those impulses; the choice of how to go forward must be informed by realizing that some members of our species are apparently still “uncivilized.”

We all have Uncle Joe or Cousin Amelia, whom we dread seeing because their behavior becomes obnoxious after the second glass of wine. Still, they are family—no matter how we might like to distance ourselves from the idea that we are in any way like them. It may not be all that different to fear seeing ourselves as capable of being at all like ISIS extremists. Yet abusive bullies live among us.

Despite political finger-pointing (Bush got us into Iraq; Obama pulled us out too quickly), we are where we are, and there are serious questions to be asked: Do we want to rush into combat for the sake of looking tough? Are we willing to once again increase American casualties? What about “collateral damage”—the killing of innocent women and children? Should we implement policies, created out of fear, that restrict the freedom of others, based on nothing more than what they look like, or which religious affiliation they claim, or where they come from? What are the consequences of both intervention and a lack of intervention? How much is already being done that hasn’t been made public? These are public conversations worth having, and we need coherent and nuanced responses.

We must resist the temptation to see even ourselves as “us” and “them.” If we can’t even distinguish one accent or one nationality from another, maybe it’s time to realize there is no “us” and “them.” We are all Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Unitarian, Jewish, Scientologist, Mormon—and none of the above. We are Italian, Laotian, Moroccan, Polish, Jordanian, Irish, Iranian, Belgian, Ukrainian, Swedish. These are ways of distinguishing and identifying ourselves, but in the end, it’s all “us.”

The challenge is to educate ourselves about each other enough to not let fear turn us against our better natures. We can only hope that our more civilized selves represent the direction of our evolution away from mere tribalism.

We are all Parisian, Lebanese, Russian. Like him or not, Uncle Joe is also “us.” Alas, ISIS is also “us.” For better or worse, we’re all in this together. In the end, there is no “them.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Politicians are corrupt. Voters base their votes on marketing and money. Politics is not the same as “real” work. The media as a whole has a liberal bias.

If only it were that simple.

I ran for Congress in 1996. I’d never run for public office before, and there were many things I had to learn. One key skill was how to respond to reporters. Since I had little money for my campaign, most of my exposure was via free media, as opposed to paid ads. That meant something would be in the news, and I would be asked to comment, or I would call a press conference to make an “announcement,” followed by questions.

When I ran, most local media sources were pretty conservative. The majority of registered voters in this area were Republicans. Democrats could be found in pockets here and there, but most locals then—even in the gay community—were self-described “economic conservatives,” concerned primarily about the economy while being non-dogmatic on social issues. Oh, sure, we had those few rabid pro-life factions, or critics of “liberal” education (like sex education in schools), but mostly, local voters wanted the economy to keep working, with the underlying belief that smaller government was in people’s best interests, and government should work effectively but be non-intrusive.

When most reporters pose questions on a specific issue or news story, they generally already know what slant they expect to give the story. The questions they pose are intended to get a response that fits that narrative.

If you only catch politicians on the news, you’re lucky to get, at most, 15 seconds of their response to a question. So how does the candidate make sure you get their best sound bite, regardless of how the piece is edited? Politicians have a bottom-line message they want people to walk away with. What I learned was that no matter what questions were asked, every answer had to include my sound bite, because I never knew which 15 seconds would make it onto the air. The reporter might ask five or six questions; each answer must sound responsive, but you still need to get the sound bite in there. While you’re doing it, it seems horribly repetitive, but it’s the only way to overcome whatever slant the reporter may have.

Students who want to go into media take courses to learn how to interview. Business people and public figures join organizations like Toastmasters to learn about eliminating “um” and “er” and “ya know” from their speech patterns. But who teaches politicians about the ability to be responsive in a way that will actually inform?

Debates are clearly different than interviews, if only because candidates are up against others who may be more skilled at the techniques. Those trained as lawyers, for example, are good at jousting with questioners, but they can also come across as argumentative. Educators can come across as pedantic. Business executives can come across as clueless about the difference between being “the boss” and leading a government.

The most recent GOP presidential debate, on CNBC, was roundly criticized for political bias, badly framed questions, poor research and a lack of follow-ups. It’s not that smart, probing questions weren’t asked; it’s that questions were clearly framed to generate controversy rather than inform. Even when good questions were asked, the participants went after the panelists rather than responding to enlighten voters.

As an example, when Donald Trump was asked whether his campaign might be described as a “comic-book campaign,” that was an opportunity for Trump to talk about the substance of his campaign (which is not always readily apparent). A good communicator would have easily made that pivot.

Let’s face it: When you’re president, reporters shout out questions all the time, often slanted to push a specific narrative or challenge a decision. If the president can’t handle that, how is that individual going to resolve intractable conflicts, both domestic and foreign?

I like to separate policy and politics, and I believe either is an appropriate subject for inquiry in a debate—they just should not be confused as being equivalent. The idea that candidates should only be questioned by people who share their ideology is ridiculous—but that is what’s currently being demanded by the candidates. I would think the opposite would be more enlightening: Only those who disagree with the candidates should ask questions: Let’s really see how they deal with having their ideas challenged.

Here are the kind of questions I would ask if I were running a presidential debate:

  • What is the very first action you will take as president that will make the clearest statement about your administration’s focus?
  • You claim one of your highest priorities is to create jobs, yet you also say that government itself doesn’t actually create jobs. How do you reconcile those two positions? What specifically can government do to create jobs without controlling the private sector?
  • You may not have a Congress run by your own party or one that agrees with your priorities. Is bipartisan support something you would pursue? How?
  • On what issues are you not willing to compromise, no matter the result?
  • Is the threat of America as a superpower more important than soft power—the ability to negotiate and convince? Or does one require the other?
  • How can we influence other nations toward peace in areas of the world that are plagued with violence and political upheaval? Would you ever act alone?
  • What is government’s role in addressing homelessness and extreme poverty?
  • With some states not as concerned as others with expanding access to medical care, what is the federal government’s role, if any?
  • Education has always been seen as a locally controlled system. What exactly should be the federal role be in education?

Since the debate formats have been challenged, here are my suggestions for a format that should be followed regardless of party:

  • No more than eight candidates should be onstage at the same time. Have a lottery to decide which candidates take part and hold as many as necessary.
  • Limit total debate time to two hours.
  • Allow each candidate to make 30-second opening and closing statements. 
  • Have a red light to let candidates know when they have 10 seconds left, and a buzzer that goes off when their time is up. Moderators should be able to shut off a candidate’s microphone if they go more than 10 seconds over their time.
  • Answers that are nonresponsive to the question, or that stretch the truth, should be exposed with immediate follow-up questions. Moderators need to do their homework and cite sources.
  • Audiences should withhold the temptation to cheer or boo once the debate begins. Perhaps there should not be an audience.
  • Candidates should not know the questions in advance.

“We get the government we deserve” has long been the mantra of those who aren’t happy with electoral results. It shouldn’t be up to politicians and political parties to decide what we do and do not have the right to know, or how questions are asked. How candidates handle both policy and political questions is crucial information for voters.

We not only need good debate panelists and fair formats; we also need to hold politicians accountable for practicing their profession responsibly. When we tune in hoping for outrageous sound bites, we end up voting for entertainers, not leaders.

It’s not the “biased media” at fault; it’s us!

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

As a political talk-radio host, I am constantly dealing with people who don’t agree with me.

Some callers spout nonsense conspiracy theories. Others copy tried-and-true applause lines from their political heroes. Still others simply yell and shout their personal prejudices, uninterested in facts or reasonable discourse. Even those who agree with me often have skewed reasoning.

What’s a responsible broadcaster to do?

I learned a long time ago that I will probably never change the mind of the person on the other end of the line. I’ve also learned that trying to over-shout someone just leads to noise and no light.

I also have the luxury of being able to hit the “dump” button.

Alas, there is no “dump” button in real life. In this ever-polarized political environment, national and local, I know people who refuse to attend family dinners because of, for example, the brother-in-law who sputters the worst politically incorrect characterizations in front of young children. I know people who won’t go to their card-game group because one member likes to stir the pot. I know people who are frustrated about how to respond when they overhear ridiculous points of view pontificated in the next booth at the restaurant or the waiting room at the doctor’s office.

My friend Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to ever throw in the towel on her outspoken support for causes and activism. So I was astonished to read a Facebook post by her recently: “Just like the alcoholic, the drug addict, the food addict, I have been binging on politics and I have literally overdosed. I am feeding on toxicity and it is taking me beyond where I want to go.”

Stern, a long-time desert resident, was born and raised in Chicago. She and her husband, Marv, were originally snowbirds here, but they have now lived in the Palm Springs area as permanent residents for more than 18 years.

“I’m very blessed to be in a financial situation where we’re able to be comfortable—but I didn’t grow up that way,” she says. “I lived in public housing and went to public schools.”

Stern became a buyer and marketing executive at Sears, a male-dominated environment where, she says, “I had to prove myself—but at least I had the chance.” That experience got Stern involved in support for affirmative action. Her subsequent involvement in other causes included opposing the Vietnam War, working on the Robert Kennedy presidential campaign, supporting passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and participating in the March on Washington.

“I’m no activist, but I’ve been active my whole adult life,” she says, without appreciating the irony. “I got energized by the candidacy of President Obama, after a long hiatus of not really being too involved, and went to Nevada to work on his campaign with a couple of friends.”

In the Coachella Valley, Stern’s involvement has included participation with the Democratic Women of the Desert, the Hike for Hope and the Jewish Film Festival.

A few years ago, she became involved with Planned Parenthood. Stern and her husband agreed to host an event at their home featuring Sandra Fluke, the young woman who spoke out passionately about women having access to contraception—and was subsequently vilified by Rush Limbaugh, who publicly referred to Fluke as “a slut.”

The following year, Stern hosted another Planned Parenthood event, “and I realized the organization had no fundraising arm here in the valley.” October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Planned Parenthood affiliates in the Coachella Valley perform more than 1,800 breast cancer screenings each year.

“The group’s opponents have done a very good job of painting Planned Parenthood as a ‘one trick pony,’ focusing solely on abortion, when 97 percent of their activities are not abortion-related,” says Stern. “You don’t get to make up your own facts.”

That led her to help organize the Reel Women’s Movie Marathon, a local film festival designed to highlight Planned Parenthood’s focus on breast-health programs, featuring diverse films about women—from the “barefoot grandmamas” of India, illiterate women being trained as solar engineers, to stories of forced marriages and women fighting gender discrimination both abroad and in the U.S. The first festival was held last year; at this year’s second event, attendance doubled.

With this background, what led Stern to her post on Facebook?

“We can all become as entrenched as anyone on the other side of an issue,” she says. “I recently attended a political event for a local candidate and got into an argument with someone with whom I didn’t agree at all about a key issue. I’m not normally a confrontational person, but every time she tried to talk, I cut her off, and it kept escalating. I embarrassed her, and I embarrassed myself. I knew afterward that the way I handled it was over the top. It was so not me.”

That incident led to Stern’s post on Facebook.

“I post a lot,” she says, “so it seemed the most appropriate way to handle my feelings afterward.”

Eileen Stern is not someone you would expect to stop standing up for what she believes in. And the truth is, she hasn’t. Her Facebook post led to so many responses—mostly supportive and encouraging her not to step back—that she was astonished.

“I always try to be respectful,” she says. “I try to post facts and not make it personal. I don’t want to offend anyone.”

Stern’s heartfelt post is both cautionary and encouraging. “I am finding myself at odds with others, many of whom I never was at odds with before,” she posted. “I cannot allow myseIf to binge on it, lest it make me intolerant. I will try not to engage others in debate on what we do not agree with. I will fight for what I believe in, but in my heart I am a peacemaker … I am going to weigh and measure my political input just as we all strive to weigh and measure our lives.”

We need more people like Eileen Stern, who care passionately about issues and are willing to take an active role in the community, who constantly self-monitor to stay positive, listen to others’ points of view, stand up for what they believe and make a difference. Lucky for us, in spite of her Facebook post, Eileen Stern hasn’t given up.

On the radio, I’ve developed the philosophy that if I can at least convince others that there is a civil way to respond to those spouting off, and respect differences of opinion—to disagree without being disagreeable—then I’ve done my job.

Of course, for me, there’s always the “dump” button.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday at CVIndependent.com.

My mother always used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all.”

I don’t remember being bullied when I was in school. I do remember there were cliques, and it was pretty clear who belonged to which group, and how the groups were ranked socially. There were the popular girls who were most likely to date the jocks. The artsy kids hung out with other actors, musicians and writers. We had the natural politicians who led the clubs, ran the social events and held school office. We had outlaws who smoked and drank and cut classes and wore leather jackets or long, dangling earrings.

There were some students who were overweight or too smart or socially inept. They got called derogatory names. There were girls who were tagged as “easy” (although some of my friends who were outwardly prissy got pregnant before those they disparaged). And of course, there were always some who got chosen last for the team.

I was mousy, mouthy and smart. My authoritarian father kept me from going to parties, so I hung with a crowd that was in the middle of the pack. However, there were times when I felt like a total outsider—insecure and undesirable.

It was a simpler time. Things have changed. There are still social castes and group identification—but technology has allowed name-calling to be taken to new levels, and girls are specifically targeting others, using media as their weapon. Today, it’s not just about something said in a snippy tone behind someone’s back; it’s about being instantly able to characterize someone negatively to the whole world, and putting someone on the defensive without any justification.

We’ve heard the stories of “mean girls” taking on and then discarding friendships and alliances based on the whims of any moment. We’ve read about the young people who feel compelled to end their lives because of the shame and stigmatization they suffer at the hands of others. Yet how many of us have talked to young people personally who are willing to tell us about their own experiences and the impact bullying behavior has had?

This brings me to a recent local production of The Secret Life of Girls, a play by Linda Daugherty which was performed locally for students and the public by Coachella Valley Repertory.

CV Rep is a theater company whose founding artistic director, Ron Celona, is a 17-year resident of Rancho Mirage. The company does at least one program each year aimed directly at young audiences. Why this play?

“People don’t realize the impact of bullying on young people,” Celona explains. “CV Rep focuses on presenting work that provokes rather than just entertaining. There are programs in schools, but they’re not being done through theater, which can involve the audience in a more emotional and purposeful way.”

The Secret Life of Girls, written in 2007, is based on interviews with girls, both bullied and bullies, about the damage of “cyberbullying.” The author has encouraged those performing the play to update the technology—from instant messaging and email, used when it was written, to the now-ubiquitous texting, Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat.

The play opens with Abby (played by Cecilia Orosco, a Palm Springs High School senior) saying to the audience, "I'm going to tell you a secret—and I don't want you to tell. The secret is about me—about my life—how it will never be the same again."

Director Nicole Dominguez, a Los Angeles resident, does a youth-oriented production somewhere every year. “Ron wanted a female to direct, and I’ve learned you can’t get young people to share their experiences and feelings unless you go first.”

Had she ever been bullied? “I had red hair, freckles and a mouth full of braces. I was like a walking target. It’s important to me that the kids take something with them that gives them some confidence, and I believe if you treat young people as if they were grown-ups, they tend to rise to the occasion.”

Dominguez also believes in the importance of involving students directly in theater productions. “Young people are the future of theater. Even if they don’t pursue it as a career, it teaches them the confidence to speak in public, and it’s about learning how to be a human working in a group environment to produce something of value.”

One of the eye-opening realizations in the play is the constantly shifting alliances among the girls, along with the pettiness and bullying that accompanies those shifts. I came to realize that some who are bullies may end up being bullied when alliances change, and that adults are often completely unaware of what’s going on.

Maybe cyberbullying happens because of the availability of social media as a way to compete for attention and notoriety, or maybe it’s about girls jockeying for social position. (Boys have bullying issues of their own, particularly involving physicality or sexuality as measures of power and success.)

For Celona, presenting this play is consistent with CV Rep’s mission of presenting challenging subjects via local theater. “We want to give audiences information and provoke discussing topics with others afterward.”

We did just that after the performance I attended. All of the young actors gathered onstage to answer questions posed by the audience. It was clear that some audience members were unaware of the depth of the problem, and many wanted to know what they could do that would make a difference.

What has been the impact of presenting a play on this difficult subject to young audiences? Celona recalled one performance to a particularly unruly group. They were noisy during the performance, and surly or deriding in challenging the actors during the discussion afterward. Katie Nolan, a senior at Rancho Mirage High School (who played the character of Chandler), finally had enough. She looked straight at the rowdy audience and said, “You’re bullying us right now!” There was silence, followed by productive discussion.

That’s the message of the play writ large. Speak up. Have confidence in yourself. As director Dominguez says, “You send something out there, and it’s there forever. Life should be about improving each other if we can.”

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Every woman I know was thrilled by Carly Fiorina’s response at the second Republican debate to Donald Trump’s denigrating comment about her looks. Whether you agree with her policies or believe she is qualified to be president, her confident and direct hit at Trump was the standout moment.

“Look at that face!” Trump had proclaimed to a Rolling Stone reporter. “Who would vote for that?” When pushed to explain his denigrating comment, Trump claimed he was only talking about Fiorina’s “persona.”

During the debate, after Trump confronted Jeb Bush on his awkward comments about women’s health funding (which Bush claimed was a “mis-speak”), Fiorina was asked about Trump’s comments regarding her looks. With a calm, deliberate tone, she responded, “Mr. Trump said that he heard Mr. Bush very clearly and what Mr. Bush said. I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said.” Bam!

Trump then followed with what every woman knows is the equivalent of a pat on the head: “She’s got a beautiful face, and she’s a beautiful woman.”

Sorry, Donald. Too little, too late.

Why were women so pleased with Fiorina’s response? Too few of us ever feel that confident to respond effectively to a man belittling us based on our looks. Having someone say, “You look nice today,” is always welcome. But when you’re in the boardroom, or the planning meeting, or a presidential debate, your looks are the last attribute you want noticed. It’s one of the small but persistent things that diminish women in public and private venues. When comments are made like, “That dress makes you look really sexy,” or, “Why would anyone vote for someone who looks like that?” it’s not only not OK; it should be socially unacceptable.

Statistics and analyses frequently illustrate the disparity between women and men in salaries and career opportunities, including the 85 percent dominance by men in Silicon Valley; the recently successful book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg; and disappointing numbers of women in creative leadership roles, such as those in movies and television (with a few notable exceptions like Tina Fey, the Amys—Schumer and Poehler, and Shonda Rhimes, used to refute the complaints: “Hey, they made it, so what are you complaining about?”).

All of this came to mind as I was reading Palm Springs resident Carlynne McDonnell’s book, The Every Woman’s Guide to Equality, which contains helpful advice for women on how to respond to situations in which they are treated with less than the full measure of respect they deserve.

McDonnell has been in the Coachella Valley for about three years. Her background includes a degree in humanities and a master’s in public policy. She has always been involved in writing, but professionally, it was usually of the technical variety, involving contracts, specifications, policies and procedures. Carlynne worked primarily in what she describes as “male-centric industries”—on the docks in Houston, and with the railroad in New Jersey. She felt compelled to write about the basics for women’s equality, particularly in the workplace.

“I felt I had not done enough to help other women,” she said. “Just listen to the way women are described, and the way women are talked about publicly. We’ve been desensitized to it, and it doesn’t seem like anyone stands up and says, ‘Stop it!’ It reaches the point where there is so much negativity, it can become overwhelming.”

Last year, McDonnell decided it was time to speak up and make a difference.

“I started the book last April, because I wanted to address how women can come together to have the greatest impact,” she says. “Women need to stop being so divided and talk in terms of our most-common factor: We are all women. Although we are not encouraged to speak our minds, we must do something instead of nothing. We can effect change as a group with the power of our voices and our dollars, but we need a continuous effort. We can and must change the world.”

For McDonnell, individual activism is a key component of the change she sees as necessary: “We need to demand a culture of success where the most qualified, regardless of gender or race or any other factor, is the one hired to do the job.”

She sees too much reliance on old ways of doing things, or people wanting to hire people just like themselves, or policies that don’t make a conscious effort to overcome old biases.

“I have a problem with the idea of ‘unconscious bias,’” she said. “On some level, it becomes conscious exclusion, and that’s what policies have to overcome. These things should not have to be legislated—they’re just good policies. But ultimately, the long-term message must be, ‘You can pay me now, or it will cost you a lot more later.’”

McDonnell also focuses on violence against women, as she sees a shifting view of responsibility: “People don’t realize how many women are killed every year. We call it ‘domestic’ violence, but the way we view women in crisis is often that the onus falls on the woman. Even women will say, ‘Why didn’t she just leave?’”

McDonnell’s book includes a chapter on health-care bias, where the emphasis is too often on diseases that get the most financial profile and support, such as breast cancer, compared to those that have higher death rates for women, like heart disease or stroke.

She also highlights the role of men and the need for them to have raised consciousness about the often subtle ways in which women are publicly disrespected. Her husband “has walked out of car dealer showrooms and declined to move forward with contractors who showed disrespect for me. He not only gets it; he acts on it.”

How can women learn to respond, like Fiorina, when their efforts are trivialized or disrespected? McDonnell includes many helpful suggestions that women can incorporate into their everyday lives. If you’re treated inappropriately at a store or restaurant, speak to someone in charge, and let them know why you will no longer spend your money in their establishment. Ask questions of your health-care providers about whether their recommended treatment is specific to women, or whether the testing and protocols were only researched with men. Stand up for women whose voices may not be heard. Get angry and vocal with police departments and elected officials who do not make safety, security and equality for women high priorities. Speak up when people use trivializing language about women and girls: “Don’t let ‘like a girl’ be anything more than an empowering battle cry to strive and succeed.”

McDonnell’s bottom-line message is that women must stand up and be heard, be role models, mentor others and educate without intimidating. “We allow our power to be diminished by not responding. Every time you stand up for yourself, you stand up for those who cannot do so. ”

Carly Fiorina gave us a good model of how to do that. Carlynne McDonnell is attempting to empower us all to do the same.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

We hear the terms a lot: codependent, enabler, dysfunctional.

We’re used to applying those terms, perhaps lightly, to our friends who call with their recurring relationship dramas, and more seriously to those who are living in situations where violence or substance abuse is common. Sometimes, we can see it in others—but not in ourselves.

Codependency is a relatively recent label attached to certain feelings and behaviors, originally an outgrowth of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization. The AA 12-step program is well-known for its effectiveness with those who follow its recovery protocols. AA stays open to the reality that not everyone makes it through the first time they try. Their door is always open.

Al-Anon began as an AA support group for family members and friends of those addicted to alcohol, so they could share their struggles, shame, insights and coping mechanisms. Sometimes, kids just need to know there are others going through similar family situations. Meanwhile, Narcotics Anonymous began to specifically address drug abusers.

While some disdain the 12-step program’s reliance on the concept of a “higher power,” I have a friend who just celebrated 30 years clean and sober; his atheistic approach is Star Wars and “The Force.”

“It doesn’t matter how you get there,” he says. “It’s just about working the program.”

The psychological community has its own approach to codependency, focusing on those who associate with dysfunctional people. For example, Robert Rotunda writes that in 1941, German psychoanalyst Karen Horney suggested that some people adopt a “Moving Toward” personality style, drawn to others to gain “approval and affection, and unconsciously control them through their dependent style. They are unselfish, virtuous, martyr-like, faithful and turn the other cheek despite personal humiliation. Approval from others is more important than respecting themselves.”

All About Counseling acknowledges that the original definition was “the set of responses and behaviors people develop while living with a partner or family member who is an alcoholic,” but adds that codependency may develop in anyone living in a dysfunctional relationship or environment, regardless of whether there is substance abuse, even where someone has a chronic mental or physical illness.

Why is it important to recognize oneself as possibly codependent? Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry indicates concerns about the development of psychosomatic illnesses, self-defeating behaviors, the likelihood of attracting further abuse, being more likely to stay in a stressful job or relationship, and being less likely to seek medical attention when needed.

My first marriage was to an alcoholic, who was the son of an alcoholic father and grandfather. His brothers have all struggled with substance abuse of one kind or another. Our children have had to confront this inherited reality as well.

I was young, with twin babies. When my husband drank every night after work, I saw my role as keeping as much peace as possible in the household. “You’ll wake the babies,” I would say. And whatever was bothering him, I would engage and try to calm him down, or agree so as to avoid an argument, or cry at the hurtful things he would say.

I consulted a therapist, who kept telling me, “It’s not your problem,” but I didn’t get it. “I’m in the house with him when he’s ranting or storming around. Of course it’s my problem.”

You don’t get things until you get them. One night, with the usual scenario unfolding, I found myself sitting on the staircase that led to the upstairs, watching him as he stormed around the living room. And all of a sudden, I got it. What he was going through wasn’t my problem, and I couldn’t fix it. I sat there watching, saying nothing, refusing to be drawn in or to engage. It was like watching a movie as opposed to being in it.

He left that night. I had gone up to bed at some point, and when I woke up in the morning, he was gone. We divorced shortly thereafter.

The national group known as CoDA, Co-Dependents Anonymous, uses the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous principles to focus on what they describe as the journey of self-discovery—learning to love oneself. Through group sessions, people of all ages, races, backgrounds and experiences share their stories and their insights to help each other find the confidence to handle their individual situations. Resources include a checklist of behaviors and attitudes that help one to self-evaluate, categorizing symptomatic behaviors of denial, low self-esteem, compliance, control issues and avoidance patterns.

CoDA has several meetings throughout the Coachella Valley, from Desert Hot Springs to La Quinta and Borrego Springs. There are meetings every day of the week, at churches, meeting halls, even restaurants. Some groups are for women or men only, and programs may involve group discussion (one may just listen), studying the 12-steps, or such subjects as “Winners vs Whiners” and “Peeling the Onion.” You can get more information about the local groups and their calendar at www.DesertCoDA.org. On Friday, Sept. 25, the meeting at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert will include a special guest speaker. Meetings are open, welcoming places, and one can go alone and feel comfortable.

What I learned from my first marriage, and the realization that “It’s not your problem,” was what I now refer to as the Ping-Pong Theory. It can be applied to codependency situations, bullying, recurring relationship issues, and even interactions with your children: In a game of ping-pong, when someone hits the ball over the net, you always have the option of picking up the racket and hitting it back—or not. It’s your choice whether to play. Once you pick up the racket and hit the ball back, you’re in the game. Skillful players, especially those who know you really well, are adept at enticing you into a game. Just remember: You always have the choice not to play. Then, it’s truly not your problem.

I was struck by a comment made by one of the women at the CoDA orientation I attended at St. Margaret’s. She said, “I finally realized that no matter what he was doing, I was stuck on a drug of my own. Hope was my dope.”

There really is hope—but first, you have to recognize that the only person you can fix is yourself.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.