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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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

In light of the recent uproar over Donald Trump’s blast at Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly—about “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” after she asked him a question he didn’t like—I want to announce that I am not only the Lovable Liberal; I am also the Goddess of Political Correctness.

My history includes Russian and Polish ancestors. I have exes who are Irish, Mexican-Indian (Mestizo), British, African American and Canadian. I was born Jewish; chose Unitarian, Baha’i and Buddhist; and married a lapsed Catholic. I’m a pro-choice feminist with a gay son and a lesbian cousin, was born in New Jersey, and was raised in California. I lived in the South. And, yes, I am blonde.

There is almost no group you can insult where I won’t take offense. I am hypersensitive to jokes, comments, observations or judgments based on anyone’s color, religion, nationality, region, accent, sexual orientation, gender, physical disability, appearance or size.

Yes, I can laugh at genuinely funny jokes if they’re told by someone who speaks from an insider’s experience: Italian family stories told by Italians, Jewish jokes from Jewish comedians, stereotypes about low-riders told by those who have driven them, gay dating disasters when told by gays, insider observations on women by women—if the jokes are funny, I’ll laugh.

By contrast, jokes that denigrate others based on stereotypes and that come from an assumption of superiority … not funny.

Political correctness is very much in the news as Trump, accused of misogynistic statements, responded with, “I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness.” Trump claims his comments about Kelly don’t require an apology, because the audience laughed and applauded when he inserted a joke saying that Rosie O’Donnell was “a fat pig” while Kelly questioned his other comments about women. Kelly was asking whether he felt his previous statements reflected “the temperament of a man we should elect as president”—a serious question, by the way.

Trump said he couldn’t recall specifics of insulting women—although he published disparaging comments about his ex-wives and others in his books, specifically about their roles as women. I don’t think he considers those comments insulting, merely descriptive. When he was subsequently disinvited to a conservative forum because of his remarks about Kelly, he said, “This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct.”

That use of the term “politically correct” is merely a shield. While it’s bad enough that a “politically correct” comment may be offensive to those being disparaged, it also reflects badly on the person saying it. It’s like my non-Jewish friend who emails jokes about Jews that are really offensive, and then says, “A Jewish guy sent it to me,” as if that makes it OK that he’s sending it on to others. It’s not unlike Trump’s re-tweeting of comments describing Kelly as a whore and worse, and then being unwilling to take any personal responsibility for the sentiments.

So what exactly is “political correctness? Merriam-Webster defines it as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.” Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? The Free Dictionary says it is “conforming to a particular sociopolitical ideology or point of view, especially to a liberal point of view concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” Does that mean promoting tolerance and avoiding offense is somehow confined to liberals? I hope not.

People who align with the political right often say political correctness is intended to stifle free thought. In other words, people shouldn’t have to self-censor before saying things that demean or insult others. Really?

When did “political correctness” even become an issue and part of our politics? It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when conservative author Dinesh D’Souza used the term to condemn efforts to promote multiculturalism in society, through policy efforts such as affirmative action, designations of hate speech, and a focus in school curricula on all aspects of American history and culture (i.e., black history and women’s studies).

In 1991, at a commencement ceremony for a graduating class of the University of Michigan, then-President George H.W. Bush spoke out against what he called “a movement (that would) declare certain topics ‘off-limits,’ certain expressions ‘off-limits,’ even certain gestures ‘off-limits.’” So I guess it was just political correctness when the Germans outlawed all public references to Nazism or displays of Nazi symbols.

Those on the right quickly adopted the term to criticize any individual reactions or public policies that they felt attempted to limit language or actions that might offend or disadvantage any group of people. Liberals responded by claiming conservatives were merely attempting to divert public attention from issues of discrimination and the need to respond with public policy. Both are right.

The best weapon we have for combating discrimination and moving toward an equal, inclusive, and tolerant civil society—the hallmark of what America stands for, if it stands for anything—is through the one weapon that has always worked to hold people accountable for their prejudices: social disapproval.

So does political correctness mean you can’t say what you think? Frankly, I hope not. I want to know how ignorant you are, and how insecure you are that you’re willing to diminish others to make yourself feel superior, and how unevolved you are in matters of race or religion or acceptance of others.

Donald Trump’s behavior reflects a boorish disregard for the reactions of others, a compulsion to take everything personally, and a willingness to appeal to “spit-in-their-eye” malcontents who don’t care about issues, but only want to feel less disempowered. In the words of Palm Springs radio host Chad Benson, “Trump says things that people think, and they don’t want to feel bad about it.”

Every woman ought to know that Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly were implicitly “on the rag” in nature. Many other instances of his denigration of women are well-documented in his writings, tweets and public statements. Look it up!

This is not about political correctness; it’s about small-mindedness and the reality that no one can say out loud what they don’t already think. You can’t possibly use the “N” word to describe someone if that word, and its traditional meaning, isn’t already in your head. You can’t put down women if you don’t already think of them as a lesser category of human beings in your head; saying “I love women” doesn’t change that. You can’t stereotype behaviors as “gay” if you’re not afraid of being associated with such behaviors yourself.

As the Goddess of Political Correctness, I want you to get conscious about the characterizations and assumptions you actually hold about others whom you see as unlike yourself. When someone reacts negatively to something you think you said innocently, instead of getting defensive, why not ask them why they are offended and learn something? You can't self-censor until you're aware of what ought to be censored and why.

Finally, with regard to that “on the rag” nonsense—rather than being insulted, just remember what feminist icon Gloria Steinem said: “Why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”

The best defense is a legitimate offense—especially if it’s not only funny, but true!

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

I remember my friend Jean every time I hear about the suicide death of a young person.

Jean found her 17-year-old son, shot dead by his own hand, in their living room. Although I have known others who lost a child (a reality I can thankfully only imagine), it’s Jean who stands out. The impact on her family was devastating.

That was the first suicide involving somebody close to me; sad to say, I’ve had others in my life. It was also the first time I heard the adage: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries in ERs across the country. HealthyChildren.org says that suicide is one of the three leading causes of death for 13-to-19-year-olds in the United States, with an average of four deaths every day.

Not surprisingly, suicide attempts with a firearm are usually deadly, while people who use drugs or other methods have a greater chance for survival. About 45 percent of young people use firearms to attempt suicide, and boys are more at risk to die: 81 percent of deaths are males—because they are more likely to use firearms.

“Even in the best of circumstances, when you’re in adolescence, you feel different,” says Palm Desert resident Carol Bayer, a licensed marriage and family therapist who counsels many teenagers. “Depression and despair can come from betrayal or rejection by a best friend, the end of a love affair, family conflicts, or just feeling isolated, alone, and without family support or coping skills. Even if they want to reach out, they assume others will say they’re just being ‘dramatic’ and tell them to get over it. But they don’t believe they have options other than ending the pain.”

A recent effort, specifically targeted toward LGBT teenagers, is the” It Gets Better” campaign, which uses videos—featuring people ranging from normal, everyday folks to high-profile stars—to reach out to bullied young people.

“Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are,” says the website. Organizers ask people to join their campaign and to pledge: “I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.”

Meanwhile, Caitlyn Jenner is shining light on transgender suicide in her new reality TV program.

But it’s not enough to just tell kids it gets better. An analysis by Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center indicates that for every age group across the country, “states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm suicide. … The vast majority of adolescent suicide guns come from parents or other family members.”

A 2012 study by the Children's Defense Fund indicates the gun death rate for children and teens is four times greater in the United States than in Canada (the country with the next-highest rate), and 65 times greater than in Germany and Britain. Even more disturbing, public health researchers found that 43 percent of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm.

The Children’s Defense Fund also reports that in 2008-2009, an estimated U.S. 127 children died from gunshots in their homes, and dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors and relatives. More than half pulled the trigger themselves or were shot by another child. At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured; 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, with 50 of them in homicides. The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

Research by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that when doctors consult with patients about the risk of keeping firearms in a home, it leads to significantly higher rates of handgun removal or safer storage. Yet the National Rifle Association has fought against such policies, backing the "Docs vs. Glocks" law passed in Florida in 2011, which prohibited doctors, even pediatricians, from asking patients about firearms in the home.

When a 2-year-old gets access to his dad’s loaded gun and shoots himself, or a 13-year-old gets hold of an unsecured rifle and blasts a 9-year-old in the face, or a 2-year-old is shot in the head before her father turns the gun on himself, or two young children shoot others and then kill themselves—when we have apparently become inured to the death of children at school, or we take as the new normal random killings in movie theaters, have we at last lost our ability to be outraged and insist that public policy respond to limit these horrendous events?

Even as violent crime rates overall have declined steadily in recent years, rates of gun injury and death are climbing. In an editorial in Annals of Internal Medicine, a team of doctors wrote: "It does not matter whether we believe that guns kill people or that people kill people with guns—the result is the same: a public health crisis.”

Meanwhile, Congress, under the aggressive and well-funded lobbying influence of the NRA, refuses to allow funding for federal medical research to study firearm deaths and injuries as the public health issues they clearly are. According to Mother Jones, “Political forces effectively banned the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies from funding research on gun-related injury and death. The ban worked: (There have been) no relevant studies published since 2005.”

There are two types of gun-related public health costs. First, there are direct costs, exceeding $8.6 billion, with the largest portion being long-term prison costs; about 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. Second, there are indirect costs, adding up to at least $221 billion, including lost income, losses to employers, and losses based on court costs and awards to victims and their families. One would think that based on cost alone, Congress would be willing to act. Of course, that’s not the case.

As overwhelming as all these statistics may be, and as helpless as we may feel to impact public policy, there are ways to get involved and make a difference:

  • Moms Demand Action has a local chapter and needs volunteers who are willing to spread the message that we must act to protect kids from accidental or deliberate use of guns. Palm Desert’s Dori Smith (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), the local representative, reminds us: “It’s easier to lock up a gun than it is to grieve a dead child.”
  • California law requires that guns in homes with children be kept locked away, preferably with trigger guards, with ammunition stored separately.
  • Never assume that children don’t know where guns are, or that they are unable to access them—they do, and they will. Grandparents, this means you, too.
  • Ask parents of your children’s friends about the status of firearms in their homes before your child spends time there. Better safe than sorry.
  • If your teen becomes depressed, and you have any concern about access to firearms, get guns out of your house for the time being.
  • Take seriously any thoughts of or mention of suicide, and immediately seek professional help. Go to the emergency room if no other option exists.
  • The local chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention sponsors an annual Out of the Darkness Walk, a chance to be with others who can share their experiences and coping skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
  • Tell your elected representatives that you want medical professionals to be allowed to study and then implement firearm-related public health policies.

Most survivors of a suicide attempt are glad they were saved. Unfortunately, those who make that attempt with a firearm are usually successful. I can never erase from my mind the agony of my friend Jean when she found her son’s body. No parent should ever have to face that.

We must never accept this as the new normal. These are our children.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Summer is whizzing by, and many (most?) parents are ready for it to end. Parts of our area are often referred to as “retirement communities” based on the higher average age of residents, but there are lots of families who need educational activities for the energy their kids never seem to lack.

“Go read a book!” my mother used to tell me. And read, I did. I remember the summer of World War II (Battle Cry, From Here to Eternity, The Naked and the Dead), the summer of religious understanding (The Robe, The Silver Chalice, The Education of Hyman Kaplan) and the summer of family drama (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Children’s Hour).

Today, toddlers still enjoy picture books, while youngsters read stories about small animals and relatable kids with smelly pants. Older ones begin to get interested in futuristic fiction, or fantasy characters, or learning about things they enjoy, like anime or avatar creation. Alas, some young people don’t like to read at all, or live in homes where books are a luxury, or a public library is too far away, or there is no Internet access.

For local kids who are able to get to a library, our local libraries have special activities for kids of all ages. However, I’ve been most intrigued by the music-themed Summer Reading Program for teens being offered by the Palm Desert Library

I dropped in on the weekly program meeting last Thursday, July 9. The “Musical Jeopardy!” event was held in the community room under the guidance of Lisa Branch, head city librarian, and emceed by Natalie Bernhardt, youth services assistant, and Sean Corbin, teen services associate. The take-off on the Jeopardy! television show, complete with categories and prizes (mini golf tickets, caramel apples, movie passes, etc.) engaged those attending with visual and audio clues of increasing difficulty. The room was equipped with a big screen on which the questions were shown, coordinated with soundtracks and scorekeeping controlled by a computer.

Some attendees were siblings; others had wandered in alone. They were split into three teams and called up to the contestant seats one at a time. Each seat had a different “buzzer” (actually, squeaky dog chew toys), each making a distinctive silly sound.

I sat in the back with the mother of two of the nine participating teens, who appeared to range in age from about 10 to 16, and who represented the diversity of races and cultures in our area. The group evenly split between boys and girls.

Although initially somewhat shy, the students quickly warmed to the teamwork necessary to compete, including the rule that allowed them two chances to confer with teammates if an answer eluded them. There were lots of laughs and high-fives when a team scored.

Categories in the first round included Name the Movie Theme, Name the Instrument, Album Covers, Disney Songs, and Human Shazam (which featured audio clues; answer was either the name of the song or the artist). The second round had Know Your Dead Composer’s Birthday (the clues mostly stumped me), Dance, Tattoo/Artist, Instrument/Genre, and Cover Songs (with the answer the name of the artist who did the original of each song).

The song and album questions were easily answered by the teens, if the music was popular within the last five to 10 years, but they were stumped by things like the covered song that was originally a big hit by The Jackson 5, or the group whose album featured its four musicians striding across a street (Abbey Road—they didn’t know The Beatles!).

Some missed questions were understandable. Teens today have little reason to know what castanets are (those clacky hand instruments usually associated with flamenco dancers), or how to distinguish a mandolin from a guitar or banjo. They recognized bagpipes, the triangle and even the kalimba (or thumb piano)—because it turned out the program featured a Build an Instrument event the week before.

They had trouble with where the tango originated (Argentina) or what country gave us the Viennese waltz (Austria—one answered Vietnam!). They didn’t know that the composer of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, born in 1840, was Tchaikovsky, or that the composer born in 1756 and known for flamboyant behavior, who died at 35, was Mozart.

These young people knew the Pink Panther and Indiana Jones movie themes, but didn’t recognize the theme from Superman. They had no trouble with the theme from Harry Potter movies, but were stumped by many of the Disney questions (Disneyland didn’t seem to figure much in their experience). However, they easily got the 34-letter Disney song title “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

One of the toughest categories was Instrument/Genre. One clue asked what instrument was featured in both polka and zydeco (accordion). Another asked what metal instrument is featured in both reggae and calypso music (steel drum). The students were mostly unaware of music genres other than pop rock.

The competition also featured extra-point questions for which the team that got closest to an actual number without going over won the point. None of the teams knew, for example, that a standard piano has 88 keys, but the guess of 64 came closest and got the points.

I couldn’t stay to see which team won the day, but I was so glad I had been exposed to what is being offered to our kids by our local libraries. We too often take for granted that exposure to the art and music of previous generations is being passed on. However, with budget cuts and a need to “teach to the tests,” it is difficult for schools to incorporate music and art appreciation classes. You can volunteer and make a difference in the life of a child—call your local school and ask how you can help.

Our history as a people is inextricably intertwined with the arts and music of each historical era, and exposure to this history expands our ability to appreciate what we see and hear today. Students need this education—and it shouldn’t be relegated only to summer programs run by libraries.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

You live across the country from your parents. You’re raising your children and are wondering how you’ll send three kids to college in a few years. You take pills for some chronic conditions and worry that one major medical crisis might wipe out your retirement plans. You live modestly, in a small middle-class home, and you have no desire to move.

On your visit to the desert to visit Mom and Dad, you plan to play a little golf and relax. But you notice that Dad’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be; he doesn’t drive at night anymore—and you’re not so sure he should be driving at all. His legs aren’t as strong as they once were; he used to love to walk but now cramps up after only a block.

Mom is still playing bridge with her friends, but she is having trouble remembering things (in fact, she tells the same story over and over again), and no longer has the energy for housework. You realize the dishes aren’t really clean, and some food long past its expiration date is in the refrigerator. You worry about her management of medicines.

How long, you wonder, will it be before they’re going to need some help or supervision to continue living independently? Who will take them to the doctor? Do they need emergency-alert devices in case they fall? Who will oversee their medicines? Who will make sure they’re eating well? And how are you going to initiate the conversation about care without starting World War III?

Say hello to the current “sandwich generation”—the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) currently in their 50s and 60s, with children still at home or boomeranging back home. They’re preparing for their own retirement, often with aging parents in their 70s and beyond who need help, but don’t want to admit it. According to Baby Boomers R We, a Pew Research Center report indicated that “one in every eight middle-aged Americans … is currently caring for at least one child and a parent under the same roof.” Not surprisingly, 75 percent of those family care providers are women.

This role reversal presents some big challenges: Elders don’t want to admit they need help, especially to their children, and they fear losing control of their own lives. How do you make sure aging parents are getting both the care and the dignity they deserve, and manage your own needs and obligations at the same time—especially if you don’t live nearby?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, among the top three fastest-growing occupations through 2018 will be personal care aides and home health workers, with occupational and physical therapists not far behind. These professionals—often with extensive training, but sometimes they’re people who are merely willing to do the work—are critical to making sure Mom and Dad get the support they may need, especially since each generation is living longer. So how do you find what you need for your parents here in the desert if you live in Oshkosh, or Baltimore, or Vancouver, or San Jose?

The Riverside County Office on Aging is a good place to start. Authorized under the federal Older Americans Act and the Older Californians Act, this agency provides funding and leadership support to help service providers who work with seniors and adults with disabilities. They provide referrals for those who wish to remain at home, as well as programs for family caregivers. Their HelpLink staff can connect you to services and care specialists at 800-510-2020.

Local small service businesses have begun to fill the need for assistance with personal and health-care oversight. Fairly new on the scene are professional geriatric care managers or consultants, who can plan and coordinate programs to support and improve the quality of life for aging individuals. They often come from nursing, social work or gerontology backgrounds, and are expected to have extensive knowledge about the costs, quality and availability of services in their communities. After a detailed assessment, they generate a plan that may include recommendations about housing, home care, nutritional needs, daily activities and even financial or legal assistance.

Another resource in the Coachella Valley is ACT1 (Aging Community Team), a nonprofit group that brings together 67 local organizations and individuals who provide services to local senior and disabled populations. Among the members who are “Supporting Seniors Through Community Teamwork” are businesses that offer specialized residence facilities, in-home care, medical supplies, health and fitness activities and legal or financial services, as well as organizations that run errands, prepare meals, see to personal hygiene and do light housekeeping. Several ACT1 companies specialize in relocation services: They will pack up, conduct sales, and set up a new household, including hanging the pictures. ACT1 also sponsors scholarship grants and recently awarded assistance to nine local students who plan health-related careers.

Needless to say, support services are not free. Even though professional caregivers are not highly paid, 24/7 oversight gets expensive, and geriatric care managers who can help you sort through all the service providers are not covered by either Medicare or Medicaid (a major flaw in our seniors’ health-care system, as is the lack of coverage for long-term care … but that’s a subject for another column).

So let’s say you look into all the possibilities and realize you really have no choice: Mom is going to have to come live with you, and you’ll figure out which kid will sleep on the couch. Or you’re going to have to move in with Dad and put your career or your relationship on hold for a while. After all, that’s what we’re supposed to do, right?

Since the baby boomers—who have set cultural trends ever since they were conceived—are right in the middle of all this, let’s at least find the silver lining.

Baby Boomers R We is happy to tell you that there are some real positives to being in the sandwich generation. “First and foremost may be a renewed sharing of family values. … Our children might learn some family history from their own grandparents, not to mention some valuable life insights. In turn, our parents may no longer feel isolated or abandoned just because of age, in fact feeling more connected with day-to-day life and events. Everyone can celebrate family moments, and cherish them for a lifetime.

“Another positive could be the pooling of resources, whether by desire or economic necessity. The down economy in recent years has likely deflated the value of portfolios and property alike. … The pooling of remaining resources could make them stretch much further. In cases where the numbers are more favorable, it might make sense to add onto our own home or to relocate to new accommodations. Besides meeting an immediate need, dwellings that provide in-laws quarters’ may very well have an enhanced value in the future.

“After all, we may be the first generation to be sandwiched, but we’re certainly not going to be the last!”

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

June is graduation month, and there was one ceremony that had a particular impact on me: The graduation of Thermal’s Desert Mirage High School Class of 2015.

The ceremony was held at the Indian Wells Tennis Club on a hot evening. The ceremony began with students in pairs holding large wire bowers covered with flowers, to make a path for the senior class to enter. And enter, they did—wearing white robes and caps for the top scholars, with red for the rest of the class. Many graduates had hand-decorated messages on their mortarboards, and robes festooned with bright floral leis or sparkling lights. As they circled the grass court to their assigned seats, families and friends cheered as the graduates struck poses or danced their way along the floral pathway.

It’s well known that I cry easily, and my tears began as I scanned the half-full stadium, full of proud parents, grandparents and other relatives. I particularly focused on the young brothers and sisters who were getting the chance to participate in a rite of passage where children learn what’s important to their families. I could see the pride and excitement as each family stood to shout encouragement as their graduating student walked by, waving and beaming.

This graduation has particular significance for me. I’ve written about Alejandra Franco before—she is a remarkable young woman who demonstrates how second-generation immigrants have embraced the American dream. In this case, Alejandra is the valedictorian of the graduating class, with a GPA of 4.39, and has been accepted to attend USC—apparently the first student from Desert Mirage to have that opportunity.

The vast majority of these graduating seniors are of Hispanic heritage, and in many cases, Spanish is still the primary language spoken at home. While I could not understand all of the conversations taking place around me, the joy and pride exhibited easily transcended language barriers.

Desert Mirage’s principal, Stephen Franklin, welcomed everyone in both English and Spanish. All stood for the presentation of colors. Then the national anthem was sung by senior Alondra Ibarra, as the audience, hands over hearts, stood respectfully. My tears began again as I listened to the a capella voice of this angel. Wow!

Salutatorian Everett Rivera-Meza, with a 4.34 GPA and heading for UCLA, gave his speech in English and Spanish. “Always follow your dreams,” he said. “Don’t let the noise of others drown out your voice. Wherever we go, our roots are strong.”

Then it was Alejandra’s turn. Her valedictorian address offered was entirely in Spanish. “I had a time limit of three minutes, and was originally going to give it in English and Spanish,” she explained, “but I had to choose, and I chose Spanish because I wanted my family, most importantly my parents, to fully understand.”

Alejandra told two stories in her speech. The first was about “connecting the dots and finding our purpose,” where she linked her father’s immigration difficulties some years ago to her passion for getting an education. “Imagine,” she said, “at 12, getting home after a usual day at school like any other—but then your mom tells you that your father has been taken by (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and you see the desperate look in her eyes is screaming, ‘What are we going to do?’ Then to have your little brothers get home from school and ask why Dad has not arrived from work; having to grip all courage possible to be able to answer with a smile that he is away working. The days pass by, and you witness how Mother is doing the impossible. Being forced to lie to your little brothers and tell them everything is fine, and having to send them to bed with the hopes that father will be back tomorrow. Keeping a straight face at school, but knowing once you get home, you will be confronted by reality. Doing everything possible to be of use, whether it be taking care of my brothers, doing chores around the house … having to wait for everyone to be in bed in order to be able to do homework, staying up late and ... not setting aside education, and not failing your parents.

“At 12 years of age, I was trying to understand: Why did my family have to suffer all of this? Perhaps in that moment, I wasn’t able to understand, but now, almost six years later, I connect the dots and realize that all the suffering was rather a blessing. Because of what happened, my father can live at peace, as he was given a second chance, but I also discovered my vocation: I clearly see my purpose is to go to a university, educate myself, and come back to my community to offer services to families like my own.”

Alejandra’s second story was about there being no excuse for not achieving success. “Hemiplegia is total paralysis of half the body that affects the center motors of the brain and its development—that was the path that was chosen for me at birth. ‘She will never walk; she will never be normal; she will not even live past her first birthday.’ I would become no one.

“Nonetheless, life gave me amazing parents who did not consider me a lost cause, even when all the odds were against us. My parents fought to give me the opportunity to live. Having crossed the border with nothing and sacrificing everything, even going days without any food or water, they risked everything to offer us a better tomorrow.

“Even after all the hardships suffered, I understood that there is no such thing as ‘impossible’ or any obstacle that serves as an excuse to not continue striving forward. Not only did I win the battle to keep living, but I also triumphed over death itself when it knocked at my door. And that is why I speak to all of you as living testimony that with the same perseverance and determination as our parents, family members, friends, teachers or whomever guided us through these years of education, we must keep pushing forward with the purpose of demonstrating our full potential, not as Latinos or Raza, but as the wonderful human beings we are, creating the better tomorrow we see engraved in the callused and hardworking hands of our parents. It is our duty to demonstrate to each and every one who is present that they have not come to celebrate us in vain.”

My tears flowed.

This graduating class will be attending nine University of California campuses, 11 Cal State colleges, and schools in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and New York. Many graduates will be continuing their education at College of the Desert, at technical schools and in the military.

Many, like Alejandra, are the children of immigrants. They should be celebrated as a welcome addition to the American story that they are helping to write. They deserve our support, our admiration and public policies that support their participation—out of the shadows and in full pursuit of the American dream.

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Regular readers know that I do a lot of work regarding end-of-life decision-making. I once discovered an advance directive written by a man who went to great lengths to define the things he believed made him “a person”:

  • The ability to understand what is happening around me.
  • Awareness of the consequences of medical decisions related to my condition.
  • Knowing who I love and care about, and being able to recognize and communicate with them.

He said that if ever he were no longer a person, based on this definition, he didn’t want his life prolonged. He also made a special request of his loved ones: “If ever anyone is in my presence discussing me or my condition, I want them to talk as if I were present.”

Reading that made me realize how often we inadvertently ignore someone’s presence. Nurse’s aides may be so focused on emptying waste or washing floors that they seem unaware of the person in the bed. Doctors sometimes consult with their associates about one’s condition and treatment while seemingly forgetting the patient can hear them. Family members will talk in the third person about something funny that Dad did when they were younger—although Dad is right there, even if he seems asleep or oblivious.

I once suffered from temporary aphasia after coming out of a surgical anesthetic—I was able to think clearly, but unable to speak or be understood. I was terrified. I was reminded of that scare at a recent recitation by the writers in the “You Don’t Have to Be Hemingway” group in Palm Desert.

One writer’s piece in particular really touched me. Patty Stevens (upper right) is a dynamic personality who is about to turn 80. She’s been in the desert 11 years from Indiana, and is the mother of six, with 14 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“I’m not a writer,” she says. “I just thought this was a good time for me to try, and all of a sudden, these stories started coming out. Now, I just love it.”

Stevens ran a day-care center for 38 years and entertained the children with song and dance, “but I couldn’t read in front of other people. Now I can’t wait to read out loud what I’ve written.”

Her contribution was in response to the suggestion to write from the perspective of something inanimate. She decided to take a broader view of what “inanimate” means, and created “Old Man Silenced by Stroke”:

When I was a little boy in grade school, my teacher told us to stop talking so much. … Miss Jackson told us about an old man sitting on a park bench all alone, not talking because he had used up all his words when he was young. That scared me. So I was careful to only talk when I felt I had something important to say.

I had a good life—great education—wonderful wife and three children. And to my surprise one day, I had a stroke. It was a bad stroke with no warning. I ate right. I exercised. I loved my life. And I had a very bad stroke.

Now here I am in a hospital bed with no movement of my body.

I can see and hear. But no one knows I’m here inside this wasted body.

Nurses change me, feed me, clean me, talk nice to me. I have a lot of words inside me, and I can’t speak. I saved all my words for a long life. What am I going to do with them now?

My wife came to visit and talked and talked and talked. I wanted her to STOP. I heard all about her activities. The children visited to tell me what vacations they were taking and were planning. I want to go. I want to tell them the plans I have.

My nurse will bring flowers and read cards to me. They don’t show them to me. They just read who they are from and put them on the door for others to see. Visitors laugh and tell jokes about world affairs. I want to read a paper. Please turn on the TV for me to hear and see news. …

I wish there was a plug I could pull. If God takes this much of a body and leaves these senses, it’s not fair. This is too painful.

I can still pray for others. That’s what I’ll do. I’ll do it the rest of my life. Pray for the world, for peace. And pray for others, especially those who come to visit. They need to appreciate their life more. And be considerate of others’ ears when they talk. Smile more.

I still have my life. I’m just a little short of some things, but I will give it my all till I die.

The idea of being unable to communicate may be the condition people dread most. I still remember the fear I felt. However, Patty Stevens’ “Old Man Silenced by Stroke,” albeit fictional, communicates the fact that there is still somebody in there.

Maybe my concept of personhood needs some adjusting. I think of that aforementioned man’s attempt to define what it means to be a person, and how easily I agreed with his need to be able to communicate. I think of those who find a way, through sheer will, to connect through eye blinks or artificial intelligence or because a devoted spouse can read their thoughts.

If I were trapped inside my own mind, unable to communicate in any way, I would no longer define myself as a person, although I might still be alive. What defines it for you?

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.

Published in Know Your Neighbors