I Want To See You Be Brave

My favorite music video is “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles. It was written as an encouragement to a friend. But it can apply to anyone who is afraid to speak out.

“Say, what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.” Recently I heard on the radio the song “Brave,” by Sara Bareilles (written along with Jack Antonoff).  I first heard it a couple of years ago and it is probably my favorite music video – the one where people are dancing at various public locations around Los Angeles.  She was inspired to write the song as an encouragement to a friend to speak out, and not be afraid. But, it can apply to anyone who is afraid to speak out.

Hearing “Brave” made me think about people who are afraid to speak out because they fear reprisal. On college campuses students and professors are being targeted if they are not politically correct, which often equates to not being sufficiently liberal politically. (Who knew that liberal arts would mean you must be liberal?) Now teachers and students are targets if they say anything that might in any way be construed as a criticism of or possibly offensive to anyone else. I call it “intolerance for tolerance’s sake.”

In climate science those who disagree with the notion that most of climate change is man-made are ostracized, have difficulty getting funding for research, and their research may be denied publication. Government employees are afraid of reprisals if they speak out or reveal unlawful or unethical conduct by senior management. This is still the case, despite assurances by high officials and even President Obama that they would be free of reprisals for whistle-blowing.

When I worked at the Department of the Interior I would speak up if I thought something could be done better, but also if I thought something was not right. That included how employees were left out of decisions and opportunities. It also included questioning decisions made by senior management and political appointees. I was able to do this without reprisal. Perhaps I was respected because I was careful to speak against policies or practices and not make personal attacks. Was I being brave or foolish?

Others would come to me and ask me to express their concern or complaint. If I shared the concern I might do so, but if it was not a concern of mine I would tell them they must to do it themselves. Most were reluctant to speak out; they were afraid of reprisals. Were they justly afraid?

I read in an article in FedSmith (fedsmith.com, a private-sector newsletter for government employees) that whistle-blowers were often subject to reprisal, and when they took their complaints to the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) they almost always lost. It is apparently extremely difficult to prove that adverse personnel actions are a reprisal for speaking out about illegal or unethical behavior, even if that behavior was proven to be true and the alleged reprisal immediately followed. So the FLRA is reluctant to act to protect whistle-blowers.

From what I know the fear of reprisals is justified. The fear of professors on college campuses is justified. Will that change with a new administration? Possibly, for government employees, but I doubt it. For the fear on campuses it will require a change in the public dialogue about what is okay to say in public. It really comes down to our First Amendment right to free speech. We all need to be brave enough to say what we want to say, and confident enough in ourselves to withstand what others may say. I want to see you be brave.

Featured image from http://www.directlyrics.com/sara-bareilles-brave-news.html. You can also see the video at this site, or search for “Sara Bareilles Brave.”

Why I’m not proud to be an American

I was born here, so I am not proud to be an American, but I am proud of many others who chose to become Americans and did the work to do so.

When, as a schoolchild, I first learned of the population of the United States and the world as a whole, I wondered how it was that I was so lucky to have been born here. In 1960, the United States (181 million) had about 6 percent of the world population (over 3 billion). I tried to envision myself in other less fortunate circumstances, but this was the only life I knew.

In 1984, Lee Greenwood wrote and sang the song “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which included the line “And I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” Even though I love the song, whenever I hear it I think, “No, I am not proud to be an American. I am happy to be an American; I am fortunate to be an American.” But it is not something I earned or accomplished. It was just the luck of the draw. People who came here and worked for and earned their citizenship could rightly be proud of their accomplishment, and also happy to reap the benefits of citizenship.

Over the years, I have met, worked with, and become friends with many immigrants, most of whom became citizens. Some came here as refugees who had escaped Eastern Europe communist dictatorship. Some were from families that had escaped China in 1949 when Mao’s army took over the country. One escaped as a child at the fall of Saigon. Some came as students, or because there was an opportunity for work here. Some came from Europe, some from Africa, some from Southeast Asia some from Canada, and some came from Mexico, Central America or South America.

Some were Christian, some Jews, some Muslim, some Baha’i, some Hindu, some agnostic or atheist. All were happy to be here. For those who came from oppression, I sometimes ask whether, if circumstances were different, would they prefer to be back “home.” I ask this, because I always have the feeling that people have an inborn desire for their homeland. I can’t recall any wanting to leave, although some express a desire to visit relatives or see their place of origin.

The stories are all unique, sometimes sad or bittersweet. A close grad-school friend whose family had escaped China to Taiwan when he was four, went back to visit thirty-some years later after gaining citizenship here. He found out that he had an older sister his parents had left behind with relatives. They had never mentioned her. A couple that escaped Poland about 1980, had to get out separately, one at a time, and left behind a year-old daughter. Fortunately they were able to get her out after about a year.

An Armenian couple from Iran was fortunate to be working here before the Ayatollah took over. Another friend from Iran was a student in the U.S. at the time. He happened to be visiting there at the time of the takeover. An older brother of his was a police chief and was able to get him on a plane back to the U.S. He says other students were not so lucky. They were told they were welcome to come back. Those that did were never heard from again.

There were two co-workers and friends from work who were from Egypt. One I have come to know closely. He got his doctorate degree in Moscow before coming here. He knows more about American History than probably 99 percent of people born here. And if you ever think that all Muslims are evil, you should meet him. He is one of the gentlest and most reasonable people I know (and yes, we do talk about God, religion, and politics).

These and many more have reason to be proud to be Americans. And I am proud of them – ­­and proud to be their friend.

The inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty says it:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


Featured image from wallpaperfolder.com