"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Thursday, September 08, 2005

zero tolerance for zero tolerance policies

Ms. Who, Ms. Which.... There was a third character in this trio from Madeleine L'Engle's *A Wrinkle in Time* -- Ms. Whatsit? I think that was her name. Someone please fill me in if this is wrong. I'm thinking of this because of a line (which I will now paraphrase inaccurately, no doubt, so feel free to correct me there, too) delivered by the mysterious Ms. Which in the book: The only way to handle something deadly serious is to treat it a little lightly.

I thought about that line riding my bike to work this morning. It is difficult, at any given moment, to look head-on at the state our country is in, and maybe a good item to keep in the emergency supply kit is a replacement sense of humor. When I arrived at work my boss was having a look at the morning paper and noted that our local City Council just enacted a "zero-tolerance" policy for disruptive behavior by members of the public at city council meetings. Apparently folks need to sit quietly with hands folded, speak calmly for their alloted two minutes, and sit down. Well, maybe that's not such a bad thing, but why did they have to use that nasty phrase? The word 'tolerance' itself is already suspect in my book, but adding a zero to it is like a small verbal atomic bomb. To tolerate something or someone is to suffer it / him / her to exist even though you judge it / him / her undesirable. "Zero-tolerance" is the absolute opposite of charity. It says, we will no longer even bother using our rational minds and feeling hearts, much too bothersome. We have neither ability nor willingness to find a creative solution to the present problem, so we will just shrug our shoulders and drop the zero tolerance bomb. I don't think this is what the City Council meant to do but they should mind their language.

On the other hand, zero tolerance can sometimes be undone when someone decides to use their brain again. A California State Assemblymember has proposed legislation that would allow people who have been convicted of a drug offense (short of manufacture or sale) to be un-banned from getting public assistance for their kids if they have gone through a treatment program. I don't know, seems inconsistent with the government's general policy of stomping on those who have fallen to the bottom of the economic heap. It's tough love.

Another way to handle something deadly serious is to go swimming. It's the only event of the three that takes all of my concentration. No time for composing blog postings in advance during the swim. I was at the pool this morning, feeling pretty good until lap 24 or so when I started to run out of steam. I did a couple of the remaining 8 laps breaststroke to regroup and catch my breath. I was trying to pay special attention to keeping my arms and legs moving while taking a breath--I realized that I stop kicking when I breathe. Also realized the purpose of the "catch-up drill" where you touch one hand on top of the other on each stroke: your arms are suppose to be in front of you as much as possible. Mine tend to get there sooner or later. So much to think about--it's 8:00 a.m.--do you know where your arms and legs are? Legs are sinking? Have to constantly remind myself to push my face downward so that my legs will come back to the surface. If my goggles get water in them I either have to stop and fix it or try to think about all of the above while trying not to think about the water in my eye. Have to talk myself into finishing all the laps I set out to do plus a few easy ones to cool down at the end. Do you think I could be overthinking it?

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