Tuesday, September 12
Friday, September 1
Only the Beautiful, by Susan Meissner, begins in 1938 with Roseanne Maras, a caretaker’s daughter at a Sonoma Valley vineyard who sees colors upon hearing sounds. The condition distracts her at school, and her parents urge her to keep it a secret and eventually allow her to leave school early. Years later, she recalls “A dim memory of my father praying at my bedside when I was little…. He pleaded for a miraculous favor…. For the colors to leave his daughter. He was afraid for me. People will always distrust what they don’t understand. And what they distrust, they cannot love.”
After her parents die in an accident, the owners of the vineyard become guardians, keeping the 16-year-old on as a maid, and the family’s son remembers their childhood and her descriptions of the colors. She becomes pregnant and though she denies seeing colors, the guardians send her to a state home, where she is stripped of all possessions, including an amaryllis bulb that was a gift from the sister of her child’s father. Helen works as a governess for a family in Vienna with a disabled child and regrets her failure to recognize the depths of Nazi evils at the start of World War II and the inability to rescue her charge from the Nazis. The child dies soon afterward, and Helen devotes herself to rescuing and delivering other disabled children to Switzerland.
In California, an escape attempt by Roseanne fails, and soon after delivery, her infant is sent to an orphanage to await adoption. Roseanne is then sterilized by doctors who worry about her condition being hereditary, and she must wait until age 19 for release to a group home. Upon leaving, she softly tells the nurse, “It’s not right what you’re doing here…. I know you’re probably going to say what do I know about what is best for people, but I had to say this before I left.”
She settles in at the group home and finds work at a hotel, where she meets a neurologist who identifies her condition as synesthesia.
The narration resumes with Helen who returns to Vienna at the close of World War II and learns that the father of her young disabled charged arranged for his daughter's mercy killing to avoid experimentation and institutionalization. The father, a Nazi officer himself, argues that “Power like that can’t be stopped,” but Helen disagrees. “Of course it can…. It was stopped when the rest of the world finally said, ‘No more. But we waited too long.”
Helen returns to California and starts asking questions about Roseanne, a child she once befriended, challenging her sister-in-law, the vineyard’s owner, later the doctor who sterilized young women. “But how do you know her life was miserable…. What gives you the right to judge whose life has value and whose doesn’t as if you were–“ The doctor finishes for her: “As if I were God?” He goes onto defend himself to a woman who observed Nazi atrocities first-hand: “I’ve heard that before from people like you who haven’t seen what I’ve seen.”
The doctor refuses to divulge information about Roseanne, but his son who lived on the premises at the time and originally alerted security to the inmate's attempted escape, provides details about the placement.
Helen learns that she is the child’s biological aunt, confronting the doctor and others that, though single herself, she should have been given the chance to adopt the baby. Those involved with Roseanne's case justify their actions by suggesting that they had far more work than time. When leads result in dead ends, Helen does not give up and does find Amaryllis, Roseanne's child, later becoming an activist, speaking out at churches and civic clubs about mistreatment of the disabled including forced sterilization: “I realized I had a story to share about the disabled children of Austria, and at the end of my tale was the perfect entrée to telling people what was happening right here in California….”
A publisher invites Helen to write a book about her experience, which leads to finding Roseanne and reconnecting the small family.
The novel, like Helen's activism, demonstrates the parallels between the Nazi quest for their version of a perfect population with US medical goals of reducing disabilities through sterilization and poverty associated with young unwed mothers. The historical research is solid, and the characters' circumstances ring true. But Roseanne and Helen - sensible, practical, motivated, generally unflappable and cooperative when confronting horrific injustice and bad luck - are idealized protagonists, almost too good to be true. Such choices perhaps make the story more bearable for readers.
The novel's acknowledgement points out that more than 20,000 people were sterilized in California between 1909 and 1964, one third of all the sterilizations nationwide.
"Eugenic laws in 32 states empowered government officials in public health, social work and state institutions to render people they deemed 'unfit' infertile, explain Nicole L. Novak and Natalie Lira for The Conversation. "California led the nation in this effort at social engineering." The magazine also reports that such programs also targeted specific ethnic groups.
Tuesday, August 8
South Boston prepares for school busing in summer 1974, the setting for Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane. The neighborhood is poor, tight and corrupt, the racism constant and overt. Protagonist Mary Pat, middle-aged and tough, finds money for cigarettes and beer, but struggles to pay the utility bills. Her first husband died and the second one left home after finding work at Harvard University’s mailroom. With access to one of the finest libraries in the world, he devours books and develops new interests. He parts by noting, “Your hate embarrasses me.”
Mary Pat gets it, describing herself as “happiest when she’s opposed, most ecstatic when she’s been wronged. But she also insists the neighborhood’s anger about busing is not simply about race. “She’d be just as angry if they told her she has to send her kid across the city to Revere or the North End or someplace mostly … Just another case of the rich … in their suburban castles (in their all-white towns) telling the poor people stuck in the city how things are going to be.” At times, she even surprises herself by feeling some kinship with Boston’s black residents. “As a project rat herself, Mary Pat knows all too well what happens when the suspicion that you aren’t good enough gets desperately rebuilt into the conviction that the rest of the world is wrong about you. And if they’re wrong about you, then they’re probably wrong about everything else.” She rails about inequality. “They’re poor because there’s limited amount of good luck in this world, and they’ve never been given any.... There are way more people in the world than there is luck, so you’re either in the right place at the right time at the very second luck shows up, for once and nevermore. Or you aren’t.”
Mary Pat is not lucky. She has already lost a son to a drug overdose and frets about a pretty, gentle daughter, hoping that Jules will find a somewhat better life, if similar to Mary Pat's.
The book begins with Mary Pat grilling the quiet teenager after the two enjoy a rare good moment shopping for school supplies. Both are restless, worried about the changes busing will bring. “Change, for those who don’t have a say in it, feels like a pretty word for death,” Mary Pat muses. “Death to what you want, death to whatever plans you’d been making, death to the life you’ve always known.” Jules wonders about not feeling the way others around her do: “You just, you know, you ever have the feeling that things are supposed to be one way but they’re not? And you don’t know why because you’ve never known like anything but what you see?”
The conversation is their last. The daughter does not come home that night and Mary Pat storms the neighborhood with questions, impatient with platitudes offered by family and friends: “G’bless… It is what it is and Whatta ya gonna do. Phrases that provide comfort by removing the speaker’s power. Phrases that say it’s all up to someone else, you’re blameless. Blameless, sure, but powerless, too.” She reflects on her own role in her daughter’s choices. While questioning a niece, Mary Pat notices the girl is no longer aware and joyful and confident. “What takes that from them? Mary Pat wonders. Is it us?”
Mary Pat soon discovers that she did not know her daughter or the neighborhood all that well. Jules was last seen with a group of friends on a train platform where a young black man is found dead on the tracks. Mary Pat detests Jules’ boyfriend who “thinks he’s kind of smart, and the ones who are like that grow mean when the world laughs at them.” But Jules' predicament is far worse, as the young man merely served as cover for a secret relationship with a ruthless neighborhood power-broker.
Neighbors and friends resist Mary Pat's questions. All her life, she relied on the Southie code, neighbors watching out for one another. But she realizes the code really meant protection for the neighborhood hierarchy of corruption and the ease of casting blame on outsiders. Angry, with no one to trust, Mary Pat confronts her own racism, the insistence that “We’re not the same. We’re just not.” Suddenly, the divisive hatred seems so pointless. “She sits there, overcome suddenly with a fresh horror of the self. Her daughter is dead. Auggie Williamson is dead, the lives of several teenagers on the platform that night are ruined, and her mind grasps with grubby desperation for ways to feel superior to them.”
She shares her anguish and doubt with police investigator Michael “Bobby” Coyne, a recovering alcoholic. “When you’re a kid and they start in with all the lies, they never tell you they’re lies. They just tell you this is what it is. Whether they’re talking about Santa Claus or God or marriage or what you can or can’t make of yourself…. you can’t trust them…. And they tell you that’s the Way.” And a child thinks, “I want to be part of the Way. I sure don’t want to be outside the Way. I gotta live with these people my whole life.” Home is warm and the outside world is cold. “And then you dig in because now you got kids and you want them to feel warm.” Mary Pat continues, “And you spread the same lies to them, mainline them into their blood. Until they become the kinda people who can chase some poor boy into a train station and bash his head in with a rock.”
Mary Pat blames herself, suggesting the children recognize the lies at a young age. "But you keep repeating the lies until you wear them down. That’s the worst of it – you wear them down until you scoop all the good out of their hearts and replace it with poison.” At the book's end, Coyne points to a hard reality – parents cannot protect their children. All they can do is consistently model and pass along values and methods for making decisions while keeping baser emotions in check and hateful people at a distance. “I can do what I can, teach you as much as I know. But if I’m not there when the world comes to take its bite – and even if I am – there’s no guarantee I can stop it. I can love you. I can support you, but I can’t keep you safe.”
Small Mercies is a masterpiece, terse and compelling, from an author driven to expose racism's sources and motivations much as Mary Pat longs to understand the reasons behind the deaths of her two children.
Thursday, August 3
A child can develop resilience despite domestic violence, neglect and abandonment, poverty and inequality.
In Hang the Moon by Jeannette Walls, Sallie Kincaid is born into a comfortable life in a small, early 20th century Virginia town that is run by her father, known as the Duke, and his sheriff brother-in-law. Soon after her mother dies, the Duke marries a woman who resents Sallie, especially after she has a son who prefers music and education to fishing, hunting, risk-taking and rough-housing.
Tough and matter-of-fact, never bitter, Sallie adores her father and accepts that he wants a strong son to resume control of the family business – a general store that organizes county moonshine sales. After the death of her mother, the Duke's second wife, all Sallie wants is to be part of a tight family. So she respects and gets along with her half-brother, Eddie. She follows her father’s orders to mentor Eddie on toughness, and the two have a wagon accident that nearly kills him. Her father sends Sallie away to live with her mother’s sister, providing minimal support. The child assumes the move is temporary, helping her aunt scrub wash to get by.
Education is an afterthought in the poor community, though a teacher takes a liking to the intelligent girl and relies on her to help with younger students and offering advice that Sallie remembers years later: “teachers don’t know everything, but as long as they stay a step ahead of the students, the students think they do.”
The father sends for Sallie a decade later after the stepmother’s death. Teenaged Sallie is resourceful and loyal, but the father envisions one path for girls, and that is marriage. He expects her to tutor the brother, but Eddie knows far more than she does. She takes advantage of his lessons, but also worries about his values, once asking, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, is it always smart to let everyone know it?” The boy replies, “Absolutely. Nothing is more important than the truth.”
The father marries a third time. Eddie adores the new stepmother and a baseball player friend, and Sallie longs for a “paycheck job,” one where she showed up, worked the hours, and collected a paycheck, allowing her to send money to her struggling aunt. Sallie convinces her father to let the stepmother tutor the brother and make Sallie wheelman – collecting payments from the many land tenants.
As an adult, Sallie learns her father kept many secrets. A black tenant is another half-brother. Her aunt resorted to prostitution after losing the wash business and is mother of half-sister/cousin, a long-time servant. Her father shot her mother after a domestic dispute.
After the Duke’s death, the stepmother quickly remarries the baseball player and agrees that Sallie invite the maternal aunt, a “fallen woman,” into the family home. Eddie and the Duke’s sister protest, and Sadie argues for forgiveness. “People who’ve never gone without find it easy to pass judgment on those who’ve struggled.”
The Duke’s sister and her sheriff husband take control of the business, battling with the stepmother, regarded as an outsider, for guardianship over Eddie. The aunt makes the stepmother’s life unbearable, prompting the woman to flee and Eddie to commit suicide.
Next, an older half-sister and preacher husband take control of the family business, insisting on enforcing Prohibition rules and hiring a ruthless security officer to end moonshine production. Profits plummet and tenants become desperate, testing Sallie’s conscience as wheelman. “It’s when the boss asks you to do something you know to be wrong and you do it anyways. That sort of work whittles away at the soul.”
The sister dies of cancer and Sallie takes control of a failing enterprise, remembering old lessons as she struggles to learn who to trust. She recalls trying to save up for a gun when leaving with her impoverished aunt and a schoolmate offering to let her help his family harvest and sell chestnuts for six cents a basket. “The frost had knocked the nuts out of the trees and the ground was thick with them. Mr. Webb told us we had to make haste, seeing as how bear, deer, boar, and people would all be fighting over these chestnuts and in a couple of days they’d be gone.“ She needs thirty-four large baskets to buy the gun, but comes up a bit short.
Sallie visits the family to collect her share, fulling expecting them to avoid payment. The quiet, stern man advises that the price of chestnuts was not what he had expected, with a blight killing off trees to the north and chestnuts in short supply. The shortage means chestnut prices went up, and he pays her seven cents per basket. “Some folks say they hate to be proved wrong, but I was never happier to be mistaken.”
Based on such experiences – at times, the novel reads as though a series of short stories – Sallie develops her own moral code, running the illegal business but discouraging lies, corruption and long-time disputes. She is quick to forgive and move on, and that policy applies to the paternal aunt who long made life difficult for Sallie, her mother and her aunt. Sallie leads the family and tenants on producing and running moonshine into nearby Roanoke. “Outlaw. Rumrunner. Bootlegger. Blockader. I don’t for one second forget that what we are doing is illegal, but legal and illegal and right and wrong don’t always line up. Ask a former slave.” She adds: “Sometimes the so-called law is nothing but the haves telling the have-nots to stay in their place.”
She maintains the operation doesn’t involve stealing or coercion. “Just helping out the people of Claiborne County who through no fault of their own are in an awful bind. Obey the law and starve. Or break the law and eat. Not a lot to ponder there.”
For Sallie, family is sacred, and she realizes her father “whose approval I so craved” did not feel the same. The Duke “loved being loved, but he never truly loved anyone back. He took what he wanted from people, then once he got it, cast them aside.”
The historical novel is bittersweet, optimistic and certainly idealistic about bootlegging and a woman running a business in the 1920s. Sallie succeeds by embracing all members of her family and community, wayward in so many ways, as long as they get along and work to love and protect the whole.
Thursday, July 20
Elinor De Witt in The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear lives a quiet life, retired after volunteering for the resistance effort in Belgium during World War I and returning to spy for Britain during World War II. Her father leaves the family to join the war effort in the first war, and Elinor makes a silent vow that “she, her mother and sister would do all they could to arm themselves against their obvious weakness; the vulnerability of being female.” After realizing the father has perished at the front, the mother befriends a member of the resistance and allows Elinor and her older sister to observe German train movements and even sabotage the tracks.
Elinor, though younger, is more serious, agreeing to weapon training after the recruiter convinces her that a citizen can either be predator or prey. Elinor soon recognizes that “being a predator filled her with as much fear as being prey,” and the recruiter points out that such fear could keep her safe. Elinor views herself as “a predator who understood what it was to be prey” and armed “with that knowledge, she knew she would survive…”
After World War I, the three women head to Britain where Elinor excels at her studies and wins admission to Cambridge. Her mother rejects that plan and urges her to remain close in London. The young woman’s curiosity and drive to learn are not vanquished so easily. Elinor masters multiple languages and, feeling distant from her less academically oriented mother and sister, moves to France to work as a teacher.
Hitler’s rise spurs fears in France, and Elinor returns to Britain, teaching at the boarding school where she often struggled with teachers, including the woman who went on to become headmistress. The older woman viewed Elinor’s behavior as demonstrating resolve and resilience rather than disrespect: “our women in the making will need such qualities to see them through.”
The headmistress points out the tumultuous years of war have been hard on the young, “giving rise to an element of doubt, of unknowing that can in turn lead to undesirable words, thoughts and actions.” She warns, foreshadowing, that “Some of our pupils are the daughters of bankrupt men – and women – and I don’t’ mean bankrupt only in a financial sense…. The years after the war changed our society, and that is reflected in the attitudes and behaviors…”
Elinor is expected to set an example and support high standards that will “become the backbone of everything they do in life. Every. Single. Decision.” The headmistress concludes, “I have found that when one remains true to one’s established values, life’s squalls, storms and doldrums become easier to navigate.”
Elinor leaves her teaching post to work as an intelligence officer in Belgium, hoping that such values will protect her and villagers who have joined the resistance. Some colleagues, though, are in league with men in the pursuit of power. They betray their country not by cooperating with Nazis, but by prioritizing their careers, adjusting war plans to support a competing group of spies without alerting the full team.
The team barely escapes after a partner orders Elinor to shoot a small child threatening to reveal the position. Elinor refuses, and subsequently endures a month in a mental hospital. She is intelligent enough to cooperate, later awarded with a comfortable cottage in a quiet village.
Elinor learns the full story about her last day as a spy after mob family attacks a brother, her neighbor. Jim yearns to escape his criminal past, but the family has friends in high places, the same men who betrayed the Belgium villagers. Elinor befriends the mobster’s widowed sister to gather evidence that might end the harassment.
Protagonists or antagonists – police, spies or mobsters – err by underestimating the capabilities of women.
Thursday, July 13
Two women document flora of the Colosseum in Rome, one in 1854 and the other in 2018 in The Weeds by Katy Simpson Smith. The first toils for Richard Deakin, a botanist, and the second is a grad student from Mississippi, struggling to win respect from her advisor and approval to conduct similar research in the Coliseum and fairgrounds of Jackson, Mississippi. Detailing how male superiors belittle the women's observations, the book may upend assumptions about adequate feminist responses across cultures and time periods.
The first woman, who lacks education and viable career prospects, relishes the work and suggests that definitions uphold sanity. Nuance is key as well as who decides and defines. “The point of botany is not to distinguish between value and waste. (There is no waste.) It’s to be honest about what something is. A part, a whole, a root, a bloom. Conditions, habits.”
The women lack mentors, role models and intellectual nourishment. The woman in 1854 lost her mother to opiate addiction. The other mother provided solid memories of fortitude, and before her early death, urges her daughter: “Truth is all you have.” The graduate students mulls the female tendency to move through life by rote, automatically pursuing education, marriage, children, “Like I was hoping to prove I deserved the space I took up.” Love is elusive for each woman. Disrespect in work relationships sows mistrust and challenges in other relationships. The first woman longs for another woman who has since married moved abroad, and the second struggles with commitments, even though her mother once advised: “Know what you want before it comes, so you can get it without being gotten.” For her, finding love is secondary, and her priority is securing research funding, a career. Yet the mentor rejects her observations, and she wonders, “If I can no longer say true things, and am prohibited from saying false things, what … is left?”
Both narrators remain anonymous, so often the case for women in science. The women strive for creativity, exploration and novel connections that are discouraged by superiors. The modern-day advisor could well speak for both men when publicly admonishing his graduate student: “Scientists don’t arrive at projects with conclusions in mind; we’re passive. Humble. Unresisting. That’s how you open yourself to answers.”
The narrators give weeds equal attention in a plot interspersed with species names and descriptions. Great care is used in distinguishing common species like S. oleraceus and S. tenerrimus: “Two sides of a genus, a plant that any ordinary passerby would fail to notice, or, if noticed, would call a dandelion,” notes the woman of 2018. She insists on distinguishing the two. “the only lesson I carry from Deakin – every thing deserves its name.”
The discomfort the limited options in responding to bias are similar in 1854 and 2018, so much so that the identity of the narrator is at times unclear: “You can’t demand love. Nor expect it, nor wait for it, nor want it. It comes on air like a scent.” The more poetic comments likely come from the woman with the broken heart: “With lyrate leaves, shaped like those instruments of old, I wonder at their purpose. If they are accompanying songs too green for us to hear. If this is a signature to mark our deafness.”
The woman of 2018 marvels that Deakin, as a man, wrote about the Colosseum’s plant life in such a charming, thoughtful way: An excerpt from Deakin's actual book, not mentioned in The Weeds: “Flowers are perhaps the most graceful and most lovely objects of the creation but are not, at any time, more delightful than when associated with what recalls to the memory time and place, and especially that of generations long passed away. They form a link in the memory, and teach us hopeful and soothing lessons, amid the sadness of bygone ages.” The graduate student finds herself wishing that she had such an advisor, not realizing that, according to the novel, Deakin died before the flora is published and the apprentice applied extensive edits before submission. Deakin published one book, and biographical information about him or a female apprentice is limited.
Both narrators are fascinated by plants’ defensive mechanisms, especially those that might harm humans. The modern-day woman marvels: “How easy, to eliminate something living from the earth. As simple as turning up the temperature, or slipping a pill in a drink, or touching a leg, or doubting.” One woman sabotages herself, and the other sabotages her superior, slipping bits of a plant that he fails to recognize into his drink. “He hasn’t done the work, so he’s missing all the signs.”
The Weeds has a weary tone for more reasons than one. The woman stronger in spirit is raped. And each woman senses that she documents a massive decline resulting from a changing climate, feeling an urge, “Write it down before it’s gone.” In keeping their respective lists, the woman from the 19th century observes how vetch transformed from staple to “crop of last resort,” and the modern-day woman wistfully recalls cattails, her favorite plant as a child: “brown and whistling with red-winged blackbirds. The pond is gone; it became a football field. Could I slow my town’s unrolling ruin by naming what exists? Is that what we’re doing here with these lists, slowing death?”
The science of botany is in decline, too, even though there are about 300,000 species. "M]ore and more, colleges and universities are getting rid of their botany programs, either by consolidating them with zoology and biology departments, or eliminating them altogether because of a lack of faculty, funds or sometimes interest," reports U.S. News & World Report.
Some species survive development and destruction, and others go extinct. The same is true of the human spirit. Some women refuse to be broken by inequities and, one way or another, ensure their voices live on.
Michigan State University's W. J. Beal Botanical Garden, is the oldest, continuously operated botanical garden in the United States, featuring a collection of more than 2000 plants. The photo is courtesy of MSU Today.
Thursday, July 6
Social media allows individuals to explore feelings about unwanted behavior in both themselves and others.
In Society of Shame by Jane Roper, a woman’s world falls apart after she arrives home early from a work trip to discover her garage on fire, her US Senate candidate husband hurrying to dress and conceal an affair. Topping off the bad day, photos focus on a menstrual stain on Kathleen Held’s pants. The photograph goes viral, and women become outraged that a period accident captures more attention than a husband’s infidelity. Activists, including Kathleen’s young daughter, embrace the new #StopPeriodShaming movement. Kathleen, annoyed after her husband expresses concern about damage for his campaign, moves out of the house and gives her daughter permission to participate.
Leaving home, Kathleen steals an elegant invitation from a secret Society of Shame, intended for her husband. All members, shamed over social media for various offenses, hope to restore confidence and reinvent themselves, and Kathleen wonders, “If she was a stronger, more fulfilled version of herself, maybe her marriage wouldn’t have fallen apart.” Maybe she would have published the book she had written years earlier.
Shame can be about self-evaluation and social-evaluation, according to philosopher James Laing, who urges rejection of “the widespread assumption that the other-oriented dimension of shame is best understood primarily terms of our concern with the way we appear to others.” He instead urges treating “shame as manifesting our desire primarily for interpersonal connection.” Shamefulness, he maintains, can be used for merited avoidance or rejection.
But the society in Roper's book turns to shame for the sole purpose of winning attention by any means necessary. The society’s founder orchestrates makeovers, activities and social-media messaging to repair reputations. For Kathleen, that means leaning in to support the new cause while emerging from the most embarrassing and painful moment of her life. Reluctance transforms into reflection and passion, as Kathleen, who decides to go by Kat, realizes that women “were bound together, all of them by this strange and mysterious biological process they shared, with its inconveniences and embarrassments and messes; its power to bring relief (not pregnant!) and heartbreak (not pregnant); the thresholds it marked between child and adult, youth and middle age.”
With new clothes and haircut, Kat becomes an instant celebrity, juggling television appearances, newspaper interviews and a book contract. The society cheers, advising her to “Steer into the swerve.” A quiet member of the group urges Kathleen to enjoy the new popularity, but to “Keep telling the truth.” She finds an agent, and a major publisher insists on a ghostwriter, preferring that the author stay busy with promotion and social-media.
Of course, social media as a tool can build and destroy reputations. Users take advantage of any connection or problem to advance agendas. Interactions are staged, publicized, with daily activities becoming less genuine. Frustrated, the husband plants a story that Kathleen never cared for the family dog, and activists attack her for living in an illegal Airbnb. Danica, organizer of the Society of Shame, stages a bizarre attack at a book announcement party for Kathleen and then expects that the two pretend to have no relationship at all. Kathleen’s daughter accuses her mom of promoting the movement “all for herself.”
Weary, Kat frets about everyone expecting her to be "so perfect all the time," and critics abound on the internet. “Maybe it distracted them from their own faults and hypocrisies to constantly point out hers. Why confront your own mistakes when you can attack other people’s instead?” Kathleen's husband long prioritized his role as politician in their family life, and she repeats those errors, expressing disappointment that the child fails to understand “how complex it was to be a public figure and a spokesperson for a cause.”
The plotting and charades become overwhelming and Kathleen abruptly stops obsessing over what others think. “People I don’t know or even particularly like. The thing we’re all doing here. Controlling narratives and changing conversations and getting back on top instead of trying to actually – I don’t know, grow.”
Calm people, those who refuse to express anger and insist on playing fair, rarely attract as much public attention as do the outrage-makers. A low profile on social media can be priceless.
The book captures the extreme language and emotions of our time, reflecting how social media can instigate divisions with no resolution intended. “Everywhere we look, we see values clashing and tempers rising, in ways that seem frenzied, aimless, and cruel,” suggests a review posted by the Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences of How to Do Things With Emotions: The Morality of Anger and Shame Across Cultures by Owen Flanagan. “At the same time, we witness political leaders and others who lack any sense of shame, even as they display carelessness with the truth and the common good.” People can control and adjust emotions, and “Flanagan makes a passionate case for tuning down anger and tuning up shame," while demonstrating "how cultures around the world can show us how to perform these emotions better.”
Forms of shame leading to revenge, anger or harm to others are destructive, the review concludes. Other forms “can protect positive values, including courage, kindness, and honesty.” As suggested by Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit, thoughtful and socializing shame starting at a young age, “can promote moral progress where undisciplined anger cannot.”
Anger can strengthen an opponent's resolve.