Division, Deceit and Denial: the fear of facing our fears

It’s not about abortion.  Let’s not buy into that fairytale any longer.  We’ve heard the litanies of pro-lifers who cherry-pick Biblical passages to convince themselves and others that God proclaims abortion is murder.  Scientists have joined the discussion as they try to define when life actually begins.  It seems everyone has an opinion they  would die- or kill-  for.  Too many ignore the women whose wombs make life possible.  We don’t have to look far to recognize the hypocrisy in the self-righteous arguments or in the actions of those who profess to honor life.  All point to one conclusion: the abortion controversy is a cover story for a much larger cultural conflict.

I am over 70 years old.  As a young girl growing up in Wisconsin during the 1950’s and 1960’s, we girls were not allowed to wear pants.  Oh, we could cover our legs with snow pants while we walked to school.  But they had to be removed when we arrived.  Then we sat in our under-heated class rooms in our slightly longer-than-knee-length skirts for the rest of the day.  Boys teased us about catching a glimpse of our panties (“I see London, I see France, I see Susie’s underpants!”) if we forgot to keep our knees together or when we played during recess.  As we entered puberty, we blushed as we noted a boy looking at our breasts.  Some of the girls with larger breasts wore loose blouses and hunched their shoulders to avoid the stares.  We dealt with these and other insults on a daily basis.  At the same time, we were being taught by our parents and teachers to be “lady-like.”  I have wondered what the boys were being taught…?

As I struggled with a developing body image and the attention it drew, my mother was dealing with her own issues.  After high school Mom spent a year in secretarial school then worked for the Red Cross during World War II.  However after she married, my dad refused to allow her to have a job outside the home.  This continued even after all of us kids were in school.  They argued for years as Mom resented receiving an allowance while Dad controlled expenditures.  Dad eventually ended each argument saying, “If a man can’t support his family he’s not much of a man!”  Even as a young teen, the undertones were clear.  Any of Mom’s pleas for a little bit of independence threatened my dad’s sense of manhood.

When I was 14, I got a job working at our local grocery store.  Although I’d been promised a weekly allowance, I rarely received it.  I was often reminded of the Great Depression and how lucky I was instead.  So I opted for a little of the freedom my mom had been denied.  But then both Mom and Dad complained about how I wasted my money-  like when I went to a salon for a new hairdo or bought my own winter coat.  I learned to rebel quietly.

My high school years (1961-65) were fun-filled, work-filled and socially challenging.  In our school, few girls dated more than one boy at a time.  We “went steady,” although finding a boyfriend was tricky!  We had to be nice enough to catch the eye of a boy we liked while not being too flirtatious.  Our reputations could suffer if we appeared to be too forward or if we seemed to be promising more than we intended.  We heard whispers of “loose” girls, some of whom were later outwardly shamed.  Any girl who got pregnant was expelled from school.  Even our married female teachers had to quit their jobs before a pregnancy became obvious.  This was, after all, the era of the Comstock Laws.

In 1873 Congress passed the Comstock Laws which intended to “suppress trade in, and circulation of, obscene literature and articles of immoral use.”  Among these  were “articles used for contraception or abortion.”  The last of the Comstock Laws was not overturned until 1965.  Then, although the birth control pill was cleared by the FDA for human use in 1960, it was not until 1972 that the Supreme Court legalized the use of birth control methods throughout the country by both married and unmarried couples.

Is this the culture to which we as a nation would wish to return, the culture we envision for our daughters and granddaughters?  Some appear to think it is.  Some people claim to believe legislating restrictions on a woman’s right to choose how she deals with her reproductive and sexual life will protect our children somehow.  Have they so little faith in their own parenting skills that they prefer to use legislation as their solution?   I sincerely doubt that is the case!  No, the desire to legislate is aimed at all  women in an attempt to maintain societal constructs which benefit men while ignoring the human rights of women.  As one of our female senators recently noted, there are no laws in existence which regulate how a man uses his body.  I believe an abundance of fear, denial, self-delusion and lack of introspection inform this kind of thinking.  Many people, both men and women, fear a loss of self-esteem,  of societal privilege, of public image.  Yet too often those fears are not recognized as fear at all.  They  may be  masked by, or perceived as anger or hatred.  They may  become entangled with beliefs and desires.   Problem solving thus becomes heavily flawed.   The solutions reached are therefore also flawed and do not address the actual issues causing pain.

But how did such thinking originate?  We would have to go back to the origin of patriarchy itself to fully understand the evolution of our perceptions:  when early man was in awe of the power women had to produce a child; when he recognized his physical strength could be used to overpower women; when he chose to nurture his own offspring while finding ways to ensure they were, indeed, his own.  Yet while we can suggest an origin theory, it is most important to remember that cultural beliefs and adaptations persist for different reasons over time.  So what is the reasoning now?  I can only offer my own opinion.

For whatever reason, it appears many men are unsure of themselves and feel they cannot succeed on a level playing field.  They seem to waste an enormous amount of time trying to control circumstances outside themselves to achieve a “one-up” in society  Maybe testosterone predisposes men toward perceiving life as a battlefield:  control or be controlled; win or be a loser; kill or be killed.  Yet rationally, most people realize life isn’t confined to black and white outcomes.  We recognize the multiple shades of gray in between. More importantly, we can envision the infinite colors, the options, the possibilities life provides.  The battlefield mindset does us all a disservice.  More specifically, men who view the sexual and reproductive freedom of women as a threat reveal their own personal insecurities.  They imagine an enemy they feel empowered to fight.  But they are shooting themselves in the foot, for the enemy is within them.  They must come to grips with the fact that they do not need the motivation of fighting an enemy to become successful.  Insight, an open mind, and a little bit of courage provide all the motivation needed, while edging them toward a more harmonious approach toward living.





Another Open Letter to Senator Kaine

Dear Senator Kaine:

Thank you for confirming your opinion on this subject [re: your letter titled “About Judge Kavanaugh.”]  The multiple and varied accusations against Judge Kavanaugh should preclude allowing him to sit on the highest court in our country- or any other court, in my opinion.  However, although we may be able to inch forward and rectify this particular dilemma, we MUST continue to view this issue in the larger context of which this is a symptom.

Misogyny, racism, religious extremism- and any “otherism” we may describe- all arise from fear and a need to quell that fear by being in control or taking control of whatever situation generated the fear.  Control seems to be the magic potion to many who believe they can create the world that best suits them personally.  But control is an illusion, a temporary fix, like a shot of whiskey or a hit of heroin; one always needs more.  The temporary relief control might bring encourages the continued behavior to see and seek control as a solution.  Inevitably, we fail to maintain such relief, but those stuck in such a cycle just don’t get it, don’t realize their temporary “fix” only creates deeper problems, causing more fear.

Until we acknowledge both our fears and our utter lack of being able to control anything other than ourselves, we will keep on floundering.  Each of the world’s citizens is unique.  We share the same needs. We all deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness.  Therefore it is our responsibility as human beings to honor these facts universally.  We must guard the human rights of all; accept that we can control only ourselves, our actions and reactions; address our fears and address them at their origin- within ourselves; acknowledge our personal viewpoint may not be the best or most accurate.

These are the types of challenges I address in my blog http://www.whollyholyhuman.com.  Please read it.

Most sincerely,

Sue Ellen Valk


Open Letter to VA Sen. Tim Kaine

Dear Senator Kaine:

I am appalled that children of refugees are being separated from their parents and housed in sub-standard conditions, as is currently happening near our southern border.  The human rights ramifications of this new Trump policy SHOULD initiate an emergency response from Congress equaling  our response to a natural disaster!  What in God’s Name are our representatives thinking by allowing such abhorrent treatment of human beings, especially children, to continue for one more minute of one more day in the United States of America?  No excuse, no rationalization- whether from Atty. General Jeff Sessions or our demented president- can be tolerated.  Going forward, this conduct will be viewed much as we regard use of the Japanese camps during WWII.  If we cannot evolve into better human beings ourselves by protecting the human rights of all, we will deserve the country we are fated to create.

I would appreciate your response, but if that must come by way of a “form letter,” don’t bother.

Most sincerely,

Sue Ellen Valk

[sent to Senator Kaine via e-mail 6/6/18]


In my last blog, I said, “we have the ability to redefine any concepts which do not serve us well.”  I think our definition of prejudice is one such concept, so I propose my argument for redefining it as:

The perception that one’s own belief, knowledge or truth is the most legitimate one.

Two arguments against my definition will likely be obvious.  First, one could say my definition is too broad to be useful.  And second, one might point out my definition disregards references to the negativity of emotions and actions associated with prejudice found in various dictionaries.

Regarding the first argument, please read my blog “Personal Truth” (4/7/16) in which I talked about how we learn much of what we know from our families and cultures.  Some of what we learn is challenged by later experiences, such as in relationships with people outside our original social circles.  We may incorporate this knowledge into our own personal truth- or not.  Some early learning remains deeply ingrained.  In this case we may look for evidence to support our truth if we perceive it to be challenged.  Yet in other cases, we may simply believe our truth to be “common sense.”  This way of learning and forming our own personal truth is common human experience.  It is not possible for any person to have access to the whole of human knowledge and experience in order to choose what we believe.  If we did, the conflicts would likely drive us mad!  So given we each learn in our own micro-cultures,  the breadth of my definition serves to put us all on notice that we are all alike in being capable of grasping only one tiny piece of life’s puzzle.  Each of us is biased, prejudiced, toward our own truth.

Regarding the second argument, I think the negativity of emotions and actions are separate from our prejudices.  The ways we learn are only partially under our own control, while our emotions, actions and reactions are totally under our personal control.  Yes, emotions often arise unbidden; yet we choose how to react to them.  The “intolerance, enmity, aversion, hatred” used to describe prejudice are all reactions over which we have control, so they need NOT be associated with how we learn.  Negativity is born of fear; fear assumes we have given up our control.

By recognizing the universality of individual human uniqueness, by knowing we all share the same experience of learning in our micro-cultures, we can draw on our innate empathy toward one another.  We can allow our prejudices (as I defined them) to lead us toward curiosity, wonder, and understanding.  Begin by looking inside; you will see yourself in all those you meet!




“Be a Man!”

“Grow a pair!”; “take control!”; “support your family!”; “protect your family!”; and “if you fall short, you’re not a man!”

My God!  What a burden our cultures over the centuries have placed on manhood!  The standards are ridiculously high, a set-up for failure and perceived failure.  They also beg for rebellion and a demand for relief in the forms of societal accolades and privilege.  As in : “if I’m going to do all this, then I’m going to do it my way!”

Our definition of manhood, of what it means to be a man, is not working for us.  Arguably, it has never worked well in any human culture because it is so deeply flawed.  In my previous blog, I pointed out that women and men are equal partners in the creation of each new generation, yet our cultures have failed miserably in reflecting this equality as a fact of life.  But we must keep in mind each of us is a part of our own culture and of civilization in general.    While we may have accepted many of the definitions we learned from our predecessors, we have the ability to redefine any concepts which do not serve us well.

Our age-old definitions of “manhood” and “masculinity” have done human civilization a grave disservice.  They have done so by generating patriarchal systems throughout our societies, therefore relegating women to the position of second-class citizens.  The consequential effects of this are two-fold: first and foremost, utilization of the wisdom of half the people in the world is diminished; and second, the burden of the other half is increased to the point of break-down.  In other words, we are using possibly 75% of the brain power available to us as a civilization, while depending on our over-stressed patriarchs to run the world!  What could possibly go wrong?!

Yet it gets worse.  The practice of  patriarchy has, over time, engendered a formidable equivalency:


I see this as having evolved as “payback,” as a privilege men have come to expect for shouldering so much responsibility.  But the actuality, the way it plays out in real life, creates backlash.  And so it begins: men continuously seek ways to prove their worthiness, while women seek equality with men.  We may laugh as we recognize our so-called battle of the sexes, but it is much more than that.  And it is deadly serious.

Symptoms of the failure of our patriarchal societies are rampant across time, across cultures.  Superiority of any group over another leads to oppression. It also leads to the desire to maintain power and control in an effort to  preserve a particular status in society.  Methods of control may easily become inhumane.  On the other hand, those who are oppressed may at first be complicit and compliant. But at some point, they will likely become angry, rebellious, and manipulative.  The cycles on both sides feed off themselves at the same time they are feeding off each other.

Recently, Steve Bannon, former presidential confidante, responded to the current “Me Too!” movement evidenced at the Golden Globes Awards:

“The anti-patriarchy is going to undo ten thousand years of recorded history.  You watch.  The time has come.  Women are going to take charge of society. . . . . It’ll never be the same going forward.”  Bannon went on to say that he thought all the women present would “cut off the balls of every man in the room if they had a guillotine!”

I fear his comments reflect the thoughts of many men.  But all of them are wrong.  Those who are oppressed- in this case, women, by patriarchal societies- do not aspire to become oppressors themselves. Nor do they wish to retaliate.  They simply seek relief from the limitations imposed on them.

Our archaic definition of manhood must be changed to reflect the reality of our co-equal status as partners in procreation.  Patriarchy has not only damaged civilization; it has prevented us from reaching our full potential as human beings in society with all others.  The benefits it appeared to promise came at a higher price than we expected.  We cannot continue to pay that price if we hope to find serenity and joy in our lives.  We must aspire to create a life in which  our children can thank us- not damn us.



She . . .

Charms- pouty, kissy mouth,
Trusting eyes, a blessing;
Arms and heart so open,
Knowing she is loved.

Grows- mind filled with wonder,
Bending to life’s breezes;
Centering her heart,
Knowing she has worth.

Gives- bearing babies, baring soul,
Teaching- learning, above all;
Heart breaking and becoming,
Knowing she is strong.

Reflects- wisdom sought, wisdom earned,
Life’s nuances, a delight;
Arms and heart still open,
Knowing she has loved.

. . . she.


On this day, the first anniversary of Trump’s presidency, the same day our government has been shut down, women are marching all around our country- AGAIN.  Women are claiming their power to define, establish and maintain their human rights as citizens of the United States and of the world.

This is nothing new.  For centuries (possibly millennia!) women have had to defend their very femininity against concurrent cultural perceptions of their intellect and abilities, as well as their worth and status in society.  It has become tedious to address each cultural nuance, each new attack against womanhood, which presents itself.  Given that it is our female anatomy and physiology which allow for the continued procreation of humankind, what in hell is the problem?  Remember, “it takes TWO, baby!” to make a baby.  Women and men are equal partners.  Why have our cultures throughout the ages failed to reflect this equality?  The likely answer is: PREGNANCY.

During pregnancy, women are somewhat physically and emotionally vulnerable.  While this vulnerability is temporary, it can be misperceived as weakness- and therefore exploited.  Further, until the recent era of ready access to dependable methods of birth control, it was common for women to get pregnant every two to three years.  They spent years of their  lives in a  vulnerable state.

Throughout history,  we have attempted to control our fertility.  Anthropologists have discovered condoms made from a variety of materials dating back as far as 3000 years ago.  Yet the use of artificial contraception (any method other than abstinence) has created enormous cultural and religious controversy for centuries.  Changing the number of pregnancies women experience would of course create change in society.  Those changes are not totally predictable, nor are they necessarily desirable to all.

When I was a young teen, I occasionally heard men joking about their wives, saying, “It’s best to keep ’em barefoot and pregnant!”  That is: “barefoot” to keep women in the home, and “pregnant” to keep them vulnerable and more easily controlled.  Consider a few other bits of American history:

  • 1873-  The Comstock Laws passed by Congress under Grant intended to “suppress trade in, and circulation of, obscene literature and articles of immoral use.”   Among those were “articles used for contraception or abortion.”  [Wikipedia]
  • 1960-  Enovid, the first birth control pill, cleared the FDA for human use.
  • 1965-  “Grisvold v. Connecticut struck down one of the [last] remaining Comstock laws.”  [Wikipedia]
  • 1965-  The US Supreme Court gave married couples the right to use birth control, but  unmarried women in 26 states were denied access to birth control pills.
  • 1972-  In Baird v. Eisenstadt the US Supreme Court legalized birth control methods for all citizens regardless of marital status.
  • 2018-  We’re still marching.  Sexual harassment against women reached a tipping point last year, and our hidden shame has been thrown off by giving it our voice.  Epidemic domestic violence continues despite all our efforts.

It seems we must keep on marching.

Dedicated to my four granddaughters: Allyson, Christina, Amber, and Elizabeth;             and to my two grandsons, Joseph and Jacob.




Holidays are times of celebration and cheerfulness. In this atmosphere, people have a tendency to feel friendlier and more magnanimous.  They may also reflect upon the origin and meaning of the holiday itself.  Quite possibly, they may even put those reflections into a more personal context, become introspective, and take a look at what the holiday represents in their own lives.

While Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, it is important to remember that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all based on the very same Old Testament of the Bible.  Those faiths all revere the Old Testament as a guide for how to best live our lives.  It teaches us lessons about right versus wrong, defining the morals we are encouraged to embrace.  Perhaps NOW- during this season of cheerfulness, nostalgia, and enhanced openness toward introspection- is a good time to evaluate our moral code.

About the Quiz

Answer the following questions honestly, for yourself.  No one else need ever know your answers.  The point is to see typical moral issues in writing so you are inclined to think about them.  When answering, consider ONLY the exceptions noted.

The Quiz

Answer Yes or No:  Do you believe it is OK to:

  1.  Cause physical harm to another person? [Exception: acting in self-defense.]
  2. Impose your own will on another adult person?  [Exception: preventing another from harming him/herself or others.]
  3. Purposely cause psychological pain to another using degrading name-calling or by berating them, no matter the reason or impetus to do so?
  4. Treat anyone with incivility or disrespect?
  5. Deliberately lie to another?  [Exception: when facing mortal danger.]
  6. Steal from a person, business, or other entity?
  7. Break a promise to an individual or a group of people?  [Exception: when facing harm to own psyche or body.]
  8. Make a promise you know you cannot keep, or one you do not intend to honor?
  9. Fail to speak up or intervene for those being harmed by others?  [Exception: when doing so might cause even more harm.]
  10. Ignore your own sense of right and wrong, even if you think “the end might justify the means?”

Most probably, few of us would answer “yes, it’s OK” to more than a few of these questions.  Yet it is just as likely that each of us has done some of the things we believe are wrong.  We are human, after all.  We rationalize our decisions by defending them and claiming circumstances or other people have “forced” our hand.  Nevertheless, deep inside, we know the truth when we decide to LOOK inside and understand ourselves.  Introspection is a beautiful thing!  It gives us the opportunity to make reparations when we have chosen to ignore our moral compass.

As we celebrate the holidays, let us also celebrate each other!  We are good and moral people who sometimes need to be forgiven, who sometimes need to forgive.  Cherish the chance to be a part of the giving, the receiving.  The Golden Rule cannot be wrapped in glitzy paper and bows, but it is the best gift we have to offer.