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.


“Me Too!” ~ with a twist

The Intruder

. . . . ENTER:  the intruder . . . .

We all imagine he might come one night-
The man so angry, so full of hate,
Disturbed, defensive, deliberate distraught;
He might enter our lives with kisses, sweet words,
Or barge through our doors, violent- violating
Our homes, our bodies, our peace, our souls-
Ravaging, rampaging, ruining- rendering
Our lives devoid of sanity, of hope . . .

. . . . EXIT: the intruder.                                          1/1/93


By profession, I am a registered nurse practitioner specializing in anesthesia. In 1990, I also completed a BA in Cultural Anthropology.  While pursuing my studies, I’d been enthralled by Margaret Mead’s research in American Samoa for her doctoral thesis in Anthropology.  I’d also had the opportunity to meet her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson, when she was a visiting lecturer at George Mason University.  So when an advertisement appeared in our anesthesia journal in early 1992 seeking volunteers to work in American Samoa, I knew I had to respond!  I wanted to experience Mead’s South Pacific paradise for myself!

Making it happen was no small task.  I didn’t want to move out of my condo, so my son Michael agreed he would stay there and cover the expenses.  I contacted LBJ Tropical Medical Center and told them of my interest, sending my resume and  copies of licenses, etc.  I also began looking into possible free-lance work to do after I returned.  I told my boss about my plans, and to my surprise, he offered me a leave of absence instead.  I happily accepted.  Finally I was ready to go!

Dr. Sam met me at the airport on July 1, 1992.  He told me I would be staying at the Rainmaker Hotel temporarily because a hurricane the previous year had damaged the volunteer apartments.  The hotel was lovely; I settled in and began working the next day at the hospital, which was about a mile away.  But by July 7th, I wrote in my diary, “I’m bored staying here!”  So I visited the damaged area to assess the condition of my future “home.”  The apartments were filthy but some were structurally intact.  I chose one with a roof (!!!) and then went to speak to the head doctor of the hospital.  I suggested I could clean up the place myself.  He agreed, so the next day I moved my belongings and went to work!

For the next few days, I provided anesthesia services during the day under less than optimal conditions.  Medications were in short supply, equipment was outdated and un-serviced.  I had to be constantly alert for the types of problems I’d never encounter on the US continent.  Evenings at “home” were just as challenging! The apartment was not air-conditioned and depended upon louvered windows (with no curtains) for air circulation.  I had also quickly discovered my four- and eight-legged roomies!  Roaches, rats and geckos had preceded me!  I cleaned to discourage the roaches, repaired the cupboard bottoms which allowed  constant access for the rats, and decided the geckos were my friends!  So when I went to bed on July 11, 1992, I was exhausted!

[Diary entry referencing events of July 12, 1992, early AM]

“I was awakened from a sound sleep by the click of the door opening (outside door near my bedroom.)  Still lying down, I looked and saw  the shadow of a tall thin man at my bedroom doorway.”

Groggy confusion quickly gave way to pure terror.  I screamed at him to get out, irrationally demanding to know who he was and what he wanted.  As he slowly walked toward me, I sat up and wrapped myself in my bed sheet and grabbed my glasses.  Then he plopped into the chair near my bed and said, “I just want to talk.”  Right!  Although it was quite dark in the room, I could see he was wearing only swim trunks. I demanded to know how he’d gotten in and he told me he’d broken in with his knife; then he reached for my cigarettes on the table and knocked over a glass of water at my bedside.  It shattered on the floor. ….. Shorts. Knife. Broken glass…..  No idiot would believe his intentions were to merely “talk” to me.  My heart sank; I put my hand to my forehead wondering how I was going to get out of this alive.  He asked, “what’s the matter?”  “I’m tired,” I lied.

Over the next hour or so, my mind raced to accommodate the reality of my circumstances. Years before, I had taken a US Department of State class on how to deal with a hostage situation.  The keys to safely surviving were: be calm and avoid escalating fear or anger in the situation; try to get the hostage-taker to see you as a person, not a target; above all, stay alert for any moment during which you might escape.  So I talked, trying to get a feel for who he was, and to see if he was sober.  I alternately raged, placated, cajoled and shamed him.  My emotions sometimes got the better of me, and I spoke with anger and derision, backing off when he responded negatively.  Several times I considered just getting up and walking out.  But then I’d remember the knife and broken glass on my floor, and the possibility he might try to stop me- or worse, attack me.  I’d be no match for him. Then:

“I’ve gotta pee.  Where’s your bathroom?” he asked.

“Right across from the door you broke into!” I barked.

The time had come.  I waited until he got through the bedroom doorway then said I needed to get some water.  Carefully, I got out of bed at the foot, avoiding the shattered glass.  He didn’t turn.  I hurried toward my kitchen, opened the outside door and ran!  The slamming door alerted him, but he couldn’t have had time to pee- he chased me!  Thankfully I had enough of a head start toward (hopefully) inhabited apartments.  He saw where I was going, then turned and ran the other way.


The person who responded to my door banging called hospital security, who chased down the intruder and called the police.  They brought him in handcuffs so I could ID him.  But he looked me in the face and said, “It was me.”  I asked him why, and he said he’d seen me through the windows and I’d looked “nice.”  He was taken to jail briefly then sentenced to be publicly shunned.  Several days later, the Assistant Attorney General of American Samoa called to tell me about how shunning is used to shame people for certain crimes when no physical injury had taken place.  He said it works very well in their culture, as public avoidance causes much shame.  He also asked me to please stay for my promised three months, as Samoans depended on their volunteers for health care.  I assured him I had no intention of leaving.

Local people and my friends and family were very concerned and supportive.  The emotional toll wasn’t a burden I could have easily carried without their help.  Yet there were just a few who asked, “What’s the big deal?  He didn’t hurt you, so. . .   ?”  But of course pain is rarely only physical.  The comments and attitudes of those few still haunt me, just as the sight of the intruder’s knife left behind  near my chair haunts me.  They are just a tiny glimpse of what the “Silence Breakers” must face.











Donald Trump should be removed from office immediately.

This missive is not meant to convince you of Mr. Trump’s incompetency in his role as President of the United States.  Your own eyes and ears have informed you of his instability, narcissism, paranoia and lack of a normal moral compass.  You have no doubt felt waves of disbelief, disgust, and fear in your heart and gut as you witnessed his behavior, listened to his words, and read his “tweets.”  Your internal body wisdom has been flashing a neon warning sign! Yet you have a job to do, a career to pursue.  And so you have attempted to accommodate him and “give him a chance,” because after all, some of his beliefs mirror your own.  And of course what can you accomplish for your constituents if you are not re-elected?   But being co-opted into Mr. Trump’s mindset and allowing him to set normalcy standards of behavior and belief are not conducive to fulfilling your duties as our representatives.  Neither will it be possible to try to work around him.  He is a dangerous and unpredictable man.   [Please read The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, October 2017, ed. Bandy Lee, MD.  Contributors are 27 mental health experts who felt it was their civic and moral “duty to warn” us of the danger Mr. Trump presents to the USA in his presidential role.]  Therefore it is incumbent upon each of you to ask yourself some difficult questions:  Who am I?  What do I believe?  What are my most cherished goals?  Each must be answered honestly (if only to yourself!) without prejudice or rationalization.  Then remind yourself there is strength in numbers!

We, the people of the United States, have elected a group of wise, moral and powerful women and men to help us maintain and improve upon the nation our forefathers created for us.  To do so, you must reclaim your power and become a united front!  Together, your primary responsibility must be to help heal the divisiveness in our country.  All other agendas must wait.   A gentle, non-judgmental hand will be needed to accomplish so noble a goal.  Keep in mind Mr. Trump won the presidency by acknowledging and validating the concerns and fears of some among us.  That in itself is commendable for all who aspire to leadership, as the knowledge may be used to realistically address common concerns.   But such was not Mr. Trump’s goal.  He inflamed fear and anger while emboldening incivility toward one another.  He encouraged scapegoating- blaming the “OTHER” for our problems.  Then he decreed only he could help.  Mr. Trump appeared to be understanding, empathetic.  But his goal was to create an image that would buy him a win, the power of the presidency.  The image is a sham.

By reclaiming your power and leadership, you who represent us in Congress can stand united and reject the “malignant normality” presented by Mr. Trump. [Terminology used by Robert Lifton, MD, in the aforementioned book. It refers to creating a culture in which abhorrent practices are deemed “normal.”]  Using either impeachment proceedings or the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, you can reveal the sham Mr. Trump has engendered.  By being truthful and sincerely empathetic yourself and by avoiding making Mr. Trump himself a scapegoat, you can remove him from office and prevent further damage to your integrity and the integrity of our country.  Then through legislation and public discussions, you can encourage us to reaffirm that all human beings deserve dignity, respect and kindness.  You have the power to empower, to remind us we are each in control of our own destiny; blame and shame have no useful place in our lives.

I beseech each of you to do your part as an elected and trusted leader of our country.  Thank you for choosing to serve us.

Most Sincerely,

Sue Valk

[Sent to Virginia Representatives.]



We are wholly human:
The  soul-mind-body share
Each moment in time-space,
With just one chance to care.

We are holy humans:
Hearts whispering a prayer;
Urgent voice within us,
“Please spread love everywhere!”

We are wholly holy:
Our minds charge, “Be aware!
Our conscience and our love
Can ease the world’s despair!”

Wholly Holy Humans:
Whose souls scream, “We don’t dare
Ignore our primal cry!”
We must answer . . . . .
. . . . . with a prayer.


The need to love and be loved: our primal cry is just that simple and just that complex.  Love demands much from us.  Caring, compassion, kindness and commitment rank high among those requirements.  Without love none of us would survive beyond birth.  We need each other.  Alone, we die.  Together we flourish and have the opportunity to experience joy, hope purpose and contentment in our lives. Yet nothing is guaranteed.  That means we have work to do!

Fully understanding who we are as human beings is our essential task.  When I refer to us as “wholly holy humans,”  I mean we are the embodiment of conscience and love [holy] with the instinct for personal and species survival [human.]  These two primary aspects of human nature are permanently intricately intertwined.  Nevertheless, tension exists between them.  This tension may be thought of as a tug-of-war for dominance.  Our holiness and our humanness are constantly competing for our attention as we choose how to view both the world and our place in it.  This tension gives birth to most of the challenges we face throughout life.

Our personal and species survival rely upon our interdependence with each other, which in turn requires us to love and have compassion for one another.  Meanwhile, our humanness decrees we want to define the terms for interdependence!  Moreover, our definition of survival has become, “I want to be who I choose, live as I choose, while maintaining my self-esteem along with my reputation and status in society!”  Each and every time we perceive our desires are threatened or under attack, we feel afraid.

Fear may lead to anger, antagonism, even war.  But on a day-to-day basis, fear often lurks beneath our awareness, creating suspicion, hypervigilance, and anxiety.  Such states of mind may lead us to misinterpret the people and circumstances in our lives.  Too often, we don’t recognize our fear and ‘own’ it as an essential and useful part of who we are.  Instead, because we have come to believe fear is a human weakness, we externalize it.  Consequently we mislabel our fear (often in a self-serving or righteous manner!)  then name a scapegoat.

Our scapegoats take many forms:  another person; a group of people; natural and accidental events; a world view or a religion; a supernatural being like a devil.  All become diversions which prevent us from correctly understanding our own issues and finding useful solutions to  them.  They waste our time, emotions and energy while leading us down a rabbit hole.  We may war with our scapegoats, but we can never control them!

Fortunately there is another path.  By recognizing and embracing who we are as human beings, we can actually nurture our holiness by putting our survival instinct to good use, the use for which it was intended!  It is incumbent upon all of us to use our innate intelligence  to continuously question our perceptions with self-honesty and an open mind.  Our challenges were born within us. Their solutions must come from within.  Voila!  Control is in reach!


Dedicated to:

The people of Charlottesville, Virginia, who endured bearing witness to the consequences of fear run amuck while seeing events for what they really were, yet persevering with grace, dignity and forgiveness.

The people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and all the Caribbean Islands who were in the path of recent hurricanes, along with those who came to provide assistance.  The world was privileged to witness your struggle as you faced catastrophic conditions.  You showed all of us the enormous capabilities of humanity,  giving us hope.  May your recovery be swift, your hearts lightened.