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  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.

“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.