You are currently browsing the Talking Cultural Diversity blog archives for January, 2014.

Rules without Relationships

By Thomas Kochman - 01.25.2014

Rachel Snyder learned an important lesson from her experience as resident manager of an apartment building, which she writes about in her article, “How you doing, baby?”

As she describes it, “I was fresh out of grad school and thrilled, as a writer, to have free rent. My visible job was to clean the building, show apartments, escort workmen and circulate rent notices; the invisible part was to create community among different races, different economic scales, different cultures.

Eventually, I would hold potlucks at my apartment, plan camping trips, create a laundry-room library and plant a communal herb garden. But this was my first week on the job and one of my first calls to a tenant. All I knew was that she was twice my age and had lived in the building for more than 10 years.

“I was calling to ask her to remove several garbage bags sitting on her back deck. This was a building violation, but that mattered little to me. What did matter was that garbage attracted vermin — specifically rats, mice and possums — and I was masking my blind terror of possums in the convenient bureaucracy of ‘building rules and regulations.’ I had already had a run-in with a beady-eyed possum on a back porch one night. The possum was of that unsettling urban variety, too tough for mere humans. It casually sauntered away. Read more »

Physically Challenged: Humbling Experience, Huge Learning

By Rita Wuebbeler - 01.24.2014


I recently spent almost seven weeks not being able to put weight on my left knee due to a minor bicycle accident where I fractured a small bone in my knee joint.

It turned out to be a small accident with a huge impact. When I received the diagnosis from my orthopedist along with her casual “you need crutches” at the beginning of October, all I could think of were the numerous trips I had scheduled in the next two months.

I was planning to teach classes or give presentations at international conferences in far-off places, including Estonia, Germany and Canada. I almost panicked but then decided to get practical. What did I have to do to still be able to travel and teach?

I had to ask for help! I became an expert user of the airlines’ (and AMTRAK’s) wheel chair assistance services and relied on the helping hands of many fellow travelers and hotel staff when trying to maneuver stairs, steps and other “barriers.”

So, no big deal, right? Using crutches and a wheel chair is an “inconvenience” but at least it’s only temporary, right?

Right! However, the experience of being “temporarily” physically challenged was humbling and has taught me some important lessons:

Asking for help comes with challenges.

I had to rely so much on certain friends and colleagues, especially while traveling and co-facilitating, that it temporarily changed and affected our relationship. Even though I became pretty good at asking for help, it still “did a number on me” and made me feel insecure and “too demanding” at times. Read more »

Haves and Have Nots — Part 2

By Jean Mavrelis - 01.23.2014

As I mentioned in my last blog, those in a family who have something, are often called upon to help those in the family who have less.

While the US senate debates extending unemployment to people who really can’t find a job a lot of those who still have them — “working stiffs” (as my mother used to call laborers)–are going to have even less to spend, since they now are confronted with tough choices: offer money to the unemployed family members (which may require dipping into savings), have family members move in, or say no and have siblings who pick up the financial slack be upset with you.

All of these choices are stressful.

Making things even more difficult– a family member who no longer will receive unemployment checks may have voted for the very senators and congressmen who vote against extending unemployment.  These family members may sincerely believe in less government.  But they also believe in (and now depend on) family helping each other. For those others in the family who voted differently, helping those in the family who, in effect, didn’t do all to help themselves, compounds the matter of giving still further.

I now understand better how members of the same family were pitted against each other during the civil war.

Haves and Have-nots – within our families

By Jean Mavrelis - 01.06.2014

Families are often a microcosm of global politics: the haves and the have-nots.

Rigoberto Menchu describes a Mayan ritual (in her book, I, Rogoberto Menchu) where at baptism, a baby’s hands are tied together to symbolize that no one takes more than they need until everyone has some.

Wouldn’t it be something if we could make that happen across the globe?  This morning the front page of the New York Times had a haunting image of a malnourished Afghan baby with the weezened face of an older person.

Who among us wouldn’t trade everything under that Christmas tree or Hannukah bush to feed that child?  But how?

Who said, “Charity begins at home?” My Dad’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Lithuania, and they had 8 kids.   The family grew up above a barn in the early years.   Dad always advised, “Take care of the family first”. I’ve taken that to heart.  I suppose I also believe, “to each according to their need”.  But sometimes taking care of family members encourages dependency.  Where is that line?  When are you helping, and when are you undermining self- reliance?  Nobody wants to be used.

My Irish Catholic mother said her Father would always give something to anyone who asked.  Any charity that came in the mail, he’d at least give a couple of bucks.  “Poppa” said, “If they’re asking, they must need it.”  My mother, although living off social security checks, once handed a $20 bill to a woman begging in the parking lot.  (Then I would cover the debit at the end of the month).

Some family members are have-nots.  And some of those have-nots are pretty “f—–“ up.  Some suffer addiction, others have been in and out of prison, still others suffer with health issues.   Some are just struggling to make ends meet.  And then there are the rich ones.  In some families, the rich may even be loaded.  A friend of mine was complaining that a rich relative tried to barter for her artwork, offering an oil change for a painting.  Ouch.

The season of giving challenges all of us, especially when we shell out a lot of dough on silly gifts no one will remember.   Every year I plan to make wiser choices for giving.  Maybe next year…