Stand Up and Take a Knee by Christina Knowles

Take a Knee
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

I’m an American. I tear up over Pearl Harbor footage, I swell with pride reading the Declaration of Independence, I am fiercely independent, and I believe freedom is the highest good. But I still don’t get it.

I’m referring to the disturbing Nationalism sweeping our country, the dangerous Nationalism encouraged and flouted by our own president. I’m talking about the sacralization of our National Anthem and our flag.

Certainly, everyone does seem to be in an uproar over, first, the fact that some NFL players, beginning with Colin Kaepernick one year ago, were “taking a knee” during the National Anthem in protest over police brutality, specifically aimed at African American men. Next, people were incensed over Donald Trump stirring up his base in true Trump fashion, suggesting that we would just love it if one of these NFL owners said, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired! Fired!” (Criss).  Of course, Trump could not help tweeting on Saturday, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….” and “…our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do!” (Criss).

And now, some Americans are furious that several NFL players locked arms in solidarity during the anthem at yesterday’s games.  In true American rebel fashion, #TakeaKnee became an instant trending hashtag across social media because, as all Americans know, when someone tries to interfere with your freedom, particularly your freedom of speech, you respond by doing exactly the opposite of what the presumptuous offending party told you to do, especially when he’s an authority figure. Nothing could be more American.

So, why do so many other Americans have a problem with this response? Apparently, this is a common symptom of Nationalism, and a result of sacralizing our symbol of freedom. By sacralizing our symbol for freedom, we condemn the very freedom we say we love.

Let’s back up for a second. Our flag is a symbol for our country, which embodies many ideals, most commonly freedom, independence, and determination. We feel pride when flying our flag, not because the flag has actual value, but because it represents something we believe is real—something about American character and values. When we say that soldiers died defending our flag, this is a metonym for our country’s ideals and way of life. It is a piece of cloth. It is not actually our country.

Yet, when we transpose all of our feelings of what we love about our country on to this piece of cloth and elevate it to the sacred, we do ourselves and our country a disservice. Once sacralized, we can no longer look at it reflectively, with an unbiased eye, with a view to grow and improve. It becomes a dangerous form of Nationalism through which, as opposed to ordinary patriotism, we are unable to see ourselves clearly and with an objective eye. It (the National Anthem, our flag, our country, our ideals) is perfect and can never be questioned. To question it, would be to defile it and be, in essence, blasphemy.

But, not everyone sacralizes the National Anthem or the flag, or even the actual America. To many, it is the ideals behind them that are held in high esteem, and when the realization of those ideals is in question, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, or the National Anthem is an obvious symbol to which we turn in order to draw attention to these contradictions between what we say we stand for and what we actually do. It’s a logical connection, and it in no way indicates that we are not patriotic or that we do not love and appreciate our country, and it certainly has nothing to do with disrespecting soldiers. We fly a flag at half-mast when we are grieving; we fly it upside down to signal distress. We do not stand for the anthem or pledge our allegiance when we see a discrepancy in the ideals we say we represent and in the reality of what our country, or our leaders, in most cases, shows that we actually represent. This is clearly Colin Kaepernick’s thinking when he explains, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Gillespie).

According to Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion, conservatives tend to sacralize symbols and traditions like the flag and the anthem, while liberals tend to sacralize other things, such as compassion and human rights (Haidt). They aren’t disrespecting soldiers who gave up their lives fighting in a war; they are making a logical connection between what we say we stand for and what we will stand for.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop referencing the rules for flags and NFL players. It is completely irrelevant what the rules are, or even the laws, for that matter. The most effective protests throughout history have been illegal. It’s called civil disobedience. If protestors concerned themselves with whether or not they were allowed to do something, women would still be unable to vote, and Rosa Parks would never have sat in the front of the bus. It’s effective precisely because it is not allowed. The risk of consequences demonstrates the level of commitment and the intensity of the desire for change.

I submit to you that those who refuse to stand for the National Anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance, whether it be to protest the president encouraging the squelching of free speech, or the systemic racism endangering the lives of black Americans, are the most patriotic of citizens. These protestors recognize what the flag and the anthem, and indeed, our country, are supposed to stand for, and refuse to settle for anything less than the ideals that form this great experiment. Truly, standing to honor that which fails to live up to all we mean it to be is dishonoring to America itself at its very core. As historian Howard Zinn once said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” So, show us how much you love America, and take a knee.—Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2017

Sources:

Criss, Doug. “A president shouldn’t tell an NFL team what to do, Trump tweeted … in 2013.” cnn.com. Updated 25 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Gillespie, Nick. “Donald Trump Should Stop Telling NFL To Fire Players for Anthem Protests” 23 Sept. 2017. Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided Over Politics and Religion. Vintage Books, 2013.

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My 2018 Year-End Reflection or Learning to Give No F**ks by Christina Knowles

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So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want to do some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

That was an excerpt from my 2015 year-end blog—a year where I watched loved ones suffer with illness, a year where I struggled to find balance and peace amidst chaotic situations. Yet, I still felt good at the end of that year, having learned the secret of happiness. I had the epiphany that living in the moment, being aware and thankful is where contentment can be found, and realized that happiness is often just a choice. I wish I could say that since then I’ve been totally awake, that my life has achieved that balance I spoke about, but it has not. At least not completely. Shortly after that, some major tragedies struck, and I lost my footing for a while. However, I am progressing from one year to the next. I’ve had some bumps in the road, but now I’m picking up speed.

For example, 2018 brought me a new level of self-awareness that, in and of itself, has been an epiphany of sorts. I may not have perfect balance or peace at all times, but I know who I am, what I want, and what I need to work on in greater clarity than ever before. This past year has been a year when I learned a great many things about myself and about those around me. I faced great sorrow and great joy, which is usually the case every year it seems.

2018 was the year where I learned how to live without my sisters, or maybe, it was when I learned that sisters don’t have to be blood-related, and I was about to lose a third sister. I watched in fear and anxiety as my best friend of the past 13 years packed up and moved across the country, embarking on her new journey. I flew out to see her when she’d been gone barely two months. She’s always been a kind of guru to me, and while there, I sat on a huge rock, staring into the vast Pacific Ocean and learned to feel at one with the universe. We laughed until we cried, and we sat in silent meditation together each day, and I wondered how I’d ever get through life without her physical presence each week, but I also realized how our friendship had shaped me and helped me grow throughout all these years, and really prepared me for this reality.

I leaned more heavily on my book club friends and found them to be warm, generous, kind, and loving. They taught me, and still teach me daily, that there are good people all around me, and no matter where life leads us, there are friends to be made and fun to be had.

There were other struggles in 2018. It was a year when I stood up for myself and found a depth of strength and resilience I never really knew I had. I also found an inner peace that overflows to cover any negative circumstance, and I learned that nothing is good unless I think it so, and thinking it makes it thus.

It was the year when I examined myself and found me wanting, and loved myself unconditionally anyway, and as a result, I committed to my self-improvement without judgement. Looking at yourself honestly and still loving yourself is the most comforting of experiences. It equips me to work on myself with no stress or anxiety. But honestly, it also helps when you’ve learned “the subtle art of not giving a fuck.” I read the book by this title, authored by Mark Manson, and took it to heart. I’ve learned to say, “I don’t care what they think,” and mean it. It doesn’t mean I knowingly annoy people or hurt them; it just means that I do what I think is right according to my own ethical standards, and no one else has to agree with it. I care what I think, and those closest to me. That seems sufficient to me.

2018 was yet another year when my husband, the love of my life, was my rock and gave me strength to face every day amid all the changes coming my way. Together, I think we both became even more open-minded. I thought I was open-minded before, but as many of us do in the face of this radical and vitriolic political climate, I became more and more closed off to the concerns and reasoning of the “other” side. Throughout the year, I read many books that I found particularly helpful in showing me where I might be wrong, and to reconsider the truth of my opinions. I have distanced myself from political parties and have gone back to looking at individual issues, and I’ve tried to see things from the perspective of those who disagree with me. I still retain most of my political views, but I’ve recommitted to seeking truth, instead of confirmation.

On the lighter side, I did some other awesome things this year like taking a psychology/nutrition/health class, a class on dying, and an online Spanish class. I read 77 books, spent more time with my wonderful daughter, built an awesome patio with my husband, and threw a fabulous party with my numerous friends. I’ve spent less and less time at home doing work that should be done at work, and more time pursuing things that make me happy. I’ve made some strong relationships and connections this year, and I’ve tried to give of myself and to be open to helping others without over-stressing myself with busyness.

All in all, considering the major changes I and the country have undergone this year, it was a year of general peace and personal growth, and I look forward to using the tools I’ve gained this past year to make a choice for peace and joy every day of 2019.

Happy New Year!–Christina Knowles

Originally published in 2018

Book Review: Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Tales of a South African Childhood

Trevor NoahThis book was absolutely wonderful! This is quite likely the best memoir I’ve ever read (Well, actually, I listened to it.). Trevor Noah narrates and uses all his repertoire of voices and accents his fans are familiar with on The Daily Show. There are laugh-out-loud moments, for sure, but what surprised me was the depth and vulnerability present in this memoir. Noah bares his soul and shows us the truth of growing up biracial, a crime, in apartheid South Africa. He paints a beautiful, but honest, picture of a strong, loving, and somewhat eccentric African mother, an aloof, yet caring, Swiss-German father, a complicated and abusive step-father, and a colorful portrait of his other friends and family members.

Some of Noah’s experiences shocked me. He seems too well-adjusted and happy to have gone through so much, but I think he makes it clear that his mother is primarily responsible for that, along with a pretty peaceful temperament and a good head on his shoulders.

This memoir is a must-read, though, not because it is funny, sweet, honest, and poignant, which it is, but because it gives a first person account of the effects of apartheid, racism and caste systems in general, and some of the issues that all poor people face, and minorities in particular. He discusses phenomena such “paying the black tax” and the code of ethics in the “hood” with the benefit of thoughtful hindsight and sheds light on issues of poverty, racism, and crime in America as well.

This memoir is highly engaging, and I was sad to have it end. Noah left me anxious to hear more about his life and to find out more about how he achieved his current success, even though it is clear he was on the path to it when this book ends. I highly recommend this book. Trust me; you’ll love it!–Christina Knowles

 

10 Tips to Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions by Christina Knowles

img_1314Reflecting on life is common this time of year. Some feel as though another year has gone by and wonder where the time went and feel disappointed and unaccomplished. Not me. I like to reflect on the year in order to make plans for the coming year. I see each new year as a fresh start, a chance to stop and take stock, decide what’s really important to me right now, and to make sure I don’t waste a whole year without even realizing it. I reevaluate my goals and adjust accordingly.

 

Yet there are those who look upon New Year’s resolutions with disdain, suggesting that failure in realizing these goals is inevitable and merely contributes to frustration and disappointment. I don’t see it that way. I like to make lots of resolutions because I usually keep at least half of them, so the more I have, the more I keep. This year, I started a second blog, published a collection of poetry, gained a basic proficiency with Photoshop, and reduced the amount of work I take home in addition to several personal things I won’t mention. Did I complete all my goals? No, but I’m perfectly satisfied with what I did accomplish.

 

So, because I’m pretty successful in this area, I thought I’d offer a few tips that help me in keeping my New Year’s resolutions.

 

  1. Make sure your resolutions are things that you really want to do, not just what you think you should do, or what someone else suggests you do. It’s human nature to be inspired to work for something when you really want it. Sometimes, we try to force our desires to fit things that we think are good for us, but our heart is not in it. If your heart is not in it, you probably won’t do it.
  2. Make realistic resolutions for the things that you are slightly less enthusiastic about. Instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 40 lbs.,” say, “I’m going to completely stop eating at fast food restaurants.” A change like this may inadvertently get you closer to the more difficult goal.
  3. Make small incremental changes throughout the year, rather than jumping in full speed. Start slow and create habits without burning yourself out. Committing to doing yoga twice a week for a year is better, in the long run, than spending five days a week in the gym for one month and quitting.
  4. Celebrate small successes and let them encourage you to think bigger. Instead of deciding to write your first novel after several years of not writing, start journaling or blogging or writing short stories. Practice writing short things and get used to expressing yourself regularly. Not only will the task of writing a novel seem less daunting after a while, but your writing ability and creativity will have grown, so your novel will be better. This concept can be applied to all kinds of goals. This sounds like the same thing as number 3, but here I am talking more about practicing something to improve proficiency and build confidence.
  5. Put your resolutions somewhere you will see them regularly. Re-read them at least once a month to remind yourself of your goals, to adjust your methods, and to get yourself back on track if necessary, or hopefully, to check off goals that you have met early. Checking things off your resolution list is not only gratifying, but inspires us to tackle the next goal. As the year-end nears, I find myself gaining a renewed determination to knock things off that list. It feels great!
  6. Tell someone else about your goals/resolutions and ask them to check in with you periodically to ask you how you are doing with them. Be sure they understand that you don’t want to be nagged. That’s different than just a friendly check-in, which leads to number 7.
  7. Do not ask someone to hold you accountable. A friendly check-in should be framed as interest, not accountability. It’s my understanding of human nature, that as soon as someone appears to be telling us to do something, we react by not wanting to do it at all.
  8. Reward yourself for every goal you complete, or for larger goals, you should treat yourself for completing significant steps toward the goal.
  9. Make sure these rewards don’t sabotage your goals. The reward should not be taking a break from the good habits you are forming, but should be something unrelated that you enjoy. Building a habit or routine that helps you reach your goals can be derailed quickly by associating reward with stopping or taking a break from working toward your goal.
  10. Don’t feel bad or criticize yourself for the resolutions you don’t keep. Praise yourself for the ones you do keep. At the end of the year, count up how many successes you had, re-evaluate the rest, and if you feel like you still want to meet the goals you didn’t succeed in, add them to your next New Year’s resolution list, knowing that you are bound to meet some of them, so you’re better off than not making resolutions at all.

 

Why risk feeling like you let a whole year slip unconsciously by, regretting inaction, and missing out on the things that are most important to you? Don’t let your life slide by, lost in the hypnosis of everyday life. Take the necessary steps to move toward accomplishing what really matters to you.—Christina Knowles

Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com. 

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Year End Reflections by Christina Knowles

Once again I sit here reflecting on the year that is coming quickly to a close. As all years do, 2015 brought its share of joys, heartaches, and problems, and with them life-lessons and growth. Looking back on this year, the things that stand out to me most are the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me, and though these stories are not mine to tell, I have learned from them. I’ve learned about the value of love, loyalty, and to prioritize time with loved ones above all else. With that in mind, I’ve had my own issues with which I have dealt.

The biggest personal event in my life this year was probably experiencing a stress heart attack last summer. It was minor, and I have been given a clean bill of health, but nevertheless, it was the catalyst for making several changes that I knew I needed to make for some time, but like most people, I had to come face-to-face with my own limitations before accepting them.

As a result of this event and of the tragedies and illnesses of those close to me this year, I have finally “lightened up.” I no longer work every night at home on schoolwork. I grade almost all my papers at school, I do most of my planning at school, and I simply eliminated anything that was not essential or directly related to my students’ success and learning. I work my butt off at work, and I still work my butt off at home, but it’s different work. It’s my work—creative work that I choose. I spend my time doing what I think is important because my time is not guaranteed to last.

So often, it seems, that we imagine we will have time to be happy later, time to relax and do what we want some day. Maybe we are waiting for retirement, but sometimes retirement never comes. Maybe we are waiting for a new job to make our lives more bearable, a new schedule to give us time to spend nurturing relationships, or to make more money to make our lives more enjoyable or less stressful, but what we don’t realize is that waiting will never end unless we just stop. Just stop waiting to be happy. Happiness can be found right now in every day.

So instead of detailing all the things that happened this past year, I’ll just say that some of it was good and some of it was not, but I learned from it all, and what I learned is that my life is in my control, and I don’t need a specific set of circumstances to start living it the way I want to.

All in all, I am happy with how this year turned out, happy with what I did with the time allotted, and that’s a good feeling. This year I learned to prioritize my life, find more balance than I ever had before, and do things that give me and those I love the most benefit from the time we have. Time won’t slow down, and I probably won’t either, but I can decide what is worthy of the minutes of my life. And the funny thing is that all of those things that I was waiting on to change, don’t even need to change anymore because I have changed. I love my job again. I love my home-life. I love where my career is going in both teaching and writing. I love my life again. I’m not waiting for anything to get better ever again. I’m making what I have better and enjoying every minute of it. Happy New Year!—Christina Knowles

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