Don't Touch My Stuff

Don't Touch My Stuff

Don’t Touch My Stuff—June 15, 2018

I’m in a hurry to leave for work and have *just* enough time to paint a coat of polish on my toe nails.  I grab the bottle and watch the glass bulb arc through the air, the top still in my hand, and spiral down, splaying pink Kandinsky curves across the white tile. 

“Emma!” I howl.  No wonder her pink Wonder Woman bracelets didn’t wash off last night. She’ll need more than bullet-proof protection from me because this is driving me crazy!

Emma is generally a happy companion, cheerful and eager, but with a 5 year old’s attention span. And lately, it seems, an insatiable desire to touch things. The statement, “please don’t touch this” will somehow magnetically attract her hand to the very thing—and on her face is the bewildered expression of someone watching her appendage override her brain’s directives.

It’s like this: “Don’t touch that. Ask first. Please put that back. Ask before you touch that. I just asked you not to touch that. Please be careful.”

And then, of course, something breaks. Or drops. Or spills.  And finally I explode: Don’t Touch My Stuff!

She’s sorry.  She knows. She didn’t mean to. She forgot. She’ll do better next time. She promises.

She apologizes. I forgive. We share a hug.

This event happened during the week that the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulations went into effect. The regulations state that “unless a person has provided informed consent to data processing for one or more purposes, personal data may not be processed unless there is at least one legal basis to do so.”  The regulations also specify that “consent must be a specific, freely-given, plainly-worded, and unambiguous affirmation given by the data subject.” 

There’s a lot more, and I don’t pretend to understand all of it, but it seems to me to boil down to: Unless I’ve given prior permission--Don’t Touch My Stuff. 

I am grateful to the European leaders for forcing this issue because most American companies are following suit. That’s why your inbox was recently overrun by messages from various companies you’ve had some previous relationship with; they now need you to opt-in for them to continue to email/spam you or to collect and use/sell your personal data.  Make sure you read the fine print, because some of them claim that you’ve given opt-in consent if you open that email—even if you immediately delete it without reading.  But these new regulations are an important first step in hashing out privacy, consent rules and consumer rights. 

When I sent out the blog preview, Alex responded with this: ““My first thought was that this is a selfish, ungenerous statement. Then I thought about the difference between what something tangible or intangible means to me versus what it means or doesn't mean to another. It is the intangibles which mean much to me and nothing to others that I would prefer they not touch. For example, my recently departed father and my fast-disappearing country. I do not want others who do not care to ‘touch’ them.”

Exactly. If something of value to me is trivial to you, then your abuse of it is inversely offensive.

As the #MeToo movement continues to flex its muscle, consent remains of pivotal importance.

Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby are just the most putrid examples. Equally and differently insidious are the on-going scandal in the Catholic Church and the drawn-out downfall of Paige Patterson of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southern Baptist).  Hollywood never claimed holiness, though Cosby cultivated a good-guy vibe. Worse are the lies to innocent children; misogynist platitudes to victims of abuse.

Of course, #MeToo is complicated.  As my friend Amy Montenaz has said, #MeToo abruptly changed the water we’re swimming in, and we’re all having to get used to the new water.  We’re all figuring out and creating the new rules, and it’s messy—and marvelous—as we take this on together. 

Yes, I’ve had my #MeToo moments.  I don’t know any woman—Not. One.—who hasn’t.  Mine aren’t the most egregious moments.  But I have charted my course through this world knowing what place the world wanted me to fill; and I’ve known the pain in choosing not to go along.

And let me just say this.  I love men.  I grew up a tom-boy with older brothers and, unfortunately, a cultural indifference for the worthiness of women. I got along better with the boys in my schools and, except for church, didn’t wear dresses until college.  As an adult I’ve been able to find good women friends who aren’t shy of being smart, aren’t afraid to be other than perfect, aren’t intent on fitting in.  My mother-in-law is a force of nature and beacon of chart-your-own-course-strength.  My husband is my best friend.  The best friend I’ve ever had. My father and brothers are wonderful people. I love men.

And I’m glad that #MeToo is causing a reckoning. 

There’ve been mixed reactions.  Some men are now wondering, who’s next? Is this a witch hunt? Have I ever said or done anything that might be dredged up now?


Every man should be thinking this. Every man should be reconsidering his way of interacting in the world.  Reconsidering his authority—is it assumed?  Deserved? Men should not be reconsidering this in order to escape blame from the past; I want men to exert authority well in the present.  We should all—men and women—be concerned to wield authority well.  We should be much more conscious of requesting and confirming consent along the way of any relationship, but especially ones with unequal power dynamics. Like a boss to an employee, or a director to an actor.  As far as sexual consent goes, the best description I’ve seen is the Tea and Consent video. Check it out.

And by the way, calling #MeToo a witch hunt is pretty rich considering that witch hunts were to condemn—and often torture and kill—uppity women who weren’t staying in their place.

Don’t touch my stuff.

My body, my personal data, my shopping history.  My country, my church, my crayons.

And though I disagree, I have some sympathy with the MAGA folks.

Make America Great Again is a rallying cry for people who want things to return to a past that felt right.  My sympathy lies with the aspect of the past that respected a rule of civility and honor.  A time that revered politeness and listening over contempt, ridicule and extremes.

However, MAGA also recalls a time when all men knew their place in the socio-economic and racial strata, and white men were in charge. When women knew their place and white women benefitted from attaching themselves to powerful white men.  There was authority and structure and hierarchy, and everyone knew his place—his place, because there really wasn’t a place for women.  Make America Great Again feels like white men saying, “Don’t touch my stuff” because “I liked it the way it was.  I knew my role and was set to take my father’s place and the system owes it to me not to change.”  Or white women saying, “I knew the rules. Don’t change them now.”

But we don’t owe it to you not to change.  We owe it to all people to strive for the peaceable kingdom where "They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9--and if you're confused as to who is priviledged, re-read verse 4.) 

Winston Churchill said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

Let us listen to the voices challenging our need to have more than 1,500 sites (including statues, plaques, named buildings) commemorating Confederate soldiers and causes. 

I respect my ancestors who fought and supported the Confederacy because I’ve been taught, and it’s probably mostly true, that they did so out of duty and devotion to a larger ideal.  That’s commendable.  But it’s not what makes America great. The fact is, my Confederate ancestors were traitors to the larger cause of the United States.  Just as my earlier, War of American Independence ancestors were traitors to the larger cause of the British Empire.

The difference is not just that the early set won.  It’s that the earlier set were fighting for more human dignity, more human freedom, more ability to follow one’s dreams and conscience. The Confederates, on the other hand, were fighting for less human dignity. Even if you buy the ‘states rights’ argument, which I don’t, the Civil War was fought so that the Southern white ruling class could retain the right to remain sinful.  Because I hope we can all agree that an economic system based on the necessity of some people owning other people is sinful. 

Sunday will mark three years since Dylann Roof attended a Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and then shot and killed nine people, including the pastor, Senator Clemente Pinckney, whom I knew. Mr. Roof is a self-proclaimed white supremacist and Neo-Nazi, who draped himself in the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  The so-called Confederate Flag.

Winston Churchill also said, “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” 

We are certainly in the midst of a quarrel between past and present.  I pray—daily—that we do not lose the future.

My friend, Michael, just sent me this poem from the 17th Century Japanese poet, Basho.

Dead my old fine hopes 
And dry my dreaming but still... 
Iris, blue each spring.

I receive this as a balm.

It’s time to leave my office.  I straighten my desk, pile the things for the car, ask Emma to clean up her toys. I go to the office kitchen to put away a glass and am walking up the hallway when Emma whirls out of my office, backpack on her back, and slams the door with, “Okay, Mom! Let’s go!”

“Nooooooo!” I cry, sinking to my knees, head in hands. She’s just locked us out. Everything is inside—office keys, car key, house keys, phone.  Everyone has gone for the day.

Some bad words were said.

I apologized. She apologized. We shared a hug and went next door to the main church building.  Thirty minutes, three phone calls and my colleague Debbie’s infinite patience and good humor later, we open the door, collect our stuff and head home.

Emma is singing and talking and delightfully, maddeningly, her own self all the way home.  I am thinking of a saying ascribed to the Roman statesmen, Seneca:

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than from reality.”

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