Archive | July, 2012

Running for no country

30 Jul

On August 12th, Guor Marial will race in his first Olympics as an independent athlete. A refugee from the Sudanese civil war, Marial escaped in 1993 and has lived in the US for the last eleven years. A cross-country runner in college, Marial ran an Olympic qualifying time in his first marathon and caught the attention of the elite running community ( As a result, Marial will run in the Olympics in just a few days, but not for any Olympics-recognized nation.

Marial is not a US citizen, and South Sudan, which is just celebrating its first anniversary as a sovereign nation, doesn’t have a national Olympic committee. As for running for Sudan, Marial is clear, “Never. For me to even consider that is a betrayal. My family lost 28 members in the war with Sudan. Millions of my people were killed by Sudan forces. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor and glorify a country that killed my people” (

Marial’s story makes me wonder about the rules–not just in the Olympics–of identity: how we can declare ourselves and how well those options reflect who we see ourselves as. How those rules serve specific systems, but maybe not the fuller, complex realities of our experiences and identities: just as Marial can’t check off “USA” or “Sudan” in the current standard Olympics system, some children can’t check off “male” or “female” on current standard medical and educational forms, and some people can’t find a box to check off when they’re asked to identify their race.

This isn’t to argue that we should abolish boxes. In fact, I think boxes get a bad rap. The boxes just reflect human truths: that groups matter to us. Even as we strive to define ourselves as individuals, we seek to know ourselves through our commonalities with others (i.e. our group memberships). And we do the same with others: recognizing and connecting with them through what’s unique and what’s familiar (shared, like others) about them. Groups and labels, it would seem, are very human.

But that doesn’t mean they are humane. I know rules are made for (seemingly) good reasons, and I’m familiar with the slippery slope of lore. But as inspiring as Marial’s story is (he does, after all, get to run in the Olympics and dedicate his run, at least personally–if unofficially–to South Sudan), I would love for it to have another possibility: a newly created box–if only just for this one race this one summer–that he can check off so that he can run for the country he loves. And so that he can run on equal footing with all his competitors, not just physically but (dare I say) existentially. As a man with a home.

The Olympics-fever post

20 Jul

Just have to invite you to check out this video by Gym Class Heroes: “The Fighter” features first-time Olympian competitor John Orozco, who on paper isn’t your typical elite gymnast. Black, from the Bronx and working class, Orozco’s family was literally there with him during his years of training: “My whole family was working [at the gym to pay my tuition] at one point.”

You can read more of his story here:,,20612676,00.html.

Enjoy the video.


19 Jul

Chick-Fil-A has been called an anti-gay business for its support of anti-gay Christian organizations, and as President Dan Cathy states, “Well, guilty as charged” (

Well, I appreciate the transparency. Cathy describes his company’s values, explaining:

We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that…we know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles… I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

There’s a lot to respond to here, not the least of which is Cathy’s appropriation of the word “family” and the “audacity” of casting equal rights advocates as godless heathens, but I’ll leave it at this: as Cathy exercises his freedom of speech through his company, I encourage you to exercise your freedom of speech and action by spending your dollars where you can stomach the food and the values.

Got time for compassion tomorrow?

10 Jul

Last minute notice about the free Compassion Research Day at Facebook tomorrow (July 11th). Among the presenters and panelists are the good folks from Cal’s Greater Good Science Center and assorted educator/researcher folks, including Piercarlo Valdesolo, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, who is speaking on “The Social Tuning of Compassion”:

What triggers, or tempers, our compassion for others? Though many have thought of compassion as a stable trait, this talk will highlight the very subtle ways in which our noble intuitions can be turned on and off, connecting and disconnecting us from one another at the flip of a switch.

I like to imagine that Blink was part of the inspiration for this session: at last spring’s conference, I asked the question of how social identity facilitates and hinders our compassion for others. More specifically, I wonder how a sense of affinity helps us to feel and act on our compassion, while an absence of affinity may prevent that. Because when we don’t see someone as human just like us, I suspect the best we can muster is pity.

And if you happen to have plans for tomorrow but have mid-July free, you might want to check out the Compassion Festival, brought to us by the Telluride Institute and Stanford University’s Center for Compassion & Altruism Research & Education:

The fact is there are still different rules

2 Jul

“The fact is” that Anderson Cooper is gay ( In an open letter to Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast, Cooper writes about naming that fact now:

It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something–something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid.  This is distressing because it is simply not true.

And I’m struck by this profound, stubborn social truth: that if you’re heterosexual and don’t talk about your personal sexual life, people read you as tactual, prudish, or simply “appropriate”; but if you’re gay, bisexual or questioning, then others (and not just heterosexual others) presume you are ashamed.

Just another example of how sexuality matters. Maybe you don’t sling homophobic slurs, but how about assumptions?