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Society

Is driving uninspiring for the next generation?

My daughter recently got her license and my son is attending driver’s education classes so he can join his sister behind the wheel. This should be cause for celebration for them, right? Nope.

When I ask my daughter if she wants to drive somewhere, she often shrugs and says, “Nah, that’s OK, you can drive.”

I recently took a long drive with my son, where I pointed out the magnificent trees along the side of the road and where I couldn’t help noticing the license plates of cars from Alaska, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Oregon, just to name a few.

“Dad,” my son interjected, after the pitch of my voice rose when I saw the one from Alaska, “you really like license plates.”

No, he doesn’t get it, just as I don’t get his generation.

When I got my license, I couldn’t wait to visit my friends, to go to the movies, to drive to West Meadow Beach where I had spent so much of my time walking, jogging or biking. Driving meant I no longer had to count the curves until I was at the beach. I could also exhaust myself in the waves and run out to the end of the magnificent sandbar, which seemed to stretch halfway to Connecticut, without worrying about leaving the beach before sunset so I could get home in the light.

I could also offer to pick up my friends. I could drive to their houses, knock on their doors, show off my license to their parents and then laugh my way into the car with a friend, who would turn on the radio to music. It wasn’t the boring nonstop news stations that my parents listened to — and which I now play in the car when I’m alone.

I could drive to The Good Steer in Lake Grove and meet someone for a burger and a mountain of onion rings. I could make the car as hot or cold as I wanted. A driver’s license meant independence, freedom and maturity. I didn’t have to wait for anyone.

But, no, my children and, from what I understand, many kids just aren’t as enthralled with the opportunity to get a license. For starters, as we have told them endlessly from the time we handed them their first wonderful-terrible device, they can’t use their cellphones when they are driving.

When we drive, they can ignore the road signs and street signs. They don’t have to search the side of the road for deer, turtles or the rare and exciting fox. They can chat with their friends, who are similarly indifferent to their immediate surroundings, while the car, driven by someone else, magically carries them to their next destination.

We must have taken them to so many places where they wanted to go that they had no great urge to get behind the wheel and drive themselves. I know my mom was a chauffeur, too, driving the three of us hither and yon, but maybe we haven’t said to our children, “You can go when you can drive,” often enough.

Maybe all the FaceTime and Skype time means that they can see and laugh with their friends without leaving the comfort of their home. They can’t bowl, see a movie or drink an Orange Julius, but they can hang out together while being in different places.

Access to Uber and Lyft may also have reduced the need for them to drive.

Then again, maybe it’s much simpler than that. I recently asked my son why he wasn’t more excited about driving.

“Because,” he sighed, “when I get my license, you’ll ask me to do stuff.”

My earliest memory of my sister is of a very young child, sitting in a stroller, reaching out her arms to hug me. She wasn’t able to talk yet, but I was two years older and interpreted her coos and cries for the rest of the world. Most often what she wanted was to be loved, and I would run over and wrap my arms around her.

We were a loving family. The world was a happy, secure place; this despite the fact that the time was World War II.

We lived in an apartment house in Manhattan. When my mother went shopping, she would push the stroller along the sidewalk, and I would hold on to the metal sidepiece and skip alongside. It was at those times that I sensed something was wrong. People would smile down at me but then stare at my sister.

Then I heard the word and asked my mother about it. It was the first time I ever saw my mother flinch. I was immediately hushed and told not to use that word again. I didn’t until I was in my teens.

The word my mother, a courageous woman of tremendous fortitude and intelligence, recoiled from was RETARDED. My sister Maxine was, and is, retarded.

My sister was not accepted among “normal” people and never would be. She was a social disgrace. And all the while, she laughed and played. She was able to talk now and would often say, “I love you.”

Reality forced itself on my mother when she went to register my sister for public school in first grade. The principal, a blunt, middle‐aged woman, took my mother aside and stated simply, “Maxine cannot go to a normal school. She’s retarded. Just keep her home. Retarded children don’t live very long, anyway.”

My sister was lucky. She had a family that would always look after her. But what is to happen to those others? Retarded children become retarded adults. And then what? What happens to them when their parents die and there is no one to pick up the burden? What happens to those who have the advantage of the latest programs and training but now need a place to live?

Only those very few retarded at the lowest end of the intelligence spectrum cannot function, at least to some minimal degree, within a home. The state has attempted to set up hostels for these retarded adults within a home like setting, assigning five or six to each house under the care of a supervisory couple. Communities, by and large, have reacted to these hostels with hostility, fearing for their property values and uncomfortable with the ever‐present social stigma.

I find that few know anything about retardation, and I suspect that this lack of contact is responsible for the hostility the retarded face. Many think retarded people are deranged or emotionally unstable. Those are fears, not facts. Retarded people are inherently gentle and unaggressive, which makes them defenseless. The retarded are simple human beings with the same basic needs of all of us: food, clothing, shelter — and especially love.

It might seem, from my account, that it took great sacrifice to live with my sister, and in some ways, it did, particularly from my mother. But in other ways, it taught us so much. Maxine taught us compassion for the disadvantaged. She also served, curiously, to test the mettle of all we met. Those who were reluctant to accept her proved not to be worth our company. Her life showed us, by example, what the most important values should be. Maxine did not understand affect, materialism or hypocrisy. She did not understand social embarrassment. She has the same basic concern for the dog that lives in the next apartment as she does for its owners. It is a respect for all life, and for her, life is music, and laughter and love.

People spend millions of dollars each year to find compatible friends and dates.

The dating sites, the self-help books and magazines and the life coaches ask copious questions about our likes and dislikes and what we need around us.

Maybe they are missing a key question that can reveal important yet hard-to-describe details about how we feel about ourselves and the world. That question relates to our feelings for lightning rod figures.

Let’s start with Tom Brady, who just lost his third Super Bowl last Sunday, despite a heroic effort. The quarterback, who has won five other Super Bowls, is a legend, is extraordinarily successful and has one of the most impressive résumés of anyone in the game. Indeed, even people who know nothing about football — and I have a foot in that camp — know who he is and have an awareness of his remarkable success.

In a country that celebrates victories, however, he doesn’t seem to be high on the national likability scale. I’m sure there are plenty of Patriots fans who disagree and think the world loves their superhero. Sorry, but I’m sure you can find the Brady haters on the internet.

Anyway, maybe what causes them to dislike the superstar is the spectacular and well-earned self-confidence. Maybe it’s the fairy tale life. Then again, isn’t that what we all buy into when we watch Disney movies? Doesn’t his name, Tom Brady, suggests some kind of Disney superhero, who saves the day with perfectly placed passes despite defenses bearing down on him?

Then again, maybe, for some his friendship with Donald Trump is problematic.

The president has become an important compatibility filter as well. It’s hard to imagine two people agreeing to disagree calmly about a president who some believe has either saved us from the likes of Hillary Clinton or has created new and deep fault lines in the country.

Then there are those people who seem to fall into and out of favor. Watching the movie “Darkest Hour,” it’s clear that other politicians didn’t see Winston Churchill as a superhero whose destiny was to lead the British nation through one of its most challenging crises. He was the right man at the right time for an impossible job, facing what seemed like insurmountable odds.

And yet, despite his cigar-chomping, nation-inspiring heroics, it was bye, bye Winston almost immediately after World War II ended.

The same could be said of America’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani. He wasn’t exactly a legend in New York before Sept. 11, 2001, as he seemed to pick fights with everyone and anyone. And then, after 9/11, he somehow struck just the right balance for a nation in mourning, offering sympathy and support while remaining proud of the country and defiant in the face of the attack. After he left office, the bloom came off that rose quickly as well.

Then there’s George W. Bush — or “43,” if you prefer. Many people couldn’t stand him when he was in office, with his nuke-u-lar (for nuclear), his snickering and his parody-able speech patterns. And yet, these days, his image and his reputation have made a comeback, particularly today as common ground seems to be disappearing under the feet of the two major political parties.

Maybe these dating sites shouldn’t ask your hobbies, religious preferences or favorite foods. Instead, they should ask what you think of Tom Brady, the current U.S. president and the wartime prime minister of England.

Participants at the 2017 Women’s March in Port Jeff Station. File photo by Alex Petroski

Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Over the course of the last several months, we’ve seen the dominance of men in power being stripped down. The day-to-day climate regarding sexual harassment and misconduct have surely changed, but we need to keep this #MeToo dialogue open.

TBR News Media hosted female local government officials, lawyers and activists at our Setauket office to speak about their feelings regarding the behavior of men, and we thank them for their openness and raw stories, sometimes relating to men of high status.

While high-profile allegations and apologies mount, it’s not the actors, politicians and TV stars with whom we should be most concerned. It’s the people around us. We’ve found most often that it’s just when we share our stories, big or small, that we’re really getting somewhere. Getting people together — especially women in power — we can come up with strategies to enact change. We hope that what’s lasting from this remarkable moment in history is not just the list of famous men left in the rubble, but rather the idea that leveraging power to diminish someone else’s self-worth is a thing of the past.

Hearing the wide array of stories from women who have been elected to lead communities, from being grabbed during a middle-school class to being asked inappropriate questions by a boss, the truth is that these things can happen to anyone. And it’s clearly time for a cultural overhaul.

We hope that a byproduct of this moment is also prevention, which can come in the form of education to ensure our boys don’t grow up to become the sexual abusers of tomorrow. To guarantee that this happens, we would like to see school districts and colleges create stricter rules and hold kids accountable for their actions, whether they’re the star lacrosse player heading to the championship or the valedictorian of their class.

In the process of this shift, we don’t want to run out of steam. An issue so long ingrained in society needs a multipronged approach. With that, women shouldn’t fear sticking up for themselves — think about it not as your job being on the line but your principles on the verge of breaking. While the bad behavior of powerful men is what has created this movement, raising confident girls and creating an environment for them to flourish into strong women is another antidote.

Women are, at last, being heard. But we want to make sure that every woman is heard. The focus should be on the prey and not the predator. Just because your abuser wasn’t famous doesn’t mean your story doesn’t need to be heard. To keep steering the #MeToo ship in the right direction, we will continue to run stories on the development of the issue. If anyone, male or female, would like to share a story, anonymous or not, call 631-751-7744 or email desiree@tbrnewsmedia.com. The only way to get to a better tomorrow is to share the stories of yesterday and today, to heal, to learn from our actions and to create stronger reactions in the hopes of continuing to rip down the abuse of power that has landed us in this mess.

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If a man and a woman are seen together having lunch, the inevitable gossip ensues. The two of them may be colleagues or they may simply be friends. But rumors start. Does this always happen? Not always, of course, but often enough to discourage pairing off for an exchange of ideas or career advice perhaps in business. Now, with sexual harassment in the news, there is added pressure for the sexes to go their separate ways lest any movement or words be misunderstood between them. What nonsense.

Please be assured that I am as passionately against sexual harassment as anyone on the planet. Wherever it may be found, it should be exposed and halted. But the pendulum, I believe, may be swinging too far in the other direction. Recently Vice President Mike Pence mentioned that he doesn’t eat alone with a woman who is not his wife. Recent polls indicate that a majority of employees of both sexes feel it is inappropriate to have a drink or dinner together and, although less so, it may also be inappropriate for lunch. Even driving together in a car can be looked at askance.

This wariness, although perhaps helpful in avoiding situations of sexual harassment, is a loser for both sexes, especially in the workplace. For men, who are apparently unsure where the boundaries are for a touch on the arm or an innocent compliment on a colleague’s dress, there is the loss of diversity. Women can have different sensibilities and can offer different perspectives than men, to the benefit of both. A recent advertisement featuring a woman has just been yanked by a major company because it may be misinterpreted as racist. My guess is that no woman executive of that company saw the ad before it went public.

For women, the loss is perhaps greater. Since most of the leadership of companies and institutions is still made up of men, the mentorship and sponsorship of female employees is at least as vital, or even more so, than for male junior-level employees. But if a woman cannot enjoy a close professional working relationship with such a sponsor, she is often blocked from moving up in the ranks.

I am reminded of my own business life and the people who helped me advance. Yes, there were a couple of women mentors who were willing to share their skills with me and promote my status, but there were more men along the way who selected me for advancement. One local businessman volunteered important advice to me at a critical time in the early years of the newspaper. Another energetically proposed me as a candidate for president of the New York Press Association, a position for which I will always be grateful. Another supported my intuition at a decisive juncture, I’m sure I don’t know why, but it worked out well. Several others helped me with various financial matters.

Did I meet with them alone for lunch or dinner or, heavens, for a drink? You bet I did. How else to get private time for critical conversation? Meetings in the office are routinely interrupted or overheard. Did I ever meet alone with anyone of the opposite sex in his bedroom? You can put money on the answer being “no”! There are lines one doesn’t cross, no matter what generation one belongs to, and they really are not so difficult to decipher.

Are work colleagues ever sexually attracted to each other? As long as there are men and women, there can be attraction between them. But so what? That’s the way the two sexes were put forth. Presumably we adults know all about that and can conduct ourselves accordingly. Or, to return to square one, we can avoid each other completely.

We women have a great deal we can offer men and vice versa. It would be so foolish to limit our contacts to only half the population. And besides, it wouldn’t nearly be as much fun.

What people don’t say can speak volumes.

Take the Harvey Weinstein allegations. Numerous women have come forward and described abhorrent behavior toward women by someone in power. That’s not a new phenomenon, but what’s new is the identity of the perpetrator and the time period involved — decades, it appears.

When asked about the allegations, President Donald Trump said he was “not at all surprised to see it.”

Hmm, not at all surprised? Didn’t the person whose every word and tweet gets splashed across headlines around the world have anything else to say, like, “If the allegations are true, it’s horrible and we should address this problem as a nation.” Or, “We as a country need to address this serious problem.”

No, he didn’t. In a follow-up question, a reporter asked if Weinstein’s behavior was inappropriate, and Trump responded that the movie executive said it was.

Again, not much there. I recognize this wasn’t a women’s rights forum and that he didn’t have prepared remarks or a flowing speech to cite, but he had an opportunity to address a real problem and he seemed more prepared to suggest he knew that Weinstein’s superstar public character had some tarnish.

The New York public transport system has run ads for years imploring, “If you see something, say something.”

That’s not always easy, especially when no one else might have been around to hear or see inappropriate comments or gestures.

This isn’t about political correctness: It’s about allowing people to do their best work without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Locker room talk, or anything else that resembles a put-down for whatever reason, creates a hostile work environment.

Almost exactly a year ago, candidate Trump described several women who accused the Clintons of improper behavior towards women as “courageous” at a press conference before a debate with Hillary Clinton. While Trump hasn’t shared any such words of support for Weinstein’s victims, others have applauded them for coming forward. If Weinstein’s alleged victims had done so initially, taking on the equivalent of a movie icon could have put their careers at risk.

Gender politics are often a challenging and sore point at work. People can often dismiss inappropriate comments as being jokes or suggesting that their words weren’t what they intended.

Some jobs, like Wall Street trading, or, well, locker rooms, often involve a type of bawdy humor that is part of the culture.

But why should anyone have to tolerate it? With training and a heightened public awareness, the excuse “Well, that’s just the way it is” could turn into, “That’s not the way we do things around here.”

Pundits are suggesting that if eight women have come forward to accuse Weinstein, there are likely many more.

Then again, if he could and did engage in inappropriate conduct for decades, you have to imagine there are other men who did it, too.

Weinstein, in his own words, needs help. So, too, does the rest of society. He suggested he came from a different era. Others have taken him to task, indicating that somewhere along the line, he missed some major strides society made between whatever time period he imagined and today.

Who else is living in that era and how can we help them? Maybe, in addition to training the next set of up-and-coming managers, we should make sure the top executives — most of whom are men — understand what’s OK and what crosses a real line that is not only objectionable, but is also problematic for them and their careers.

We watch movies for many reasons: We want to be inspired, we want to understand other people and, sometimes, we want a perspective that helps us understand ourselves better. Maybe the inappropriate actions of a moviemaker can shed some more light on a problem that clearly isn’t unique to one person. A corollary to the transport ad, perhaps, should be, “If you hear something, say something.”

There’s a part of us that wants to shed the limitations of civilization. What difference do all those arbitrary lines in society make anyway?

Say, for example, we’re standing in a grocery store and the line isn’t moving quickly enough. Then again, what line could possibly move at a speed we’d find acceptable? We look at our phones to distract us. We can watch movies we’ve seen a hundred times, check our voicemail, email, messaging service and telepathic connections, if we’ve got the right app.

The phone doesn’t offer much relief, as our boss has sent us an instant message that reads, “If you don’t bring those cupcakes back within three minutes, you will be on cupcake duty for the next six months.”

It’s our fault. We saw that lane six was probably longer than lane seven, but we picked six because we saw a headline in a magazine about Julia Roberts and we wanted to read the other headlines in a magazine that was out of stock in lane seven.

Lane six is at a complete stop as the cashier waits for the override.

“Come on!” we want to scream. “We gotta deliver these cupcakes before we lose our job!”

But we don’t scream any curse words, despite an impulse that is working its way up our spinal column. Another urge hits us. We want to jump on the conveyor belt and dance to “Cotton Eye Joe,” while kicking away the other groceries. But we don’t do that, either.

We hold back because everyone has a camera, and we don’t want to be the supermarket dancer on YouTube forever.

We consider convincing ourselves that our venting might become a way to contribute to society. Maybe other people waiting in line somewhere can laugh at us, as we act out their frustration fantasies.

But, no, we’d have a hard time going to PTA meetings or running for office if our opponent could show we didn’t have the temperament to be a leader.

We keep our composure. It’s just cupcakes, right? Then again, we still have to do our work and this means we’ll be home later than we wanted and we won’t get a parking spot near the gym tonight, which means we might have to walk an extra quarter of a mile before we run 6 miles. It’s so unfair!

Curses are echoing around our brain. We grind our teeth, tap our feet, shake our head slowly and blow our bangs off our overheated and thickly lined forehead.

We hear the words, “Come on, come on, come on,” in our head, but no one else seems to care about our agony. Oh, great, now we have to go to the bathroom, which will be difficult because as soon as we get back to the office we are serving the cupcakes at the party.

Don’t think about the need for the toilet. Oh, right, sure, that’s worked so well in the past. Why hadn’t we thought about that around, say, tax season? Sure, if you don’t think about it, taxes will just go away.

Then the curse words slipped out. We shouted them. We look around, wondering if we’ve damaged our reputation. This can be the smallest town on the planet. No one is holding a cellphone in our direction. No one seems to be waiting for us to do it again. Everyone does, however, take a step back from us.

We breathe a sigh of relief until it hits us: Two rows away is an overheated mother with three children holding onto her shopping cart. One of them — he looks like he’s about 6 years old — is staring at us without blinking. Maybe crossing that line was a mistake, as shame has replaced anger.

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