Making Sense of Senselessness

Facebook’s prompt on one’s profile is “What’s on your mind?” I wrote what was on my mind but the thoughts didn’t stop. Realizing how temporal the feed (even on one’s personal profile) tends to be, I wanted to put those thoughts in a place that has more permanence.

What provoked all of this exercise was the news of the shootings that occurred yesterday in quiet Redlands, California. The day after the Paris shootings, I was awakened to reportage of the incident and its horror. It was then that I posted to Facebook’s prompt that I envisioned this was the beginning of warfare on various parts of United States soil. It appears that day is dawning.

For a time, there were several who read this blog (and my others) who pleasantly encouraged me to add graphics in order to make the content “pop.” I’ve been following the suggestion. However, searching for the appropriate graphic takes a huge amount of time and sometimes the actual writing of the thoughts is deferred. There must be a good balance.

Nevertheless, I searched for a graphic for this post. My search term was “gun.” The results were astounding but also a reflection of how guns, danger, threats, and intrigue have overtaken our society in any location. What the images said to me is that guns are sexy. That was the predominant theme. Guns represent power. They can constrain action and inflict fear. They set the one who has the gun in a position of authority. They represent an “anything goes” environment similar to the Wild West. They (and their holder) create a sense of intrigue. Yet we feed on these subliminals each time we watch a TV drama or subscribe to the ticket for the next James Bond-type movie.

We feed on the danger and intrigue.

Young thug with gun isolated on white

It wasn’t until last night that I learned of the shooting in Redlands. So sad. So tragic. So senseless.

Now I’m remembering the counsel of the Parisian father to his young son. And as I sit here recuperating from yesterday’s illness, I’m also remembering the lyrics from a Nat Cole song,

“The greatest thing,
you’ll ever learn
is just to love
and be loved
in return.”
[From Nature Boy]

Perhaps that’s the reason why we have the superficial relationships that we do.

And as I reflect on the actions of some (and actions I struggle with myself, at times) there is envy and resentment of one who has succeeded in their own endeavors.

We forget that our Life agenda is completely different from anyone else’s. And we forget that their successes have been accompanied by numerous attempts that failed. Yet they turned their faces to the sun with the determination to press forward and find a way to succeed. Their persistence and creativity to find alternatives to the well beaten path were the factors that got them to that particular plateau.

Finally, we forget that those who announce their successes not only need the cheering section to boost them to the next attainment. What we also forget is that the announcement is the exposure to a model for the rest of us who aspire to something similar but part of our own agenda.

I’m glad that the neighbors did not report the activities of the shooters. The reportage was they did not want it to appear that there was racial profiling because their community is very inclusive. How many communities can genuinely say that? In light of the pronouncements of those vying for the Republican Presidential candidate nomination, it seems few of them can step up to the plate. Yes, it’s time for us to speak of many things, fools and kings, and who can competently lead.

Yes, Nat, the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return. But that, in turn, requires communication: actual listening to what someone else is saying and actually being heard through not just words but also through actions (because the words have proven to be unheard).

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The Inclusive Continuum

Today my church voted to allow same sex marriages to be performed by the clergy, whether in the sanctuary or at any other location. The point of the matter is that the LGBT population has as many rights as any other part of our society. This is a good thing. However, it’s a subject that has been visited by this congregation at least one other time within the last three months.

A few years ago there was a similar vote with regard to allowing women into the clergy and standing in their own right as preachers of the gospel and ministers of The Word. We won’t stop to consider that women before the turn of the century were respected prophets. But here we are in an aging Second Millennium and trying to get back to allowing women to be an integral part of society in a function more than merely bearing children and keeping house.

There's beauty in each of us.

There’s beauty in each of us.

There are so many things that are troubling about our “modern” times that it is very difficult to contain this lively voice. I explode. So on reading on Facebook about this major progressive vote, my sensibilities exploded. I have full realization that my words in response to the notice will be deleted. So I copied them and share my thoughts about some of the protected classes that are part of the congregation and how the church’s welcoming attitude needs to become genuine with regard to all of those who pass through those doors and desire to be useful in living a fulfilling, Christian life.

So how much longer will it be until more faces of color, Black faces, Mocha faces, are acknowledged in *any* of the notices or in memoriam updates? How much longer will they continue to be the ones who are counted as the, “Yes, we have that too” population? When will they become the many hands and voices and minds that constitute the elements of Joseph’s coat of many colors that lead to the positive growth that is possible?

GLBT is now acknowledged and served. Substance abusers are quietly respected and supported.

The homeless are pitied and taught to become increasingly dependent so that they can continue to be pitied. Unfortunately, little thought is given to the fact that any type of disaster could happen and change the comfort and condition of a person so that they are in need of the kindness and respect of the Samaritan – one who will aid in getting up again in order to continue the very valid journey and business to be fulfilled.

The homeless have humanity. People of color have humanity and deserve respect. Just as women have humanity and deserve respect. Just as women are capable of being ministerial servants and preachers of The Word.

Likewise, we also need to be respectful and supportive of those who have disabilities. There needs to be education about conditions that can be exacerbated with inordinate and whimsical requirements in order to qualify to do some type of volunteerism. People have a need to believe they are valued and that their value is welcome, not merely a passing thought. People need to be able to have confidence in the Church that they enter at their peril lest their impairment is turned into their moment of being Samson.

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Execution of One’s Duties

A new furor in the civil rights landscape has hit Kentucky with the County Clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to anyone but especially to gays and lesbians. After repeated attempts to reason with Clerk Kim Davis, the matter was taken to lawyers with American Civil Liberties Union in order to seek redress. Ms. Davis was stalwart and entrenched in her position, even willing to go to jail rather than violate her religious convictions. The situation calls to mind several similar standoffs from the early days of the Civil Rights Movement.

Resistance to acceptance

An old concept put in a new age

Davis isn’t trying to fend off offensive overtures. Some would say she’s just being obnoxious and it appears she’s trying to gain some traction from the events she’s set in motion. I don’t think she should be rewarded for that. Given that she still has her paycheck of $80,000 while she sits in jail and the storm passes over the country, and given that she’s soliciting funds for her cause from supporters and co-workers (through county office messages), she is definitely being rewarded financially. She has essentially buffered her determination to stand her ground.

Actually (and I can’t remember which class addressed this, Ethics or Civil Procedure or maybe it was Criminal Procedure), if a lawyer has personal issues with representing a person because the lawyer’s beliefs or the crime is in apposition to the lawyer’s to the point that the lawyer cannot provide a zealous defense of the client, the lawyer is allowed to recuse theirself from taking the case. Indeed, one editorialist suggests that the best move for Davis, in light of the fact that she finds herself unable to carry out the duties of her job, is to step down from the position. That doesn’t necessarily mean quit working for the county. It simply means take a change in position so that someone who can fulfill the needs and requirements of the position can do so without undue distress and financial hardship to the constituency.

Similarly, in employment and contract law, a person is not required to do business with someone when there is a misalignment. Now when it comes to the denial becoming viral to the point of discrimination, we have another situation on our hands.

But if we have a Charles Manson or a Jim Jones (mass murders) or a known rapist who has no remorse for his crimes, how much fault could be leveled at having difficulty with bringing full and zealous defense to their case? It would take a judge’s order directing the last-straw lawyer or assistant DA to take the case and put forth their best efforts on behalf of the person.

As phrased in that quote, we see the schizophrenic nature (forgive the editorialization) of Davis’s posture. She has wed church and state by imposing her personal beliefs onto her discharging the duties of her job. And one of the founding principles of this country was based on the strong need for a separation of church and state, that is to say the church cannot rule what is done to the king’s property nor the people in it. It would be the same as having two masters and then attempting to determine which one is the more deserving of obedience. According to recent reportage, she intends to stay in jail until a compromise can be reached in the judge’s ruling compared with her stance. Embodied in that compromise is that she will not resign her position but issue licenses if her name and title were not on them. That stipulation can easily be resolved. Remove her name and change her title to something that does not encompass being a person who has authority to issue a license – of any type. Needless to say, the job description would have to match the duties that she is allowed to fulfill. Ryan Anderson, a research fellow for Heritage Foundation, suggests yet another work accommodation for a religion conscientious objector that is of a similar nature.

There was an article in Thursday’s Yahoo news about Davis’s options and it put forth something that other jurisdictions are using – have the objector step away from that part of their duties and have another take over that desk. A judge asked Davis’s six deputies whether they could put aside their personal beliefs in order to fulfill the duties of their job due to a conflict of interest or a matter of lack of competence in the ability to do the job [without prejudice]. According to one newspaper account, “After ordering her to jail, the judge told her six deputy clerks that they too faced potential fines or jail time if they similarly refuse. All but one – the clerk’s son, Nathan Davis – agreed to end her church-state standoff.”

As for Kentucky and the necessity of a clerk’s signature in order to make a marriage license valid, changes in the state’s civil code will need to be made in order to comply with the recent Supreme Court ruling, as will need to happen in all other states. (See Jailed Clerk’s Attorney wherein it is noted, “Kentucky lawmakers won’t meet until January, unless the governor calls a costly special session, and when they do, they say they will have many changes to make to adapt the state’s civil code to the Supreme Court’s ruling.”)

Another interesting perspective on this situation is whether Davis’s refusal is based on religious convictions or identity objections. If based on religion, again, discrimination based on one’s religion is a First Amendment freedom that cannot be usurped. If the objection is based on identity, we have only to look at the trend toward acceptance and inclusion to see that it will soon be part of our civil rights umbrella.

This situation calls into question the matter of interviewing and screening candidates for a sensitive position. Perhaps one of the questions should be related to whether the person can put aside their personal convictions in order to fulfill the requirements of the job. Another would be whether they fully understand what the duties entail, and then require a discussion of the interpretation of those duties. This should be done in the conversations with the hiring manager. But this type of screening should also take place with the recruiter who is chosen to do the search for qualified candidates.

This makes me wonder how candidates for the position of carrying out death penalties are chosen. It also makes me wonder about the types of values executioners have and whether gang members would actually be ideal candidates for the position of executioner, one who unquestioningly carries out orders without qualms for the consequences. Mind you, that last statement carries a lot of presumption and little to no research; it was editorial in nature.


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Land of the Free

July 21 is my birthday. I enjoyed it by reading and responding to the greetings that were posted to my Facebook wall. There was humor, there were faces that turned up from the distant past, there were suggestions about having fun and enjoyable activities, and there were recommendations about making the joy endure. I was humbled by the fact that so many remembered me.

And then there was the surprise phone call from one who grew up with me in my neighborhood. We share many of the same lessons about etiquette and protocols, values, education, and respect. It’s good to have traditions and steadfastness rooted in a reliable system of values and ethics.

Yes, I also read items in the news and I read things that were being posted by colleagues about various matters of the day and season that had nothing to do with me or my birthday. But there was one post that yanked at my attention. It haunts me even now, so I write in order to share the experience. The reason I write is because the item was a video of Dylan Roof’s arrest. Roof is the young man accused of going to a Bible study at an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church with a concealed weapon and the intent to kill the attendees. He spent an hour with the group. At the close of the study, he began shooting and killing nine of the attendees, firing into bodies multiple times to make certain they were dead. The video shows how he was treated by South Carolina police.

That arrest is in sharp contrast to recent videos of others that have been published on Facebook wherein minorities have a confrontation with police and are treated with a great deal of brutal hostility even though they appear to be complying with orders and threats from the officers. The ones who are stopped do not have any weapons nor are suspected of having any.

Especially glaring is the difference in treatment of Roof during his arrest contrasted with the video that captured the arrest of Sandra Bland and dashcam footage of the incident that ensued. The reason for the footage was because Bland failed to make a proper lane change signal.

Roof’s car was approached by five officers who spoke to him in a civil manner. The entire scene was quiet. It was reported he was asked if he was hungry and someone went to Burger King to get food for him. On the other hand, the video footage of Bland shows her being forcibly dragged from her car, threatened, thrown to the ground wherein the trauma to her head was so great that she complained she could not hear, held to the ground under the knee of the officer, handcuffed to the point that she complained it felt as though her wrist was going to break. Was she examined or treated for possible injuries after she was taken to jail? No word. Do we see Roof being treated in a similar fashion? After all, he had just massacred nine people and was fleeing justice.

Roof is still alive and facing prosecution. On the other hand, Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after her arrest. According to police, she hung herself. Later reportage claims a plastic bag was found over her head and tied about her neck which caused the asphyxiation.

This is in sharp contrast to the other arrests we’ve recently seen where the arrestee is slammed to the ground, pinned to the ground, and brutalized. The difference in behavior can partly be attributed to a different location and different training of officers. But the other videos are of minorities who are suffering abuse and are not being hunted down for mass murders or terrorism.

Someone posted a comment to the video. After reading the incendiary words of the comment, I had an epiphany. It became clear that there is a reason why I sing my song of freedom and equality in my own small space. It’s because it is absolutely mandatory that each one of us sing that song and for all the right reasons. It was clear that this is not a solo. It’s simply a matter of the choir is presently scattered across the nation. Some sing the song of freedom as a solo while others form protests and marches. Some urge action from the Department of Justice through petitions or civil action groups. And although becoming more sparse with each new incident, there are small numbers who resort to rioting. Rioting is not the answer.

July 21 was my birthday and many posted on my Facebook wall with wishes that this be a day filled with joy and the beginning of a promising and fruitful new year of life.

With the number of incidents like Bland and other minorities on the rise, and the more publicity about how these unarmed, minority citizens attempting to conduct themselves in a responsible manner while carrying out normal business affairs, I cannot truly have joy. It won’t happen until I can feel certain that anyone can travel the streets of any town or city without fear for life or limb unless it is an area that is known for its violence.

Even then, I cannot find joy and happiness when there are areas that are so unsafe that you go there at your own risk while also realizing that if you call for police assistance, they will not come. If they do show up, it will be long after the fact of harm having meted out its consequences on your flesh. Or in the alternative, the police will show up promptly in order to protect the one who is causing the harm and peril.

I cannot find joy and happiness when some people are treated as disgusting elements, not humans, and their possessions are treated with even less regard. I cannot find joy and happiness when people are insulted merely for the sake of the color of their skin or the uninformed, low opinion of someone with regard to their abilities, talents, potential, value to their own selves, let alone their community, no matter what the size or location.

The incidents of which I write today are just a sampling of things that have happened in the last six weeks. They repreent Life in America if you are a minority. This is a very sad state of affairs in The Land of the Free. It seems Bob Marley was a visionary when he composed and sang his Song of Freedom, the Redemption song

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Not Qualified Anyway

Sometime before 1989, I had the opportunity to read Flora Davis’s notable account of the women’s movement in her Moving the Mountain. She traced the origins of the fight for equality among women and then how it splintered (mostly out of necessity) into the flight attendants’ rights, inclusion of men in those ranks, the struggles of the gay (collective) communities, and then into ethnic identities. After a time, each group had to win their individual battles with their own resources and in their own time.

The battles for inclusion and acceptance are yielding ground. It seems the more air time that reaches the public at large regarding the circumstances, the more likely change evolves. It appears the sympathies of even the staunchest of those supporting closed doors are giving way because the myths are being dissolved.

These 12 months have evidenced accounts of many officer involved shootings (OIS) and deaths across the United States. There have been many charges of excessive force and brutality from citizens. There have been demonstrations across the nation in support of the outrage one community has experienced. Cell phone videos have captured incident after incident of senseless shoot first, then ask questions scenarios that are then concluded with no indictment by grand juries.

The names of victims grows on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, the 12-year old boy who had a plastic water gun (Tamir Rice), the unarmed man who was shot over 46 times are all victims of the mentality that if they are Black and male, they are armed and dangerous – even if they are not armed and are screaming that they can’t breathe. Furthermore, their lives have little value, if any, and they as people have little of any quality to offer society. Furthermore, they have little meaningful education and are incapable of strenuous, critical thinking. Therefore, they are not qualified for high ranking positions and commensurable remuneration.

Mind you, women are among those who have been involved in OIS deaths and injuries. However, the incidents aren’t as publicized and appear to not be as frequent. But there are still incidents such as the woman who was used as a punching bag as the officer straddled her on the freeway and the off duty officer who battered the woman in her car.

I sit here in my SOHO in Southern California wanting to believe that this is one of the equality meccas of the United States. Yet the 1991 memory of my law school dean telling me that the school’s special admissions program (minorities, students with various disabilities, older students, women, gays) was a waste of time because the students weren’t qualified in the first place persists. That attitude seems to be growing. And with it, the size of the disenfranchised population also seems to be growing in correlative size. It brings disappointment that so many believe that Blacks are not entitled to as many rights, access to so many services, and be extended courtesies and respect as any other group of people. There’s an assumption that Blacks are not well educated, sloth when it comes to reading, not capable of difficult thought or reasoning, and only deserving of second- or third-hand services. What they have is not deserving of being handled with care lest it be marred or damaged. They are questioned when it’s discovered they have in their possession items of great value and quality. What contributes to that type of psychology?

However, the Freddie Gray death that brought grand jury indictment of all six officers has offered a swell in the view of spokes people we don’t usually expect to see. Now within visibility are Mayors of cities across the nation who are Black women leading with a firm hand and dignity. The spokes person for the Baltimore Attorney General’s office is also a Black woman. In fact, the commander of the city where Tamir Rice was shot is a Black officer. He vehemently defends his officers and points out that they face great odds with regard to their safety in attempting to defend the populations that depend on them for law and order.

This dichotomy of perspectives is so much like America – inexplicably complex. There is a firm rooting in holding onto the standards of pre-1950 yet media portrayal of many ethnicities in responsible positions is helping to break down the barriers that once prevented representation in meaningful ways in many places.

Cell phone videos are helping to change the times and number of incidents. The move to use police body cameras has also helped in quelling the the cries of brutality because the full scenario of what the officer saw and precipitated their actions is captured.

These dynamics lead me to conclude that positive change is happening at a very slow pace. The spread of diversity and the happenstance of inclusion is not an accident. But it will only continue with the same grease that brought us to this point in history.


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Why People Steal

aspects of ethics

Aspects of ethics

On a recent trip to the grocery store, the security alarm went off as a customer attempted to exit the store. My checker was in view of the security guard. She said in a whisper to him (so he could read her lips) that the person had not paid and it was the second time they had attempted to leave the store with goods for which they had not paid. They had an exchange. She explained to the guard (now standing near her) that the activity was repeated; in no instance were the goods paid for.

The checker then looked at me and sincerely asked, “Why do people steal? Don’t they realize God can see them?”

My focus at the time was on several matters not related to being accused of stealing. I still needed to quickly pack the goods into my bags, load them into my cart in a manner that would not cause the bus driver to accuse me of being an indigent. Then there was also being able to manage the cart without causing undue strain on my disability. My focus was on other matters.

Since then, I’ve had two separate instances of having my laptop hacked because of fraudulent downloads masquerading as necessary, harmless software. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me, they were not from the publisher one would expect and were loaded with malware. And in both instances, the malware were set up to induce the user to purchase increasing amounts of goods while never reaching the product that was expected – that was supposed to be free. In both instances, the customer service and technical service representatives seemed to be (because of their distinct accents) of the same nationality.

My disability is now at a level where undue stress leaves me bedridden for some days. During that time the opportunity to contemplate various matters becomes available. Learning through analysis of the various transactions happens because there’s a safe time to view the cause and effect scenarios. There’s also time to compare the activity being considered to other similar situations to see where the similarities occur. Those situations where it was more reasonable to simply put the matter behind me and move on become lessons of the past that are like puzzle pieces shoved into a corner that will fit together when more of the picture is available.

What I considered were several factors, namely:

  • Who are the targets of theft
  • What are some possibilities for their being chosen
  • Are there any considerations with regard to how the loss will impact the target
  • Is there a particular identity (race, gender, age, ethnicity, position, location) for how the target is chosen

Those were just a few of the things considered with regard to victim identity. But there were also thoughts about characteristics of the perpetrator.

  • Financial status
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Ethics
  • Inclusion in some type of organization
  • Regard for laws and punishment

With regard to any type of theft or crime, the type of crime attracts certain types of criminals. It’s a bit like looking for the right job. And there are instances where extenuating circumstances beg forgiveness. A prime example is the fictional case of Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. He stole some bread in order to feed his pregnant and dying sister. Had it not been for the compelling circumstances (as well as the economic depression of the day), he probably would not have acted in that way. But what about when the priest regaled him and he chose to steal some pieces of silver and then slip into the night, hoping not to be discovered? The priest gave him all of the silver; Valjean changed because his circumstances were vastly improved. He became a pillar of the community.

So today we still have bank robbers, car (instead of chickens or horse) thieves. People now steal mail in search of some parcel that has street value or various types of checks still sent through the mail. And there are now protocols for making online orders and payments. What I came to realize is that if a hacker gains access to an account where the user has made a purchase, the hacker then has access to the user’s personal identification information, online profile for social media, and a whole series of opportunities to visit mischief on the victim.

What I also came to realize is the typicals of criminals. They have little to nothing and few to no resources of their own that are available to get what they want or need. Whatever is stolen provides them with more wealth in order to gain what they want or to add to their coffers. They do not care about the status of their target. What they realize is the target has more than the perpetrator has, even if it’s minuscule. The access to the item is relatively easy. With proper planning, avoidance of punishment should be easy or attainable. Consequences to the victim are of little consideration; in fact, consequences to the victim are not important at all. The only afterthought is whether they may still be a ripe source in the future.

These are just the beginnings of the thoughts about why people steal. There’s more to say.

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Censorship: Balancing the Interests

It doesn’t matter what type or what size it is, an organization needs a leader. It needs a person who will develop a vision that ignites a fire in the hearts of others who want to be part of that vision. And the person who carries that flame of inspiration also needs to develop a plan about how to make that vision a reality.

Censorship as a barrier

Censorship as a barrier

A vibrant organization has a free flow of communication – talking, reasoning, listening, making recommendations and suggestions, responding to input, and encouraging input. A dictatorship has one-way communication, from the top down, sans feedback or comments about where a plan has a flaw or suggestions that can make the plan even better. It’s as though the members of the group merely exist for the sake of their numbers, not for what they’re able to add to make the plan not only a reality but the best outcome for all under the leadership of the organizer.

Sometimes a twist in circumstances arises when things are done out of order. It can appear that one of the team members is pushing forth their own agenda. That happens when they’ve not had a private conference with the leader about their ideas. Perhaps that missing, private conference was because the team member feared reprisals for saying something that goes contrary to the expressed ideas of the leader. That’s a pity for many reasons. But embarrassing the leader before the world is not a good idea. Expect that there will be no further input from that member, no matter what the quality or the abilities of the one who spoke out of turn and at the wrong time.

Some people simply don’t know where they are and don’t recognize that others take the meeting place with the discretion they would expect in their own home. Certain types of speech are acceptable. Desecrating the venue with distracting content that isn’t at all related to the mission can cause more than discomfort. It’s obvious that a rational person would not do such a thing but what would cause a person to feel it is appropriate? In a professional gathering, it will seem out of place to begin screaming expletives and threats at all those present. It also sends a message to the rest of the group when one person begins publicly ranting about inappropriate behavior by the leader when the information isn’t true. In these scenarios, is outright censorship appropriate?

No matter how egregious the sin, it’s a good idea to use due process, that is, tell the person what they’ve done that is an offense to the group, to the leader, to their own self, or to all. At least they will go forward with an awareness. If the offending conduct is repeated, it can be deemed that it was repeated with knowledge and was deliberate. They’ve already been advised that the behavior is not appropriate and will not be condoned.

But what if the conduct that urged insurrection is a belief held by more than just one? We go back to the logic of private counsel. A delegation of one or as many as three will want to talk with the leader and explain that the group is dissatisfied and wants to see certain changes. The changes can even be outlined in order to show where the group would like to be led.

Some people are authoritarian, others are focused on the good of the group. The authoritarian will not hear good counsel or new ideas, no matter how they are structured, no matter how courteous or compelling the conversation. A leader who is focused on the good of the group will see the areas where they need to accede and either do so or will negotiate a new position.

Censorship is a tool. It needs to be used judiciously and the circumstances dictating its use need to be carefully evaluated. It’s helpful for warding off negative behavior that can lead to the demise of the group. It can only make things worse if it’s used without good judgment.


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