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Letters, Winter 2013

Readers respond to the Fall 2013 issue.

Winter 2013 11.4.13

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Fall 2013 cover

UU World, Fall 2013. On the cover: “Dorothy,” © 2013 Sally Muir (oil on board). Private collection/The Bridgeman Art Library.

Problem parenting

I was disappointed in Marcy Campbell’s better-parent-than-thou rant (“Choice Words,” Fall 2013). While I sympathize with her frustration at overly permissive and disengaged parenting, Campbell offers few constructive insights, instead painting child rearing in black-and-white terms. Her solution is simple: Be less permissive. Limit choices. Sorry, but parenting is more complicated than that.

Campbell’s own examples show that she gives her children choices. She also gives them consequences. As she correctly points out, a home with clear rules and expectations provides healthy stability for children. But it is possible to provide this without being authoritative. You can respect your child’s free will and help them learn that choices have consequences.

If your child is behaving in an unsafe or socially problematic way, you can cooperatively problem-solve with the child (which builds social efficacy), or you can warn the child what consequence is coming and then follow through (which builds compliance). Either option is better than shrugging your shoulders and letting the poor behavior continue, but using your superior size and strength to get your way is just as bad. Not only does it set a poor example, but it sets you up for a big-time struggle when your child is suddenly 13 years old, bigger than you, and used to the idea that might makes right.

Chuck McKay
Orono, Maine
Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor


Campbell writes, “I’d observed this boy in other situations displaying entirely appropriate behavior, so I knew he was capable of it.” I want to respond to this problematic conclusion. Children on the autistic spectrum often find themselves experiencing frustration, temper tantrums, and other socially inappropriate behavior on some days and not on others.

When my son was young, a tough start in the morning, followed by a late bus, followed by an unexpected change in classroom routine might lead to a behavioral meltdown. But, on another day, a day padded with extra time, the patience of loving adults, and predictability, he could absolutely behave within what others would call acceptable parameters. Unless you know a child personally you have no idea what they are capable or not capable of.

As a parent who has borne the brunt of more than my share of condemning stares from the parents of typically developing children I want to ask that we all exercise a little more patience and not make assump­tions about the ability of others—parents or children.

Mary Jane Panke
Vernon, Connecticut
Unitarian Universalist Society: East


Animals and us

The saddest part about Kimberly French’s article “Our Animal Contradictions” (Fall 2013) is the animal abuse it promotes. Did the author explicitly approve abuse? No, but violence to farmed animals is routine in nearly all of the animal agriculture industry, in operations large and small, distant and local, and not just on factory farms. French promotes the industry’s marketing myth that because some flesh, milk, and eggs are produced less inhumanely than others, and less un­sustainably than others, that they are therefore humane and sustainable. They are neither. They are felonies if perpetrated on a dog or cat.

UU World has published a cover story that I’m sure is a comfort to those of its readers who have not seen behind the veil of animal agriculture. For a justice issue of this magnitude, lifting the veil is more important than leaving it comfortably in place.

Charlie Talbert
Madison, Wisconsin
First Unitarian Society


America’s massive network of grotesque animal factories is no accident. After World War II the USDA locked arms with the livestock associations and their political allies to promote the consumption of meat and other animal products. They correctly calculated that more money could be made by feeding our prodigious output of corn and soybeans to animals and selling the meat, rather than by selling the grains directly. Living beings were reduced to factory units so the U.S. could become the low-cost producer and “feed the world,” and the fast food industry was born.

We can turn the tide by eating much less, and only free-range, animal food. This is the new frontier in our quest for justice and compassion. Our true test is: when we have the power to be cruel, we choose not to be.

Craig Volland
Kansas City, Kansas
All Souls UU Church of Kansas City


Kimberly French’s essay and the responses to it have reminded me to focus on Unitarian Universalism’s Third Principle, acceptance of one another and a desire to keep on learning together, and Fourth Principle, our belief that each person must be free to search for what is true and right.

I too am an animal person, both personally and professionally. I too abhor the methods used for mass production of animal protein. How­ever, I felt an incredible connection with the author. As a conservation biologist and animal behaviorist with an interest in anthropology, I understand how and why humans domesticated animals and started selecting for traits that were of benefit to their communities. Whether it’s a domestic dog for work or companionship or a domestic goat for work or food, we humans have artificially selected for plant and animal traits that provide us with the best resources. We have become so “biologically successful” as a species that we are now abusing our ability to out-compete other living organisms for our perceived benefit, when our resulting lifestyle is often to our overall detriment.

While I admire those who are able to maintain a vegetarian or vegan ideal, I could not. I now focus on supporting small scale, sustainable, and humane agricultural methods. I eat very little protein from mammals anymore, but I do still eat some protein each day from birds, fish, crustaceans, or mollusks. The important thing is to keep searching, growing, and changing, respecting others who have different values than my own.

Thank you for sharing a great reflective essay on your personal relationship with non-human animals—and for putting yourself out there, knowing that you may be criticized.

Caryn Self-Sullivan
Fredericksburg, Virginia UU Fellowship of Fredericksburg
posted on uuworld.org, October 1


Opposing divestment

We invest to get a return on our investment. If investment in fossil fuel companies gives us a good ROI, then divestiture is irresponsible (“UUs Push for Fossil Fuel Divestment,” Fall 2013). If we could snap our fingers and put fossil fuel companies out of business, air travel and cargo shipping would cease. So would all vehicular traffic, unless we found an alternative way to power and lubricate everything from engines to bearings. The ability to cool or heat your home would be impossible unless you lived near a nuclear or hydroelectric power plant.

It would be better to support energy efficiency, from light bulbs to refrigerators to internal combustion engines to improved building insulation codes, to move against coal-fired power plants, and to move toward a more vegetarian diet. Divestiture is symbolic and accomplishes little if anything. Reducing our own carbon footprint is real, measurable, and exemplary

Steve Marston
Glen Oaks, New York
UU Congregation at Shelter Rock


This article appeared in the Winter 2013 issue of UU World (pages 58–59). See sidebar for links to related resources. UU World welcomes letters to the editor. Send to “Letters,” UU World, 25 Beacon St., Boston MA 02108, or world@uua.org, but do not send attachments. Include your name, address, daytime phone number, and congregation on all correspondence. Published letters with author’s name, city, and state will appear on www.uuworld.org. Letters are edited for length and style; a maximum length of 200 words is suggested. We regret we cannot publish or respond to all letters.

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