Culture of Violence

I originally posted this to Facebook in February of 2018…and nothing has changed.

Another school shooting…another mass shooting. I find myself completely numb to it anymore. Not sad or “tense” (as some of you will think) or even advocating for change. Numb. Numb because if I let the heart ripping grief back in, it will overwhelm me. The darkest part of me shrugs and thinks, “Maybe this is America’s choice for population control.”

The arguments are tiresome and somewhat sickening. Yes, the gun is just a tool. No, this isn’t about lack of disciplining by parents or kids not tattling on their friends in time. No, taking away all the guns isn’t the solution. Yes, it is somewhat about our broken mental health system. No, everyone being armed isn’t the answer. Yes, “thoughts and prayers” has become an empty and useless sentiment. No, wanting to fix something that feels so broken is not “politicizing” grief. Yes, there will always be bad guys who will find a way to do harm.

Our problem, deep down, is our culture, and we need to own it. Whether we ultimately fix it or just accept this as status quo, we need to own the fact that we are, at heart, a culture that embraces the idea of violence as a solution to our problems. Don’t get me wrong: I love my country and the ideals we were built on, but the reality has unfolded in a bloody way. Think about it: we brag about how our Founding Fathers fought and killed for their beliefs; we euphemistically call our period of genocide and invasion “Western Expansion” and celebrate those pioneers who took territory at the point of a gun; we continue to wave the flag of secessionists who brought about the bloodiest and deadliest conflict in American history; we romanticize the “Wild West” as a time when right and wrong were decided by street duels and death; we chose a National Anthem that is a celebratory ode to war; we cheer movies where the hero ends the story by blowing away the bad guy. We must face the fact that, flag be damned, we have raised the gun as our true symbol of freedom and righteousness.

Being me, I’ve tried to figure out WHY. Why is the 2nd amendment the only one we fight so hard to preserve? Why do we argue so vehemently and with such vitriol at any whisper of gun control? It is a little too simple to say it’s money and the NRA. The NRA would have no crop without a fertile field to cultivate. So why is it that Americans are so ready to go all in for this one amendment while we shrug and turn away at the violations of free press and free speech and equal protection?

I think it’s fear and uncertainty, combined with the tangibility of “arms”. People are scared of how fragile their life circumstances are. We feel vulnerable to a government that can take away our money through taxes and our property through the power of eminent domain, and insignificant and powerless to change that at the voting booth in the face of billions in lobbyist money. The abstracts of free speech and equal protection are cold comfort when you feel like you are one illness away from losing your home. But a gun. A GUN is something we can buy, something we can touch, something we can own, something we can hide, something that scares other people, and something that gives us a sense of power. We believe we can defend our safety, our livelihood, and our property EVEN AGAINST OUR GOVERNMENT with the power of a gun, backed by the Constitutional protection of the 2nd Amendment. It is our line in the sand against fear and feeling powerless.

The sad irony is that despite the ideals of our Enlightenment forefathers, despite the beauty of the ideas they penned into the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, they chose violent rebellion as the mother to birth our country. That willingness to accept that the ends justify the means, no matter the consequences, and that blood must be the price of freedom, is embedded into our national DNA. We need to face it and own it, and then decide: do we fix things or accept the status quo?

Where to Start?

I haven’t written in a while, and with everything going on, am struggling with where to start. To steal shamelessly from Julie Andrews:

“Let’s start at the very beginning
A very good place to start
When you read, you begin with A-B-C…”

When I started this blog, it was intended to bring forward some life lessons I’d learned from coaching and apply them to life more broadly, and perhaps if I was lucky, be a bit inspirational now and then. I need to depart from that format for a while in an effort to try to make sense of what is going on in our world, and perhaps through talking it out, find a way to move forward in a way that feels positive and productive.

I read recently that Kansas has passed a law banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports…a law that apparently affects ONE person in the state. One. In a state of nearly three million people, THIS was the issue that rose to the top of the priority list for the time and attention of the elected officials of the state. THIS was the most important need to be addressed. Not the educational system (ranked 27th in the nation, with over 497,000 students in public school), or improving state-maintained roads and infrastructure (over 10,000 miles worth), but something that affects a vanishingly small percentage of the population. Really?

When I look at this, and at how legislators across the nation are spending their time and political power, I can’t help but wonder “why?” Why is so much effort being expended to stop people from expressing themselves freely, exploring new and different ideas, or taking care of themselves and their families in the ways they see fit? Why is this level of control being exerted?

When I was coaching, the teenagers always wanted to wear “technical suits” for their championship meets. These are suits that provide some degree of compression and water resistance, and the kids believed passionately that they wouldn’t be fast without them. No matter how much I assured them that it was the work they had done to prepare their bodies to race, and not the suit, they believed otherwise. Why? The suit was something tangible they could put their hands on, and it gave them a sense of confidence and control they didn’t have in themselves. The suit pacified their fear.

Coaching gives you the opportunity to observe people in a lot of different emotional states, and fear was one I saw regularly. I think humanity as a whole is particularly gripped by fear these days: fear of changes in our climate, fear of dwindling resources in an ever-expanding human population, fear of disease, fear of each other. These fears are real and valid and overwhelming, and hit at our deepest fear, which is our inability to fix any of them. When everything feels out of control, you seek to control anything you can.

I think leaders in churches and governments very sharply feel this fear of not being able to fix these things; they know they don’t have answers or solutions, and they share the fears we all have. Unfortunately, some are responding by inventing issues and targets that we can aim our fears at, that they can then “solve”. Like the technical suit, it provides a sense of confidence and control, as long as they can get us to believe that fixing these invented issues will pacify our fear.

Their solutions are lies because their problems are lies. Like the Wizard of Oz, they’re trying to distract us from the truth, and the real problems only get worse while they waste time driving us apart over who people love, how they dress, whether they choose to have a child, and what words are in books. They could 100% get their way in all of these things, and we would still be facing climate change, dwindling resources, possible pandemics, and even more fear of each other.

I find myself getting angry with the people who believe these lies and latch onto these invented issues as though they are the real problem and what is “destroying” America. When I feel that anger and frustration (and my own fear), I have to remind myself that they’re scared and overwhelmed too…they’re just more comfortable believing the comfortable lie with the easy answer than I am.

I believe we need to work harder to connect with each other directly and not fall into believing lies and easy answers. We need to not listen when a newscaster or preacher or legislator tells us how someone else feels, or what someone else is trying to do to us. It is not gay marriage or men in dresses or books about racism that are making our daily lives feel hard or the future feel hopeless. I have been trying to train myself, every time something elicits an emotional response, to ask “Why do I feel this way? What does the person telling me this gain from me being upset?” For me, it’s been a step in the right direction, and I’ve realized that most of the time the people telling me the bad things want my money or my clicks or my attention.

My other small step has been to try to listen and calmly respond when someone speaks out of their fear or ignorance or judgmentalism. I tell a story from my life that has shaped why I feel differently about what they said. If they don’t listen, or persist, or get hostile, I tell them we have to change the subject or I’ll need to walk away. It’s worked surprisingly well with some people, but full disclosure: it’s a work in progress for me to not just avoid the conversation to begin with. Introvert here.

I’m considering volunteering as a way to reconnect with community and do something tangible toward fixing the real problems we face. I’m not sure yet what that looks like, and am having a hard time figuring out what to do. More to come.

Whatever you can do to manage your own fear, find some peace, take a positive step, or rebuild community helps in this world. At a minimum, it helps your own stress go down. If you have good ideas, please share in the comments! Hopefully, I will be writing more soon.



They say integrity is defined as doing the right thing even when no one is looking. Performing well, or behaving ourselves, only when there is outside pressure to do so is not a character building trait.

I always knew when my swimmers were not working to full capacity, even when they swore up and down that they were. There is a focus and demeanor that is different, a physical expression of fatigue that is unique, when a swimmer is giving it their all. I could always tell.

I often got argued with when I called someone out on it. The funny thing was, the more strenuously they argued that they were trying as hard as they could, working as hard as they could, the more I knew they weren’t. They knew deep down inside that they weren’t, but it was too hard to acknowledge, so they needed me to believe they were. If I believed it, then they could believe it, and override that little nagging voice that was saying, “Nope, you’ve got more in you.”

Integrity is a hard path. It’s listening to that little voice, and doing the right thing, the true thing, even when there is no one to applaud the effort. It’s resisting the temptation to tell ourselves those “little white lies” about how we’re doing our best, or how our shortcut was justified. Integrity is about owning our imperfections publicly and not trying to make excuses for  them. It’s about doing the thing that is right no matter how difficult or time-consuming it may be.

When we fall short or take the easy route, we often will think to ourselves, “It doesn’t matter. No one will know, no one will get hurt,” but that’s simply not true. WE will know. WE will be hurt. Tiny bit by tiny bit, our self-esteem is devoured by those little shortcuts and dishonesties, by those lies and justifications we give ourselves. When we lie to ourselves over and over, we lose the ability to trust ourselves when the time comes that it does matter and others will notice.

Those swimmers that argued with me may have felt they won the day by pushing their conviction that they had done their best. However, on the block, facing an important race, the truth would be in their gut, and they would know whether they were ready or not.

Are you ready?

Broken Goggles


Coach:  “Why did you stop in the middle of the race?”
Child: (sobbing) “Because my goggles were leaking!”
Coach: “OK, so… it’s just water. Why didn’t you keep going?”
Child: (sobbing harder) “Because they were LEAKING!!!!!”

Every sport has its equipment, and swimming is no exception. Probably the most heavily relied upon item are the goggles, which keep the chlorinated water out of swimmers’ eyes. I hate goggles. HATE them. They break, they leak, they require frequent adjustment, and worst of all, most everyone thinks they can’t swim without them.

My real issue with goggles is that they are not necessary. They are a convenience, they are nice for helping you see clearly and for not ending up with stinging eyes at the end of the day…but in reality, you can still swim without them. One of my all-time favorite moments in swimming was Michael Phelps’ 200m butterfly win at the 2008 Olympics…you know, the one where his goggles filled with water off the start and he raced 200 meters unable to see clearly, the last 50 not really being able to see at all. I like to tell that story and end with, “See?  You don’t NEED goggles!”  (I get a lot of groans and rolling eyes from the kids.)

Broken goggles represent an inconvenience, an unexpected minor setback, yet too many turn it into tragedy. Broken or leaky goggles become an excuse and an insurmountable obstacle, with swimmers allowing themselves to mentally fall apart because of a minor failure of a piece of unnecessary equipment.  I read an interview with Bob Bowman, talking about training Michael Phelps. Part of what he said was that he used to train Michael for adversity, and do things like step on his goggles right before a race. Awesome! What better way to teach resiliency in the face of setbacks?

I have wondered on occasion if daily life in this country is just too easy. We flip a switch, light comes on. We turn a faucet, clean water comes out. We click a mouse, instant access to the world is there. Is it any wonder that people raised in that environment come undone when something unexpected and (GASP!) uncomfortable happens?

Kids who swam for me learned pretty quickly that goggle issues were not an excuse that was going to gain them any traction with me. In fact, I have run practice sets where kids were not allowed to wear goggles, or had to pull them down around their necks, or had to deliberately fill them with water, in order to teach them how to deal with the minor adversity. We spent a lot of time at practice talking about the difference between inconveniences and problems, and about being focused enough to swim through the inconveniences. I encouraged them to see these little issues as opportunities to build mental toughness, and I even had a few who listened.

What are the “broken goggles” in your life? How do you respond when it happens? Are you able to stay focused and move forward, seeing it for the minor adversity it is? Or do you let it derail you? How resilient are you?

Step on your goggles once in a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Swim IN Your Life


I recently made a name change to this blog (as my tiny band of followers may have noticed), and basically swapped a three-letter word for a two-letter word. What I discovered is that it caused a major, and very positive, change to the meaning of my title.

One wouldn’t think simply swapping the word “for” for the word “in” would warrant this much attention.  (I mean, REALLY, Jill! How much can you talk about this?!)  There ended up being such a profound change in meaning, and a very slick double meaning, that I just can’t resist going on about it for a bit.

The superficial meaning of Swim in Your Life is simply that:  I’m a great believer that everyone should have swimming in their life as a sport or activity, that everyone should know how to swim for safety. In other  words , “In your life, swim.”

The other meaning is that swimming is a way to think of moving through your life. “For your life” is detached and feels external, as though your life is over there somewhere. “In your life” is intimate, personal and immersive, and fits much better with the idea of swimming. When we swim in water, the water envelops us, touching us everywhere; we feel it with our whole body, and our whole body is involved in moving through the water. To get into water, we jump, plunge, leap, or at least slide in and commit. Swimming, like life, requires you to be all the way in—it does not happen to you, you must take charge and make it happen.

A small word change, a happy accident.  Immerse yourself in your life, use all of your mind and senses to feel it and move through it, make it happen.  Swim in your life.