I used a high-school debate on abortion to talk about political intolerance. Guess how people reacted?
Photo by Paul Faith/Getty Images​.

The other week, I wrote an article about debating “pro-life” in high school. I was then—and continue to be—passionately pro-choice. But my political stance isn’t the point—the piece was about the effect of the class’s conduct.

I expressed an unpopular point of view and was yelled at, mocked, and—for a time—ostracized.

The experience of being ganged up on by 25 of my peers so rattled and disoriented me, I soon found myself arguing my “side” with genuine feeling. It was a strange experience—especially because I wasn’t pro-life—to find myself tendentiously defending a cause I deplored—due to being attacked by others.


As soon as the article was posted, the comments section exploded.

Pro-choicers defended their right to be angry and treat others with the disrespect they “deserve.”

Pro-lifers defended their right to be angry and treat others with the disrespect they “deserve.”

At times, the comments veered into personal attacks: this writer is "pathetic," "whiny," "delusional," "an idiot."

And still, despite an eruption of online acrimony that perfectly mirrored my experience in high school, people insisted my memory was either faulty, or I was outright making it up. Fortunately, the irony wasn’t lost on everybody. A few commenters defended my piece better than I did:

“This post isn’t about the topic of abortion nor debates,” reads one. “It’s a discussion about how we treat each other as humans and our lack of control of our emotions leading to incivility.”

“Human beings are all individuals,” reads another. “But that individuality is bounded within a shared human experience. Unfortunately, that means that all of us are susceptible to these horrid little psychological tics. And we're living in a hyper-charged time. I hate to say it, but they're only human, reacting to information as opposed to processing it.”

I chose to write about this memory because I thought it illustrated, in microcosm, the tenor of debate in this country. I wish we lived in a world in which abortion rights weren’t up to debate—in which a woman’s bodily autonomy is a given. But we don’t.

And now we have an accused abuser on the Supreme Court. He is deeply conservative, and—judging by his anti-Democrat, conspiracy-driven rhetoric—possibly vindictive. Roe v. Wade is more vulnerable than ever—that’s just the reality. And yelling and sneering at pro-lifers is not only not helping—it’s working against us.

We need to figure out how to calm down and strategize.

Photo by Wojtek Radwanski//Getty Images.

I am by no means saying we shouldn’t feel outraged—we should. The injustices in our country are beyond the pale. But this isn’t about how we feel—it’s about how communicate.

Over the past 20 years, we have all learned to speak fluent internet. This morning, The New York Times reported: “Social media is emboldening people to cross the line and push the envelope on what they are willing to say to provoke and to incite.... The problem is clearly expanding.”

Angry outbursts and name-calling is so normalized, it's become our national parlance—something even our leaders engage in to appeal to (or alienate) the masses, advance politically, and deepen the divide.

Should we continue to drain our energy spewing vitriol online? Or should we rant instead to our friends, our family members, and therapists—people who love us, hear us, and are invested in our well-being—so we can metabolize our rage and move on to enacting real change?

Venting spleen on the internet may seem innocuous and “therapeutic,” but it is not. It is dangerous. Trolling is not akin road rage, where we yell things in the privacy of our cars we’d never say to someone’s face. The internet appears to offer the same privacy and anonymity as our cars—but it’s an illusion. Those other drivers—they can hear us. We are stoking real emotions with real—at time, deadly—consequences.

In addition to the illusion of privacy, the internet creates an illusion of control—we all think we're the ones driving. But, in reality, we are all in this car together—a brakeless clown car stuffed with millions of rage-demented clowns with Trump at the wheel. And while we all call each other idiots and pelt each other with “angry face” emojis, he's heading straight for a cliff.

Something has to change. The most moving—and effective—moments in history involved peaceful non-reaction to outrageous insult. If we are serious about our rights, then action—not reaction—may be the way forward.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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