Monday, April 13, 2015

Nietzsche Was Close

One of the side effects of being a brilliant mind is that idiots like me can second guess you.  This is especially true if you happen to be dead.

Friedrich Nietzsche is dead. 

He was also wrong.  Yes, yes, about the mustache styling but that's not all.

He at one point said. "Was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich stärker", which were it in English rather than German would be:  "What does not kill me, makes me stronger".  He was taking about bad or negative experiences.  Good experiences rarely cause risk of death. [Mostly].

I have found this to be not as universally true as Nietzsche would have liked it to be.  Something that comes that close to killing me will not necessarily make me stronger.  Sometimes, it may make me weaker by incenting me to avoid that activity in the future, which universally conflates avoidance with strength, causing me to ignore facts and circumstances.

My near-escape from harrowing experience can also make OTHER PEOPLE stronger.  This is true because other people will  watch what I do and learn from my misfortune.  I may even help them by writing a book.  They will grow both through observing my experience and because they don't have the fear of re-experiencing my pain.

So, he would have been more correct [but still had too bushy a mustache] had he pluralized it and said:  "What does not kill US, makes US stronger".  Sorry, make that "Was uns nicht umbringt, macht uns stärker".  He also could have put a lot of nay-sayers to rest had he just also followed that statement up with "its not the only thing that makes us stronger, but it helps."

[PS:  He was right about a lot of things.  God is probably dead, or better, he was murdered by the Greeks, and there are are no facts, only interpretations.  But this isn't about what he was right about, its about what he was wrong about - and that mustache.  Was that ever in style?]

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rethinking the "Platinum Rule"

Some time ago, I considered the Platinum Rule versus the Golden Rule.

I'm a little older now and more stuff has happened to me.  Sorry if that older post was a little dualistic, and in retrospect, boring because of it.

In short, what I was getting at with the post was that doing for/to others what you would want done for/to you (gold), is good, but gold is not quite as good as doing for/to others what they would want done to themselves.  In a sense, transferring agency from the doer, where it lies in the golden rule, to the recipient, where it lies in the platinum rule.

In retrospect, this puts a lot of pressure on people to know what they want.  Self-agency can be daunting, especially in times of stress.  The more I gallivant through life, the more and more aware I become of times when people just can't seem to bear self-agency and as a result, can end up actively working against their own best interest.  There is even a psychological syndrome (sorry, name escapes me) that will cause us to prefer to win an argument even though we'd actually be better off losing.

So, I guess we need to keep our self and interpersonal awareness keen to know when to gold 'em and know when to platinum 'em.  (Gosh, I wish that rhymed better!)

PS:  Regarding the use of the word "gallivant" to describe life's journey.  Sometimes, its a gallivant, but sometimes is a plod, while other times its a frolic and occasionally its a slumber.  Right at this particular moment, for example its a bit of a chore (not writing this, but in writing this, not doing what I should be doing, which is where the chore part comes in).  I really just chose "gallivant" because its a word my father used to use when he meant that we were going to go about and do some arrangement of fun things.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Doctor Appreciation Day

Today, March 30 is Doctor Appreciation Day.

Yup.  And I didn't even make that up.  Look here.

So, you may ask:  What exactly is wrong with appreciating doctors?  Do I have something against Doctors?  Am I some sort of twisted doctor-hater?

Of course not.  Who doesn't love their doctor?  I love mine.  Had him for ten years.  And I loved the one before that, my first one.  I have doctor friends, and doctor acquaintances and I have doctor clients.

What comes off as inauthentic about Doctor Appreciation Day is the same thing that comes of as inauthentic, or maybe just unaware when people change "Black Lives Matter" to "All Lives Matter".

Doctor Appreciation day for me is every day my doctor does something for me.  Even some days when I'm just happy my doctor did something for me, or for my wife or for my daughters.  Doctor Appreciation Day is EVERY DAY.

If you think "Black Lives Matter" misses that non-black lives also matter, you're missing that point too.  The point is EVERY DAY is "White People Matter Day".  I'm white and I can tell you that l don't always feel like the universe thinks my life matters.  The scary truth is, however bad my day is, at the end of the day, I'm still not black.

The old saying still has some truth in this very not post-racial America, and the truth is this:  No matter how uneducated a non-black person might be, no matter how unhealthy, no matter how unemployable...a non-black person can always still say:  "At least I'm not black."   And there would be some truth to that.

So, I'm just hoping that "Doctor Appreciation Day" was created by the greeting card industry, because if it wasn't, it misses the point just like "All Lives Matter" does.  Every day is Doctor Appreciation Day.

I am grateful, but I will skip celebrating "Doctor Appreciation Day".  I will, if I can get away today and take myself out for lunch, buy my waitress lunch and tell her its "Service Industry Appreciation Day", even if I'm the only one celebrating it and there are no greeting cards.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Funny Little One-Line Jokes

Funny one-line jokes.  (Extracted from a longer list handed to me in a steathily camouflaged bible tract promoting mostly the ugliness of man.)
  1. If at first you don't succeed, avoid skydiving.
  2. Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.
  3. I don't suffer from insanity; I enjoy every minute.
  4. Give me ambiguity or give me something else.
  5. Always remember that you are unique; just like everyone else.
  6. Consciousness:  That annoying time between naps.
  7. Why is "abbreviation" such a long word?
  8. I started out in this world with nothing, and I still have most of it.
  9. The severity of the itch is inversely correlated to your ability to scratch it.
  10. You can't have everything.  Where would you put it?
  11. I just let my mind wander and  it's yet to come back.
  12. I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.
  13. It's bad luck to be superstitious.
  14. What would happen if you were to get scared half to death twice?
  15. Everywhere is walking distance if you have enough time.

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Hope Looks Like

I happened to spend a few minutes watching the legislature of the Great State of South Carolina on television today.  As I sat there, eating my granola, they passed a few laws.  I think they were actually amendments to other laws, but close enough for right now.  What they passed seemed to be largely in the minutia.  Actually, in reality what they passed seemed to be unintelligible gibberish.

My granola finished, I went back to my day.   I was apparently not done thinking about that gibberish.  What did it mean?  Someone spent a lot of time - a lot of intention - making that gibberish say exactly what they needed it to say and then getting it passed.  Why?  What was their intention?  Were they looking out, either directly or more probably indirectly for themselves?  Was it their intention to act exclusively in the best interest of the people affected by the gibberish?

I have to hold in my thoughts that even though legislation and policy has created such wide-spread have-and-have-not access to resources, the only path that leads to a conclusion in which they shouldn't all be thrown in jail is the path that starts with them having the best interest of the governed in mind.

If I can't hold that - and I fear I may not be able to hold that much longer - the backup thought is that the institutionalized inequity was premeditated.  That convincing people all across America to abandon critical thought and to vote, believe and even act contrary to their own best interest was not some unintended side effect.  It wasn't some bonus.  It was intentional.  Now, thirty years later, those very Americans who long ago set aside their critical thinking skills have come to occupy the very seats in the very halls which were supposed to be occupied those who had created this whole ruse.  Talk about an unintended consequence. That would mean that the joke is so big, and so present, that nobody knows its a joke anymore.

So, you see, I have to have hope that our government is one, gigantic unintended consequence.  Otherwise, it is theft by lawmaking and I'm just not ready to hold that.

Monday, March 9, 2015


Says he:    You write a blog?
Say I:        I do.
Says he:    I didn’t know that.
Say I:        Oh, well.  I guess…
Says he:    How many readers do you have?
Say I:        [I stalled, but it was not needed, I knew the answer.]  Oh, well, I guess…. 
Says he:    I mean, just an estimate.
Say I:        Well, the number is very close to zero.
Says he:    So, what you’re saying is you write a blog that nobody reads.
Say I:        Well...basically, yes.
Says he:    Why?
Say I:        Well, even though nobody reads it now, that doesn’t mean that nobody will ever read it….Plus, its like buying souvenirs.
Says he:    Souvenirs?
Say I:        Yes, so that future me can remember current me or even past me without romanticizing or demonizing.
Says he:    So, you’re not going to remember yourself.
Say I:        Probably not, or at least probably not objectively.
Says he:    But so will everyone else.
Say I:        Hence the reason I’m not too concerned about my low readership.
Says he:    Still seems like a waste of time.
Say I:        Might be.  Won’t know for a few years yet.
Says he:    Is that like Carlin’s “Braindroppings”?
Say I:        Well, in a way yes, and in a way no.  Come to think of it, probably more yes due to the poop reference.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Treating our Children Like Criminals

Did you know that in most school districts across the nation, if your child misses more than a few days of class, they are automatically deemed to have failed the class?  Its one of those ridiculous "zero tolerance" rules that saves the very adults in our society who are entrusted to teach critical thinking skills to our children the burden of actually having to think critically themselves.

So, what is the underlying assumption in this absence policy?  Simply, your child is universally better off if s/he attends class.  Really?  Reflect on your time in school and tell me that you are better off for having sat in every single one of your classes or activities,

What if that class or activity is lead by an unprepared, uncommitted teacher/coach/minister?  What then? Yes, your child will still fail for choosing to do something more productive - even if it is to sit in the car and smoke a joint.  The benefit of doubt is universally awarded - earned or unearned - to the adult. The presumption is so engrained, we even have words for it - words like "elder" and "respect" - both of which have one-way definitions.

What if your child was out in the real world doing something of far greater value than watching the Disney animated version of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" IN ENGLISH as a French culture lesson - every day for a week?  And then in the following week, repeat the same activity with a different movie, this time Ratatouille, again in English - even though a French dubbed version is available.

Let's be honest.  There are two real reasons we have all these discipline issues - which create discipline rules, which create more issues, which create more rules - and neither of them have much to do with our kids.  

The first is that we simply don't trust our children because we are afraid that what they do will make us look bad.  We expect them to magically grope for boundaries, find themselves, "grow up" and discover their world under our care without ever doing something stupid or regrettable.  We react to the potential for being embarrassed fearfully, so we set unreasonable restrictions to which no un-coerced adult-to-be in their right minds would ever willingly agree.  Then, when they "act out" we turn teachable moments into criminal offenses.  We reinforce the message that they need to learn how to grope for their boundaries in way that allows us to be shielded by ignorance or at a minimum, be able to claim ignorance.

The second reason adults create this one-way power dynamic is that these "we-decide-what-is-important-rules" is our own need for self-validation.  If you can learn what you need to learn without actually being in school/church/home then school/church/home is pretty irrelevant, isn't it?

Some adults, including teachers, coaches and ministers understand this and work to create growth environments for children.  Some of us eventually see the error of our ways but don't have a clue about how to fix it.  Some live a whole lifetime without ever understanding this - or refusing to admit that they see it.

There really isn't an effective way of communicating "You know that culture of fear I brought you up in, I was wrong.  Please forget what you know."  So, we either mindlessly or hopelessly press on undaunted in our race to the bottom, busily creating the next hopeless and fearful generation.  All but a few of us base our actions in our fear and assume that any variation from the very lives we wish we could change for ourselves constitutes nothing more than an act of disobedient anarchy that needs to be legislated and litigated in a court in which we are the sole judge and jury.

We treat our children like criminals and then we're completely surprised when they learn to behave like criminals.  

We are stupid.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Burden of Strength

The thing is, you see these people around you and you see them escaping from shit in their lives.  Some of the shit is real, some of it is made up.  Some of it is their own faults, some of it is their shit, but someone else made it.

And you see them, there with their shit, using whatever they can to avoid it - drugs, sex, booze, exercise, pizza, fucking money - whatever it is - and you see them and you're you, and you're strong, and you're beautiful and, worse, you don't have any of their shit, nothing like their shit at all.  And you are or become aware that you really don't have any shit at all.  No shit that you can think of - or worse - you feel like you have shit, but its really all just the made-up-by-me kind and you feel double shitty, first for not really having any shit like they do and then for thinking you do and being embarrassed when you realize that your shit is just bullshit.

So, you're strong, and you're smart and you're beautiful and the world is a welcoming, exciting place for you and that pisses you off because you can't help.  You're supposed to be like Goddammed Superman, but you don't know what to do.  You see those people with all that real, shitty shit and you empathize with them, but that doesn't cut it, so you move all the way to transference and sooner or later their problems become real to you, but they're only real because you made them real.  In your strength, you find weakness and you become like them, but in reality, if only just a little, you know you're not. But then none of that really matters because soon, you're just as screwed as they are becuase now you can't shake the pizza-money-weed thing either and your strength and your empathy have gotten you to be as helpless as they are.

And you realize, after its too late, that you can't help anyone do anything in this place - not even you and despite that's how this all started - you trying to use your strength to help someone, if only a little.  And then, someone uses a bullshit term like "self-care" and you realize after like the nineteenth time you hear it that its not really a bullshit term at all.  Its real, but its also too late for you - or maybe its not because there you see the "new" you - someone just like you...well, just like you were at the beginning...and you see them and you realize that in their eyes, you're that person with all the shit.  And you tell them to make sure they take care of themselves because they're smart, and they're strong, and they're beautiful and they're your ticket back to being smart, strong and beautiful and if you ever get back there, you're going to jump in with both feet and be a life-preserver instead of an anchor to the next person you love with all their shit, so the "new" you needs to stay like the "old" you and take care of themselves and not become like the current you because nobody wins when that happens.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Prayer for the Day of Remembrance

Today is a day set aside as a Day of Remembrance so that we do not forget the internment in prison camps of 120,000  American souls of Japanese and Aleut descent during World War II.

The actual thing was called  Executive Order 9066.  It was signed by one of my historical heroes and one of the most progressive leaders in modern history, President Franklin D. Roosevelt -  a man who nine years earlier scolded us by saying:
"So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
Just to be clear, in America, we didn't have "prison camps" or "internment camps", we had "assembly centers".  Those "assembly centers" didn't have "prisoners" or "detainees", they had "evacuees".
It took another of my historical heroes to check back in with what we were thinking.  Thirty (30) years later, President Jimmy Carter established a commission to look into what we were thinking and subsequently apologize publicly and try to compensate survivors for their pain.

We allowed this to happen.  You and me. Because it didn't effect us at all.  What did we care?  Why should we care?   After all, we were fighting a war.

Right.  Why should we care?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wanna Hear God Laugh? Tell him/her Your Plans.

What if, in the course of trying to right a large wrong, I should inadvertently create a smaller wrong?   

Worse, what if the small wrong I created actually justifies or rationalizes the original injustice - I not only created a wrong, but hurt my original cause.  Yikes. The original injustice still standing, maybe now stronger and me, its attacker, weakened.  What do I do?  Shrivel? Defend? Apologize?

It is so easy to lose site of the original injustice, now shrouded in a victim's cloak. So many instances come to mind recently.  Paris, Selma, Wall Street.  Even today, rapists persist in holding a victim of rape co-accountable for the rape itself.

In the end though, the false claim of victimhood works against the injustice, even renewing energy in the fight against it.  You and I, we know when injustice is happening - even when we are causing it - no matter how many lawyers, guns or money are deployed in self-defense.  [Actually, there is an inverse correlation between how much lawyers, guns and money are used and how strong a position is.  Injustice really needs oppression to be successful.]

Theodore Parker [more or less] said that the arc of morality is long - you can't even see the end from here - but it bends toward justice.  What he meant, in less poetic terms is that injustice is unsustainable, but the battle against it might take a long time.

So, what do I do?  

Shrivel?  Hell no.  In this case, shrivel = capitulate and I do not have the right to capitulate against injustice.

Defend?  Again, hell no.  Defending myself validates them.  I did not do what I did to validate them, but to erase them.

So, apologize, then?  Yes - because that's exactly what I want them to do, along with cease and desist.  But how I apologize is very, very important.  If I get all emotional and go too far I could reinforce their false sense of victimization.  I need to be very, very sure to apologize for what I did, but not for why I did it.

My path may have changed forever.  I may need new plans.  But if I feel tempted to wish to go back and erase what I did, then I don't deserve my plans.  I hear God laughing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

A Prayer for Saint Valentine's Day

I had a small revelation recently regarding my thoughts on how emotions control our actions and our beliefs.

Before this revelation, I considered fear to be the primary driver of human behavior and belief.  Fear is why we over-consume in one country while people starve in another one.  As a matter of fact, fear is why we have bothered to divide ourselves up into countries which emerge as a defense mechanism against oppression.  Fear is also why most major world religions believe in some sort of metaphysical cure for what ails us. I could go on, for example why we have:  currency and systems to accumulate wealth; pharmaceuticals that help people to live “normal” lives; even right down to why we have last names – all come from an urge to define - an urge which comes from a latent, a priori fear of “the other” who is presumed to be intent on doing us harm for their own benefit.  [Of course, this is often a reflection of our own intent, which is a separate topic altogether.]

My revelation is about the source of fear.  I became aware that the primary emotion driving human behavior is still fear, but underlying the fear is love – two kinds of love, love of and love for.  Love for others and love of stuff [which can include other people].  We love stuff, so we presume that others also love stuff and will probably try to take it, and in the process or as a result, harm those we love.  So, we build walls that start with definition to protect our loved ones from suffering harm. 

So, on this St. Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love, I hope to be more mindful of whether I am celebrating love of, or love for.  Most things - emotions included - can’t cause themselves to exist.  They need an agent and for me, I am that agent.  I think that’s what the great religious leaders are calling for when they call for love. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Happy St. Groundhog Day

Says she:    Why do you like Groundhog Day so much, anyway?
Say I:         Saint Groundhog Day.  
Says she:    (Smiling) Right.
Say I:         (Smiling)
Says she:    Well!
Say I:         Well, what?
Says she:    Aren't you going to answer the question?
Say I:         Which one again?
Says she:    Why do you like “Saint” Groundhog Day so much?
Say I:         Ah that one.  Yes.  That's a very good question.  (Smiling)
Says she:    (After a period of silence.)  Well!
Say I:         Well what?  You seem so upset.
Says she:    I'm not upset.  Why won't you answer the question - and don't say 'Which question?' again.
Say I:         Isn't that fun?
Says she:    (After a puzzled look and a few moments of consideration.)  Isn't what fun?
Say I:         That.   What we just did.  Knowing roughly what might happen and more or less when, but having just a little detail left off to make it interesting.  
Says she:    (The look now was somewhere between puzzled and annoyed.)  I...ah...
Say I:         See, most people think and even say that they like certainty, that they like to know what is going to happen and when.  They think life is best when its like a play, when everything is laid out in nice little bite-sized pieces.  But in reality, they don't...because...well, that's boring.  We go whale watching and then we're amazed when we see a whale.  What would be amazing is if we'd seen a whale while trying on new jeans at Belk.  That would have been amazing.  Saint Groundhog Day reminds us that some awesome shit is gonna go down soon, but you don't know when or even what.
Says she:    Sorry I asked.
Say I:         Like hell you are.