The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal, at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.
I guess that would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching 90 Day Fiancé or the Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.
One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a distance is that I haven’t written much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really motivated to do it.
At the end of the day, I guess it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not something I feel called to do nor do I necessarily have a story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker with the idea.
Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.
Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I learned that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I saw that or heard that information while in school or in life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times in my life and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?
But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away. Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different than where it ended up. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or a million miles farther away in our solar system?
Nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!
How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?
But when I think about how I got here to where I am today, the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze Emily’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind.
I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.
I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we’re going to be happy.
So, I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said. Writing is my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life.
So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things. I’m an internal person, and not particularly expressive. I can write a personal card or email pretty much anytime I want.
Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better. If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand your own acknowledged weaknesses.
This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy continues to radiate in my own story.
If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a good chance you end up in exactly the right place.
That is exactly what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.
Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.
And yet, finally…just like the sunlight, everything is just right.
My brain has been rattling around quite a bit this week over the subject of parenting so I thought I might help myself understand the subject better if I put my thoughts down in writing. I can at times be a tad bit introverted so I have a tendency, when left to my own devices, to wonder around aimlessly inside my own head thinking about various things like this; ya’ll already know that about me.
Of course, it’s a bit absurd that I of all people would attempt to explain what a perfect parent is to anyone else being that I only did it once and I don’t think I was particularly great at it. That said, this is not necessarily a blog about how to be a perfect parent, it’s more of a letter to myself about the complexities of parenthood and perhaps an elaborate excuse for me sucking at it. You’re more than welcome to follow along and make fun of me if you want.
I hate to summarize my entire blog in the third paragraph for obvious reasons. So to better ensure that you will want to continue reading to the end, I will spice up my summary with what may be considered a controversial idea for the times in which we’re now living – the crazy idea that no one person could ever be the perfect parent.
This late-in-life recognition comes from multiple realizations. First of which radiates from my own personal experiences; second, from outside observations; and third, from the school of life. It’s the worst kind of school to go to, it has no monkey bars nor a recess.
I am an individual person with my own set of natural abilities, inclinations, habits, beliefs, deficiencies, and proclivities. There are certain aspects of parenting that my specific skill sets and personality are great at. There are others that I completely suck at. But that’s just me. What about my child? Wouldn’t it make sense that he would also have that same sort of complexities and individuality that I have? What if his personality learns in a different way than I naturally teach? What if his personality feels and expresses differently than I’m capable of emoting or comprehending?
Of course, two people can meet, be attracted to each other, fall in love, get married, sit on the same toilet, get pregnant and produce a child together without any idea of how to be parents. Both people could theoretically have the same personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and possibly be completely incapable of supporting the other parent in any way. It could happen.
But, it is far more likely that each parent will have a different and separate set of skills and faults, each somewhat supporting the deficiencies of the other parent. Logic says that at least one parent will have some innate ability to jive with their child but that two will have at least some parental synergy and thus help the child benefit from what each parent has to offer.
Can any one individual parent be both a stern and strict enforcer of rules, standards, and family traditions and also provide an unstructured environment that provides for freedom of thought and creativity? Can one individual parent be so well-rounded as to share in their child’s perspectives and allow them to indulge themselves in a creative world without bounds but also exemplify the importance of politeness or respect of others/elders – with an intolerance of public unruliness? I’ve never known one person who can be all those things.
It’s far more reasonable to believe that one parent will always naturally fall into one role and the other parent will fall into the opposite or somewhat different role. Having two parents with two distinctly different personalities better ensures that children grow up with a broader perspective and wider range of skills, abilities, comprehensions and emotions.
I’ve characterized the following parent types into Little Rascal characters. Maybe you fall into one of these and maybe you don’t. I’m in no way attempting to describe all parent types, just enough to make my points.
Spanky parents are naturally playful and warm and love to see their children excited, playing in and experimenting with the world around them. Encouraging this playfulness and growth by always suggesting activities and lessons can really leverage the super powers that very young children have when it comes to the speed at which they can learn. These parental types will embrace and encourage their child’s productive interests as they arise, sweeping away dolls and dinosaurs when interests shift to the oceans, and eliminating the plastic fish when tastes change again, to the stars.
All that wonderfulness aside, this Spanky type of parent may be unlikely to have the heart to establish normal limitations themselves. They don’t always recognize the value of structure and predictability. Their entire façade is built on the premise of infinite and limitless possibility.
Do you remember the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy where Sandler (Sonny Koufax) was a law school grad – too lazy to take the Bar exam but who adopted a boy to impress his girlfriend? My most prominent memories are the kid pissing in the living room corner and how Koufax never made the kid take a bath. The kid became the stinky kid at school because Sonny Koufax was a Spanky dad.
Froggy parents are more analytical. Parenting, like so many other person-to-person relationships can be quite difficult for analytical people as you can imagine. If you’re a person who’s heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing causes and effects, you can be woefully unprepared for dealing with a little person who hasn’t quite yet developed these same abilities. Froggy struggles with simple communication because he’s incapable of coddling or light/insignificant conversation.
Froggy may be the most rational person in the world but utterly fail in overt displays of physical affection or emotional sensitivity. He certainly has important skillsets that children need to be exposed to but on a personal level Froggy has an inability to convey those skills without the assistance of another parent who is much more emotionally available.
Froggy is otherwise a man of many talents. He has glasses so we know he’s smart and if given an opportunity, he genuinely wants to pass on his many talents to his offspring. It’s not for a lack of want, it’s a lack of self-awareness and instinct that keeps Froggy from being the parent he really wants to be.
Stymie has a mantra of “hard work, tradition, and respect”. In many ways, Stymie is the classic 50’s era father figure although Stymie could just as easily be a mother – it is a classic genderless name and perfect for a 21st century blog character. The problem with Stymie’s are that they are often standup, perfectionist type folks and they expect their children to continue the examples they’ve already set. It’s difficult for kids to live up to these exceptionally high expectations but of course the ones that do live up to it sort of prove that it’s a good parenting style, right? Maybe.
The sort of parental inflexibility that Stymie parents are known to have, if left to their own devices, can become quite a challenge for a kid who is growing into their more naturally rebellious adolescent years. The challenge is almost greater for Stymie, not the kid.
Stymie parents enjoy creating secure, structured, stable environments, and consider it an affront to have those considerations rejected which is what adolescents are famous for doing. Insubordination is not particularly well-tolerated by a Stymie and I sort of get that. It is a very difficult thing to raise a child these days and it never hurts to feel some appreciation for all the efforts you’re undertaking.
We all understand that accountable parenting is a responsibility, not an option, but (always a but) not everyone does, or wants to, or feels the need to, or is willing to do the right thing and it feels damn good to hear your child express some understanding and gratitude for those efforts.
Buckwheat is artistic and adventurous and fun-loving. Buckwheat loves hands-on activities and hobbies that further develop an artistic talent or boost a child’s social awareness. But, when it comes to things like saving for their child’s college education, our Buckwheat would turn straight to oatmeal without a partner whom is much better at taking care of those sort of things.
Buckwheat’s are, however, full of empathy and awareness: a bedrock of emotional support. Buckwheat’s will never bullheadedly tell a child what it ought to do, but instead, will help them to explore all options and encourage them to follow their hearts and instincts. Those are awesome qualities and any child would be fortunate to have a Buckwheat parent. Naturally lacking structure, focus, rules and stability, Buckwheat parents also fall short of perfection.
We all know Butch. He’d occasionally steal Darla away from Alfalfa with his obvious swagger but if Butch and Darla were to have children, I think Butch would do well to put a ring on Darla and keep her around. Parenting is difficult for Butch. Not a naturally sensitive guy, he struggles to identify the raw emotions and irrationality that are often the standard with young children, who have yet to develop the sort of self-control and logical thinking that someone like Butch takes for granted.
Butch has no interest in raising children or managing anything other than his work or his golf game. Butch parents are likely to allow their children to enjoy lots of freedom to essentially raise themselves, allowing them to form their own principles. Butch is rational, intelligent and is engaged once the children are older but there is hardly a clumsier example of a provider of emotional support for children and pre-teens than Butch.
Lots of little boys grow up trying to emulate their Butch dads. The control and confidence Butch naturally exudes can be a powerful magnet for a child to emulate and confidence is a great attribute. But a lack of emotional connection with daddy Butch can leave some children feeling like they don’t measure up.
Oh-Tay; Porky is the quintessential yes man. But all that ass-kissing has made Porky want better for his kids. Porky wants to teach his children how to be effective in business, impartial and logical. Porky believes that his kids should understand the difference in what is most effective versus what makes you feel good.
Porky is passionate about raising his kids with business skills and leadership ability but his approach leaves him emotionally inaccessible. He’s all about teaching strong values but he believes these values come from deep understanding, not blind trust. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come naturally for anyone but it’s a particularly challenging subject for Porky.
Porky’s standards are so high for himself and his kids that when confrontations do happen, Porky wants to frame the life lessons as archetypes of morality. If his kid rebels against it, it’s seen as a rebellion of morality because that’s how he framed it – thus Porky wants to dig in his heels and refuse to bend.
Porky is a complicated person. He can be a great parent but can smother his kids with ridiculous expectations and leave them searching for acceptance. I’m thinking George Von Trapp meets Maria. George (Porky), bullied by the Nazi’s feels emasculated. He wants better for his kids so he’s disciplined and direct. Maria swoops in with her nun outfit, teaches his kids to sing, and they live happily ever after.
If you’re an Alfalfa like me, you’re probably struggling to manage your own emotions in a healthy way, let alone trying to manage a childs’ emotions. I’m analytical for sure but not super analytical, such as a Froggy. I would definitely define myself as a true hybrid type – one quarter analytical, one quarter emotional, one quarter artistic and one quarter zombie (Spanky/Froggy/Buckwheat/Stymie/Butch/Porky).
I would say that my analytical side is usually what wins out. As a result, I tend to mostly avoid “unproductive” strictly emotional conversations, and instead take a solutions-based but slightly emotional approach to resolving most problems. Example: I never once spanked my child without first having an intellectual discussion over why it was necessary. Then, once the matter was resolved intellectually, I teared up and did the dreadful deed.
Words and ideas though, are my strongest assets – assessing a dilemma to find the underlying cause and developing a plan to solve the problem at its source. That said, I can at times be highly emotional. You just may not know it – that’s the zombie part of my personality.
A disconnect is found between what I’m able to feel and what I’m able to express. Although I think my emotional side is highly developed – there are no visual cues as to what I’m feeling. You’re laughing right now that I’m calling myself emotional, I know it.
Alfalfa’s like me try really hard to always do or say the right thing but our emotional logic doesn’t always translate. Think of children like tribes of indigenous peoples of undiscovered islands. They speak their own language and have their own unique culture – Heathens and savages if you will. Children won’t always cooperate and allow you to use all your best dance moves. Emotion and Logic, when combined, can sometimes make a profound difference.
What happens when you logic is ignored and you’re also an emotional person? Well, I can say that it is usually one of two scenarios: I either have a great conversation and things seem to work fine, or, the shit hits the fan and I use a barrage of unintelligible curse words strapped together with other curse words that I use as adjectives to connect a multitude of curse words. Then I play my Black Sabbath record backwards.
In an attempt to call upon my finely tuned emotional assets, I try to engage the emotional gears and the clutch suddenly won’t work. Frustration comes into play because it’s obvious that my brain is failing me. As long as there is no stress, my emotions seem to work just fine. But when Cortisol is released into my zombie veins, the emotions quit working and all that’s left is either logic or pathologic.
My typical style has never really been to just to tell my child what to do, but to instead to prompt him with logic to use his own mind so he arrives at some well thought out conclusion. I learned a long time ago that my child is far more independent than I, and that’s saying a lot. It makes no sense for me to tell him anything. He’s going to listen to what I’m saying and form his own opinions regardless of what I say. If that doesn’t work, I write a stupid blog and hope he reads it.
The Problem with Perfection
As you can now plainly see, there are a lot of parent personalities out there in the real world. Way more in fact than I could ever dream to know, much less understand. Some parenting styles seem more positive on the surface while other styles have a slightly uglier exterior. All that aside, when you really look beneath the thin façade of parenting styles, all knowledge and input has its place, and all systems – no matter how involved or logical, will eventually fail on their own weight if given enough time – because children mature and change and we typically do not change along with them.
Empathic and open-minded parents really are awesome for any child to have. But there’s a downside of the empathic and nurturing parents; our children eventually become adolescents. When children approach their teenage years, all this free-flowing emotion and attention can start to feel cloying and excessive to them. At a time when they are wanting more privacy and independence, you’re still smothering them with lipstick kisses and tickets to Disney On Ice.
This is a time when the most nurturing of parents are challenged the greatest I think. They have strong emotions and invest those emotions heavily in their children. As adolescent children begin to withdraw, parents sometimes have a difficult time even recognizing themselves. They’ve spent so much energy and focus on being a good parent, it leaves them wondering if all that energy even worked. Will my child have benefitted from all my affection and attention or will the kid I hate down the road have more influence on him than me?
I think life is often the best teacher. As a parent, I think I was fairly liberal, allowing my son to have his own adventures and make his own decisions, to further develop his critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that I was necessarily lenient – rather, I expected him to use his freedom responsibly, and I theorized that the weight of this expectation alone was enough to lay out some understood ground rules.
When needed though, I was fully capable of communicating openly, sternly and honestly. I just preferred not to replicate the belt-whooping thing my dad made famous. Did my seemingly more rational approach work? I guess the answer depends of if you’re asking me if he felt the weight of my expectations and made good decisions OR if he/we learned something from the experience. I think he mostly didn’t always make great choices but I’m certain he benefitted from the experiences.
And, to be fair, there were times when all that freedom left me blindsided. Not that my parenting style was necessarily bad, it was just insufficient by itself. It took other people to point out behaviors and events that otherwise I may not have noticed. Most of the time, I would be in complete denial as to what was happening. My son had a pierced ear for weeks before I learned about it. Hint: If your child is wearing a stocking cap over his ears in the hot summer, there might be a clue inside the cap Colonel Mustard.
Sometimes, people/parents like me overthink things a bit. When you rationalize my parenting style with pure logic, it all makes sense. The problem is that there’s no logic to raising children. Each child is different and each parent’s ability to communicate is different. No book or blog can teach a person how to be a great parent. To be a great parent, you just have to want to be a great parent. Then later in life, when you get old like me, your children let you know whether you were or weren’t.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned from this exercise is just how limited we all are individually. We’re only good at a few things and we always suck at something. It only makes sense that our children are going to grow up so much well-rounded when they have two parents mentoring them daily. That doesn’t make it fool-proof, it just means that they will have a much more solid footing if they know, spend time with, and are parented by two people.
That said, four parents are better and six parents are even better than four. Typical families no longer make the effort to maintain close distances and bonds with extended members, grandparents and such. When I was a kid, we spend a tremendous amount of time with our grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. There was this thing that families used to do annually called “family reunions”. I know it sounds odd today but people really did use to have fun spending time with dozens of extended family members eating from covered-dish dinner menus.
If you want your kids to witness the incarnation of culture, take them to a family reunion where there are 15 different versions of mac-n-cheese. Literally every family matriarch has her own recipe. Every single time you bite into a new mystery meat or crazy potato recipe, your first thought is either, “I love it”, or “Believe it or not, there’s someone in this building who is literally jonesing for this nasty ass stuff”.
I realize that it took me more than 3,500 words to tell this tale and I’m not so sure anyone learned anything, including me. But the gist of where I was going with this is that far too many people believe that children do just fine with one parent. And, maybe some do. But don’t you think that they’d do much better with two?
Spanky believed in his He-Man Woman Haters Club and was quite upset with Alfalfa when, after skipping the HMWHC meeting, he caught Alfalfa and Darla macking behind closed doors. But, Spanky would go on to find out that he was being a little short-sided on the subject of woman hating. We all mature in our thoughts eventually.
If you want kids and you want to do your best to provide them with all the tools they need to succeed in life, do your very best to find a partner that wants the same thing and whom will be a reliable, active and present member of your dream team. Sometimes things just won’t work out, divorce is a fact of life. But think twice before selfishly attempting parenthood alone when you have the option of doing it as a part of a team. No one can ever be a perfect parent alone.
Thank you Fate for all my foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me. Am I all that different from others in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us. I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?
People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life, it seems, is to subvert the goals of others. A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or elevates your status above their own.
Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were. But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.
The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has. The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked.
Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now. These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own self-confidence. Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...
We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in finance(?%&@); we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives. Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.
To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.
I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.
Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.
I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.
One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.
Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:
The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.
There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.
Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.
What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?
People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.
This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.
But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.
We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.
There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.
One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.
The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.
If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.
Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.
As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.
Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.
The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.
“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.
In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.
Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?
There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.
There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”
If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.
If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?
On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.
In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.
Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.
The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.
Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy? Why am I so cynical these days?
How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.
Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.
Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.
Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.
I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.
My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.
The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.
So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.
Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.
Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.
I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.
While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.
What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.
All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.
Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.
Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.
In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.
Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.
News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.
Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”
We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform.
Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.
News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.
It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.
News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.
The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.
News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.
News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.
It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.
News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.
There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.
Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.
Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.
News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.
Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.
News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.
A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.
But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.
No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.
In quiet observance of some of our latest pop-culture absurdities, I found some useful truisms in an old Longfellow Psalm that I decided to doctor up a little bit with some Chris’isms. The moral of the story is multifaceted. First: Although you may be hurting individually or even as a community, history is always going to have winners and losers. That doesn’t mean we should erase the history so you can feel better about yourself. History belongs to everyone. We and our children learn from history, both good and bad.
Second: Our good history is another’s bad history. What makes you proud, hurts another. What you run away from, other’s run to. If history is hurting you and not healing you, grow up – history cannot by itself hurt you, you are hurting you. If we are successful at erasing the history that hurts us most, we’re putting our children in danger of becoming secondary victims of lessons we’ve already learned – then summarily lost.
Lastly, if you cannot find one morsel of empathy or logic in another’s alternative ideology, you’re not thinking deep enough. Although I may not agree 100% with everyone I encounter, I seldom hear any opinion with which I cannot somewhat empathize. Don’t be afraid to prove yourself wrong. It’s liberating to be wrong sometimes.
I had this subtle thought a few weeks back and I admit that I cannot for the life of me recall what happened to put these thoughts in my head but the gist of it was that I took the notion that people are definitely getting increasingly ignorant in this country. Scientific analysis actually confirms this theory, by the way, even more so than I’m comfortable admitting. It reminds me of the 2006 film “Idiocracy” where human evolution and natural selection had taken a seriously wrong turn and began to favor traits that weren’t necessarily the strongest, fittest, smartest or noblest. Evolution began to reward those who procreated at the highest rates and left the intelligent to become an endangered species.
To give you some idea of what to prepare for when you rent this movie on Netflix, here is some representative dialogue from the character Doctor and the movies’ Narrator: Doctor: “Don’t worry, scrote. There are plenty of ‘tards out there living really kick-ass lives. My first wife was ‘tarded. She’s a pilot now.”Narrator:“Unaware of what year it was, Joe wandered the streets desperate for help. But the English language had deteriorated into a hybrid of hillbilly, valleygirl, inner-city slang and various grunts. Joe was able to understand them, but when he spoke in an ordinary voice he sounded pompous and faggy to them.”
Oh yeah, now I remember why I had these thoughts. My friend Tony was telling me that he’d read a recent study explaining how a large percentage of PhD’s are choosing not to have children. The same study points to the fact that women of high intelligence tend to have fewer children than women of lower intelligence. The conversation surrounding that study talked of the doom and gloom associated with that type of decision and how stupid people never seem to concern themselves with the logical considerations of having children they cannot afford to support, they just keep having more. Thus, the conversation evolved, sufficient inspiration is galvanized, voila é blog.
Then, when I began doing research for this particular blog I found out all kinds of things that made me wish I’d just wrote about ISIS or politics or anything less controversial. It seems that one of America’s foremost testing agencies, the Educational Testing Service, released a report about ten months ago that was quite shocking for me to read to say the least. It demonstrates that adult Americans, regardless of educational achievement are, as a group, less literate with respect to both words and numbers, and less capable of solving problems, than their counterparts throughout the industrialized world. Despite all efforts and the trillions of dollars we’re throwing at education, if anything, the problem of low achievement has worsened over time despite the fact that formal levels of educational attainment across the board have risen.
America has a higher emphasis on education than it ever has before, but Americans are, relatively speaking, clueless about the most basic knowledge needed to communicate effectively and make decisions in an increasingly complex market economy. Moreover, the millennials (those born after 1980) know less than their elders. To be a bit harsh, in America, we’re led to believe that the dumb just keep getting dumber. States, including Tennessee (my home State) are proposing dramatic changes to higher education including our own Drive to 55 program which plans to bolster the number of Tennesseans with college degrees and professional certificates but will these Euro-styled free educations work here when they’ve been disastrous in Europe?
I say that because in every European country that Emily and I have traveled where free two-year colleges are provided by the government, the locals there repeatedly say that those 2-year higher-Ed degrees essentially become more akin to high school diploma’s – the expected bottom level of achievement – while the value of undergraduate degrees become deeply eroded due to the systematic down-escalator of achievement requirements. Students worldwide are getting educated but are learning less. Higher education in America has mirrored the trend of general education…increasingly inefficient per dollars spent and progressively less effective. The lesson here, if the government gives it to you for free, it’s worth exactly what you’re paying for it.
Whatever is going on, it is having a profound effect on not only the intelligence level of the American population but also its ability to learn, process, reason, and think for itself. Are Americans really getting dumber? Statistics say yes. In 2011, the average American IQ was measured at 88.54. (Average intelligence is estimated to be 89-100.) This means that a large percentage of the American population is now considered below average intelligence! Also in 2011, a benchmark occurrence happened. For the first time in American history our children were less educated than their parents. In other words, as generational families have little by little strived to ensure their children enter and graduate college at higher rates than themselves – throughout the entire history of modern America – for the first time in 2011 the generation entering college shrunk from that of their parents.
Looking at this problem more specifically, among 24 developed countries in comparison, the U.S. millennials ranked surprisingly last in numeracy (along with Italy and Spain) as well as in “problem-solving in technology-rich environments”. The youngest examined, those 16 to 24 years of age, ranked dead last in mathematical ability (along with Italy). Even our “best and brightest” fared poorly. Looking specifically at numeracy, the scores of Americans aged 16-to-34 years ranked in the top 10 percentile of U.S. students taking the test, the score of 323 was statistically below the average of 334, and even more below that of such industrial competitors as neighboring Canada (336) , Japan (342), or Sweden (346).
Worse are those in the bottom 10th percentile. The U.S. numeracy scores for that group for those 16 to 34 were the freakin lowest in the world – no one else was even close. As a consequence, the gap between high and lower performers was far greater in the U.S than in the group of developed countries as a whole, and bigger than in any other nation. Borrowing again from the movie Idiocracy: Private Joe Bowers– “…and there was a time in this country, a long time ago, when reading wasn’t just for fags and neither was writing. People wrote books and movies, movies that had stories so you cared whose ass it was and why it was farting, and I believe that time can come again!”
So, is it because we have this growing inner-city elementary and secondary school problem in America that is systematically denying our countries underprivileged of a decent education? No not really. Our problem is way bigger than that. Our suburban, rural and privileged students in America are doing poorly too. The American phenomenon is definitely not a lack of formal schooling – we are above the average in that regard, even with respect to higher education. The problem is we impart less learning per year of schooling than almost all other major nations in the world and colleges are far from immune to these charges. To quote the report verbatim, “U.S. millennials with a four-year bachelor’s degree scored higher than their counterparts in only two countries: Poland and Spain. Our most educated – those with a master’s or research degree – scored higher than their peers only in Ireland, Poland, and Spain.”
So the problem is not simply bankrupt inner-city elementary and secondary schools, where the educational care of students borders on the criminally negligent. The problem also persists in our colleges and universities, where master’s level students with years of collegiate training are far poorer than their industrial world counterparts in such core knowledge as basic numeracy. It’s not just the Degree-Mart’s of the world where you can get online degrees served hot or cold, it’s our state colleges and our ivy-league universities alike. Our children are bringing home 100’s on tests and our young adults are graduating with honors, just like all the others before them, it’s just that the high grade of today’s education system is irrelevant to whether the student is actually learning the things they need to learn.
My grandfather may have done better in chemistry than I did but perhaps it’s easier to memorize a periodic table with 11 elements than it is one with 118. Maybe he was smarter in the ways of science and math but he also thought it was perfectly acceptable for black people to drink out of different public water fountains whereas I do not. My grandfather lived in an era when we believed that Gay men were these unicorn like humanoids who would come out of their cocoons for a few years, marry Liza Minnelli, then disappear. I’m being ignorant, of course, but I’m trying to point out that there are plenty of areas where I believe Millennials are far and away smarter than the people we’ve coined “The Greatest Generation”. Yes we’re becoming more tolerant and that is a wonderful thing but what important data is being pushed out our ears as all this emotional intelligence is being added to the top.
We have to ask ourselves why America is doing so poorly. It is definitely NOT lack of money. Our spending-per-pupil levels compare favorably at the K-12 levels, and we blow the world away in per-student higher education spending. In part, the answer relates to a growing disdain for learning facts, basic concepts, historical references, etc. It is reflected at the collegiate level in a decline in the relative importance of general education, and of core liberal-arts type learning. The “self-esteem” movement and the idea that we should not say anything “hurtful” to students is a further manifestation that education is increasingly viewed as less about learning and more about “feelings.” Everyone is a winner in my school – not to say that you guys are losers or anything.
We suffer as a country for much of the same reasons. The same political correct movement that teaches us that all children should win every game and that self-esteem is what we give children – not what they give themselves – has become so powerful that we can no longer point out potentially socially divisive situations for fear of being ostracized as being insensitive or an ogre, a bigot, racist, homophobe, or anti-Muslim/Christian/Semitic. We’d rather put our citizens at risk of being a target of terrorism than admit that some Muslims might be taking Quran 2:191-193 just a little too serious.
Does this sentence make my Fatwa look too Mufti? Our government, in fear of ostracizing anyone entering our country from an Arab State, creates a system of torture for law abiding citizens at our airports. Background checks on immigrants might make us seem bigoted so please just remove your shoes and underwear for the gloved inspector.
Some studies indicate that the I.Q.’s of Westerners have dropped 14 I.Q. points on average since the Victorian Era. Other studies say that our I.Q.’s scores are rising at a remarkable rate. Could it be that it’s just our genetic potential that is changing or perhaps that we’re being judged today on antiquated standards? I mean seriously, smarts cannot simply be defined as just one thing. What makes a person clever on the African Savannah could be nearly useless in the financial centers of New York City. It’s not just a matter of intelligence going up or down, different parts of intelligence could be changing in lots of different ways.
A 1912 8th grade test from the State of Kentucky indicates that 8th graders once could tell us “through which waters would a vessel pass in going from England through the Suez Canal to Manila?”, or, “How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body?”, or, spelling words such as pennyweight and bequeath. But, wouldn’t 8th graders from 1912 be equally stumped if we asked them to explain a DNA sequence or Supercolliders? We’ve come a very long way from barnacles and botany to nanotechnology and wormholes and who uses the word pennyweight anymore?
Our everyday vocabulary alone is full of neologisms, expressing ideas that we wouldn’t have even imagined a few years ago (i.e., Have you Googled it yet?)(i.e., I’m blogging about neologisms.) Although the standards are a moving target for sure, one thing that can be certain is that we very quickly lose abilities when we no longer need them. A great example of that fact is that my own ability to recall telephone numbers in the 80’s was astonishing. Now that I have a robot in my pocket that remembers thousands of numbers and faces, I no longer have the ability to remember phone numbers.
Comparatively, most of us have lost much of what would have been considered to be common knowledge in the 1920’s but I believe our 1920’s counterparts would be equally lost in today’s world. One would have hoped that we would carry over all that previous knowledge into each next generation only adding and building onto base knowledge as we evolve further. But that is apparently not possible. Perhaps our brains are only capable of carrying around just so much information. The Victorians lost what was common of the Baroque Era and they had lost much of the Renaissance standards and the Middle Ages saw mass exoduses of the intelligence from Roman times and so on and so forth.
Now, neuro-scientists refer to our brain’s Amygdala as the reptilian brain only because we know it to hold all of these deep instinctive and intuitional survival mechanisms that we’ve completely lost all first-hand knowledge about. I.Q. is always going to be relative to the society that we live within. Average I.Q. is always going to be 100 no matter how advanced or devolved we become. It is more a measure of “how” you know, not “what” you know – Megahertz not Megabytes. Said differently, a caveman could have had an I.Q. of 180 simply by being the only one who could start a fire. Fire is of course not considered to be an advanced science today but it once was the 3D printer of the Neolithic Revolution.
All that said, it appears we have dug ourselves into this deep dark education hole that we’re going to have to learn more about then teach ourselves how not to teach. One has to wonder about whether all of the most modern educational benchmarks set on teachers by which we’re supposed to be able to measure their effectiveness has spawned educational programming that is designed to disguise the failures of children and teachers.
An example might be that children are no longer required to learn cursive writing. Another example is that we now teach our children to memorize words without actually teaching them what those words actually mean, their derivatives in foundation languages (Greek, Latin, Germanic, etc.) or how the word can be used alternatively. It seems the common denominator among students using Common Core is remedial studies. In my opinion, Common Core creates nothing but commonness.
Another aspect of this so far unexplored is this growing trend of anti-intellectualism, anti-elite, anti-reason and anti-science that has been infused into the modern political and social fabric of America. The greater emphasis we put on acceptance of everything and the stronger we push ourselves away from traditionally conservative value systems the more we feel compelled to join this cult of ignorance nurtured by the false notion that real democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge – my poor conditions are equally as valuable to society as your high standards – my failure to take life seriously has significance that pars your diligence and responsibility to yourself and your community.
We get all caught up in the fight for equality, not realizing that the focus we place on one group shades out the light to other groups. We’ve never seemed to learn exactly how to be kind and respectful to all cultures, groups, ideologies, and religions all at the same time. Today we’re focused on the issue of gay marriage and of course that is an important issue, but, its way more important to gay couples than it is to non-gay couples. That doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t learn and grow as a human being during the discussion. We need to be able to learn, fix things, and then move on without denigrating another’s belief systems in the process.
Similarly, the issues of race seem to be explosive right now. How on earth, when most white people have no concept of racial inequality, can we be having these kinds of problems in America? I’ll tell you what I believe…education. The collapse of our education system has become the new Jim Crow, incubators of criminal behavior by means of failure and lack of self-esteem. They’re becoming conveyor belts into the nation’s prison system. The stigma attached to felony drug convictions eliminates employment opportunities for those who take this path then we and they are stuck into a life of crime.
So, if you’re black, perhaps you have a different perception of how great things are for black people in 2015. White people are running as fast as they can away from any conversations about race or equality because they’re woefully unprepared and mostly in denial. We just point to affirmative action and ask “what’s the problem?” But, the problem is bigger than that. If things are bad for white kids in suburban schools, imagine how bad it is for black kids in inner-city schools. They’re not the ones using the affirmative action programs. It’s the upper middle class and above black kids that are trying to get into ivy-league schools who are using the affirmative action benefits. Sadly, if you’re reading my blog, I doubt your kids are attending an Ivy-league school so what does it matter?
I’ll admit a bit of cynicism here but doesn’t this breakdown of consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good thing actually put this generation in a position to trust least the people who best know what they are talking about? In this new media age, everybody is an expert. Just Google it. There seems to be this universal suspicion of rights, privileges, knowledge and specialization. We don’t seem to be as concerned with educating people anymore. We just train them to get jobs.
Our teachers are skimming through the most basic elements of curricula without focusing on the one thing that turns aptitude into intelligence, a students’ mastery over the basics, before moving on to the next topic. Public schools are the biggest bureaucratic budget item in every city or county. They have little accountability to the general public, and their marching orders come from State and National think-tank’s, not local and regional stakeholders.
History textbooks are badly written and so politically correct that they’re more like comic books than school books. Minor characters that are currently fashionable are given considerable attention while people of major consequence like Thomas Edison are given very little space at all. Pop culture icons and minorities have their sensibilities massaged into the new history which is taught in categories like Women’s History, African American History, Environmental History, etc., so that many students have no sense of chronology, no idea what followed what.
If generations graduate high school not knowing our past, do not know who we are or what we have done as a people, how will they know and love America, rebut her enemies or lead her confidently? We’re more likely to accept the excuse that Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program overemphasized math and reading so that’s why our children are failing in history. We buy this kind of nonsense when of 31,000 students tested by the National Assessment of Education Progress, most fourth-graders could not identify a picture of Abraham Lincoln or a reason why he was important.
High school seniors given an excerpt from the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education – “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate education facilities are inherently unequal” then asked what social problem the court was seeking to correct, only 2 percent of high school seniors answered “segregation” when the answer was right in front of them. We can no longer isolate education from politics because we’ve allowed one political party to take ownership in all things education. But, the issues we’re seeing in public education are the fault of everyone and the responsibility of everyone. It’s too big to blame on a party. We have to be bigger than that. We must de-politicize education before we can fix it.
Schools have also become incredibly inefficient with tax dollars, riddled with group-think ideology, and are perpetually searching for ways to spend more without any accountability in terms of success versus cost. What other group could survive these kinds of epic failures yet continually convince the general public that if they just had less portables and higher wages then they’d be able to show us real success? It has become so politically incorrect to chastise the school system so that local politicians have learned to just leave them alone for fear of the whole group banning together to oust them from office. We can’t criticize schools or else we’re pinned as being radical and uninformed.
It is exactly this kind of power that has shielded our education system from all accountability. Like some great big anti-trust violation, school boards have taken the path of big corporate monopolies – starving out ideas and innovation in favor of the status-quo. If you take nothing else from this blog, know that that teachers are not the problem here. Our problems lie in a quagmire of bureaucratic dogma pushed downward from modern idealists desperate to dazzle us with new theories on education when 1912 techniques will do us just fine until we catch up with our Great Grandparents. I won’t even attempt to say why or how because I’m one of those Americans who might be missing his 14 I.Q. points.
Since I’m nowhere near informed or educated enough to offer any solution for all these issues, I’ve decided to let “Doctor” from the movie Idiocracy wrap this blog up as I’m certain he can articulate my fears much clearer than I ever could and potentially entertain you at the same time. Doctor: “…Well, don’t want to sound like a dick or nothin’, but, ah… it says on your chart that you’re fu**ed up. Ah, you talk like a fag, and your shit’s all retarded. What I’d do, is just like… like… you know, you know what I mean, like…? Ditto!
Lately, more than ever before, I’m finding it very difficult to digest some of the more popular dialogues being discussed in this country. Am I really all that disconnected from reality or so naïve that I can’t comprehend what’s supposedly happening before my eyes? Perhaps I’m subconsciously hiding from the truth as a result of guilt or maybe I’m just so caught up in my own life that I can’t see the forest for the trees. Whatever it is that is causing this denial, conscious or unconscious, has left me feeling like I’m on the outside looking in. Either I’m in denial, I’m being intentionally left out, or the whole damn world has gone crazy.
25 years ago I was attending this lecture at the University of North Florida Institute of Police Technology and Management as a part of a Drug Unit Commander school and the instructor was lecturing about crowds, riots, and mob violence. Apparently there is a whole psychology built around crowds. One of the few things my tiny brain remembers from that lecture was something called the Emergent Norm Theory. The Emergent Norm Theory is a predictor for how mob violence occurs, how it is instigated and how it is perpetuated through an event from a psychological/clinical perspective.
Obviously I’m not qualified to lecture about the science but in summary it essentially states that when a large group of people crowd together for a common cause or complaint, they initially may have very little if any real unity except of course for that original singular common theme or complaint. But during a period of milling and spouting about, the key members or alpha personalities start suggesting actions to be taken by the group. If there is a lack of negative response from within the crowd itself, then the whole group will typically stand together in agreement to the legitimacy of their (The alpha members) message no matter how inappropriate their suggested actions may be. We’ve seen that a lot lately haven’t we?
So to all of my readers, friends, family, acquaintances and haters who might be hating on me…if you find yourself in a group of protesters who are pissed off about…hmm – maybe something I might be labeled with… and someone in the crowd yell’s “lets stone him!”, then please speak up and do your part to be the voice of reason because scientists all agree that if you don’t then some fool standing on the hood of a car with a bull horn and a can of spray paint will direct the crowd to start throwing rocks at me.
I was born in 1964, the same year that our most recent civil rights act was passed by congress. That said, I and others my age are among the first generation of racially integrated American school children. I can’t say that there were huge numbers of black kids going to school with me back then, maybe 5% of the student body, but we certainly integrated much better than our parents probably expected we would. My son, born in 1989, grew up much differently. Integration to him was likely just some old-school historical reference used to describe the way African-Americans worked to overcome racial injustices back in the old days when uneducated white men wore powdered wigs, fought injuns, and dined on opossums.
The point I’m trying to make here is that for modern white American’s, racial injustice is mostly considered a thing of the past – something we’d like to forget – and scarcely even thought about. The biggest reason for that is because America is only about 2 generations in to equal opportunity law reform and our kids don’t have any experience with racial injustice. Another factor that plays a bigger role than you’d expect is that all of the people we baby boomers tend to closely associate with the days of widespread bigotry are now mostly dead and gone. Maybe third on that list is that we don’t like to believe that it was our loved ones who perpetuated those atrocities…it makes us feel bad. White people see this world through a different lens than black people. That doesn’t equate to racism, but it could be considered dismissive of the black experience. What it really goes back to is the tried and true theory that perception equals reality. The perception is that the world is fair now so we should all just put our big girl panties on and forget about all that negative stuff.
I didn’t grow up with parents and grandparents who warned me not to trust the government and who had horrific personal stories of tragedy, slavery, violence, rape, and an overall destruction of the family unit that were perpetrated by mostly everyone, sanctioned by the government, and substantiated by the church. I think – I don’t really know – that growing up black would be quite different from growing up white whether we feel comfortable recognizing that or not. The minds of black people are exactly like the minds of white people. They just have an alternate experience. Whether or not they have personally experienced racial injustices or not, they all carry the weight of it from birth which causes many of them to react differently to the same news stories papered on the rest of us. Their perceptions are different so their reality is different.
Just think for a second about the popular website and the corresponding television show, Ancestry.Com, and the interesting stories behind actors and other famous people as they work with historians and genealogists to uncover these compelling family stories that have been mostly forgotten by time. Have you ever thought about how black people respond to that show? For the most part, white people not only denied their African slaves of a present life, but they also denied them of a family history. To this day, black people do not have the simple luxury of going to visit a family cemetery or to research family genealogies because those graves don’t exist and their families were sold and traded like baseball cards. Few records exist for them at all.
When white people see an ignorant redneck on television who is obviously still fighting the civil war, we just see one lone racist with a mullet…we don’t think that much about it. When a black person see’s the same guy on TV, I can imagine that it is both evocative and personally felt. There is a real disconnect between our races that no one really discusses but it’s very important to recognize. In some ways, we have become the Divided States of America because we white people feel hamstrung by political correctness instead of just being real and thus black people are forced to digest that canned insincerity that modern political correctness forces white folks to use – which leaves them feeling manipulated. We are both left wanting for anything resembling something real.
Ferguson, MO 2014 is an perfect example of much of what we are discussing here because all the elements came together in one imperfect storm. They had the rioting and the mob violence perpetuated by a few people who completely distorted the facts of the case but somehow illogically managed to engage an entire nation including some National figures (ala Emergent Norm Theory); and, you had lots and lots of white people who were honestly trying to empathize with the black community but couldn’t really because they had no idea what the facts were and they have no idea what it really means to be black (ala Political Correctness meets Empathy); and, you have a nation of black people who now know the facts but really don’t care because their sense of identity as historical victims has been re-ignited even though there were no real reasons (In Ferguson) for that to have happened (ala News Media Fanning the Flames for Ratings). White folks are laying in the streets side-by-side with black folks but neither knows why.
There are literally black Americans out there who have grown up in a mostly color-blind country and whom are enjoying the fruits of their own successes without any racially inspired obstacles to education or employment who are now suddenly talking about 2015 like it’s 1965 when the only thing they have in common with the black folks in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday is the color of their skin. That’s not happening because it’s real today…its happening because it once was real and the media has fueled the embers of a flame which may likely never go out. White people are appalled by it, black people are moved by it and our country is paralyzed by it.
I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in this country because clearly it does. We’ve also had dozens of police killings of black people since that Ferguson incident which have further fueled those flames and a few of them have surprised me too. The cop who shot the black man in the back nine times as he ran away was definitely an eye opener. But, as a white guy who spent 20 years wearing a badge, I see a rogue cop doing a terrible thing and trying to cover it up. It doesn’t look racist to me because a bad cop like that could just as easily have shot and killed a white person and reacted similarly. But, I can totally see how a black person could see this as evidence of racial injustice perpetrated by police.
Our country, like every country, is a combination of the haves and have not’s. It’s not only a symptom of a capitalistic society but a very natural and necessary one. God and nature have very systematically produced nearly equal numbers of men and women just as he/it/she has produced people with different skills, strengths and weaknesses in order that we all rely on one another for survival. We take all that for granted but if you stop for a second to think about how organized the human species really is then good luck trying to justify your atheism. Depending on the century you live in, different skill sets have demanded differing levels of income thus creating division among us. Have you noticed lately who is finally starting to earn a decent living? Yup – farmers. Farming is finally getting cool, just when there is a shortage of pork and beef. Who’d have thunk it? No matter your skill, we all have our time in history when our skill was or will be a highly sought after skill – be patient.
Tinkering with the natural balance of things usually results in failure. Carl Marx recognized the unfairness between the social classes of the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat’s and became the founder of a political system we now call socialism. Although his ideas are considered valuable in the overall understanding of the dynamics between social classes, we’ve learned through historical contexts that socialism doesn’t work because it eliminates the drive to produce and create. If you want the government to help people, somebody has to be earning enough to pay those taxes – as it turns out the top 5% are paying 90%. Those people don’t exist in socialistic societies. Thus, here we are with an incredibly wealthy society with some very poor people living among us and a disproportionately large percentage of those poor happen to be black.
Is that by chance? I think not. I think that black people have two things working against them which have kept them demographically among our poorest. The first element is that the institution of slavery itself and its common practices of selective breeding and denial of education has yet to be fully overcome. We are only a few generations beyond the days of slavery and even fewer ahead of equal rights and educational opportunities. That says nothing of the psychological weight and stigma it carries if you happen to be among those who’ve been born with the legacy of it. An inheritance of victimization creates two kinds of people in general, one who challenges the status quo with conviction and distrust and one who accepts his fate and believes that he must be flawed and imperfect. Animosity and apathy, a legacy born of victims – our victims.
The second element is the social welfare system itself. For those who are born into it, moving beyond it forces you to not only be different, which attracts negativity and sometimes violence, but it also forces you to peel away the arms of a protective mother only to jump off a cliff of uncertainty and competition. Competition that you’ve not been prepared for or exposed to. Most of us have no idea just how difficult it is for someone rise up from those circumstances. For the people who grow up in that environment, they have little that is precious to them nor do they have the same respect for laws and rules which have done more to protect white people from blacks rather than protect blacks from whites.
It’s really similar to what’s happening in the Middle East. If those Shiites and Sunni’s who hate each other but collectively hate Americans had a decent income, an Xbox and satellite television then why in the heck would they choose to strap a bomb on their chest and kill people they really don’t know anything about? In every country where Muslim’s are a minority and living in societies where they have opportunities, they are generally passive with the exception of either low-functioning individuals who’ve been radicalized or by those who’ve immigrated for the purpose of conducting terrorism. In every country where Muslim’s have a majority and where all of the wealth is centered on those in charge leaving the citizens destitute and poor…guess what you have? Yup, terrorism, despair, hunger, and an overall lack of humanity.
Not every Muslim country has a ruthless dictator who steals all the money for himself. In those countries who share the wealth with its citizens – a la the UAE, they have stability, a robust economy, and peaceful relationships with others. Personally, I think the religion itself promotes intolerance of other cultures and religions, that’s just me looking through my own lens of life, but you can certainly parallel how poverty and despair effect lifestyle, opportunity and political views even if the motivators are unique.
Similarly, in America, some of our social welfare systems, while good intentioned, have been allowed to manifest themselves into perpetual class makers whose unintentional outcomes have resulted in a separate society of the mostly self-disenfranchised. We’ve long since recognized the consequences of that system gone amuck but no one has stepped up to the very hot plate of political correctness to fix the broken system. Those who are stuck in that place between veritable impoverishment and a safety-net have little motivation to do anything other than what they’ve been schooled their whole life to fleece. Why would they – life without a net can be difficult. If you pull the rug out from under those who have grown up dependent on it, what would we do to prepare them to live without it? It’s very complicated.
White people get especially roused up when black people start talking about reparations for slavery but when you stop to hear the argument, it actually made sense back then. I’m not smart enough to know if it makes sense now, I’ll leave that one up to you but here me out. This country made it legal to enslave human beings, mostly Africans, from about 1619 until the conclusion of the civil war in 1865. That’s almost 250 years. During that time colonists, farmers, plantation owners and simple households alike were allowed to inflict any form of oppression over their slaves as they saw fit because those people were not considered, under our laws, to be human. Of significant importance was that they denied their slaves of all forms of education – social, scholastic, legal, or otherwise – to ten (10) successive generations of human beings. Those human beings are now our neighbors, friends, co-workers, preachers and soldiers.
It took another 100 years (4 more generations) for the US government to recognize that blacks deserved the same rights as any other American – with some white Americans kicking and screaming all the way. When blacks were finally set free, America just handed them a green card and said, “Here ya go”. No one offered to help educate them or assist them in their assimilation with the rest of the country or offer them any financial means of self-reliance to get started. These people were woefully unprepared to live autonomously anywhere but somehow they did. We put them in boats of isolation and poverty and yet we marvel at how each vessel has traveled in alternate paths, never really able to reach the same destination. Maybe we do owe them some penance to help them catch up. It’s difficult to rationalize the fairness of it 150 years after-the-fact but it’s also difficult to ignore the consequences of not having done it.
Last year, I re-connected with an old friend from middle and high school who happens to be black. It’s kind of funny because Emily was out-of-town for work and the TN Walking Horse National Celebration was going on in town so there were these food trucks situated all along Madison Street selling/grilling BBQ and since I was technically a bachelor that week I decided to visit one of them and get some take-out for dinner after work.
All of the sudden, this great big black guy comes up and gives me a huge hug. It was late August and he’d been grilling BBQ in the high heat which made him quite sweaty but he was so expressive and affectionate that it scarcely phased me…I just wanted to know who he was. “Chris White! Damn I sure have missed you, I think about you all the time.” All of the sudden I recognized Isaiah Kelly from school. We played drums together in Jr. High and played football together on a team my dad coached. I ended up hanging out with him for at least an hour or two catching up on him and his life since school then stopping in again the next afternoon to get more BBQ and another big sweaty hug. I had also dropped by the horse show grounds to get a box of Optimist Club doughnuts to give to him and his crew which was a big hit.
For Isaiah and I, there were no barriers of race or history or distrust, we were just two 12 year-old’s both turning 50 and happy to be doing so. Just two happy Guinea Pigs, one white and one black, from a 1960’s social experiment that seemed so very ordinary and normal to us. It’s funny that when you talk about race on a macro scale, it always controversial but when you bring it down to a personal level it’s always just about personality. Once you wipe off all of the dust that gets kicked up by people who don’t know or understand each other, it’s just you and I that remain. While Isaiah may have his doubts about white folks in general and while I might look over my shoulder in a bad part of Nashville, he and I have no doubts about each other and I have no doubt that time, honest conversation and a ban on political correctness could heal much of what plagues us in America today.
Going back to our conversation on reparations, what if black people would have been treated differently after emancipation? What if we would have offered educational opportunities, a place to live, and some spending money? What if white America would have embraced those terribly mistreated souls instead of segregating ourselves from our own shames and what if we would have admitted the horrible mistake of slavery instead of being indignant about it? Do you think that perhaps America would be different today? Do you think that a natural assimilation of the two cultures could have emerged, trust would have prevailed and we’d all be speaking, acting, living, working and praying similarly?
Looking through my own lens on the world, I seem to see a lot of that anyway. I see our country as mostly healed and I see lots of black success stories both on television and in our community. But, the one thing we all have to remember when we begin to put our judge robes on…we all don’t live in the same city, we all don’t have the same life experiences, we all don’t have the same familial and generational stories and backgrounds, we all don’t have the same political ideologies and none of us are privileged to see things from the same viewpoints, heights and angles.
I cannot help to think that America may be repeating the sins of our colonial cousins today, only with a new victim…homosexual people. Yes forgive me, I said it, gay people are being mistreated horribly, just like black people were back then. Of course no heterosexual male stereotype worth the weight of his own pot-belly wouldn’t first say up front that “I AM NOT GAY” when trying to write about a subject like this. I guess I might as well say “up-front” that I’m not black either. Anyway, with all the proper documentation now expressed, let’s now proceed and put this blog to bed.
Humans, no matter what generation we live in or what behavior we are trying to support or condemn, we can always find biblical references to support our beliefs. If you’re a supporter of capital punishment then you subscribe the biblical principle of “an eye for an eye” (Exodus 21:24). If you’re debating the legitimacy of capital punishment then you would cite Exodus 20:13 – “Thou shalt not kill”. During slavery times, it was just as easy to find supporting scripture to justify your behavior, i.e., Ephesians 6:5 and Titus 2:9, “They asked who should question the word of God when it is said, “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling”, or “Tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect”.
I’m not suggesting that the bible contradicts itself, what I’m saying is that there are contexts with which those scriptures are written and they are not to be used selfishly and without a thorough understanding of their meanings within the contexts and confines of the particular message being conveyed. It’s not hard to find all sorts of biblical references to all sorts of common behaviors or lifestyles especially homosexuality, but, when you choose to make a personal judgement are you not missing the forest for the trees? Opponents of gay marriage follow a very literal approach to the bible when they cite Old Testament passages that declare, “You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22)
There’s not a lot of ambiguity in that passage, however, shouldn’t Christians be citing passages from the New Testament instead of the Old Testament? Why did God put Christ on this earth anyway? John 3:17 clearly states, “For God sent not his only Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 12:47 says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
You see, we as humans are not capable of understanding everything that God has put before us. There are some things that are beyond our abilities to fully comprehend. We, as humans, like to put things in neat little boxes so that we can be comfortable and safe in our little worlds. But God knows our fallacies and our accomplishments without explanations or YouTube tutorials. Clearly we should not be judging anyone as even Jesus Christ did not think it was his place to judge us, but God only.
I’m carrying a few extra pounds and that would be called gluttony in the bible and thus a sin. But God knows my troubles and my weaknesses and he forgives me. Some people might smoke. Some people might covet another’s wife or husband. Some of us, including me, have lied a few times and have used God’s name if vain. The bible says we are all sinners. Every stinking one of us. We cannot escape what God says we can’t escape. We are born to be sinners. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do better, it just means that one day we will all be judged for something.
Maybe your sin was small and mine was big but I made amends for mine and felt genuine guilt and empathy for my victim and yet you felt nothing and did nothing but try to conceal your tiny little sin. Maybe God gives me a pass for my big sin and fry’s your ass for your little one. Who knows? I don’t and neither do you. Again, just another reiteration for you… “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already…”(John 3:16 (17)(18).
What I’m saying is that we should stop looking for ways to condemn anyone for anything, whether we personally accept or approve of the behavior or not because we all have offensive behaviors and we are all sinners and none of us have the biblical authority to judge other human beings. If Jesus Christ said that he doesn’t have the biblical authority to judge or condemn people then I’m terribly sorry to inform you that you don’t either. If a gay couple gets married, it’s not taking a single thing from you. Why should you care? If you think that it offends your religion because marriage is a religious institution then stop personalizing Christianity as being yours. It’s not. It belongs to anyone who accepts ALL of what it teaches, including but not limited to homosexual people.
The New Testament values faithfulness, love, sacrifice and promise-based commitment. Those things can be just as prevalent in a gay marriage as in a heterosexual marriage. Your faith is a personal relationship you have with God through Jesus Christ (if you’re a Christian). Your sins are between you and God and He knows your heart, drives, weaknesses and sacrifices. The rest of us don’t know all those things about you and thus should not be doing the work of God without all of the personal inside information with which to conduct a fair assessment of just how great or terrible you really are.
All that said and 4892 words later…please stop all your judgement’s for just one minute and start to think about your faith and your influences on those around you. Are you perpetuating and teaching positive things or negative things? Black people deserve to be heard and their voices shouldn’t be silenced just because the dialogue makes us feel uncomfortable. I get that you’re a generation X’r and that you have no idea what racism is…that doesn’t negate the fact that racism still exists or that black people are naturally going to feel more threatened by the perception of it. There are messages inside those speeches and on those posters that we all need to digest so that we don’t dismiss the very things that are causing so much dissension and chaos among us.
Gay people deserve to be heard too. All they are asking for is to be treated equally. If you or I don’t understand why their brains are programmed the way they are then it’s ok, we will all survive. I don’t understand a lot of people’s brains but that doesn’t give me the right to decide whether or not they deserve to be treated equally and/or with some dignity. We need to stop thinking of homosexuality as a behavior and start to recognize it as simply an alternative way of thinking. It’s a brain thing not a penis thing. If you’re born with the instinctive attraction to the opposite sex then we like to consider you a heterosexual. If you’re born with an instinctive attraction to the same-sex then we like to call you a homosexual. They’re words not swords. At the end of the day, we’re talking about that which is instinctive, not that which is decided. Gender and Sexuality live in our brains, not our sexual organs, and they are not always going to be consistent with our genitalia because they reside in separate places in our brains.
God says I can’t be all-knowing because I’m human – SO, even though it pisses me off to say it – I hereby officially accept that I don’t know every f’ing thing. I get that not everyone will agree with me. It’s a controversial subject.
Everyone knows I love movies. I have been intrigued with and entertained by movies since before I can remember. It is a passion born from mostly my mother who also loved movie going. I’m often quoted by my wife who likes to mimic me by saying that “I even love bad movies because at least they provide an escape from reality for two hours.” My background in law enforcement draws me to suspense and action movies but my overall nerd-ness loves all things technical too – so you can imagine what my favorite movie genres may be. But since I turned 50 and my testosterone levels have plummeted to levels deeper than Raquel Welch did in the 1966 science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (look it up Jon), I’ve noticed that the increasingly sensitive side of me is starting to totally dig the chick flicks nowadays too.
I have this amazing memory of my mom taking me and my siblings to see a double-feature film at Harding Mall in South Nashville when I was 10 years old. It was Barbarella (Jane Fonda) and another movie called The Groove Tube which was Chevy Chase’s low budget film debut. I don’t know what my mom was thinking at the time but I think it must have been one of those duh moments because she only let us watch about 15 minutes of the second feature before jerking all of us up and getting us out of there. I distinctly remember the film sequence that instigated our hasty exit; a mock public service announcement for venereal disease that covertly used a real penis made-up with a face as its actor-spokesman. At ten, I didn’t fully understand all of the sexual innuendo but I knew we were watching something we weren’t supposed to be watching which is pretty damn cool if you ask me. I still laugh about that all the time because we had brought along my next door neighbor Wayne and I wonder today if he has the same memories I have.
One of my favorite movie scenes of all time is the testing scene in the beginning of the movie Men in Black. To refresh your memory, let me sum it up as follows:
Will Smith’s character (who later becomes Agent J) is in a room with other candidates so the MiB can supposedly find the proverbial best of the best candidate for the MiB job opening. The candidates are all men from either military academies or elite law enforcement and are squeezed into tiny egg-shaped chairs that barely contain their bodies. They are each given an exam booklet which is sealed in fragile paper that tears easily and a pencil. As they all scrunch up in their pods, twisting, wiggling, crossing and un-crossing legs to find comfortable positions for holding the booklet and writing at the same time, Agent J – after breaking his pencil while trying to open the envelope – stops, looks in front of him, and sees a more traditional looking table across the room.
SCREEEEEEECH! The otherwise silent and sterile room is filled with a deafening noise as Agent J drags the heavy metal table across the floor toward his egg chair. The other candidates shoot him some ugly eyes while trying their best to concentrate on the test while Agent J, oblivious to an unwritten decorum, makes himself comfortable to take the test. He repeats this type of abhorrence to all things status quo later when at the firing range.
At the firing range, these same best of the best candidates have no problem at all accurately shooting all the monsters on the targets but Agent J shoots the little girl instead. When Zed (Character played by Rip Torn) asks J “May I ask why you felt little Tiffany deserved to die?”, J responded with something like this: “When I saw little Tiffany, I’m thinking, y’know, eight-year-old white girl, middle of the ghetto, bunch of monsters, this time of the night with quantum physics books? She about to start some shit Zed.”
In that scene, Will Smith thought outside the proverbial box and instead of following what everyone else was doing. He was not afraid to literally make some noise, free himself from tradition or modesty, and do something bold that may help him achieve his goals. The situations he was placed in were structured to the point of absurdity, which is an exaggerated reflection of how complicated we tend to make life in general when we could just as effectively do things simply. In J’s view, being quiet and conforming to others’ tin-soldier mentality only hindered his ability to accomplish the goal of passing the tests. His ability to think asymmetrically turned out to be his strongest quality.
Now if you are rolling your eyes at the phrase “thinking outside the box,” I completely empathize. The phrase has become trite and jargony and has an honored place on the list of most overused clichés and axiom’s by teachers and professors, which includes but is not limited to (yes, there are others) “seeing the forest for the trees”, “learning to think like a businessman”, or “An ounce of prevention…”, you get the idea. Personally, I am more moved by axioms which make you think rather than one’s which tell a commonly known truth such as: “99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name”, or “Madness takes its toll – please have exact change.”, or “It was recently discovered that research causes cancer in rats.”.
But stripped down to its core, “thinking outside the box” says in four words what I believe to be the key to success in almost any venture as well as general happiness in life. To me, thinking outside the box means not blindly following conventional wisdom as well as challenging assumptions about yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a shift from conceptual frameworks and paradigms to free-flowing uninhibited thought that challenges all common perspective. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t educate yourself with all that old-school knowledge, it’s just a theory that examines and explores the things unsaid rather than the things said.
We live in such a heavily controlled environment. The restrictions placed upon us do much to stymie our creativity and our ability to think freely. Perspective and perception are also powerful governors of our minds. We often view reality through narrow lenses sculpted, polished and honed by years of experience and education. But is my reality the same is your reality? In some cases yes. To you and I, red IS red and the number 4 IS the number 4. Those are constants nationally and worldwide. But what about the organic and obscure? Are we looking at the same things in the same way and coming up with the same conclusions? I doubt it.
If thinking beyond this proverbial box is so great then why do so many people encourage (or implore) you to color inside the lines, follow the rules, and stay inside the damn box? Well they are either inside the box themselves and not sure how to get out, are afraid to get out, or even worse — they are actually selling the box. People often disagree with me about these things, citing the importance of their specific life anomalies, and I am often prone to accept the reasons they espouse because I have the heart of a teacher not a preacher. But the reality is that most of these people are simply afraid. An example of this is that in my car, while alone, I believe I’m an accomplished singer…but I’m too afraid to demonstrate just how great I am in public. Is that a fear of performing or fear of revealing how much I suck at singing? I don’t know; ask Emily, she’s probably heard a few subtle a cappella moans and some interesting intonation going on in the car before. Fact of the matter, I will likely never sing to anyone in public – ever. It’s just not something I’m willing to let out of my box.
That “box”, for those whom are afraid, represents all that is stable and controllable and accepted. I get it. I really do. I understand that the box is rigid and sturdy and comfortable. But, it is still a stupid box and I know of no one who can truly spread their wings and fly inside a box. You can paint the box and decorate it and bedazzle the box with rhinestones or Harley Davidson stickers or whatever it is that you enjoy but at the end of your life, you will move from that one beautifully decorated box to another more simple and tasteful box. But will you have really lived? Ask Bruce Jenner what he thinks about living in boxes. For him, his life was always about making the rest of us comfortable. His box was covered in rustic leather and had spikes and beer stains and cigar burns all over it. But the inside of his box looked somewhat different I suspect.
I’m not suggesting the “box” is about gender or sexuality at all, but I’m neither saying it is not. I think the box is different for everyone and the same rules apply no matter what is in that enigmatic box. The box can contain a multitude of things that have the effect of holding you back in life or in situations. It’s just as important to recognize that your box might contain the elements of shyness as it is to recognize that thy neighbor’s box is full of Pollyanna. Both qualities can hold you back from achieving goals but for entirely opposite and unexpected reasons which are only relevant to that one person.
Look, I love plans of attack and guidelines and goals and milestones and all those things you have read about, and yes, in some areas of life there are definite paths that must be followed to reach a specific destination — i.e., you are not going to become a doctor without going to college, taking the exam, going to medical school, passing your boards, doing your residency, etc. But overall, never underestimate the value of thinking outside the box, figuring out your own way to get from point A to point B, and trusting your instincts along the way. Heck, maybe you don’t even have a point B in mind yet. No problem! Think of your current lack of a point B as already being outside the box. We can be sure that people like Michelangelo, da Vinci, Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg never knew a box existed.
And look, while thinking outside the box can certainly be about sitting down to solve or approach specific problems, it does not have to be. In fact, I like to think of it more as a way of life. Writing down your ideas or making a vision board is never a bad idea but there is something about saying it out loud that makes an idea sound really stupid or really profound. Don’t be afraid to bounce ideas off the chests of friends or parents but don’t be afraid to execute a really strongly held idea just because that trusted person doesn’t have the same vision as you. Just be honest with yourself enough to recognize when you’re being stubborn and when you’re being driven.
Be forewarned, however; sometimes when you operate outside the box, people look at you funny, make not-so-nice comments about you and your actions, and maybe even tell you that you are crazy for doing what you are doing because, oh, I don’t know, you are not making any money at it; or, people won’t like it; or, you’re making people uncomfortable; or, you will never get anything out of it anyway; or, no one else cares but you; or, you are too old; or, you are too young; or, you are not being serious enough to really achieve anything… so what is the point?
Well that is just the thing and the most beautiful part of living outside the box, even if it’s just from time to time. Sometimes we do not immediately know the point when we venture outside our boxes. What is the point of doing as you feel? I don’t know, perhaps it is just because it makes you feel good, and what is the point not to do it? Sometimes a small spark of interest ends up turning into a passion and perhaps then into a new life or career. Or maybe your life becomes enriched with a lifelong love of a new author, subject, art, or activity. Or maybe you develop amazing new friendships that remain long after that particular dalliance outside the box is over. Or maybe your time out of the box is special just because it was time out of the box, and there really is no point besides that. You’re going to grow as a person regardless of the reason, the activity, or the point.
And besides that, there is nothing more stifling and frustrating than feeling boxed in, and that is because we are not honoring that part of ourselves that wants, that needs so desperately to get out. Last year I was feeling like I was in a box. A box of social and political correctness. The box grew more and more confining as the accepted conditions of my career held me back from engaging and being myself. So, after suffering as much as I could stand, I decided to leap outside that box of political correctness and even beyond my own normal social boundaries and resolve my situation in the only way my life has trained me to do. Was I right to do it or wrong? That is a matter of perception for others but for me there’s no question that I did the right thing?
So what this blog is really saying, I suppose, is that thinking or living outside the box is not about what others think and it’s not about what’s good or comfortable for everyone else. Living outside the box allows you to shed the layers of social acceptance and just be the person you need to be at the moment. Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Creativity comes from peeling away the things which quintessentially make us adults, and instead, looking at situations and life from pure naiveté. Living and thinking outside the box is just a cliché way of expressing that same thought. When we strip away those latticed layers of conformity, maturity, shame, rationality, power, ego, reciprocity, and emotional clutter, then we can harness those crumbs of ingenuity floating around in a sub-consciousness that is much less chaotic.
I’m stepping outside my box right now. When I express my inner thoughts about life, love, parenthood, or politics, I’m pushing my own self-imposed boundaries that characterized the first 50 years of my life. While I’m nowhere close to inventing an Alfred Hitchcock character like in the movie “Vertigo” nor could I possibly do justice to a character like Russell Crowe played in “A Beautiful Mind”, what I can do is articulate the things that keep my mind busy when put into a square room and asked to administrate black & white procedures all day. One little dalliance out of the box last year and now here I am carving out the next half of my life, only differently, more honestly, and more deliberately. Maybe the lyrics from “Carry on My Wayward Son” will never resonate beyond the confines of my Jeep but the lyrics of my life and my thoughts will resonate in words on some digital cloud somewhere forever and that is enough reward for me to keep writing, teaching, entertaining or whatever it is that I’m doing these days.
When is the last time you stepped outside of your box?