Category Archives: Social Rules

Mismatched Fingers of Color and Delight

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People are craving the weird and eccentric, even when they may not even know it. Sure, we like pants whose legs are both the same length and houses painted more or less one color – and even food that bears some resemblance to its assigned name. As for me, I’d prefer to live in a world of spilled paint, one adorned with mismatched clothing and polychromatic houses spelling doom for a bored eye. It would be a carpenter’s dream to build in such a world. (But a carpet installer’s nightmare.)

Being around people, though, demonstrates that their eyes are drawn to those things less expected and strange. They may behave differently about it if they feel they are being observed, but the fascination with the novel is undeniable. Given a way to stop and look at something, they usually will, provided life gives them a moment to do so. Too much of our daily life is devoted to cursory swipe-left or swipe-right stimulus, rapid judgments without careful insight. It’s true that we tend to enjoy the feeling or familiarity. I’m not arguing specifically against that tendency, but instead am pointing out that if given a chance, people will frequently step off the known path for a weird stroll. The more they choose to do so, the less appeal the black and white world holds for them.

This week, I had the opportunity to watch and listen to a multitude of voices. When given the chance, I would sit and draw strange things. Some years, I’ve done 20+ feet of artwork along the paper-laden tables in the common areas where people congregate. All of the writing and drawing occurs where people constantly pass by, most taking at least a stolen look at whatever I’m doing. Some projects go quickly, whereas others take hours.

People stop and comment, most of them engaging with humor and relatively striking admissions about art, their lives, or how they wish they were more creative or able to do whimsical things. This week, several asked me if I were an art teacher, a writer, or something impossible to guess; I take these wrong guesses as high praise. We all need a plumber when the tides rise, so to speak, but it is the unseen and shared je ne sais quoi underlying our motivations that truly make the extra step worthwhile.

The passersby perhaps think they are observing me; however, I’m certain I’m getting more from the interaction than they are. The “What in the heck….?” type of reaction never fails to amuse me. I suppose that some expect me to be engrossed in drawing something pragmatic, such as a large intestine with vascular indicators – or a boat sailing along a riverbank filled with somersaulting otters.

One of the teachers who expressed interest in what I was doing asked me, “How do you get the detail so exact?” Her question puzzled me, so I asked in return, “Why do you think I had a vision in mind? Life doesn’t work that way – and even when it does, everything changes once we’re halfway through.” She laughed, “It seems like you were just waiting for me to ask something like that.”

Several people shared their stories with me, while others told me about things which sprang to their minds when watching me draw. All of them had something interesting to say, something which was already perched inside of them, waiting to stretch out into the world.

For those trying to make sense of what I was drawing, I would offer a spontaneous interpretation for each, with my goal being to devise a new explanation for each person asking.

The scale of the picture is much larger than you would imagine: the paper stretched across a full-size cafeteria table. I couldn’t take a picture of it unless I had dangled by a harness from the ceiling. Given that I’m three times the girth of Tom Cruise, I opted to avoid buying the school a new ceiling. This time, instead of leaving all of my work for the puzzled maintenance staff, I cut one piece of it off and brought it home. One person insisted on writing a compliment to the artist, so I brought that, too.

Most years, I leave the tables intact, with whatever I’ve created upon them. No matter how diligently you work, even on a whim, you simply are going to get up from the table one day, without even a glance behind you, and leave this world. Some of us will lament, “Not enough time!” while others will just shrug their shoulders and admit, “I didn’t make enough time.”

I’m hoping that you have color-stained fingers and a mind stuffed to the rafters with strange ideas when it’s your turn to go. You have permission to lead a normal, unflinching life, but it’s possible to lead a normal life and still have your hair full of crazy straws and pockets filled with half-scribbled notes to yourself.

I learned a lot this week, as I always do. I met new friends and shared outrageous jokes. However life is measured, my mind grew a bit, which is more than many days offer.

 

 

A Word About Polite Discussion

I intend to throw absolutely no shade with this post. My intent is to convey my thoughts, imperfectly and in a biased subjective manner….

When I see or hear “I remember when it was impolite to talk politics,” I almost always know deep in my bones that a well-off person is the one saying it, if only because people who are happy with their lot don’t want to hear a contrary opinion. As for the “I remember when” argument, many people remember when women didn’t have the right to vote or when some people were openly treated as lesser human beings. Pointing to the past isn’t a strong way to make one’s point.

Also, one of my favorite axes to grind is this: people rush to label topics as politics, sometimes casting the net so wide so as to include everything: birth control, religion, sexuality, education, healthcare, and just about anything else. In so doing, they attempt to skew or control the conversation. This is especially true when their own arguments aren’t defensible. Limiting the playing field to weaker points of view helps them to maintain their comfort level at the expense of someone else.

If a topic is important to you, discuss it, even when the comfort level of those listening isn’t immediately receptive. If you speak from an honest place, no one who loves you or appreciates your opinion is going to silence you -and if silence is demanded without reciprocal silence from the person objecting, you’ve been shown that your place is not one of mutual respect. Conversations don’t occur in a vacuum; people must choose to engage and to continue to respond for them to survive even a few moments.

I, of course, wouldn’t visit family or friends and insist on a specific topic of conversation, and probably wouldn’t even start it myself. But once broached, I would be less inclined to favorably respond to someone intervening with “Let’s avoid politics.”

Small talk is the glue which binds us socially, but it is the discussion of weightier issues which allows us to know one another. In the context of a group, the dynamic alters the content of what’s being said. Societal expectations change and with those changes comes a looser grasp on the fabric of what we talk about.

It is rarely the topic per se which ignites an argument or dispute. Rather, it is a person’s poor communication skills and their lack of tools with which to confront reasonable ways to interact with opposing or even repugnant ideas. So often, people make the mistake of equating disagreement with something to avoid at all costs. We are a world of billions of people. Disagreement is mandatory, even with those people who are closest to you.

No one should expect you to participate in a discussion if you aren’t comfortable. Most of us also won’t force a continued conversation if everyone isn’t participating. In those cases where it happens, though, please leave your privilege aside and instead of silencing the topic, step away and let those who are interested engage in a spirited discussion. Not all windmills call out your name.

Taking the argument to social media makes the issue even less troubling. Since each of us only has to scroll past to avoid discussions we don’t like, it is the ideal method to toss around political ideas. No one can be forced to engage, and each person can participate at the level they feel comfortable doing so. You have time to consider your responses and even double-check the content before you participate.

To be clear, though, much of the objection to politics (whatever that might be defined to be), is really just a disguised attempt to make some people feel comfortable. Many people despise the democracy of social media, as it puts others in a position to ‘see’ information and content they object to. People tend to walk and talk inside their own comfort zones. When exposed to other politics, religions, and culture, their defense mechanisms kick into gear and push them to look away.

Our conversations reflect what we are exposed to. Politics is simply a huge part of that. Politics isn’t the problem. It’s us, as we struggle to come to terms with both talking and listening.

An Abridged Reminder to Our Social Media Friends…

Note: “If you choose to not engage with any of my personal posts – the ones which reveal both personal humor and outlook, you don’t get the privilege to snark unhelpfully on those posts which prick at your political, religious or social discomfort.”

I use social media to share my life; not just the window dressings, either – I share what lies behind and beneath. Most people are astonished by my volume and willingness to share. Unlike most, I create what I share and of course do so with the belief that not all my nonsense will interest you.

If you can’t honor the expectation of engagement with the full range of meaningful sharing without lashing out, the problem then lies within you and with the uncotrolled urge to fight every opinion which fails to mirror your own. Spirited debate is not the problem. It is the surliness people exhibit when their ideas are challenged, especially by contrary or superior ones.

I can imagine the spittle spewing from your snarled lips, the zealotry throbbing at your carotid artery. Take a moment and consider: if my opinion is meaningless it should not awaken anger. And if it is valuable you do yourself a disservice by screaming in response.

Disagreement is mandatory, but doesn’t negate the social graces imposed on us mutually and reciprocally.

We each have equal footing in these personal spaces. If we are to engage as if we are visiting each other’s houses, we must refuse to enter with pointed finger or raised fist. Let courteous wit and wisdom be our calling card. Friends do not hurl bricks through windows – unless asked to do so. Each person and each house sits on its own foundation.

May ideas win by their merit. Use your soapbox and inded your life to demonstrate by example.
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PS: a reminder came to me during the wee hours. It’s expected that the internet will scorn, with its distant anonymous anger – but not from those who’ve shared moments with me.

Mike Pence & Notre Dame – Thoughts

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Warning: Political and/or Social Commentary

Isn’t it strange that people howl for empathy for the Vice President, a wealthy man with access to the world and everything in it? Even as he continues to misuse conviction to preach to all that some are not his equals, he has one of the world’s biggest pulpits from which he can pontificate to people. We owe him no tears. His vocation is one he campaigned for. He is not immune to rebuke. In fact, rebuke is as much a part of public life as adulation is. We are paying him to fulfill his duties and he works for all of us, not just those which conform to his brand of fear and distrust masquerading as politics. Perhaps if Pence spent more time representing the totality of this inclusive country and less time pandering to those who agree with his ideology, he might have more ears tuned toward compassion when he’s talking.

Whether it’s climate change, immigration, LGBTQ issues, evolution, or any of the other issues which he has planted his feet firmly in the past over, Pence is not where this country is headed, especially for the younger generation. It is the natural progression of things for those threatened by new or better ideas to angrily point accusatory fingers at those who want us all to be standing on a level playing field.

Students at Notre Dame opted to use their right to peacefully protest against this man’s policies and therefore this is not an indictment on the mindset of young people: it’s a refutation of the man’s ideas. Whether they protest at school or in public, they are adults, given the ability to reason and to demonstrate against things which violate their beliefs. They didn’t attack Pence as he has so often attacked the weaker and unvoiced masses. They didn’t take away any of his rights, limit his healthcare, reduce his wages, interfere in his appearance at the podium, or in any way harm him; they merely objected to his ideology and expressed their displeasure with their feet. This is exactly how things are supposed to work. Surely no one is to suggest that an adult must feel compelled to be complicit and present in the display and conspiracy of ideas woven by such a man as Pence.

To say that students have blemished the school, themselves or this country by exercising their right to object is a greater misstep than 1,000 such peaceful demonstrations. Regardless of how their tuition was paid, these adults protested in a manner befitting our country, at a university which itself is in the education business. Those students earned the right to their degree and they reiterated their right to protest. It’s interesting for politicians to deride students and universities for protest. Perhaps feeling rejected will provide some glimmer of recognition in their hearts as to how deeply inhumane many of their policies and beliefs come across.

The idea that people shouldn’t protest simply because it makes another segment uncomfortable is precisely why the protest is necessary. Just because you are privileged or wealthy enough to turn your head away and to expend no effort is in no way an indicator of what motivates much of the rest of the country. If they choose to peacefully protest, you can shake your head in disagreement with the content of the protest but never against the idea of protesting itself.

It is only through resistance have any of our major social changes flourished. Change requires stress to whatever prevailing ideas and traditions live in the moment. If you are sitting on the side entrenched in the past, you are going to experience turmoil as the world changes without you.

Notre Dame is a cross-section of the brightest young adults in our country. We indeed should start worrying only when they STOP resisting things which no longer represent our country.

Lastly, someone should explain to Pence and people like him that the 1st amendment right of free expression pertains to the relationship between government and individual citizens. Thus, it is Pence’s job to ensure that he understands that his role as VP requires him to welcome debate and dissent even when it’s directed to or at him specifically. Angrily rebuking those who choose to exercise their right not only demonstrates a dangerous demagoguery but also an ignorance of one of the most fundamental means of letting our government know they are going astray.

PS: Protest at a school or university carries the same validity as does protest exercised anywhere else. You sound ignorant when you draw a distinction.

The Sunrise Admonition Principle

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If you post glowing sunrises speaking of the beauty of god’s creation but privately judge gays, the impoverished, addicts, Hispanics or Muslims, you are missing the point of a graceful god. If it irks you to read this, imagine the hearts of those you are judging as they live their lives surrounded by distrustful eyes and dark wishes.

In so doing, you are also being dishonest. You are only sharing those things which serve as window dressing, the reflection of things you know which will draw no controversy.

All of us can look at the easy things and rejoice.

Few of us can see our own prejudice against the ‘other,’ much less admit it to the world. Like the admiration for the sunrise, however, the bile of dislike you might feel toward marginalized groups is just as much a part of who you are as that appreciation for light.

If I know you deeply, I can look at your picture of the colorful sunrise and smile – but not fully, as I understand that behind that window you present, there is a sneer of superiority, one which discolors my regard for your worldview.

Who you are is both the sunrise and the concealed dark shadows you guard so closely inside your heart.

Share who you are or change those things which shame you once revealed.

A Word About Religious Expression

From a local pastor and friend of mine: “…I insist on a secular government that prevents any religion from having power in public discourse and allows people who are not interested in religion to be left alone. I believe that my pursuit of ‘the Holy’ is to be between my own ears and will be reflected in my daily relationships with those around me. Be Loving, full of Laughter, and overflowing with Generosity and Grace…”

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An Imperfect Commentary on the Death Penalty

This is an imperfect commentary from the last time the death penalty was a hot topic. I didn’t share it because I seem to have a minority voice.

The fact that DNA evidence has exonerated so many innocent prisoners should give incredible pause to those so assured that justice is both possible and being served when we collectively execute someone. Almost 3/4 of those wrongfully convicted had eyewitness testimony used in their convictions. Imagine being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, your fellow citizens testifying that they saw you in the course of the crime and that the State decides to put you to death. “Yes, it is a small price to pay for the greater good,” you might say, but only because it is not you or someone you know being wrongly accused. It’s true that these cases are rare compared to the volume of our criminal justice system. If you can imagine yourself being accused and facing the death penalty, though, it might introduce the reality of swallowing that sentence.

This argument isn’t even about the rights of the victims or whether most of those convicted of murder have indeed ‘earned’ their sentence; it’s about the undeniable hatefulness of using a system known to have sentenced people to die for crimes they didn’t commit. It is a specious argument to tell those who are against the death penalty that they should be thinking only of the victim, as any system which kills people without being completely sure of its methodology is suspect. I find it difficult to reconcile the clamor for death absent certainty; until we as fallible and negligent humans figure this out, we must proceed with caution.

As a human, I do understand fully the urge to repay monstrous acts with repayment in kind. It’s just difficult for me to translate that to granting the State the same right. The indifference with which the State addresses its business makes it incapable of those qualities which make us all better human beings. I admit my contradictions in this regard.

I can more easily imagine looking the other way while an outraged father kills the monster who has killed his child than I can watch as the State pretends that it hasn’t repeatedly acted wrongly in the past. It’s too high of a price to pay. If, on the other hand, you are certain that all those charged are truly guilty, then proceed with a clear conscience. I won’t judge, but I do look askance at our collective disregard for how disjointed and untenable much of our justice system really can be. This is doubly true especially after personally hearing the shenanigans of a jury in an actual murder trial. I have no expectation or delusion of fairness. There is no jury of our peers, no prosecutorial objectiveness, nor unilateral access to fairness for anyone caught up in the judicial system.

Yes, I do think of the victims and I often wonder how it is that there isn’t more violence in the world. I think to my own childhood and am perplexed that someone in my immediately family wasn’t killed. (Except for my father; his offense was driving while wildly intoxicated and killing my cousin.) I don’t look to religion to guide my beliefs in this regard, because forgiveness toward anyone who has harmed a loved one is a case-by-case scenario, with only those affected capable of offering it. It’s intensely private and personal. I would never sit in judgment for how they choose to react or for their support of a specific punishment.

An eye-for-an-eye conveys a certain satisfaction, of that there is little doubt. But we must be sure that the eye we are poking is the one which first gave offense. Even so, we must be compelled toward reluctance lest we give away a small sliver of our progress as humans.

I’m conflicted about the death penalty in ways I can’t accurately express, for reasons anyone who has ever suffered loss will understand. It is precisely because of that loss I would hope that those on the other side of the coin are guided by a higher cause.