Category Archives: Changing Culture

Childhood’s Charms

 We may be backed in a corner, but we’re heading the right way.

As I walked through an airport terminal last week, I observed a photograph of a celebrity from childhood. As I thought about the photo, I wondered what place childhood held for that celebrity. Was it just a phase to get through, a stage understood as a catalyst, or a magical time revered, treasured, and protected from oblivion through frequent returns?

I then thought about the importance of my own childhood and the place it holds in my present. Is it the equivalent of a tattered tissue in a side pocket of a jacket, carried along without much thought, or is it more like a lucky buckeye in that pocket, intentionally kept for its mythical impact on the present and the future?

Everyone’s childhood has joys and sorrows. Flannery O’Connor stated that anyone who has survived childhood has enough stories to write about for the rest of his life. It’s perhaps the richest mine of experience. And memory is so malleable, I have to understand that what I’m remembering may be one version of the truth. Several years ago my siblings and I produced About As Much Fun as a Child Could Have: A Shell Collection, a book of childhood memories as a gift for our parents. We found that some of us remembered conflicting  details of a single event. We left them in, all different. The truth is in there somewhere!

So I’m saying that I highly value my childhood, I’m grateful for it, the good and the bad, and I find much comfort in recalling those innocent days. The excitement of riding my bike farther than I’d ever been before. The delight of holidays with my cousins and extended family. The contentment of quiet Sunday evening suppers, with each member so relaxed in the setting that we didn’t have to clutter the space with conversation. The security of hearing my parents discussing the day after I was tucked in bed.

I address all females as “girls” with the highest connotation. Perhaps some are offended by being called a girl. I hope I’m always considered a girl; I would much rather be thought of as a girl than a woman or a lady.  My father’s frequent saying, “The past is a great friend but a lousy roommate,” speaks to the importance of keeping things in proportion. But it’s always good for me to spend time with great friends.

What does childhood mean to you?

Pondering Proust

There’s a reason everyone’s heard of Marcel Proust. There’s also a reason so few people have actually read him. Proust’s prose, labyrinthine and obscure, challenges even the stoutest of readers. I’m not saying I could write a dissertation on Pynchon, nor am I asserting that, like Virginia Woolf’s Mr. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse, I can make it to Q (but not R) in her brilliant suggestion of the extent of an individual’s intellectual development as being measured by his progress through the alphabet. But I do like it when my mind is stretched, taken out for a grueling run (sorry if the personification doesn’t work for you), worked over at the hands of a capable literary master, which brings us back to M. Proust. I have compiled a few of his statements. They’re worth pondering, if chiefly for their brevity in contrast with his usual multi-clause marvels.

“A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it.”

“The variety of our defects is no less remarkable than the similarity of our virtues.”

“A photograph acquires something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist.”

“Our most intensive love for a person is always the love, really, of something else as well.”

Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. Random House: New York, 1961. Page numbers of actual quotes available upon request.

 What would Proust think of the lines in the Louvre for La Gioconda?

Peace in Bethlehem

I snapped this photo as we came into Bethlehem during our 2012 visit to Israel. While opinions vary on that original warm welcome of the Holy Family, there being no room at the inn and all, I find the appeal compelling and hope you will as well.

May we each do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God so that our own actions will help establish Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men.

Please share!

When Will We Grow Up?

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published this article Oct. 17, 2016:

When I was in the fourth grade, a classmate, Randy, made a remark that showed a slightly different religious viewpoint than my own. As several children playing on the swings at that time shared my outlook, we nine-year-olds got into a heated discussion with Randy about a very minor spiritual topic. He was alone, so we self-righteously huffed and puffed him down, believing him to be a fool for taking such a contrary position. Furthermore, we all gave him the isolationist treatment the rest of the day for his folly. I can remember the pride that I felt for standing up for my beliefs, the smug feeling of being right, even superior… and also a nagging conviction that something was amiss. For goodness’ sake, Randy was a Protestant, just like me, only on a different rung of the high- and low-church ladder.

That’s typical for grade school antics, but I’m surprised to find how little most of us have matured past that fourth-grade mentality of not liking, or not being able to abide, someone because their religious, political, or philosophical views don’t align with our own. The Presidential election and national politics have drawn out the worst in citizens on both sides of the debate, resulting in inability to have regular discussions, deterioration of relationships, and destruction of the unity of our united states.

Considering underlying differences of perspective can help heal some of these breaches. NYU Stern School of Business moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has extensively studied the underpinnings of moral behavior and decisions and distilled five core values that drive the majority of philosophies and actions. More interesting, Haidt, who describes himself as an unapologetic liberal atheist, has identified that some of those basic tenets appeal to one set of political thinkers, while others seem more important to another set. Realizing that our political opposite shares just as strong convictions about his/her ethical standards as our own should take us away from simply assuming “He’s an idiot,” ”She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” ”He doesn’t even know what’s good for him,” or any of the other blanket assumptions both sides address toward opposing political party adherents.

Haidt’s *five moral indices are as follows:

Care/Harm: “It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.”

Fairness/Cheating: “Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.”

Loyalty/Betrayal: “People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.”

Authority/Subversion: “People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.”
Sanctity/Degradation: “The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.”

Each of these foundations contributes to successful civilization. Haidt notes that the first two, Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, appeal to left-leaning political thinkers, while the last three, In-group Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity, appeal to right-leaning individuals. Even in thinking of those values, readers can identify which foundations are more important to their own worldview. Furthermore, readers can begin to see how, if one political group prioritizes some, while another political group prioritizes others, argument will ensue. To move toward seeing there is more than one political lens is a step in the right direction. And to acknowledge that someone else has a different stance–and respect that stance instead of the mindless shouting down we see offered as entertainment on what passes for news programs promoting both political parties on television–is maturity.

Haidt points out that Rodney King is famously misquoted. King did not say “Can’t we all get along?” He actually asked, “Can we all get along?” Such a small grammatical distinction creates a huge difference in application. If we focus on our similarities: a love of family, a desire for our community to succeed, a yearning for the United States to be “the best she can be” (thought ideas differ on what that entails), we can strengthen constructive components of our citizenship rather than tearing each other, and consequently our great country, down. For goodness’ sake, we’re all Americans.
Individuals can also take the words of Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” to heart: “In minor ways we differ/In major we’re the same.” Even more to the point, the intentionally repetitious ending: “We are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.”

I wound up getting along fine with Randy for the rest of my school days, and am somewhat embarrassed that the fool in that childhood argument was me. Hopefully we can all step back and focus on what’s good about our fellow Americans then begin to behave more like grown-ups on life’s political playground.

from The Righteous Mind: How Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. New York: Random House, 2012, chapter 7. www.righteousmind.com.

*Synopses of moral foundations are taken from “Morals Authority,” Tom Jacobs, in Miller McCune Magazine, May, June 2009, Vol. 2, Number 3, pp. 46-55. Read “Human Family” at https://allpoetry.com/Human-Family

Explore your morality at a website associated with Haidt , www.yourmorals.org.

SarahTubert’sHamiltonASL

This week we are delighted to host three golfers with the Murphy USA Shootout Symetra Tour. One of golfers, Emily Tubert, shared her sister Sarah’s ASL signing of the beginning of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway runaway Hamilton. Two beats in and you’re hooked-

Roosevelt was Right

Theodore Roosevelt was my favorite president long before Ken Burns created his documentary about the Roosevelt family. Aside from his mistaken, historical-context-laden Native American policy, which I do not condone, Roosevelt rose to the challenge of Chief Executive and accomplished much in his eight years in the Oval Office. What makes him unique is that instead of trying to change people and issues on the other side of the political spectrum, Roosevelt tackled the problems that his own party was responsible for aiding and abetting. Through his family’s impressive economic and political profile, Roosevelt represented the party of Big Business. Yet he successfully limited the powers of big business, namely the growth of corporations, during his time in office. As an insider, Roosevelt knew well how to get their attention then motivate them to cooperate, effectively throttling a power that promised to run away with any sort of individual rights for the people and small organizations. His method of operation is one we should all consider and apply to ourselves.

With whatever demographic you associate, look to call down your own trouble-makers instead of pointing across whatever barrier there is, to someone who sees things differently (Notice I didn’t say “wrongly”).  I’m speaking in extreme opposites on purpose:  Immigration? If you’re a legal immigrant, use your knowledge of families and movements to help the police find law-breaking immigrants. Religion? If you’re religious or atheist, encourage like-minded individuals to find ways to make life better for everyone, instead of acting in destructive ways, which is the antithesis of true spiritual aspirations. Politics? If you’re a Democrat or Republican, stop encouraging the radical 2% fringe on each end, because they don’t represent the best of your party.  Economic or social status? Instead of the rich blaming the poor and the poor blaming the rich for all social ills, try to get your “brother” or “neighbor” to see how he might be adding to the problem, in the myriad minor ways people warp and tilt the law in their favor.

With a little forethought and dedication, you can use your situation as an insider in your own subgroup, as Roosevelt did, to appeal to citizens who are acting against the best interests of our country. We aren’t getting anywhere gouging at “the enemy,” whatever side of whatever skirmish we’re on. There’s really so much more that we have in common, if we would quit focusing on another group whose views on one subject or in one area might be opposite our own. Trust that “they” have their reasons, and, just like “your” group, most are committed to trying to make our world a better place.

We extol the courage of our military heroes. Does it really take that much courage to look at a bigot or sycophant and say, hey, bud, dial it down?!

So call down those in your own ranks who are giving the other side a target. I’d much rather someone I know and trust point out my thought distortions, gross exaggerations, and self-justifications than someone I expect to see the worst in me. I’ll pay much more attention to the former.

Roosevelt became president after the assassination of William McKinley. Who knows if he ever would have been elected president on his own? But when he was presented the opportunity, he made a difference. We each have unique opportunities in our own spheres of influence. Don’t waste your resources slinging hardballs into a brick wall; that negative energy  keeps your hands dirty. See what you can do with the folks on your side of the issue.  While you focus on that irritant in your own eye, that speck in your adversary’s eye might become less of a bother, and you might find ways to work together in spite of yourselves.

Profanity Doesn’t Mean Crap Anymore

I never found vulgar language to be worth the trouble. Profanity didn’t provide enough payback for me in the currency of the sensations or satisfactions that compel us toward our chosen vices.  Though I remember trying out a string of dirty words in junior high, determining how they felt in my mouth and out of it, and deciding to opt for more gratifying improprieties, I’m by far the minority in this category. In recent years, I have observed profanity exploited to the point that it fails to provide the power it promises. And its usage, while superficially considered creative, more often hinders creativity. If people don’t come up with new swear words, we’ll be left with no strong language at all.

By definition, a curse word ought to be an attention-getter. It has been used historically as a show of bravado, or to offend, shock, hurt, or intimidate. We need a select group of words for just that purpose. Convicted felons, gang members, and down-and-outers, to name a few people who live in a hardened state, a state in which regular language will not suffice, deserve to have their own vocabulary to express their harsh existence.

I don’t generally come in contact with such a world, but during a particularly low time in my adult life, swear words occurred to me regularly. That phase passed quickly, but it did make me realize that there are times when profanity suits our condition. However, it shouldn’t be all the time for most people.

Profanity’s power partly derives from its status as a transgression; I don’t pursue that argument here. But the extent that swear words promote ignorance reaches almost a moral degree to any lover of civilized language. People have become so accustomed to hulking up curse words that they use them in lieu of better, truer words for the situation. For instance, a person once described a trip to me by saying, “We had a hell of a damn time.” I wondered, was that fun or miserable?

One symptom of this dumbing-down of vocabulary is the manner in which profanity has been adapted to many positions of sentence structure. Like all languages, English is complex and beautiful, with complicated rules, suffixes, and stress marks (among other indicators) to denote a word’s purpose in speech. And yet people opt for the same trite words to communicate myriad thoughts, actions, and information throughout their day. Take the sentence, “That lousy girl is always lying.” One may insert the word “shit” in four different positions: Continue reading Profanity Doesn’t Mean Crap Anymore