"I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Thomas Jefferson
Sept. 23, 1800

Monday, December 31, 2012

O Is For.......Open Minded

I've been waiting for "O" to come around for quite a while. Finally, my chance to rant!!! My son asked me a while ago if there were any words I hated so much that I would delete them from our language. I think "open minded" is actually two words, more of a phrase, but I hate it with a rare and burning passion. I don't dislike the concept, the definition of "open minded," one bit. What I really hate is the way it gets used by the people who bandy it about, particularly those who use it to describe themselves.

Open mindedness should mean an openness to new ideas, to opinions different from your own, a knowledge that wisdom begins with knowing how little one actually knows. There are some people who actually are open minded, by that definition, and I'm lucky to have a few as very close friends. This isn't about you. The world could use more people who genuinely seek knowledge. These people almost never use the term, though, and I don't think I've ever heard one of these friends of mine use it to describe him/herself.

The people who do use it don't mean that at all. What they mean by open minded is people who agree with them. Vary from their chosen point of view (which tends toward the "progressive" more often than not and not rarely includes one or more bizarre theories about such things as vaccinations or fluoride in the water or the Illuminati) ) and you better look out. The very worst thing you can do socially is to publicly disagree with people who say they are open minded. If you do, they will assume you are ignorant, bigoted, overly ideological or just plain stupid. See, these folks consider themselves to be open minded. Therefore, the opinions they hold are the result of their open minded consideration of all the facts and therefore are the only valid opinions one could possibly hold. They refuse to accept that they may not have all the facts, or may have tidbits of information that aren't really factual. Their minds are not open to that idea. So, if you disagree, you are, by their logic, either not privy to all the facts (ignorant), purposefully ignoring the facts that led them to their conclusion (bigoted or ideological) or mentally unable to process the facts you do have in an intelligent manner (stupid.) Their minds are completely closed to the possibility that anyone could possibly look at the same facts and come to a fair, intelligent opinion that differs from theirs. It is senseless to argue with these people, it's best to just agree with them. Don't worry, it'll never occur to them you are being condescending. They will gladly take your agreement as proof they are right and have chosen well the people they hang with.

On the other hand, there are those who are so open minded that their brains fell out. Open minded doesn't mean believing everything you hear. It means considering it. Some things, after consideration, are pure bullshit.  Some things are wrong. Some things are hurtful or mean or evil. Being open minded shouldn't be an excuse to be intellectually lazy. That makes me think of another term, one that just happens to start with a "P"......

Saturday, December 29, 2012

N Is For.....News

I'm a news junky. It's not just what you'd normally consider "news" either. I'm very curious -- about things, places, events, people. If I care about something, be it a national news story, an academic question, a political debate or even just whether or not a friend had a fun Christmas, I won't stop asking until I get answers. I'm persistent.....or stubborn....or annoying, I suppose it depends on your perspective. I love having LOTS of sources of news, but I don't go in for the usual ones. I don't regularly watch any national newscasts on TV, I don't have a subscription to Wilmington's local daily, I don't get Time or any other news weekly. I listen to NPR every bit as much as I listen to Rush Limbaugh. I read quite few political and news blogs pretty regularly, both right wing and left. I have 735 "liked" pages on Facebook. I love Facebook as a news source, not because everything is accurate, because it most certainly is not (especially the re-posted and linked things from friends and relatives), but because it opens up the door to a huge variety of sources. As long as I know where my news is coming from, it's useful to me. The trick is to take it all in, consider all the sources, and noodle out the truth best you can from that. It isn't perfect and it takes patience and some intelligence, but it's the way of things now.

The mass media, as we were taught it functioned when we were children, is dead.

It took reading a friend's blog about the news and Facebook posts during the day of the Sandy Hook shootings to bring that fact home. Jen wrote about all the falsehoods reported and then spread all around Facebook during the day of the shootings. They weren't malicious falsehoods, not purposeful untruths, but they were certainly hurtful to some of the people involved. They were simply the result of trying to be FIRST rather than ACCURATE. That's what our media has become. It's driven by us and our need to have all the news immediately, but just the same, that's where they are. Reporters print or broadcast anything they hear as soon as they hear it. Then  it gets picked up and spread around social media until the next "first news" comes along to contradict it. What gets me is that this hasn't made many of the consumers of news as wary as they should be. Jen is an exception. Most people, even some very smart and savvy ones, eat up and spit out anything coming from the news media. This is foolish.

When I started college, way back in the pre-internet dark ages of 1989, the New York Times was the Gold Standard of American journalism. By the time I graduated, in 1993, it was becoming a joke. By the turn of the new millennium, the Old Grey Lady was meaningless. She'd been exposed knowingly printing falsehoods, not even to be first, but simply because she was lazy and politically motivated. All of the national mainstream media followed suit. The local press is a bit better, it is closer to its consumers and a bit more accountable, but still it is falling victim to the same degradation. Our local daily, the Star News, ran a whole big front of the feature section story about a friend of mine's neighbor's successful career as a professional wave runner rider. It was a great story, with pictures and exciting anecdotes, except for one thing. It was entirely fabricated by the neighbor. One or two phone calls would have exposed that, but the reporter didn't use one source outside of the supposed wave riding champ. That would have gotten you thrown out of my journalism school, but it is perfectly fine in today's journalistic world. Now, we see local politicians calling news outlets with stories and having them aired or printed as Gospel truth, often without one attribution. We see the web sites of news organizations play host to totally unmoderated "mesage boards" or comments sections that become grand stands for lunatics.

It's a new world, for better or for worse. There's nothing I can do about it, and that is driving ME insane. The local news outlets are bumbling along, faithfully printing and airing anything they hear without the first attempt to verify it. The national news outlets have all become partisan, making the self-proclaimed partisan radio shows and news casts and magazines and blogs into the most trustworthy. I'm hopeful  my son's generation will deal with this better than my own. I know he is not one to believe everything he reads or sees or hears. I don't know if it's just him, though, the kid has always been a skeptic and an independent thinker. It is the one thing I am most proud of in him. If he is representative of the future, we'll be ok. I pray he is.

Monday, December 24, 2012

M Is For....... Merry Christmas

Yep, that's it. Just have a really cool yule and enjoy all your blessings. Love all and let yourself be loved in return.

That is all :)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

L is for....Letting it out

I've been trying to write things on my other, happier blog and just can't. I figure maybe letting it out here will help. It's "safe" here as I have only one follower and I doubt she ever looks, it's so rarely I post and then very intermittently. These shootings in Newtown are so raw, so primal-sad, so completely un-understandable, I can't imagine anything I say failing to piss someone off somewhere as I try to work out my own thoughts. But if I am going to go on, I need to let it out. So here it goes, rambling though it be.

I'm thinking about what it means to share others' grief, or frustration, or anger, or any negative emotion. Sharing happiness is a given, it's universally accepted and expected. No one feels violated or invaded personally when another, even a stranger, shares their joy. We WANT it to spread around. But the negative emotions are different, on both sides. Sometimes we who grieve or enter a dark time in our lives want to hold that to ourselves. I don't know why. Part of it is surely the instinct to not hurt our friends, to not let our pain take away their happy. But pain is also more personal then joy, more private. To feel it is to admit some weakness, some vulnerability, and we are often loathe to do that, even to our closest friends and family. Just as the wisest one is the one who knows how much he fails to understand, the strongest ones are those who can admit they are weak. The stoic is, in my opinion, too weak to face the reality of his human emotions, or at least too weak to allow others to see. Pain and grief are sometimes strangely important to us. Even though they are negative, they are OURS and in dark times we need to feel a connection to our deeper self. Maybe pain gives us that, and it's strongest when we are quietest about it. But what to do when others are in pain? I try to find some common ground, some basis of understanding, but in doing so I fear others see me as minimizing their personal feelings by making them less than unique. I'm a bad example, I think. I'm about as clumsy as a person can get, in word and deed and timing and everything else. If a wrong thing can be said at a wrong time to a wrong person, I'm there saying it. If there's one subject a friend is sensitive about, I'm there cracking jokes to them about it. I chase all my friends away that way, some forever, the best only for a while, but still. I'm torn between silence that could be taken as uncaring or a failure to recognize a need and saying too much of the wrong thing. I can't find the happy middle. It sucks.

So, if it's so hard to understand what to do when our friends hurt, what do we do when it's strangers? When something like Newtown happens, the whole country, the whole world feels it. What must that do to the actual families that lost kids? To be almost forced to share the most intimate thing that has or will ever happen to you with millions of strangers must be surreal to say the least. Does it help or hurt? I don't know. Should we send them things -- cards, emails, facebook posts -- or does that just remind them for months and months of what happened. We feel great personal sadness and worry even though our own children are in no more or less danger than they were a month ago. We borrow their pain, or a part of it, to express the fear that lives in every parent's heart every day, all day. Is that a good thing? Or is it selfish? Is that making us all one community of parents? Or is that capitalizing on the very real and concrete misery of strangers? We feel, as parents, for any kids, but how far does that, how far should that go? We hug our children more and tighter, we treasure every second more fully, and that's a good thing. We take this as a chance to think about the unthinkable, to remember friends and family who lost children, and that's a good thing, too.

It's almost easier to dwell on the horrible possibilities when it's strangers bringing it up. When it's a close friend or family, we can tend to hide from the grief, to just not know what to do. I know I did when my sister lost her son right before Christmas about 8 years ago. See, I can't even tell you what year Angel died. I feel terrible about that. I was far away and didn't go home. I'll pay for that til I die, inside myself. No one has made me feel bad, it was a miscarriage so the social norms are very fuzzy, but I won't ever forgive myself. Maybe that's why I always err on overdoing the trying to care when  I think a friend is in need. Trying to not repeat past mistakes, to be stronger than I was. It doesn't work. But what else to do?

That's the lingering question from Newtown as well, what else to do? What do we take away? What do we learn? Do we crack down on guns? Do we militarize our schools? Do we re-open the mental hospitals and fill them with children like Adam? Do we leave them at home and trust them or a parent to drug them into submission every day for the rest of their lives? Can we prevent Adams from occurring by parenting differently?  By testing during pregnancy? Is that moral? What rights does Adam have? Is a sane mind required to take hold of rights our Declaration says emphatically are bestowed by God? Were we witnessing Evil at work? Were we witnessing mental illness at work? Are those really two different things? What is evil? What is mental illness if there is no cure? I've watched with fascination as the dividing line has been drawn on facebook between those who seek solace in faith and those who seek solace in science. The faith crowd cries "evil" and the science crowd derides them. The science crowd seeks comfort in logical, medical answers, and the faith crowd derides them. I can't find a home in either camp, surprise surprise. I believe in Evil. I refused to tell my son there were no such things as monsters because I believe it to be a lie. I put my faith in logic and reason as well, and believe science will hold the answer to all mysteries sooner or later. I think the two "sides" are inevitably going to come closer as we grow wiser. This debate is an example. A mental illness that allows a child to gun down children may be a chemical imbalance. Or it may not. It may not be something we can "fix." I think the way forward is for the faith crowd to support an endless effort to find the medical or psychiatric "fix" and for the science crowd to accept that there may not be one. There are constants in the universe, like the speed of light. Perhaps evil is one of them.

Or not. I don't know, and I'm ok with that. I'm trying to move forward doing the best i can. I cry when i feel like crying, and I laugh when I feel like laughing. I will listen to all of the debate about "what do we do" and I'll think and feel and reflect before I decide, if I ever do. I'll treasure my son and all the children in my life. I'll stumble and bumble along trying to watch out for my friends as they navigate rough times. Sometimes I'll be right, often I'll be wrong. But all I can do is try, and try I will.