Saturday, September 30, 2017

Status Update: I'm Not Nice Anymore

10 months ago I wrote about the sacred importance of being kind to each other all the time. What do I think about that now?

Wow—what a difference 10 months in the Trump-era can make.

10 months ago I launched my "kindness project". I told us we all needed to listen, to be nice, and to embrace our inner Mr. Rogers.

Boy, was that naive. While I still believe in the basic theoretical underpinnings of my movement--a few things have come into focus for me since then.

The first is that there is no "right" way to react to someone you disagree with. A friend responded immediately to this blog and told me that it was wrong and downright controlling in an uncomfortable way for me to say that we should all be "kind" all the time. I scratched my head at that. Didn't make sense to me. Isn't being nice the best? Being nice doesn't mean not saying difficult things—it's just the correct approach if you want someone to listen.

I get it now. As our wise grandmothers have always said—"It takes all kinds." There is no "one" approach. As the good book says, "there is a time for every purpose under heaven." Sometimes we need diplomacy—and sometimes we need anger. It turns out getting things done requires multiple skill sets. People need to be pushed, people need to be made uncomfortable, usually, if they're going to change. All anger all the time alienates. All kindness all the time is easily ignored.

I really don't know what the right way is to talk to the "other side" right now. I still care very deeply about not alienating the other side, not retreating into a echo chamber. BUT—that's my second thing. I'm frustrated. I'm getting angry. I want answers. I want to know how you can support such a hateful, disgusting human being. I want you to tell me. But the thing is—I want to have my cake and eat it to. I don't want my conservative family and friends to go away—I still want you. And I don't want to ALWAYS make you uncomfortable; I don't want to ALWAYS talk politics...But, I'm a little needy right now—you're going to have to bear with me. Right now I don't understand how you can live with yourself. Right now I'm kinda stuck on this thing. I want to go back to inoffensive jokes and talking about movies and TV—but not right now.

Right now I'm Angry Jesus. Flipping over tables, making a whip of cords, shouting down the Pharisees. He wasn't very nice to them. He imprudently called them all a bunch of snakes (now now Jesus, you shouldn't generalize). He said the converts they were so fervent to make were hopelessly damned because of who the Pharisees were. That's where my head space is at. If Jesus was allowed to go there, maybe, just maybe, I can too. Maybe Jesus didn't make any friends that day, but maybe it still needed to be said.

I'm goin' Old-Testament-minor-prophet on some asses. I'm gettin' my yell on. It doesn't mean I don't love you—it's actually the opposite.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Why I Support Black Lives Matter

A number of friends have expressed bafflement or even anger that I would ever support Black Lives Matter (BLM). It seems so painfully obvious to me why everyone should, so I thought it might be helpful for me articulate the reasons why I see this is a no-brainer. I’m not here to claim a moral high ground. Shame or throwing the R-word (racist) around is only going to trigger you, not intrigue you or make you think. We don't have to disagree, but if I can get you to let your guard down a bit, you might have a thing or two to think about. That’s never a bad thing.

Here is why I support BLM—I was going to try to state it simply, myself, but I found a better, more succinct explanation on the lily white Ben & Jerry’s website:

“Black lives matter. 

They matter because they are children, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers. 

They matter because the injustices they face steal from all of us — white people and people of color alike. They steal our very humanity. 

Systemic and institutionalized racism are the defining civil rights and social justice issues of our time. We’ve come to understand that to be silent about the violence and threats to the lives and well-being of Black people is to be complicit in that violence and those threats.”

I will not go to great efforts to lay out the impenetrable capital case that institutional racism exists—that’s not how people work. We don’t argue people into the ground until they put up the white flag and agree with us. Argument and aggression only make you double-down and retreat further into your point of view. As my man Jesus said, “for those with eyes to see, let them see.” The plain facts are there to behold, even though a thousand Sean Hannitys are bleating in unison to obscure, redirect and equivocate. But if you can read something like this and not be troubled, there’s no argument I can mount to improve upon these cold, hard facts.

Here’s the other, more selfish reason why I support BLM: Honestly it's embarrassing as an American that minorities have to fight for themselves. Americans have always told themselves that we stand up for the downtrodden and oppressed. We are liberators. A group of Americans not getting a fair shake should be an egregious affront to our national identity. Why is that not happening?

White folk tend to not get "freaked out" about institutional racism because it doesn’t affect us—we might be bothered by it, but we're also bothered by annoying TV shows, or how long certain items take in the microwave, and even STILL they are not hot all the way through. That's the level of anger that too many of us are at. However, if we had some skin in the game, if our son couldn't get a job interview in this roaring economy and his name was Jamal—we might be a little more concerned. This apathy towards systemic injustice is a fault to be repented of.

I don’t judge anyone for not reaching the same conclusion I have. That is the height of arrogance and a guarantee to turn people off. But I do wonder how much thought you have really put into it. If the subject comes up it usually is derailed very quickly, and it goes something like this—“someone who supports BLM killed cops,” “at a rally a bunch of BLM supporters chanted that they wanted dead cops.” Based on those examples BLM is clearly an evil and terroristic organization that warrants nothing more than instant condemnation. I applaud your moral bravery. And because your honor and consistency is at stake, I know that after you clickon this link you will disavow Christians and Christianity as a result of this disgusting and unforgivable display of hatred in the name of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why I Stopped Blogging

My long time readers (and I would like to take a moment to thank all three of you, especially you, Mom) will recall that I used to be much more prolific. Nine years and 463 posts, but only four in the last year.

What happened?

I could say that I'm a lot busier, and that would be a true statement, but it would be a lie, because that's not the reason I don't write anymore. There are a lot of factors that might seem disparate, but in the end they are probably not--I think I don't write anymore because I am tired of not knowing who I am.

Take this blog, for instance--what the hell is it? Is it personal journal (a dumb reason to blog, IMHO), religious exploration, political/social analysis, comedy?  One of the problems is that it is all of those things. I've gotten slightly better at this, but when I was younger I was quite content to amuse myself, make inside jokes for an audience of one or two, be deliberately esoteric, etc. Those things are all fine to do in one's spare time--but what's the point of making these things deliberately front-facing? And I would argue that the internet is deliberately front-facing--the whole world can see it! (Sorry for the spoiler alert, for those of you still trying to get to the bottom of this whole internet thing.)

I'll be honest, as the years go on, it gets harder and harder to be a straight line professional out in the real world, but a vulnerable, opinionated, spiritual goofball online. I live in two worlds. Sometimes it's hard to keep a lid on it at work, but for the most part I'm able to keep my real self successfully tamped down between 8 and 5, M-F. I used to be worse at it, but the accretion of years have been successful at taming my soul and true nature. My true nature being the guy who just wants to prank his coworkers and practice stand-up bits on them all.day.long. Identity crisis. It's not working anymore to let my freak flag fly online (oh god do I hate that term). What if a future employer digs up this blog? At 25 I found that idea exhilarating--at 35 it scares me to death. I guess it's having more skin in the game, and less of an excuse for being weird.

And if a future employer did look it up, who would they find? I'm not sure. At 17 I was apolitical but got a girlfriend who made me a firebrand liberal (no questions asked, sounded good to me). That flamed out after a good two years--I got tired of waiting for the capitalistic empire to collapse, so I joined it. In a big way. Joined the Rush Limbaugh fan club and shouted down any liberal scum that got in my way--facts not required, volume and vehemence substitutes nicely. At this time I also would have told you that gays could not marry and that most of humanity would cook in hell for eternity.

Now I am unrecognizable from that person. It took an evolution of many years, but now I believe precious little of what I would have been willing to die for 13 years ago. The political game makes me want to throw up so I don't want to do the label thing, but I've definitely gone "progressive"--although I can't say that or call myself that because 22-year-old me would kill me for saying that, and he's still lurking around down there. I believe white privilege and institutional racism are some of the biggest problems in this country, that the social safety net needs to be radically strengthened, basic universal income might be a good idea; there is probably not a hell and no one goes there unless they really, really want to--and even then God will let them come on home whenever they're ready for it, AND that reading any immorality into same-sex relationships is just bad Bible interpretation. Whoa. And I'm only 35, so that's the problem--I'm genuinely afraid that I'm a rudderless fuzzy head who is doomed to be whipped about by the prevailing spirit of the age, ready to switch teams again when it makes sense to do so...

So right now I'm just not sure who I am--do I ditch the gags, the making people uncomfortable, the crazy, distant but as yet unshakable aspiration to still one day be a song and dance man, and thus fully integrate into the square world where lines are straight, conversation is pleasant and unremarkable, opinions nicely coiffed and diplomatically plotted?

Right now the square world is winning out.











Thursday, April 20, 2017

"What Have We Become?"

I feel like we are losing the thread a bit. Trump's not a cause he's a symptom. These are not original thoughts, I'm just echoing those that are paying attention. We are losing the thread, the thread of our sense and purpose. I am losing my own thread: technology is too much, I have too many choices, I have too many necessary items to consume. I can't watch my kids play because I need to curate the moment it, tag it, post it.

We're getting uglier, courser. All of us, most of us. The political bubbles, the feedback loops—we are receding from common ground and common space, going to the warm places we know—it's getting too easy not to. In the year 2000 we looked around and said, "hey, look at us, we're pretty divided." We didn't think we could get more polarized—how quaint.

This computer in my pocket ensures that my brain is kept as a scattered slop house—endlessly flitting from Hot Take to Hot Take, reading the latest on everything under the sun, taking in the point and counter point, trying to do it all justice and therefore feeling that for sure I know nothing. "Well yes, but what about what he said..."

But I've come across three pieces in the last 24 hours, and they were different. As I read them I felt this sense of being re-membered...humanity being restored. In these pieces I felt like I was reading something from the old country, the old days; not the "good old days" that never were, but maybe a time where civility fetched a higher price at the social stock market than the "thanks for nothing" it can get you today.

Once I had read the third one I knew that I was going to need to do something to preserve them. Preserve the pieces, preserve the sense of restoration, and dare I say, hope, that they provided. They all spoke with eloquence the vague strings and inklings floating around in my mind; the notions that insist that there has to be a better way. Maybe we don't want to hate each other, maybe we don't want to hand over our best hours to our devices, our Netflix, our cult classics, three complete runs through Breaking Bad, periodic viewings of the improbable 2004 ALCS.

So I share these pieces with you. I plant them in this little home, mostly as a reminder for me, but there for anyone else who would like to benefit—we are not our best selves when wrapped up in the cocoon of our technology, or in the soft bosom of like-minded confidants who are more than eager to assure you, "it's ok to hate them, we've got each other." And with each assurance that this is so, our oasis of common ground shrinks a little more.

Piece one: In the age of Trump, can Mr. Rogers help us manage our anger?

"We demonize people when we feel powerless. We demonize when we do not know what to do with our own despair. But mad, we noted, is ever a form of sad, and our channels for engaging it thoughtfully cannot be controlled by nor are they dependent upon any elected official. We can make our own moments of pause together with others whenever we like. Let’s not let the outbursts of one man dictate our emotional lives or the way we address one another. President Trump’s chaos need not be our own. We can choose what we take in. And as we have to do with anyone who would try to reduce the whole world to the size of their own fear, we can respond with thoughtfulness at every turn. We can make of our own speech, our actions and our thinking a neighborhood expression of care."

Piece two: How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump

"Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps."

Piece three: Don’t Root for Suicide

"It is very easy to crack jokes and feel superior in the wake of Hernandez’s death. I know this because I am a professional Internet heckler. But there is something deeply fucked-up about a bunch of people cheering for suicide, especially a prison suicide. Not only does it reduce human life down to a tax burden (that, again, will not be relieved), but it suggests that the worst of us can never possibly be redeemed and are better off discarded. And then where do you draw the line? How can you tell which prisoners will turn the corner and make some amends for their crimes—leaving a trace of good in the world before standing in judgment before God—and which never will? Who else passes the Suicide Test?... Because when you reduce the worst of us down to mere animals, you become a bit more of an animal yourself."


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Safe Spaces: Sometimes We Need to be Protected

This post is part of my Kindness Project. Instead of criticizing my subject, it seemed like the right thing to do was try to understand it, first.

It's been a few years since this "safe space" term has invaded our collective mind, so this morning I finally sat down to investigate. I was just as inclined as all of us to be fairly annoyed and dismissive of the ridiculous idea...but these days I play the game a little differently. Whenever I hear something that I don't like, or makes me want to ridicule someone, or get angry at them, I instead pull out this little intellectual tool that I try to keep as sharp and honed as possible—I call it Suspending Judgement Until I Know More.

This allows me to move on with my day—I don't have to make a snap decision that what I just heard about is DUMB and now someone needs to be told so. They can be punished with a tweet, a post, a text, a comment—but most often we punish them in our minds, "what an idiot."

The problem is, we don't get to have these thoughts for free. Everything costs something. The judgement infiltrates our mind—it does things to us. Our thoughts are not consequence free. Snap judgments breed more snap judgments. Judgement separate us from those we judge. Which is not to say that it's wrong, we can't survive without judgment—but it's probably a good idea to make sure we are wielding the tool correctly.

So, having Suspended Judgement Until I Know More, I've moved on with my day. If, over the course of time, the need to judge that stupid thing, like a Safe Space, creeps into my brain's need center again, then I am motivated to move on to the second part of the directive—I'm tired of suspending my judgement—I want to know more now, so that I can proceed with getting to exercise my judgement, which just feels so good.

So I did my "deep dive" on Safe Spaces. Let me share with you what I learned:

Not many of us really "get it."

Safe Spaces primarily exist on university campuses. A space that is usually occupied by something else is filled with comforting items—Play-Doe, coloring books, pillows, etc. And usually only people with "like-minded beliefs" are asked to come in.

When they are opened they are not flooded. A few people trickle in here and there. They are not gaining popularity, there is not a wider movement to expand the notion and practice beyond campuses—and nobody really sticks up for them or likes them or thinks they are a very good idea.

For proof, here are a bunch of pieces that critique and criticize the practice, from either mainstream or liberal sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/opinion/sunday/judith-shulevitz-hiding-from-scary-ideas.html

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/college-kids-arent-the-only-ones-demanding-safe-spaces-20160406

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/silencing-religious-students-on-campus/497951/

Conservative media is exaggerating the phenomena to get a rise out of you.

If you listen to Sean Hannity (and I do not recommend such a thing), you would think that every single Hillary Clinton supporter after the election was in a safe space during the day (Play-Doe in hand and completing a coloring book per hour), and was protesting in the streets and breaking things at night.

You don't hate the phenomena of safe spaces because the phenomena doesn't really exist. We don't concern ourselves with what perhaps a few thousand people across this country of 300,000,000+ do. We don't think about or criticize crazy organizations like the Flat Earth Society, because we know there are all kinds of ridiculous groups of people that advocate for absurd things, but if their movement is isolated, small and not growing we don't waste our time.

You're not angry with people—you're angry because of a wildly exaggerated phenomena you've been fed by people who benefit in ratings and dollars by fanning the flames of your outrage.

Perhaps you would feel more sympathy for those few people who need Safe Spaces if you realized you flock to them all the time.

Talk Radio is a Safe Space. Rachael Maddow is a Safe Space. Sean Hannity is a Safe Space. Church is often a Safe Space. People frequently turn their home into a Safe Space. This is not to say that all of these things are horrible—just that we prefer to be in the company of people who agree with us. We prefer to hear things we agree with, and we are uncomfortable when our orthodoxy is challenged.

I would articulate further on this point—but I stole the idea from this Rolling Stone piece, and it articulates far better than I am capable of doing.

After spending a little time thinking about it, I started to wonder why I, or anyone, would ever criticize someone who felt like they needed a Safe Space. And I don't think it's so much that these several hundred people are asking for finger-painting, sitar music and Koosh balls, but probably more so that these silly things were offered and the ones who needed it were appreciative of the aid and comfort.

When you decry Safe Spaces, and indulge in the disgust, it's a good idea to remember: You. Are. Talking. To. People. Flesh and blood and feelings and contradictions and fragilities and emotions. You're not talking to a concept: a Millennial, a Conservative, a Progressive, a Political Supporter, an "Other". Acquaint yourself with the radical concept that the person you're spewing venom against is your child, your family, your coworker, someone you love.

Hating people who need Safe Spaces proves why they need a safe space.

So, have I come out in defense of Safe Spaces, or have I criticized them? Yes. 

It's called nuance—you don't really get it from the media you consume, but nuance, vagueness and shades of gray are much more reflective of reality than the black and white diatribes you are assaulted with that stoke your massive stores of indignation and outrage.

This is an example of a failure of imagination: The easiest thing in the world to do is to portray your opponents position as untenable. Your followers won't question you, making it that much more easy, safe, and enticing. This cartoon is a very Safe Place for a conservative.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Special Purpose

I think I've finally found it. For years I have tarried and toiled in the intellectual wilderness. Armed with a sense that I need to say something, poised before an open page, ready for gold to issue from the pen--I have mostly felt stifled, empty and desperate to write the words that needed to be written--having little to no idea what those were.

Enter President Trump.

Trump's election has exposed a plague on the American psyche. It's a plague I've been noticing for a long time, trying to move against it, fumbling through the dark, feeling for its edges so that I could wrap my arms all the way around it, wrestle it to the light, so that I could see exactly what it was. I had a vague sense we weren't working--I didn't know why, I didn't know when, I didn't know what much to do about it, but I knew there was something wrong.

Trump's election has fully exposed what many of us have us have been noticing for awhile now--we don't like each other. Liberals don't like conservatives, red states hate the blues, boomers berate the millennials--and we're not shy about returning the sentiment, and we're not kind or tactful about expressing our disagreement. That's mostly what we have between each other--disagreement. Fueling the fire is a fully formed bubble we can step into to have all of our beliefs and biases completely confirmed for us. We can carefully curate our tv/radio station/website/magazine/circle of friends so that we never have to hear or think about anything we don't want to. We are neatly and ritualistically provided with our own facts, opinions and intellectual architecture that we perceive to be cryptonite to those we disagree with.

What do you think that does to us? The extent you find it difficult to understand someone's point of view is directly proportional to your sense of disgust you feel for that fellow human being.


So that's my new mission, my new life's work--I have the humble task of getting us to be kinder to one another, dammit. I must persuade us all to embrace our own inner Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers--so kind, thoughtful and accommodating. He's there, lurking in all of us, and with the right media diet and intellectual exercise, he can be coaxed out of the dark internal cave most of us have driven him to.

The goal is perhaps ambitious, but the payoffs are worth the effort. Imagine a people inclined to kindness instead of judgement as their first reaction to something they don't like. What doors does that open? What might we learn about each other if we are more interested in understanding the other than we are in protecting our own pristine worldview? What beliefs might we find we need to let go of, what others might we embrace? What if some of our beliefs are holding us back, hampering our lives, and keeping us from a fuller realization of human flourishing? Spoiler alert--you have lot's of those. So do I.

Liberals, I love you. Conservatives, I love you. Libertarians, I love you. Atheists, I love you. Come, let us all reason and make merry together. We're going to piss each other off, but perhaps, and just maybe, we can keep some good humor about us. Maybe if we know that our interlocutor is not out for our scalp...maybe that can help us relax. Maybe we have the freedom to be wrong, or at least look wrong, and that doesn't have to bother us. It doesn't have to bother us because maybe we realize that all of us are wrong, everyday, about a lot. If that's true, then what's one more errant political stance, false notion or wrong conclusion that was jumped to?

So I'll be over here, exploring and experimenting with my new life's purpose--which is to get all of us to embrace our inner Mr. Rogers, infiltrate him into the confines of your unique personality, and get ready to feel the love.


Monday, October 3, 2016

The Benefit of Treating Your Spouse Like A Small Child

It's ok to just curate some times. If you're married, you won't regret reading this. If you're not married, you won't regret reading this, and tucking it away for future use.

http://www.mbird.com/2016/09/the-benefit-of-treating-your-spouse-like-a-small-child/