Posts Tagged ‘society’

A Strange Fear of The Open Mind

“Culture encompasses religion, food, what we wear, how we wear it, our language, marriage, music, what we believe is right or wrong, how we sit at the table, how we greet visitors, how we behave with loved ones, and a million other things…”
~  Cristina De Rossi, Anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College, London

Yes.  Additionally, one of the primary functions of any society is to protect, nurture, and teach its children so they can grow up and take charge without having to repeat all the unnecessary (and often stupid) mistakes made by their predecessors.  We want them to learn how to build “the better mousetrap”, and avoid the return of ignorant superstitions that lead to burning innocent people for witchcraft, or clinging to good luck charms instead of embracing scientific discovery.  However, we’ve been witness to efforts intending to stigmatize scientific discoveries as invalid, and the motive for such positions regularly seems to come from sources that make profits from the ignorance of discovery.  Ever question that, or wonder what specific motives would back up such behavior?  The bait looks delicious, but is there a hook in it?

Some will remember The Waxman Hearings that took place before congress on April 14, 1994.  The CEO’s of several major tobacco companies testified under oath that they believed nicotine and cigarette smoking were not addictive.  Well, weren’t the tobacco executives making money selling nicotine and cigarettes?  Big money?  Yes, they were.  Today we continue to hear the coal, natural gas, and petroleum industries (and all the politicians they own) take the same position–that the modern practice of using their products is not harmful to the environment, nor is it in any significant way causing changes or global warming (see  If you follow the money, you might at least suspect a bit of wool is being pulled over some eyes.  Please be aware that ignorance was not the reason for the false testimony of the tobacco industry, but their hoped for success depended to a large degree on keeping the general public ignorant, and hopefully continuing to buy their products because of such ignorance, or at least in spite of scientifically verified arguments for not doing so.

I think we’ll agree all good parents want their children to have a chance to “do better”.  So it is reasonable to appreciate mothers and fathers wanting their offspring to not only know what the parents know how to do, but to help the children to rise to even higher plateaus–of craft and skill, art, and understanding.  That’s justification to have a tradition of reading books to them, and sending them to mentors and teachers.  Unfortunately, as you well know, some parents are afraid of change.  And because of fears, are often reluctant for their offspring to take steps beyond “the way we’ve always done it”, or singing “Give Me That OldTime Religion”, as if “old” would always mean “best”, which you and I know is not always true.  Additionally there are some who seem to either not care or feel incapable of doing anything proactive about their children’s education.

Some of you remember a time when there was a  long-standing practice (tradition) of using lead in paints, food containers, water pipes, and as additives to other widely used consumer products such as gasoline.  The challenge to stop doing it when science helped us understand the harm we were doing to ourselves and our children still met with huge resistance.  And not just from capitalists and manufacturers heavily invested in lead, but from consumers as well.  There were many people figuring out ways to bypass catalytic converters during the time when some petrol was still available that contained lead.  Though it was not a wise practice, it was widely used–almost as if leaded gasoline was a tradition.

Because irrational fears about changes that could be connected to unknown or uncertain outcomes do exist, often born of ignorance, perplexing issues can surface when misunderstood risks are tossed into categories of impulse, rather than recognized as calculated.  We want discipline and accountability, which often mandates adherences to rules.  This is particularly powerful whenever individuals controlled by the rules do not understand how they could possibly do otherwise, or paralyzed by the fear of attempting to do so.  While it was a practice for a long time in warfare to march in straight lines and columns on the battlefield in bright and highly visible uniforms, the technological advances of cannons and firearms made the continuance of such to be disadvantageous.  In spite of the futility of it overall, it continued far beyond what sanity called for.  After all, wouldn’t you agree it was “tradition”?

One of the reasons was the image of power of the powerful was maintained as unquestionable, and many soldiers marched to their death as ordered.  It was what they were taught to believe, and any discrepancy of the rules faced severe consequences.  For many, it seemed better to die “bravely and dutifully” than to be hanged or shot for “stepping out of line”.  Thus, keeping an open mind when faced with “duty” is seldom allowed to be an option for consideration.

What would happen if people just decided on their own to not participate in wars anymore?  Would kings, dictators, presidents, and generals still go at it if they were not convincing or exploitive enough to raise an army to do their fighting for them?  Hmmm.  Should we consider changing the tradition?  Would changing it be disrespectful of those who fought and died in wars before us?  Perhaps one reasonably sane way to show respect for those killed in war would be for us to strive to make certain their children and grandchildren will not have to die that way.  Yet many people will never be able to see that as a viable option, because it seems to be a bit out of their control.

Even today, the concept of following command and direct orders without question is firmly instilled in the minds of military personnel world-over.  I understand it.  But outside the horrible circumstance of war, foot soldiers, pawns, and slaves might be better off than their overlords would have them be, if the dominated learned how to think for themselves.  Truth is, most would be afraid to attempt do so, because they fear the loss of the guidance they believe sustains them.  And that is exactly what they are taught to believe.  Dominators want the dominated to be compliant, so managing the phobic is often just a simple matter of managing their perceptions, and keeping them at a distance from ideas and thoughts that could lead to independence.

We raised sons, and also kept pets.  We wanted the boys to grow up to be men who could take care of themselves, solve problems, and know how to deal with adversities.  It worked.  They are all extraordinary men in those respects.  On the other hand, the dogs and cats were never expected to be educated to a level of self sufficiency.  We liked them, but there were limits of what was expected of their growth and development.

The human children, on the other hand, were expected to challenge their thresholds of self expectations.  There was real joy in seeing apparent light bulbs turn on in their heads.  That is not uncommon in healthy cultures, and is a part of…traditions.

Sometimes traditions clash, even within a culture.  When that happens there are those who have ideas for change facing off with those in fear of it.  Whichever side a person is on is not determined by rational thought as much as it is in accordance with their indoctrination.  Both sides might “feel” they are upholding a tradition.  Some reference to why I said that can be found in a book,”on_being_certain” by Robert A. Burton, Neurologist.

Beyond that, when conflict and controversy surfaces between practices that seem to oppose each other, some have to decide which traditional behavior will bring about the best result.  Unfortunately, more often the position most strongly supported by “authority” wins out.

We’ve seen this in universities that face funding issues that result in cutting programs and teachers’ salaries, while at the same time figuring out a way to give a popular coach a big raise and a budget increase in order to prevent his being recruited to a competitive institution.  The cuts are explained as efficiencies, and the off-sided boost to the coach justified as necessary and essential.  The maintenance of one program that was almost never the purpose for the institutions existence in the first place takes precedence over programs that were.

We’ve all seen this happen, and it is happening now.  Traditional curriculums of physics, chemistry, music, art, literature, and philosophy often become secondary to a recreational activity that has become tradition…and also big business for administrators.  We also see it in governance where fund-raising improves the lifestyles of politicians, but does little to advance the circumstances, long-term and short, for the constituency they are supposed to (but don’t) represent.  But after all, it is a tradition.

Some want to see that change, but such change faces the challenge of being called “progressive” as if such a term was in and of itself an indictment.  Ironically, most of the money available to finance what the public is likely to hear or read more or less subtly goes to support protecting the status quo (of bribery) than risk losing the coveted benefits of those who put up the money to pay for the game.

How do you address something if you believe it undermines-our-cultural-traditions, or in some way causes the next generation to forget or misunderstand how they got to where they are?  I’m not talking about a strict adherence to just dogmatic opinions, as they often overlook the facts required to understand growth and development.  Instead, let’s consider the current popularity, and even apparent love of reductions for the sake of efficiency that often seem to be “cost effective”, yet undermine integrity.  A simple example would be to side-step prerequisites such as not putting on a primer coat on a piece of raw wood before applying the top, or color coat.  It can be done, and it is initially cheaper.  But in the long run, the outcome is often less than desirable.

Lot’s of folks have trouble with the word liberal, and seem to have forgotten (if they even knew it in the first place) it comes from a Latin reference to that which is “worthy of a free person”.  In essence, the liberal arts do refer to an education that leads to being able to function with understanding in society, and be able to be a part of the processes of debating ideas and concepts with some background on how those ideas are constructed.

The trend of political disrespect felt by the liberal arts is an indication of a much greater problem: the abandonment of disciplines of reason. When the purpose is reduced to simply institutionalizing a system for a compliant work force that does not and cannot think for itself, there will be no real commitment to finding real solutions to difficult problems that require examination of empirical evidence. Instead, the business will be to find ways to blame problems on things or persons other than ourselves. It doesn’t take a genius mind to recognize how such as that leads to social dysfunction.

Anti-intellectualism raises its ugly head in almost every generation, and is a tool of those (shamans, witchdoctors, and charlatans) who cannot rise to, or maintain power without the aid of fear held in place with superstition.  It is the flagship of extremist reactionaries throughout history.  We saw it happening during The Crusades, The Spanish Inquisition, the rise of Fascism, the evil tactics of Joseph Stalin to take control of The Soviet Union, “McCarthyism” in our own country, ISES, and many other bigoted religious extremist groups that thrive on hatred and colossal misunderstandings.

We also see it in the power-mongering processes of the self serving who insist they get to sit in the lap of luxury no matter what the cost is to the rest of the world and its inhabitants.  And without an educated populace, working together to move ever closer to understanding: thus real freedom and peacefulness, the cultural tradition of helping the children of each generation progress towards a better and more sustainable lifestyle is in great danger of diminishing further as it goes out of style.

“When a person believes all wrongs are the fault of others, the only filter left that postpones desires for instant gratification, is fear…Teachers are not the cause of poverty and underfunded schools any more than doctors are the cause of disease and underfunded clinics…There’s no wealth in a society that cannot educate it’s children.  If you can afford it but won’t, then you’re an enemy of the children.”

 ~  things-ive-said-before

Is “Governance” Reduced To Just Being A Game?

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer.  Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past.  Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.” ~ John F. Kennedy


While what John Kennedy said makes sense, the prospects of that happening in an uneducated society is slim. A part of the difficulty lies with those who don’t understand the ideologies they insist they believe in. And it is made more complicated that they understand even less about other ideologies they’ve been bullied into being afraid of.  By saying that, I don’t mean that all fears are irrational.  But they do tend to begin to appear that way once you get people talking to you about what is inside their belief disorders.

People often get emotional over terms such as “fascism” and “communism”, but cannot intelligently tell you what they mean.  The same is true with the words: “liberal” and “conservative”.  In fact, some people who insist they are strongly one or the other, fail to recognize when their emotions have carried them to the exactly opposite position.  Examples of this are when fiscal “conservatives” are against measures of conservation, and fiscal “liberals” are against measures of liberalism.  When it comes down to “social” liberals and conservatives, logic often breaks down into differences of superstitions and dogma.

Irrational “phobic” behavior empowers dominators (bullies) who cannot sustain themselves without the control of the fearful people that do the bully’s work for them.  And the phobics depend on the bullies, too.  A lot of that dependence is the illusion of being protected from the other bullies.  A system like that allows gangs of dominators to assume huge chunks of power.

Some bullies are just “intermediate” or go-between bullies.  They have no real power themselves other than the appearance of support from some higher bully that they themselves are afraid of.  So it seems to get worse when the elected officials, though often seen as the bullies themselves, are also members of the large subset of phobic and uneducated people, such as we have in congress today.  This continues in spite of the huge disapproval congress receives from the American people.  And that disapproval has been in the red for a very long time, no matter which polls are consulted:

The irony of all this is, that for my entire adult life, I’ve been hearing the man on the street yelling:  “Throw the bums out!”  But doesn’t it seem apparent that when they do, they just seem to replace one bully with another one?  The new guy gets the lobby dollars instead of the old guy, and representation seems to continue to favor whoever can afford to pay for the influence, doesn’t it?

Kennedy’s suggestion to “…seek the right answer”, and “…accept our own responsibility…” would direct us to the intelligent process of open dialogue. That’s a far cry from just the art of rhetoric, which is a principal tool of argumentation and debate.

The goal in collegiate debate is to win. And just as in the game of basketball, it is particularly important to do EVERYTHING YOU CAN to prevent the opposition from scoring any points, even if that means to use some of your “maximum number of allowable fouls”. They actually admit it to be the reason for obstructing progress, a thing most reasonable people would be ashamed of in ANY setting other than a mere game.

So is governance now reduced to being just a game? Are the fans on the sidelines yelling battle words at each other and praying to the Most High for a victory to boast about? Is that it? If it’s a game, that means it’s playtime–it’s not important. But some feel what we have at stake about what we choose to allow and disallow IS important. After all, for some it is a matter of life and death.

While I continue to hope (wishful thinking?) they will do better at some time in the future, I’m reminded of something George Bernard Shaw said a long time ago:

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

A Generic Deity-Free Prayer?

“If we don’t succeed, we run the risk of failure.” – Dan Quayle

(I dare you to read this entire thing without falling asleep.  I double dare you to read it aloud in a public place.  If pressed for time, best to leave it alone, as it might get you arrested in some places.)

Sometimes I think folks ain’t got a lick of sense.  You’d think modern people should’ve moved a bit beyond the superstitions of the Dark Ages, or at least a step or two past the invention of the stone ax.  There is a rare group of human beings that are good people of faith.  Their faith leads them to want to be helpful to others, to be kind,  understanding, and set worthy examples of behavior for the rest of us.  I’d like to think you are one of those.

Imagine the way it must have been sitting around some ancient campfire long before even the most rudimentary scientific methods were contrived.  One man looks into the sky and sees something he has not noticed before.  So he points and asks, just as you or I might do:

“What is that?”

A clever one in the group, feeling the call, answered saying:

“That is the god of flea infestations.  I know a magic chant that will make him leave you alone.   It only costs a dollar.”

Well, with the exception of your religion which I’m sure is the correct one, that’s pretty much how the rest of them got started.  More and more, people were easily tricked this way, and after a while, most of the visible stars and planets had been franchised.  Then the simple fee of a dollar was translated into a percentage of gross, so most of the franchise owners began to do quite well.

Over the last six thousand or so years of written history, man has catalogued and believed in perhaps a little less than four thousand supernatural beings, most of which were considered to be gods at one time or another.  From time to time, heated and often violent arguments would break out between franchisees.  Venus and Aphrodite were both the same planet, and the Greeks and Romans fought about it for centuries.  Both claimed she was the goddess of love, and they brutally killed each other to prove it.

We know various sects, religions, and denominations have been disagreeing with each other about their ideas of God throughout recorded history.  And, it is likely to have gone on way before that since different cultures developed a variety of methods for dealing with their own dead for thousands of years before anybody found it necessary to write anything down.

Archeologists have found evidence of pre-historic burials including flowers and personal items.  Besides a sense of loss and a show of respect, it strongly indicated belief systems of some kind were in place even though there were no words written at the time to verify it.  It’s hard to get around the idea of a strong indication that there must have been a belief in the continuance of the personality or spirit that might be eased into an afterlife.  Later on, the earliest forms of writing would give evidence it had likely been commonly believed for a long time.

With the advent of writing, which lead to taxation and the need of prison systems, we now have evidence that man has not always been as sophisticated as he is today with his concepts of the supernatural.  According to textbooks, and statues made in honor of deities throughout antiquity, it may shock you to know that many of them ran around completely nude all the time.  Some never had as much as a stitch on at any time, or thought about it.  The expression: “keep your shirt on” is a mortal one, and at no time has anyone hearing it thought it was being directed at the Deity.  No sane person would intentionally wish to aggravate a higher power that they believed could cause them to burst into flame or be turned into a toad, now would they?  Of course not!

Even when people were expected to wear at least a wide belt or a hat, these gods could run around naked as jaybirds without any condemnation whatsoever.  But for some reason, several of these blatantly unadorned guardians of irreproachable righteousness would go completely psychotic at the very sight of various and sundry mortal human body parts, including faces, hands, and ankles, not to mention belly buttons and other stuff, and particularly if they are parts belonging to females not still nursing their mothers.

As odd as this may seem, throughout ancient times and even today, this prejudicial practice has been particularly good news in the garment trade in some regions perhaps more than others.  Furthermore, even if the god might be naked, to come into a worship service often required mere humans to put on even more clothes than they might otherwise.  Go figure that!   Now there is the widely held assumption that dispensations for relaxing the rules are allowed at the beach or swimming pool, as long as there are no glass containers, horseplay, or running.

Everything imaginable including rot and decay has had some kind of supremacy monitoring activities as if by department and precinct.  Some were thought to be powerful beyond limit as long as you’d stand where they could see you.  Yet some of the others were noted to have less substantial dominions.  A spirit of mirth might be able to conjure a laugh, but had no rightful place to help with harvesting grain.

A few had control over the kinds of fruits that make wine, but were useless in a barroom fight resulting from excessive use of the wine, much less a war.  Still others had title to specific activities such as hunting or fishing, but couldn’t help you if you cut your hand on a sharp rock or stumped your toe.  Some were particularly burdened with fertility and rationed it with agonizing intensity until the inventions of automobiles and drive-in movies.

Other divinities got to play with lightning, fire, wind and rain, and hold court over the changing of seasons.  Some were beyond reproach, while others were capable of outright stupidity resulting in being chained and placed in time out.  All of them were thought capable of messing with mankind, and were often given credit for it in ways you would not believe if I had two months to explain it to you.

As time went on, and with the cost of building temples escalating like everything else, it seemed preferable to latch on to the ones that kept an open playbook.  More and more, societies wanted their deities to be able to run decathlon type events, and control the outcome of elections as well as other duties.  So the herd was thinned by ceremonial consolidations, but usually not without bloodshed among outspoken mortals resistant to change.

Mankind has always enjoyed killing each other as long as some supreme being was responsible for authorizing it.  Whenever things got dull, a holy man would always be available to receive some new rule authorizing homicide, especially if one of the chiefs or high priests didn’t like the intended recipient of this new honor.

For some reason, many cultures around the globe had gods that had it in for two kinds of women: those who were particularly credited with innocence, and those who might not be.  The political ramifications of such beliefs have throughout most of human history maintained women as mere property similar to cattle.  Chieftains, kings and high priests could own as many as they wanted, and could kill them or have them put to death for so much as a hangnail or any reason that might cause a chief to feel inconvenienced.

In time, most of the earlier fearful spirits that instructed virgins to be cast into active volcanoes have had their licenses revoked.  Today, most of those kinds of gods have been sentenced to a lifetime in the chronicles of mythology, and to linger there without bail.  The severity of this is intensified by the mere fact that immortality is problematic to a life sentence, especially when there is no hope of parole.

Some are of the opinion that since a few of these ancient deities were a bit weird, it’s likely that superstitious people may have made them up to explain phenomena like thunder, snow melting, flying squirrels, identical twins, albinos, hiccoughs, and various other diseases.  Over time, stories of them merged with the stories of others, and those who couldn’t get a good seat in proper mythology were relegated to the department of redundancy department.

Now, none of this is intended to throw disparity on the one true religion, that being the one that you believe in.  The aforehand is to simply point out that not all human beings are as smart as you, and their beliefs might come up short when compared to yours, that is all.  But this does not take away from the fact that many folks to this very day still believe all kinds of things.  Statistics suggest there is no consensus or majority.  No matter what a person believes, most of the rest of the human population thinks they are wrong.  While I often question statistics, I see evidence that this observation may be true.

In many places, such diversity would be illegal, but not in The United States.  The freedom to believe whatever you want to is protected by a contract called The Constitution as long as you don’t believe you’re entitled to speed in school and hospital zones, or park in front of a fire hydrant.

This freedom was not extended to the native Americans.  Since it was assumed all of their gods were underdeveloped, the natives had to be converted to a more civilized religion which required killing about ninety-five percent of them to ensure their salvation.  I’m sure some soldiers felt frustrated when ordered to murder small children and pregnant women, but since it was done to promote charity and forgiveness, and had been prayed about ceremoniously before going into battle, it was okay.  After all, they had to uphold their duty, and uphold the values of the God of mercy.  Besides, real-estate was involved.

Today in this country, membership in a religion is not required by law which seems to upset some who would want freedom of religion annulled, and all citizens made to come under their rule.  I know you find that hard to believe, but it’s true.  In the meantime, religion and government are expected to keep separate checking accounts, though neither seems to be any good about balancing them.  Governments and religious groups all seem to be constantly clamoring to solve revenue shortage issues, and no matter how much they pray about it, any hope of a solution always seems to evade them, as if it were some immutable law.

There is often a noticeable difference between what folks say they believe, and how they act.  Though it might be noticeable to me and you, most folks don’t seem to notice it at all.  It may come as a surprise to you, but all over the world and even in our own country, people have committed all kinds of atrocities against each other in the name of brotherly love, charity, honor, fairness, peace, forgiveness, unselfishness, respect, kindness, and dignity.  They’ve killed each other’s children over differences of how their mothers taught them to pray, and do not seem to be ashamed of it.  As a reward for such behavior, they expect to go to Heaven, but of course I will not ask you to pass judgement or render an opinion on that at this time.

This squabbling does go on, even today.  In some places, in the attempt to be civil and keep knives sheathed and guns holstered, compromises have taken place so that public ceremony will be open to all, and not offend anyone.  This is always expected to result from standing still while a member of the group steps forward to say something.  Whether what is said be intelligent or not doesn’t matter.  The presumption that a speech of some kind will anesthetize everyone’s brain has some precedent for those of you who might remember taking advanced algebra.

The squabblers have attempted to come up with a speech that will be acceptable to everyone regardless of what they believe.  Further, they believe this speech will also be acceptable to all deities without exception.  That it has never happened at any time in human history doesn’t seem to make the project seem the least bit problematic, and so they march on as if they do this sort of thing every day.

They will call this speech a prayer but it will not be a prayer; it will be a speech.  If it were a silent prayer, it might be sincere, but since it is to be given in public, it will be more like hair tonic: it won’t grow anything, but it tends to allow folks to feel better about themselves momentarily.  And towards this worthy end, the speech writers begin their noble task.

There are three kinds of speeches: a speech to persuade; a speech to inform, and a speech to entertain.

Deities who are without error in their willfulness cannot be persuaded to change their thinking about anything, nor would they need persuading.  To be able to change one’s mind under those circumstances implies it possible to improve upon perfection.  That would be like dropping a frog into a barrel of fine whiskey expecting to make the whiskey taste better, though it would surely improve the taste of the frog.

Those who are believed to be omnipotent and all knowing would have no need of being informed.  To think you could come up with a single thing they have not already thought of would be foolish and conceited.  If anything new needs adding, the all knowing should be able to come up with it without our help, I’m fairly sure of that.

That leaves the speech to entertain.  I challenge you to tell a joke to your neighbor who has heard it before, and expect him to laugh.  If he does, it is a kind deception intended not to humiliate you.  That you will have entertained your neighbor is not likely to be true.  So with that, you cannot pull a fast one over on the all knowing.  One believed to be all knowing should by definition be able to predict everything you are going to say even before you say it.  Have you ever heard a high priest or rabbi face the alter and say:

“Pick a card.”

No, I dare say you have not.  There would be no point in it.

Having used up all of the real categories for legitimate speeches, it only leaves the false speech–the speech to impress.  There is no such thing, because it doesn’t work.  Well, I say that, but it does work during election years, but only for those who’ve already made up their minds to be impressed in spite of anything that might make sense to you or me.

Since rhetoric usually fails to impress mere mortals of any high intelligence, I suspect it would be practically impossible to expect the trick to work on any of the world’s current deities, and certainly not on the one true God that you happen to believe in.  Besides, for anyone who says they believe in God to actually think they could produce a single piece of work that would be the least bit impressive to their concept of the cause of all creation, would be a kind of admission of being a mental pauper–in fact, bankrupt without so much as enough rational thought left over to step inside during a thunderstorm.

So that leaves us to come up with a new variety.  A speech not to persuade, inform, entertain, or impress, but one to simply…satisfy.  That you can satisfy everybody for very long is a bit of a stretch.  It would be a monumental task, and rare.  But evidently it should be easy enough, since humble public servants will look about expecting to find such a thing laying around with no price tag on it.  It would be similar to expecting to find a new no smoking policy that smokers will be happy about.

That coming up with a speech that is compliant without complying to anything in particular except that it be a speech of no substance whatsoever be a worthy project, is close to the kind of idiocy the general public has come to expect from those they elect to hold the sacred trust of public office.  It is consistant that coming up with such a speech that will have a benefit to it of any lasting value, will rank with the kind of brilliant thinking that gave us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the use of Thalidomide to ease morning sickness.

Why is a public speech necessary at all?  If folks demand it have a part on the program, and their motives be sincere, why not allow a moment for “personal business” during which time each individual has the freedom and privacy of thought to sincerely pray whatever they wish to pray, to whomever they wish to pray it?  For that matter, some might wish to do some Yoga, Taekwondo, or just stretching exercises, and some might want to practice their multiplication tables or foot positions for their upcoming ballet recital.

Why not just declare a brief time of no eye contact for anyone who doesn’t want to look at anybody else?  You could pass out large paper bags the people could use to put over their heads to hide their faces.  Ask everyone to put cell phones and other audible distractions on mute, and no texting.  You could also ask folks to keep bodily contact at a minimum unless a few friendly folks standing close to each other would wish to hold hands.  That wouldn’t be so awful, would it?

You can’t call it a moment of silence for some orders require a little humming, chanting, clanging and rattling objects, and outright yelling intended to either wake their deity up from a nap, or otherwise at least get some attention.  Now I’m not all that big on making up rules, but it would seem sensible for anyone who’s deity is that hard of hearing be asked to take care of business outside before coming into the meeting.

Such racket as may be required to keep congregations awake will not be necessary at municipal meetings like you might expect during regular religious ceremonies.  Folks attending civic events are likely to be hopped up on adrenalin and wide-awake mad as a wet hen about something, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place.  The exception here would be elected officials.  They can sleep all they want since whatever might concern the individual citizen will be of no interest or importance to them.

So what might be the proper and civilized behavior of taking a moment of silence or pause for personal thought and reflection just won’t do for everybody.  I don’t doubt that you and I could do it, but the vast majority of folks will have issues with it.

If you really want a sincere honesty in keeping with how a lot of people really feel deep inside, it would be better for you to call for a moment of noise.  Folks would whip out kazoos, harmonicas, tambourines, small drums, party horns, and ipods.  Those without forethought to bring an instrument might hit the panic button on their keyring; snap their fingers, bark and meow like dogs and cats, imitate bird calls, blow their noses, stomp their feet, or yodel.  Such a thing as that might be followed by a moment of laughter, which wouldn’t hurt most people to try once in a while.

Why have I said all this?  Are people really having problems about how to deal with their belief systems in mixed company?  Well, yes they are.

As a matter of fact, they are having this very problem right now in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina which as you know is an absolute haven for righteous people.  I am not making this up.  It has been brought to my attention that Myrtle Beach has approved a deity-free prayer to be offered at all their public meetings.

If you wish, you may read the newspaper article for yourself:

The prayer  is supposed to include people of all faiths.  They’ve previously used local clergy, but as a government, they cannot ceremoniously give preference, or call on any one specific deity, while ignoring the other deities that may be represented among the belief systems of the citizenry.  Some did not like the idea of adopting a standard invocation, especially some of the preachers who resent anybody telling them how to pray, including Jesus.  But folks also agreed they did not want unnecessary litigation with various sects and denominations suing each other.  That could run into money.

After reading the prayer, I found it falls short of perfection if it is to cover the entire spectrum of beliefs and faiths.  It may be fine for me and you since we are willing to go along with some concessions out of the spirit of cooperation, but some others are certain to take issue.

After checking with several other highly refined theologians, scholars, and taxi drivers (who have in fact heard everything), I think it might be especially unacceptable to the Universal Paranormal Universalists, The Cosmic People of the Light Poles, The Himalayan Missionary Chorus of Zen, The Unreformed Reformationists of the Babylonian Captivity, The Revived Newburg Pastafarians, The Blessed Women of Contrived Destiny, The Free-For-All Apocalyptic Deacons of Charitable Wrath, The Primitive Church of the Subterranean Genius, The Divine Apostles of the Shirley Temple, The Iambic Pentametered Sanctimonialists, The Rejuvenated Nectarine Revivalists, The Janitorial Holiness Saints of the Rectified Sanitary Communion, and of course The Evangelical Black Robe Dudeists.  So I decided to write one myself, and submit it now for your consideration.

Under considerable pressure and emotional strain, I have struggled day and night to come up with a one size fits all prayer that isn’t protected by trademark.  It had to be generalized, and work with all operating systems.  It must have no recognizable face.  The wheels cannot be designed to fit the tracks of any specifically unique railroad, but the “clickety clack” should resonate well with all who hear it, and assume some simple common track is sufficient for all destinations, which of course is not now, nor has it ever been true.  Additionally, it is to be served without salt, pepper, or gravy of any kind.

In other words, it won’t be a prayer at all.  It will be reduced to a kind of circus event.  So I’ve come up with just that–a prayer that is in no way a prayer.   Since it is not really a prayer, there is really no point in saying it except to know that the intended audience is not the Deity at all.  No, it is for the benefit of people gathered in need of hearing what they believe will be “the best we could do under the circumstances”.  So here we go:

“Lettuce Spray,

Our Heavenly to whom it may concern, we rattle our keys in our pockets, yea those who have keys, for which we are truly grateful, or reasonably so in case you had anything to do with it.  

Given our inability to know all things, it is our wish that if you do know all things, or even have a good overview of most things, please tell us why many of us were expected to wear a tie to this gathering.  Forgive those who did not wear a tie, unless you need to forgive those of us who did–either way, we’ll make no fuss about it.

Oh apparently high, and reasonably presumed to be powerful one, otherwise, why would we come to you begging and pandering, since I’m not allowed to be specific enough to know if I’m even facing in the right direction, much less anything else that you might otherwise expect from ceremony which this is not, under penalty of law. 

Thou great consensus, and moderated provider of this and that which we dare not point out specifically as others might disagree, we humbly admit that some of us are probably thinking thoughts about going to the beach later, and even about sex.  We ask that no note be taken of those who are now at this time looking around at their neighbors. 

But we realize there is a chance that, depending on your mood,  this information about our distractions will extremely upset you as history has made so plainly clear, so forgive us, fully assuming you have such authority in this jurisdiction.  You may disregard this request if your regular worshippers expect you to be playing a flute.

Even so,  if you cannot find it in your heart–some say loving –some say angry–some say jealous, personally I do not wish to pin you down as to whether it matters one way or the other how we might feel about it, spare us of plagues if you want to.  But if you don’t want to, we’ll understand, or at least act like we do.  

In as much as we raise or redirect our voices in the direction of your habitat, etherial or otherwise, forgive us our non-committal gaze into space as if we knoweth not from whence thou cometh.  Although I do have my own suspicions,  as do all of us gathered here, protocol restricts our verbal declarations for fear of conflicting geometry.  But I’m sure you know what we mean individually though we can’t say it out loud.  

Please allow us to seem as one mind in one group even though you know it isn’t quite the way things are.  After all, fair is fair, and you know all of us are required to do the very same thing during the choral readings and vespers we feel obligated to join in our own camp.   

We grovel and beg that thou help us to appear to overlook the things we would normally hate about our neighbors, for which we’ve all paid good money to be taught.  At least allow it to appear so during this time of invocation, we beseech thee. 

We humbly ask, inasmuch as many of us present today have no idea what humble means outside of our own individual smug opinions of it, that you make all fines, penalties and other purgatorial conditions fair and equal as some in our midst are on short rations and otherwise limited incomes.  

This is not to say we wish that those among us of means are to take the blunt of thunder, either.  We just ask you consider our deductibles in as fair a way as you’d see fit. 

On now, yet so it is not for brevity’s sake, but that several of our seniors might need to go to the bathroom, we ask that you give note to our contrition as we wrap this up.  

Dear, if that isn’t being too personal and forgive us if it is, Oh Ye who art the deep and most high awareness or maybe not, it is our sincere and fervent cry to know if thou doest speak English?  

If so, and to allow for the continuing and endless stream of more private supplications, please press one; if Spanish, press two, (additionally insert all languages represented by the group present, and with corresponding digits as may be required).  Amen.”

In a 1941 animated film produced by Walt Disney, Dumbo the Elephant could fly.  But he would never try until he believed.  For a long time, he believed in the magic feather which was just a trick played on his mind by a group of crows and a hapless mouse.  The feather never did have a bit of magic in it.  The magic was in the believing.

Eventually, Dumbo lost his grip on the feather, which was very frightening at first.  Up ’til now, he’d believed solely in the feather, even though there was no real power in it.  Now he had to believe in something else; something real that was a part of himself.  He did, and that’s what saved him.

By the way, for those of you who will remember, what Dumbo believed became obvious by the course of actions he took, and not by anything he said.  As a matter of fact, at no time in the story did he ever say a single word…out loud.

I Love Jury Duty!

“We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don’t know anything and can’t read.”  -Mark Twain

You have the right to remain…in the jury room all week.  What a great job!  It’s the only place most people ever report for duty where the truth is of any value whatsoever!  What a rare and wonderful experience!  But, there are some drawbacks.

By and large, they wanted us to look at evidence without any prejudice or presuppositions of any kind.  The amount of ignorance that is required to serve is almost impossible to accomplish in one adult lifetime.  Witnesses and jurors are asked to deal with only truthful things, and on occasion, some of them do.

But such a requirement is apparently not always extended to the prosecuting and defense attorneys.  Since their motive is less about truth, and more about getting an opinion that favors their argument.  In fact, they get to dance all around the truth cautiously as if it might bite them, and in some cases, it will.  The truth is allowed to take a chair in the back of the room or go outside and smoke, since it’s services will not be required by the barristers.  This practice is similar to the workings of the U. S. Congress, which is comprised largely of lawyers who couldn’t make an honest living in the private sector.

While they themselves are not bound to speak truthfully, it is expected of all who would testify before them.  Lawyers and congressmen are allowed to get angry and act indignant if any of this truth might offend their sponsors, but the jurors who are not allowed to have sponsors, are supposed to behave, and not yell insults at the witnesses.  Jurors are to act impartial.  Imagine having to sit in the bleachers forced to watch a ballgame with no emotional interest in who wins, and not allowed to cheer or boo should you take sides.

Witnesses and jurors are not supposed to take money for any reason that might alter their opinion, and neither can the judge.  But the lawyers on both sides can, and do.  In fact, it is expected of them.  It’s a part of their training in case they ever wind up in the Senate.  Since these attorneys are in charge of a great deal of the entertainment, it is really up to the rest of us to dig out and identify a truth if one happens to show up.  But whether a truth shows up or not, all jurors instructed to appear in person had better do so.

Reporting to the jury room is mandatory, and has a deadline, though nothing happens right away.  The wait will vary from one jurisdiction to another, but it could last from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.  During this time, breaks of any kind are not allowed.  After a while, roll is taken.

Then, for those who are not familiar with the sixth amendment to The Constitution of The United States (there are always some who seem to have never heard of the constitution or any of its amendments), an explanation of trial by jury is given.  We are told how glad we would be to have such a system should we ever be accused falsely of a crime, and would have a group of our peers hear the evidence against us, and render a verdict.

Now the seeds for the idea that the law exists due to the prospects of false accusations have been sewn.  That, and along with the large number of people asked to report for duty, could cause some to believe it is a serious and regular occurrence.  Defense attorneys hope the belief is widespread, and the prosecutors hope no one was paying attention.

While listening to these instructions and explanations, do not look around the room for your peers, because they are not there.  Furthermore, they are not on their way, either.  Looking around hoping to find a single soul that will have any empathy with you whatsoever will just make you feel bad.  It is a cattle call.

The jury room  is where all the citizens that live in a certain county have to report periodically unless they are already in jail.  Folks in jail are excused, but very few others, except your peers.  Most of the people summoned are pleasant enough, and act neighborly.  But a few seem committed to letting everybody else know they are being inconvenienced, and consider jury duty okay for the rest of us peons, but that they have things to do!

Most people behave and dress properly for this occasion, but I wish to point out a few things I’ve noticed that do not tend to impress the Clerk of Court in a favorable manner:

*  Naming all the people in your neighborhood that you hope are on trial this week;

*   Bringing a piece of rope with you regardless of the knot,

*  Dressing up like Wonder Woman, or any other comic book character,

*  Turning to get an opinion from your imaginary friend each time you are asked a question,

*  Playing the theme from Clint Eastwood’s “Hang ‘Em High” on the kazoo,

*  Wearing a “Pick Me” T-shirt from “The Price Is Right”,

*  Using Bourbon or Tequila as a cologne or after shave (which is not to be confused with taking the fifth),

*  Making noises like one of The Three Stooges whenever you name is called,

*  Canvassing the room attempting to score anything,

*  Volunteering to serve as Bailiff whenever any officer of the court walks into the room,

*  Wearing undergarments on the outside of your other clothes,

*  Raising your hand, and saying “May I be excused”, and then laughing every five or ten minutes.

One girl was a bit peeved when she discovered there would be no free lunch, and she would not be reimbursed for mileage.  She announced so all could hear that she suffered from a mental illness, and needed to be excused to keep an appointment with her therapist.  She said she was full of prejudice; hated everybody, and felt that should be sufficient to have her dismissed.  Additionally, she was dressed like a circus clown.

Of course they called her name for a selection lineup.  As she headed off to the courtroom, said she should be able to bring suit as the pay they offered jurors was below minimum wage, and that this meant she probably wouldn’t be able to get married in the morning.  She was picked for a jury, but did not return after the lunch break to serve, nor did she come back the next day, either.  For this, she will probably be elected to serve on the school board.

When the first group goes off to do battle with the infidels, the rest of us remain behind doing absolutely nothing for thirty minutes to an hour, then are told to take a fifteen minute break.  At the end of the break, we wait for another hour or so until we break for lunch.  Lunch breaks are long, and allow time for the attorneys and judges to get in a round of golf.  After lunch, whether you are picked for jury selection or not, no breaks will be allowed for at least an hour.  During that time you must just stay in the jury room and wait until they decide to either call you for a jury, or tell you to take another fifteen minute break.

The lineup is a body of about three times as many folks as you’d need for a jury, and these folks are paraded to two other staging areas before going into a courtroom.  There is a reason for having so many more than will be seated in the jury box.  You see, most people are not remotely qualified for jury duty.

To qualify, you have to believe the battery of poorly phrased, and often incredibly stupid screening questions they ask you are reasonable, and make sense.  Yet the result of this inquisition tends to generate some of the stupidest remarks ever uttered by humankind, though most folks in the room including the attorneys, act like they don’t notice it.

In a courtroom in West Virginia, a chaplain was asked his opinion of the death penalty, and he replied:

“West Virginia doesn’t even have the death penalty, so I don’t have to answer that question.”

The lawyer was indignant, and insisted the chaplain answer, but the judge said the chaplain was right: since the state didn’t have such a law, the question had no bearing on anything to which they would have to render a verdict.  That chaplain happens to be a friend of mine, and upon hearing of this, I asked him:

“So, they don’t have the death penalty in West Virginia?”

He answered:

“Well we do have one, but it’s not legal.”

As the questioning begins for jury selection, each lawyer tries to make as good an impression on the prospective jurors as possible.  To appear amiable enough, both prosecutor and defender begin with asking each person:

“And how are you feeling today?”, to which everybody answers “Fine” whether they are, or not.  After about the seventh person in a row had been asked this important question at least twice, the judge felt quite moved, and called upon to speak out:

“Excuse me.  Everybody is fine.” Then, looking at us: “Is everybody feeling fine?  Are we all fine today?”, and we all nodded “yes”.  Then the judge continued:

“Okay, now that that burning question has been answered, let’s move along just in case you two fine scholars might uncover something of interest to the court that would have some bearing on our proceedings here.”

I guess they feel this attempt to get some personal warmth with the jurors is needed in lieu of persuasive evidence.  Such evidence as that is often only available on television drama programs where ballistic and forensic laboratories have unlimited budgets for exotic evidence processing equipment that has not yet been invented.

Here are some (but not all) of the questions that have been directed at me, and a few of my responses:

ATTY:  “Do you have a relative or close friend who is in law enforcement?”

ME:  “Yes.”

ATTY:  “Who would that be?”

ME:  “My cousin.”

ATTY:  “Would that be a friend, or a relative?” (judge looks at attorney, and shakes head)

ME:  “My cousin?  Both.”

ATTY:  “What would you say are your cousin’s regular duties as a police officer?”

ME:  “He is the Captain of the homicide division.”

ATTY:  “Does he have arrest authority?” (judge still shaking head, and staring at attorney)

ME:  “I think if you commit a murder in his state he can at least write you a ticket for it.” (judge covers mouth with hand to hide smile)

ATTY:  “You indicated you have been a victim of a crime.  Was it a homicide?”

ME:  “No, the burglary took place when I was not at home, so they did not have to kill me.” (judge stares in disbelief at both me and the attorney)

ATTY:  “You held up your hand that you have been in an at-fault accident while driving a motor vehicle.  Could you tell us about it?”

ME:  “I hit a tree.”

ATTY:  “What were the circumstances?”

ME:  “Due to a hurricane, tree limbs were twisted, and some were hanging over the road.  I swerved to dodge one on the left, but clipped another branch overhanging on the right with the top of the truck I was driving.”

ATTY:  “Was the other driver charged?”

ME:  “What other driver?  It was a tree.  The tree did not pull out in front of me, or anything like that.  The tree was standing perfectly still.  It was not the tree’s fault, so no, the tree was not charged.”  (judge rolls eyes)

ATTY:  “Have you ever seen someone you felt was too drunk to drive even though they displayed no behavior that might indicate they were drunk?”

ME:  “Just looking at somebody that was in no way acting intoxicated?  No tell-tale behavior?  Without any noticeable behavior, what would I have to go on?  A hunch?  Do you think I have some kind of telepathic intuitive blood-alcohol detection system built into my eyes?  Maybe  there is an app for that available on cell phones?” (judge rolls eyes, and rattles papers)

ATTY:  “So, you have children that attended college.  What would you say is the main thing they intend to do with their education?”

Me:  “Understand things, and be able to solve problems.”

ATTY:  “Did any of them aspire to a particular career or job?”

ME:  “I think the oldest one thought at one time he might want to become President of The United States.” (judge covers face with hands)

ATTY:  “Was your child successful with attaining that goal?”  (audible groan from judge)

ME:  “If he did, he never mentioned it.”

ATTY:  (Responding to the statement that I’m still married to my first wife,) “Have you ever been married before?”

ME:  “Probably not that anyone would notice.” (judge now making a stream of grunting noises)

ATTY:  “Do you have any personal beliefs that would prohibit you from sitting in judgement of your fellow man?”

ME:  “Wow!  They want me to be the judge? I thought they just wanted me for jury duty!” (judge clears throat; eyes doing loops)

Some days are easier than others for jury duty.  For example, “Talk Like a Pirate” day is fine as long as everybody is doing it, but I hate “Talk Like Elmer Fudd” day when I’m the only one who honors it.  While walking into the courtroom single file, we were instructed to keep silent until called upon.  My turning to the others to say:  “Be vewy, vewy quiet!” was not necessary, nor was it appreciated by anyone other than a deputy sheriff in the hallway who probably just didn’t see it coming.

Please take note that the only advice in this entire letter is about things you should not do.  Ignoring this, or attempting to repeat things I may have said could result  in your being charged with “Contempt of Court”, which will not look good on your resume.  If you do not think you can control such impulses, do not speak at all.  Your right to free speech (and almost all other personal freedoms) could be put in jeopardy, and you may find someone telling you that:  “You have a right to remain silent…”

The Constant Background Noise of Silence

I sent this link to a friend.  Please view it:

After watching this, my friend said in a note back to me:

“…my gut feelings about the subject matter and the studies’ findings were in key, now for the right band to turn it up loud enough to be heard over the noise of  “What Is”, whose shrills have become the constant background noise of silence…”

I’ve been thinking about the “constant background noise of silence” now for more than half a year, and I keep coming back to this profoundly interesting animation.  I’ve sent the link to several other people, but the only conversations about it that have occurred were when I initiated them.  Is it because the video is not interesting?  Quite the contrary!  It is fascinating, and the arguments in it are quite valid.

Almost eight and a half million people have viewed it.  So why do we not hear people talking about it?  In fact, what we continue to hear more often suggests that people believe the opposite of what is said here is true.  Another friend, when asked to comment on the matter said:

“Well, it did make me think.  A lot of it makes sense.  But the fact is, that I’ll never get to work with a company that thinks like that in my lifetime.  We’re all ‘carrot and whip’ where I work.  I’d love for my boss to watch this, but I sure would hate to be the guy that asked him to watch it!  It might just make him mad, and then he’d be looking for a way to get rid of me for being a trouble-maker or something.”

That was it.  There is a constant background of things we don’t ever hear, but whether consciously or not, may be listening for.  Sometimes, if we think about it, the distraction of what we are listening for but don’t hear can significantly overpower what we do actually hear, but are not listening for.  Think about all of the sounds that you, willfully or not, tune out every day.

What are you hearing?  There are sounds constantly around us whether we are listening to them, or not.  It is almost like an avalanche sometimes, yet unless it is something unusual, or highly impacts our senses for pain or pleasure, we seldom remember it.  Think back three or four days;  just pick a time at random, and try to remember what you were hearing.  Chances are, you won’t remember anything in particular.

A professor once told me that the sound of his own thoughts often drowned the mayhem that was constantly all around him.  He said further, that if he concentrated on the deluge of meaningless noise all the time, he’d go crazy.  Perhaps for some of us, the discipline of a self-imposed deafness did not occur in time.  All in all, what you don’t hear can sometimes be more significant than what you do hear: when all the birds get quiet, or when the dog does not bark.

When you ask people to tell you about the Great Depression, expect to hear tales of unemployment, poverty, hunger, doing without, and the prevalent sense of hopelessness.  Sometimes we can also hear a story of cooperation, sharing, neighbor helping neighbor, and a determination of many wanting and committed to making things better.

But while such positive stories can be uplifting, they tend to draw smaller audiences than tales of gloom and despair.  Then there are those who would prefer to not have to think about it at all.  Their silence, whether it is about the good or the bad, is what roars to deafening levels.

Simon and Garfunkel’s song: “Sound of Silence” followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy in a reflective way.  Some things became silenced, including anything Kennedy could have said in the future.  Other things became silent not because of being made physically mute, but by choice.  Troubled times followed in the sixties, and the term “the silent majority” was used to imply that those who did not speak out or protest must be of a common mindset.

It was not true then, and it is not true today.  But there is often an assumption that silence means acceptance: that if you are not verbally against something, then you must be for it, and vice versa.  But the truth is more likely that the silence is more likely to mean that some people just don’t wish to deal with it at all.

Fact is, as can be seen in any country where tyranny is the rule, people are often silent not because they agree with their tyrannical rulers, but that they are afraid of them.  There are still countries where women are treated barely better than cattle or other property.  Though they make up roughly half of their population, they remain silent often in fear for their lives.  They dare not even speak of the oppression.

In 1938, did the German people believe Hitler when he told them they had to invade Czechoslovakia for the reason that if they did not, the Czechs would attack Germany?  Some did.  But many knew better, because  Czechoslovakia didn’t really even have a significant standing army at the time.  The German people who knew it wasn’t true, thought better of speaking out.  The background noise of silence drowned out reason.

It has been said that a mob can be moved to do something stupid that no single member of the mob would ever choose to do on their own. But once in a mob, even a rational thinker is not likely to yell out: “Excuse me, but are we about to do something stupid?”  They don’t because even though they are a part of the mob, they are also a bit fearful of the mob.  Though some may think something stupid is going down, the background noise of of silence on the subject will block any hope of expression otherwise.

Before Mr. Kennedy took office, Dwight D. Eisenhower gave his farewell address.  One of the things he said in that famous speech was:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.”

He received some applause, and some said it was a good speech.  After all, General Eisenhower had been a hero of World War Two, and was a popular president.  But Eisenhower knew what he was talking about.  He inherited that military-industrial complex from Roosevelt and Truman, and even participated in it himself by continuing military and economic controls in the Middle East.

Our posturing against the Soviets, as well as the control of petroleum that could flow into Europe and the Balkan states (thus allowing leverage on global prices), maintained for us a position of strength in Saudi Arabia and Iran in spite of tremendous human rights violations that would not have been acceptable in even the most backward parts of our own country.  But people didn’t talk about that.

In the years that followed, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon provided us with additional fulfillment of Eisenhower’s prophetic remarks by our involvement in Southeast Asia.  Many spoke out in protest, and many who knew it was true remained silent.  Some remained silent out of the fear for their jobs, and for their standing in the communities that sustained the lifestyles of them and their children.

The United States went off the gold standard in the summer of 1971.  By 1973, oil had virtually replaced gold as the standard for the global economy, and it was not considered reversible.  Some remained silent out of ignorance, but not all of the ignorant remained silent.  Still, the silence became louder.

By 1979, three things happened:

(a.) The Rock Band, “Pink Floyd” released the album “The Wall”which included the hit song “Comfortably Numb”.  In the same year, it was released as a single with “Hey You” on the ‘B’ side, both written by band members Roger Waters and David Gilmour.  Perhaps many didn’t understand the lyrics, but I think some others who did found a “comfortable numbness” in not having to think about some of the absurdities all around them.

(b.) There was a movement to change the perception of “the silent majority” (which still did not hold to any single mindset) to calling it “the moral majority”.  But this time, it was to become an institution (though not even close to a majority).  Many of those presumed to be a part of said majority, yet not, made no point about it at all one way or the other.  Their silence blocked out the few who did.

(c.) After almost three decades of oppression, The Iranian people revolted against their oppressors.  Most Americans were shocked, and could not fathom how those people could see the United States in such an evil light.  They could not fathom it, because most Americans had no idea what we had been doing in Iran since 1951, therefore, they had no idea why we were so hated.

At the time, most people here had little knowledge of Islam other than that Cassius Clay had changed his name to Mohammed Ali, and refused to be drafted because war was against his religion.  While the world learned of the idea of a holy war, terms of cultural differences between Sunni and Shiite had no conversational street value here in the United States.  Even today, most people who hold such deep rooted hatred for the Moslem faith have never read, nor will they ever read the Quran.  But it is also true that the most militant among the Moslem world will take no time with the Torah, or the New Testament, either, even though all of these books have the same root in the monotheistic beliefs of the children of Abraham (which they all claim to be).

Because of the hostage crisis that began in Iran in 1979, the military-industrial complex was about to get a shot in the arm beyond its wildest dreams.  Even if you do not believe in the “October Surprise Conspiracy Theory”, it is a fact that the American hostages in Iran were released within 20 minutes of Reagan’s inaugural address.  There was some clamor about it, but since people didn’t want to believe it, the silence became much louder.

Additionally, most Americans today cannot discuss intelligently the details of the Iran-Contra Affair, but they do believe neither Ronald Reagan nor George H. W. Bush had anything to do with it.  They believe instead that a dozen or so of the president’s closest advisors did it behind his back.  That may be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but the fact is, we did sell arms to Iran during that time when they were at war with Iraq.  Somehow, this did not make Saddam Hussein love us.  The silence got louder still.

I’ve been looking at what people speak loudly about: it seems to have a lot to do with what they are afraid of.  This is not so different from other primates, and other mammals, as well.  When threatened, many animals run away, but cry out when cornered.  I watched a documentary on a group of chimpanzees, and it was common that these apes would be very vocal when endangered, or made to feel tense about anything.

People are also silent about their fears sometimes.  Sometimes by ignoring them, there is a hope that they will go away, as in the case of global warming, or the lack of massive movement away from a dependency on fossil fuels.  Sometimes the silence is that the fear of reprisal for those who speak out is larger than other fears.  Either way, the silence is a constant background noise in the minds of those who wonder why others don’t see the problem.  Ha!  Maybe there is no problem, and that we cannot recognize it is what the confusion is all about.  Regardless what you may think, you have to admit that most folks don’t even want to talk about it.

So is there a silent majority, and if so, what are they silent about?  As long as folks feel their fears are kept at bay, they will not screech too much about them.  But there is another silence that is a concern.  What about those times when a neighbor helps you?  Or a stranger?  What about when you’ve helped someone else?  What about when a teacher does the right thing for a student just because it is the right thing to do?

Every serious professional in the restaurant business knows fully well the dangerous chatter that follows the dissatisfied customer.  The practice is to tell everybody about bad service, or bad food, and to bring it up often.  But the good dining experience seldom enjoys the same notoriety.  Are we so addicted to bad news that we’ve come to think that bad news is what everybody wants to hear?

No, that isn’t exactly true even though it does seem prevalent.  Remember the story: “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Hans Christian Andersen?  That the fabric was real was an illusion, and further it was said that it would be invisible to fools.  For that reason, no one wanted to admit they couldn’t see it.  When the Emperor (who also dared not admit he couldn’t see it) paraded to display his new garment, some in the crowd said it was beautiful, and others just said ooh and ah.  But many were silent.  It was what was not being said that made the most noise until a child spoke.  The news that the emperor was walking naked in the streets could not overcome the fear of looking foolish.

A child could hear what was not being said.  The child could see what was not being seen, even when there was nothing to see.  The adults had lost the ability to do that, and were even fearful of acknowledging the voice in their head that spoke the truth.  And because of the phobic condition that paralyzed their ability to face up to adversity, they gave in to what dominated them, and to what they believed would sustain and protect them.  And so by doing, even without a conscious effort, they turned up the volume of the “constant background noise of silence”.

Trust and Respect? The Validity of Cooperation

Competition is everything?  No, it isn’t.  A misconception about “survival of the fittest” caused the Social Darwinists to overlook one very vital part of survival that is important to all cultures: cooperation.  Bees have to work together, or the hive will not live.  Further, the flowering plants where the bees gather nectar are necessary to the bees, but they in turn depend on the bees as well.  So the cooperation goes beyond the swarm, the tribe, or even the species.

Interconnections for sustainability are everywhere.  In fact, human beings would not exist as they do today were it not for the mitochondrial DNA passed down to every daughter from their mother.  That part of the DNA is the result of a symbiosis with bacteria.  Without it, your mother would have never existed, and neither would you.

Human beings have an advantage over some other species, since man has the ability to step beyond instinct, and think about things.  There are, however, liabilities as well as assets to thinking.  Because of emotions, feelings, and concepts of what is ideal, people are capable of making decisions that are not always in their own best interests, or in the best interests of those around them.  Of course, they have to compete, but they also have to cooperate if they expect to survive in any social structure.  While some consider themselves individuals, man is a social animal whether he wishes to admit it, or not.

Because of this, matters of trust, and gaining commitments from others are extremely important.  The constant threat is that even symbiotic relationships have to find ways to minimize conflict.  When ideas clash, and conflict is not resolved, trust goes out the window.  Without trust, respect becomes illusive at best, and often downright impossible.

Furthermore, when people sense they are not being respected, or losing respect, it is natural for them to become tense, and run the risk of becoming at least to some degree, irrational.  Frustration, anger, and especially fear cause people to shift from positive and productive activity in order to posture for defense (or attack).

It is normal for them to feel a need to protect something important to them.  What that something often turns out to be is not always their own physical safety, or even their livelihood.  Sometimes what they are clamoring to keep “safe” is some ideology: something they believe that when put at risk undermines their entire concept of safety.  This is exactly what causes the breakdown in empathy during political arguments between people who could otherwise get along.  Strangely, some people operate on the belief disorder that everybody not only shares their own opinions, but that it is substantially wise to do so.  And with that profoundly naive outlook, it is regular that they overlook the following points almost entirely:

* Employers who are not sincerely grateful for their employees’ efforts will seldom if ever show honest signs of gratitude towards them.
* Employers who do not know the dynamics of the culture within their own company seldom know how to motivate the individuals that make up that culture.
* If I treat you, not in the way you’d wish to be treated, but in a way that clearly shows I misunderstand you, I should not be disappointed when you seem less than motivated by it.
* Cheap token gifts are often seen as condescension, especially when the work done to earn it feels so under-rewarded.  A private conversation including some thanks, honest feedback, and encouragement means so much more to some people than getting to use the (not coveted) “employee of the month” parking space.  A lady once told me her boss didn’t even realize she rode the bus to work.
* If you don’t even know who I am, how might I be convinced you think I’m of any value, much less important?  Overlooking the subtleties about an individual that identify how they wish to be treated can be seen as disrespect.

Disrespect manifests itself in different ways, but always results in distrust.  It is a team-breaker.  When it raises its ugly head, commitment often dissolves into a mere appearance of compliance (and it won’t even be that).  When that happens, “sabotage” can occur whether folks realize it, or not.  If a group of people are not working together, they may well be working against each other.  There is no such thing as a team without cooperation.

What if your team believes the “what’s in it for them” is right up there with the “what’s in it for you”?  What if they don’t believe it?  Do you think that was part of Frank Lorenzo’s problem with Eastern Airlines?  Do you think it was part of the employees’ problem with Frank?

Teams are supposed to be heading towards some common win, some common goal, or other benefit, or there is no reason to be in harness together.  And, those in harness need to all pull in the same direction; they must all seek to gain the same result.  While I agree that focus has to be on results, I cannot discount individual personal (or departmental) expectations altogether if I would really expect commitment from individual members.

But besides the common goal or desired results, they all need to find something about the success of the project that helps them gain something they want.  But what they want as individuals may not be that obvious to the team leader or other members, unless they invest the time to pay attention. The presumption that everybody wants and needs the same thing, can be a mistake.

The team leader needs to be aware of what the various team members want. That is the crux of the equity in any leadership role. It is helpful if everyone in the group understand that, but critical that the captain knows it.  In other words, how can you, as the project leader, get other people to commit to helping you reach your goal?

You can, if you take the time to make sure they see how it will help them reach theirs.  And just as you will intend to hold them individually accountable for their part, rest assured they will hold you accountable for the commitment you’ve made to them. As simple as all this sounds, the failure to take these action steps delays, and often derails more projects than some would think.

I’ve heard managers proudly say things like:  “My people know that I treat everybody around here the same as I do anybody else.  Everybody is equal, and we don’t show partiality to anyone.”  While I do appreciate fairness, I also know that people like to be recognized for who they are, and that their contributions are valuable not just because they did the work, but because of who they are, and how they went about getting it done.

The golden rule says: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The core of this is empathy.  Without it, a person is steeped in narcism.  But does everybody wish to be treated the same as you in all situations?  If they do not, can the golden rule get misinterpreted?  Yes.  Absolutely!  If I am overcome with a desire to treat you exactly as I wish to be treated, how do you think I feel when you don’t seem to appreciate it?

The fallback for people in some cases (especially in politics) is to demand that everybody want and value the same things they do.  As it is always emotional, respect will not be given to those who don’t choose to go along with the demands.  That kind of rationale is behind what has driven every war throughout the history of mankind.  Though hostilities may subside under duress, or powerful totalitarian social control, it never results in any genuine commitment for peacefulness.  Eventually fear, anger, distrust and disrespect resurface.  It destroys families, companies, and even nations.

Does this mean I’m asking you to abandon the golden rule?  No, but I’m asking you consider taking it to a higher level.  Since everybody doesn’t want all of the same things you do all the time, why not treat others the way they are showing you they wish to be treated?  Would that be so hard?  What is required is that we learn how to pay attention.  Does it work?  Pick just one person to observe, and try it for awhile.  Sound easy?  It actually is, but for some reason, it seems that only a small percent of the people on this planet do it regularly.  I suppose we could say we’ve been taught to do otherwise, but is that a valid excuse?  Excuses only appear to be valid, and only when you believe they are.

So what validates cooperation?  The only thing that makes it valid is if it works; if you accomplished what you set out to do.  Trust and respect might be helpful, and in some cases, might be necessary if the need for commitment is required.  But the bottom line is whether or not you reached your goal, isn’t it?  You have to decide if there is a valuable corollary between cooperation and the end result.  There is definitely a correlation between getting cooperation, and having the respect and trust of those who are asked to help you.

If you see it as a benefit, then that should be enough to motivate you.  If you intend to take the golden rule to a higher level, you need to start with the intent of the rule: willfully choose not to hurt others by action or words, with some understanding of why you would not wish to have that happen to you.  Additionally, treat others in a way that lets them know you understand how they wish to be treated.  It honors them, and it honors you.  If you commit to help those around you get what they want, you might be surprised to find that they will in turn be willing to commit to help you get what you want, as well.

Another point will have to be to look deeper at your own motivation.  Is the importance of having influence caused by a fear of losing control over others?  Do you just want them to be happy slaves?  There is a difference between being dominant, and being a dominator.  Most dominators are not self sustaining, and are therefore not really dominant.  In fact, they are usually phobics, just like those they wish to control.

For some, it becomes an obsession, and a way of life.  An obsession to dominate over others can be evidence of cowardice, and a lack of the ability to be dominant over one’s own affairs.  A dead giveaway is when the behavior of those around you leads you to feel others think you really do not respect them, personally.  And that will always be a stumbling block when trying to gain their trust.  Insincerity can be detected more easily by some than others.

So, it is a caution to make sure you are sincere about wanting to honor other people, and be sincere about wanting to help them (or work with them) to reach their goals.  If it isn’t true, you’re likely to have folks see right through you.  When that happens, you will not gain their trust, or their respect.  Then you’ll be right back to getting no real commitment, but only the pretense of compliance.  And often you won’t even get that unless someone is looking.

To diagnose that the problem exists is not difficult.  The extent of it varies from group to group.  Ignoring it will not make it go away, and neither will setting up a compliance regimen to deal with it.  There’s plenty of historical evidence showing the failures of gaining wide commitment through prohibitions.  And because of human nature, there will be more.

In theater, in order to attain a higher level of performance, it is required that the character analysis so as to properly understand motivation be taken seriously.  The critical business of theater is the motivation.  And for those who feel quality performance is something they want, the motivation is also the true theater of business.

I have access to very valid feedback instruments, and I know how to use them.  It helps to find out not only what individuals want personally, but also what they don’t want.  It is the patterns of fallback behaviors that are likely to become the cancer that destroys the life of companies.

Just changing mottos and slogans won’t fix the problem.  It will take a little bit of time, and a little bit of money.  But isn’t that usually true for most of the things you find are worth doing?  Perhaps the most passionate part of acting and directing for me has been involved with the moments when those lightbulbs turn on.  When trust and respect becomes a reality or is restored, other processes, both strategic and tactical, become more attainable.

For those who would wish to be recognized as a leader, consider how you are seen by those you wish to lead.  Do they see you as willing to march against the gates of Hell with them, or do they see you as simply pointing out the way?

A Storm Passes

“It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms…” – Mark Twain

As I write this on March fourth, I am reminded that long before this day, many have marched forth before.  A lot has happened since the first of the year to keep me preoccupied, so there has not been a dawg letter now for three months.  But let’s not blame it on the dawgs, or at least on the ones in my backyard.

The other day, I noticed clouds moving in quickly, but that’s to be expected since we live at the bottom of a hill.  I’m sure the wind would travel slower if it were to turn around and go back uphill, but it didn’t.  The dawgs were being fairly still moving only slightly to grab small pieces of the passing breeze with their noses.  A nose is quite a remarkable tool for a dawg.  It’s how they read their newspaper.  It lets them know what has happened around here recently, and what is presently happening that might be of any interest to a dawg.

It also is used to predict the future.  A storm was brewing, and they both knew it.  I could see signs of clouds gathering to block the sunlight; the movement of branches in the trees, a noticeable drop in temperature, and feel the wind against my face.  But they could smell it.  My coming out onto the patio seemed not to disturb them, as they were able to ignore me as if I were just a speed limit.  Usually, they’d rush right over presuming my appearance might be connected with a treat or permission to engage in some kind of fun, but not today, or at least not at that moment.

The March wind was stripping pink blossoms from dancing plum trees ruining the chances of them becoming fruit.  It was just as well, as my small family wouldn’t be able to eat that many plums, anyway.

I lit my pipe, putting on quite a show considering how the wind was kicking up.  But the dawgs paid no mind of it even though I went through half a box of matches and a vocabulary list that would normally cause a sensible dawg to want to hide under a bed.  The matches were having trouble staying lit long enough to ignite the tobacco, but several of them flipped out of my hand quickly enough to  burn my face.  One landed with pin-point accuracy in the corner of my eye, causing a sermon to erupt.

Ashley Cooper and Cosmo Topper continued their vigilance with not so much as a nod or a tail-wag in my direction.  So with little else to entertain me, I just stood there looking out across the yard.  The clutter included bits and pieces of a fallen tree, some of last year’s leaves, sticks, the skeleton of a lawnmower that had been savagely stripped of dignity and any hope of revival by a couple of curious boys, what may have once been part of a magazine, and an old sock that would never again comfort a foot.

At the first clap of thunder, the dawgs shifted gears.  With no small sense of urgency, they both began to move towards the house.  As a finger of lightning switched on some unseen shower head, it began to sprinkle.  Topper and Ashley followed me into the den, and laid down without bothering to thank me for holding the door.  I’m sure they both thought my doing it would’ve been the only reason I’d come out there in the first place.

Once upstairs, I went back to my television.  Some things in the news had taken over a part of me, and I couldn’t let it go, no matter what time of the day or night it happened to be.  Saddam Hussein of Iraq had ordered the invasion of Kuwait late last summer.  It didn’t make sense.  Watching the television didn’t help it make sense.

At the beginning during a news conference, General Colin Powell was asked about his strategy.  He said:

“First we’re going to cut it off, then we’re going to kill it.”

The strategic would position itself for what would become tactical.  The coalition forces moved quickly to do just that.  But as they moved closer to Bagdad, a good bit of the Iraqi army laid down their guns and disappeared.  I watched little else on television for a while, then it was over.  And for some folks, I’m sure it was.  But for others, it might go on a spell.  Some children live and die never knowing much else, but there is nothing new about that to the human race.

A good bit of the news had been about how the coalition against Iraq would fall apart if Israel was brought into the conflict.  The Americans and British had to convince Israel to stay neutral, and that they guaranteed their defense.  The agreement seemed made with the contingency that all bets were off if Israel was attacked.  Such prospects as that appeared to be requisition for a real mess.

On the evening of January seventeenth, I was backstage preparing to address an audience as Mark Twain.  I had intended to close with the prose/poem piece Samuel Langhorne Clemens had written in protest of American military intervention in the Philippines.  It had been turned down for publication, and never made it into print in his own lifetime.  But with some effort, I’d decided to keep it alive during mine.

Right before I walked on, the stage manager, who’d been listening to a radio with headphones, told me Iraq had just launched missiles against Israel.  She knew how my speech was to end, and wanted me to consider how an anti-war piece might be received at this time.  It was hard news.  With great misgivings,  I decided not to delete it, even if they would lynch me afterwards.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, with the precedent of all the brilliant decisions I’ve witnessed by people wrapped in their emotions, it did seem like a possibility.

I stepped in front of the audience with a heavy heart, not so much about how I would be received,  but with thoughts about three young sons in a world rolling out of control towards chaos.  I had a memory of another war not so long ago, and remembered how all that I thought it would be could not match up to the ugly face it wore when I saw it up close.  If I had a prayer left in me, it was for my children to never have to see it.

But that night I had to move my mind quickly back to over a century ago, and wrap myself in the persona of a man of letters.  In his image and person, I had to be witty, to be thought provoking, and be entertaining.  Somehow it wasn’t about me at all, but about the people out front and what they’d paid to come to see.  When it came time for the last story, there was a lump in my throat so big I thought it would choke me to death.  Later on, I was pleased to find out the audience didn’t see it, so some credit was due to the large tie I wore, or perhaps to my former acting teachers.  It was a huge lump, so it had to be something other than my own doing to cause it to go unnoticed.

The audience was kind to me that night.  The next day, the kindest thing was a phone call from a teacher who’d been in the auditorium the night before, and wanted to know if I knew about the missile attack before going on stage.  I said I did, expecting to be chastised for my undiplomatic decision.  Instead, the teacher said:

“Good.  I think that took courage, and I’m glad you went ahead with your program.”

A day or so later, I received a note from another teacher who’d attended the performance.  It read:

“If every student I teach could spend time with your Mark Twain, I believe that they would understand the beauty and depth of Twain’s words.  How lucky you are to be Mark Twain for an hour or so; I envy you.  Thank you for a wonderful evening.”

That note was the best thing that could have happened to me, and the flavor of it took away the bitter taste of self doubt that was dissolving my soul.  Is it normal for folks who say they pray for peace to feel guilty when they speak against war?  Less than a month before that program, people far and wide were singing songs of “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” all over the place.  But right then I feared a desire for such as that in the face of “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” was about to be seen as an awful thing, and it worried me.  So being fearful of condemnation, this is not the confessions of a brave man.

Until getting that nice note, I thought perhaps it would’ve been more courageous to consider the feelings of the people in that town, and conjure up other material to end the program.  Though I had lots of other stories and material in the pigeon holes of my mind, maybe going on as rehearsed was just the easy way out.  Because of the news received just moments before walking on stage, it wasn’t my decision to go ahead and deliver “The War Prayer” that was so hard, but just staying in character.  It became one of the more difficult things I’ve done in a long time.

When arriving home that night, my dawgs were glad to see me.  They of course had no idea where I’d been, or of the concerns I may have had, and they had no idea about war.  They could hold their noses into the air to tell if a rain storm was coming, but other storms far away caused by a different kind of cloud wouldn’t make any sense to a dawg.  And I suppose it is no grand compliment to the human race that it should claim to make sense of it, either.