Safe to death


History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen

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Recently at the summer camp I work at I went fishing. It was a “pioneer” themed camp my co counselor and I took our kids down to a small pond and met up with a fishing instructor. I haven’t been fishing since the 90’s and I wasn’t very successful, so I never pursued it thus knew very little. However the fishing instructor had been doing it forever and was able to do a brief but through presentation on the basics of fishing. Seemed easy enough and I got my first, second, and third fish that day.

As I was fishing some of my campers wanted to just get the fish instead of waiting until one came and really hooked itself on. A lot of near catches and empty hooks were reeled in (as well as a couple dozen successes) but I stopped to laugh to myself at one point in seeing the situation. We were literally playing out the old adage “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a life time” (or drink beer all day…can’t remember how it ends) but I was witnessing kids who just wanted that fish, just to get the fish, get your picture taken and that was that.    

It’s like that in many other aspects of life too. We just want that thing, we want the easy route, the path of least resistance, the shortcut, or however you’d like to phrase it, you get the point. When the point of life is that nothing easy is worth having.

We’ve become as a culture so safe that it’s harming our children. Take anti-bacterial soaps and “purel” like products for an example, they are like a tiny nuclear bomb on your hands killing EVERYTHING. Which seems like a good idea but it also kills the necessary bacteria that keeps us safe. But as long as it gets that dirt out who cares right?

At the camp I work at we’ve also done away with having peanut butter out at all meal times. Last year we only had it one week when 0 campers had a peanut allergy and this year it’s just not worth to have it out at all. It has to be done because of the numbers of allergies, but when did all our children start getting this allergy? This wasn’t a trend 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. Not just to have the allergy but have it so severe that even being in the same room as it can have devastating effects. I’ve read that it’s due to parents not exposing their children to peanuts by a certain age out of fear but that just seems to fuel the problem, we’re not being exposed to much anymore. 

And I’m not saying that we should feed our children dirt or sit them down in front of HBO at age 9 or something. That’s probably not the best idea. Just as vaccines work in the way of giving a small dose of something bad to a child so that they can handle it later, giving small exposures to a child of something potentially bad but in controlled way, can have great benefits down the road. But that’s not the road many are taking. So not surprisingly many parents are starting to not vaccinate their children and diseases we’ve long thought were cured are making a come back. Best to hide in a sterilized bubble than get vaccinated and leave home seems to be the modern mantra. 

Life is built off of experiences, if not had then we will not be equipped to deal with them should they happen. But instead of shielding ourselves from any unpleasantness we should embrace it. Having your heart broken at 16 will help you deal with it when you’re 22. Working a minimum wage job at 17 can help you appreciate a better job when you’re 24. Losing a tee ball game when you’re 6 will help you with losing a high school baseball game at 15. Just like feeding your kids peanuts at age 4 will help you be okay with them around for the rest of their life.

A friend of mine wouldn’t wear his seat belt when he was younger, so his dad would stomp on the breaks once and he jolted around and hurt himself a little. Now he wears a seat belt every time he drives. The point of life is not to hide from experiences but to have them happen so that we can be immune to them later. If the dad just drove 15 miles an hour to allow it to be okay for his son to not wear it, it would still be unsafe and you would never get anywhere on time. Imagine someone who has never lost anyone close to them, never had heartbreak, sadness, unpleasantness, poverty, or had to work hard. Then they experience a moment of personal loss, it doesn’t matter how. How do they cope? How do they react? However it pans out, I wouldn’t want to see it.

 

While that person if fictional, there are many close similarities that I’ve met in my early/mid twenties when college is over and real work problems arise. The “kids” that deal with them the best are the ones that have had some adversity along the way. Who have had to provide for themselves a little. They are living on their own, paying their bills, and are integrated into society as adults. The ones who are having trouble are the ones who had everything provided and now are having a hard time adjusting to having to provide for themselves. Independence is a process for sure but the earlier it starts the earlier it finishes and the painless it is overall. 

When I played soccer I lost a fair share of games and learned about losing and I took it better the 100th time than I did the first time. Then when we would beat times that had only lost a few games, those athletic kids would act not as if they lost a soccer game, but as if they lost a parent. It was momentarily the end of their world since they didn’t know how to cope. 

So if you ask me is being sad, losing, unpleasantness, doubt, and hurt good? It’s a yes and no answer. At first of course it’s not good it’s why we label them as such. But there is a lesson to be learned. And it’s not that we shouldn’t baby proof our house to build skull bone, send our kids out in a thunderstorm to build character, send them to bed hungry to make them appreciate food, or do unreasonable things that will provide nothing but hurt. The lesson is that life is not about blocking out all negative aspects of life and shielding ourselves from all negative experiences early. It’s about embracing those experiences in small doses to build ourselves up for bigger ones as an adult and handling them with ease.  

The shackles of ideology


History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen

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Why are there problems in the world? Is it because some people are simply less intelligent than others? Or maybe some people are just nice, while others are mean? To me, the answer is ideological pride.

It’s the same reason why Facebook debates go as far as debates on the Senate floor. Even from this blog I’ve seen people disagree with a post (or in some cases one line of a post) and then engage me in debate. On the surface it would look like it is me engaging with one person but then”likes” start popping up on our comments and other people chime in to defend me or another and sides develop and it usually becomes toxic for a constructive discussion. In one case a couple months ago a friend made an entire post refuting a line of one of my posts which was all “shared” and “Favorited” through our mutual “friends'” tumblr and wordpress accounts to laugh at my “idiocy” and act snarky in their “rightness.”

It’s a symptom of the hive-mind. We have a point of view and that POV is so strong that we become unable to believe that we may be wrong at all. We find conformation bias in instances that we are proved right, then we brush off or attack instances in which our belief is challenged. 

This is true in almost any issue people hold dear to them.Take poverty for an example. One may look at the problem of poverty and lament about the poor. Saying that they just need a hand up in society, some help to integrate into middle class America. Others will take a completely different view, looking down on them saying they need to simply stop being lazy and just get a job. Seeing them as self imposed victims of their own poor decisions instead of victims of a something more systemic.

Both people will agree poverty isn’t good but will have massively ways to fix it. One is a hand up model while the other is one of self improvement. Certainly there are thousands of anecdotes that give each side credence, but those only help each side dig in their heels instead of seeing any evidence of proof of the opposing idea.

Person A who believes in hand ups/outs will look at people who have come out of poverty to success like J.K. Rowling and Steve Jobs as proof that they are right. That they are just one of the majority of people who receive help and then ascend their poverty. Person B on the other side look at those and see them as exception to their rule and will point out people abusing the system as the majority while Person A sees abusers as the minority.

I’m sure you don’t need my help to figure out which one we would call a “liberal” and what we would call a “conservative”

While there are many differences between conservatives and liberals, there is one similarity that both sides generally share. They are both slaves to their ideology. If someone identifies as either one of those they become an adopter of a plethora of stances, some of which they don’t even realize they had. 

We get wrapped up in ideologies or beliefs and different “isms” (liberalism, conservatism, racism, feminism, theism, environmentalism, animal rights…ism?) and we sometimes fail to acknowledge that anything in our beliefs could be wrong. Not saying that if you practice any of these values that they are not correct or have anything valuable to teach us (with the exception of racism) but being so entrenched in any belief can lead to blindness of any other way of thinking.

Ideology is the enemy of free thinking. To put yourself in the “ist” camp is good, you have decided to take a stand for something. The best way to hone your articulation of the reasons why you believe in what you do is to engage in others who believe the same way AND those who differ. I find that many people do too much of the first one, and hardly any of the 2nd. And I’m not talking about when a token liberal goes on fox news and is verbally assaulted and talked over (or when a conservative goes on MSNBC to do the same) The reason why even the mildest beliefs can’t gain traction is all the connotations that are put on something.

How is liberalism supposed to look attractive when they can be portrayed as pro aborting, pushing a “gay agenda” down families throats, anti-religious and anti-white.

Or conservatism when it’s portrayed as racist, rich favoring, unsympathetic, anti-science, and anti-diversity

Or feminism when it’s seen as women > men

Or environmentalism when it’s seen as people who want to bomb corporations that pollute the environment.

These sort of connotations to these beliefs are 1. Not true except for the most extreme proponents and 2. Prevent us from understanding the other side. If I were a liberal why would I have an open exchange of ideas with a conservative if I think that they are racist? Racists are so wrong about race so they are probably wrong about other things. The person is probably evil and I don’t wish to do anything with them.

We go down this line of thinking when dealing with anyone we don’t particularly like. These assumptions are easier to make when we put ourselves in an “us” v “them” group.

Ideology is a shackle because it forces us to have viewpoints that we might not have. We want to be part of a group but might not be accepted if we stray too far from the mainstream. The thoughts of:

“I want to be a Christian but don’t want to condemn gays”

“I want to be a liberal but am pro-life”

“I want to be a conservative but don’t mind higher taxes”

“I want to be an environmentalist but I let my AC run all day”

are common in many people’s mind. We all want to belong somewhere and be accepted, but we may not agree 100% with the views and values that makes up that group of people. We may agree 90% but that last 10% is unique to us. At the end of the day we want to be individuals, have our own views, and free ourselves from the shackles of our ideologies. 

Everyone wants to be the victim


History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is officially underway this summer! For those of you that aren’t into soccer it’s sort of like the Olympics of soccer. Countries assemble a national team and compete for bids into the tournament. Many Americans don’t like soccer and I can understand that. It’s low scoring, boring at times, and the U.S. has never won the cup. 

But for me it’s fascinating. I’ve played soccer my whole life and love watching the cup. However, there is one thing about soccer that besides the low score could be an easy critique. It’s that some games are 1/2 soccer skill and 1/2 acting. There are a lot of fake injuries that go on. Some players get looked at the wrong way and then act like they have a broken leg. I get it, it’s part of the sport, and a really good faking could garner a free kick, or even better a yellow card against the opposing team. But it’s nothing to be proud of. It’s disingenuous, fraudulent, and frankly a wuss move. Some would say it’s acting like a woman, which isn’t true since it’s definitely not seen in the female world cup, (or at least to the extent it is with the male variety)

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It’s a “I want to be a victim” thing a “oh everyone look at poor little me” thing. And it certainly transcends soccer or (futbol) into many aspects of society and even into our political arenas.

We throw around victim willingness at the drop of a hat. It’s common for immature young men to talk about a “raping” they got after losing in a game. A common phrase would be “bro we got raped yesterday after our school lost our football game 40-0” Did you really get “raped” bro? Or are you so self conscious about your poor performance that likening it to a viscous sexual assault seems appropriate to you? That not only did you lose a sports game but it was like you lost a sense of your innocence? 

It’s probably not the thoughtful phrase and most likely out of thoughtlessness but comes out from an unconscious desire to be a victim searching for pity rather than just using a hyperbolic (and offensive) comment.

In politics it’s everywhere. People would rather focus on the big bad opposition and all their insensitive, cruel policies, and proposals than their own failings as a party. It is common for a Republican to think that the big bad gubberment is going to take their guns and restrict the 2nd amendment. They want to play the “noble patriot” that yearns for a older and simpler time and just wants their guns and their land, and their property. Clearly they are “victims” since society is more tolerant of homosexuals, abortions, and a diverse culture which is an affront to their “Christian” or “traditional” way of life. Those poor poor conservatives/Republicans…(joke) 

Liberals/Democrats can also be a bit on the sensitive side as well as being hive-minded. Most ideas that come from this crowd is grounded in good intentions, but not always the best practicality. Rising the minimum wage, gun control, green tech, animal rights…etc all speak to have a good end but sometimes at the at the expense of personal choice or practicality. While they may be better at identifying issues any opposing idea is taken as apathy or an assault to x issue. Apathy to the poor, apathy to the environment, a war on women…etc. Democrats coined the term “war on women” for the GOP just because the GOP is against abortions. While you can argue the pros and cons of the issue, the GOP certainly isn’t out gunning down women. A minimum wage increase can hurt some smaller businesses. Being against that makes you a solider in the “war on the poor” when in reality you just make see a difference in the amount that should be raised. 

Anytime any party suggest something that would hurt a key voting block of the any party, that party is lightening quick to call foul, and show how they are an innocent bystander and the other side is big and bad. Garnishing sympathy means adding votes. Every year more voters turn out to vote for the party who they feel the sorriest for. Or at least the issues that they feel attacked. Hell the whole Civil War and succession movement was born out of an idea that Lincoln would end slavery thus offending the South. Those who agreed were called “southern sympathizers”

 

There’s a whole business in being a victim. All sorts of lawsuits claiming things like “fast food made us fat” “I didn’t know the coffee was hot and it burned me” “The person who just resuscitated me via CPR didn’t obtain my consent”  and many others. Someone pretending to be a victim can get a big pay day by just being dumb (or faking it,) which has led to even more absurdities like forcing places that serve coffee to put a disclaimer up that the “coffee will be hot” or good Samaritan laws to protect those who are sued for saving a life, and consent forms that have all sorts of mostly harmless activities. If you think you could potentially be a victim in anyway then hire a lawyer and see if you can score big.

Clearly the reason for this self-victimization is for pity/sympathy and whatever perks come with it, which can be attractive. I remember playing pool with a friend all night when I was 16 complaining about who had a worse girlfriend. In hindsight we were both really were in unhealthy relationships and had legitimate complaints but instead of bemoaning about it we were trying to out do each other. I would talk about how mine would be emotionally cold to be for days of end, while he would tell me that his girlfriend and her mother would take him shopping then make him use his whole paycheck to pay for their clothes or food. We would go back and forth trying to make the other feel sorry and get the most sympathy instead of thinking of ways to solve our problems.  

In reality there are many of real victims. Most real victims are ashamed of it. “Real” rape victims (unlike the guy who lost his football game) don’t casually lament about their attack but are ashamed of it, victims of child abuse don’t try to out do others with their stories, but often keep them a secret. Speaking out isn’t to gain sympathy, but to try and stop it from happening to others. Not only are fake victims fraudulent but they also take away from others who have experienced very real victimization. 

It’s kind of like pretending you were sick to stay home from school. If you faked a sick day you didn’t have to do any work, could sleep in, watch TV, and potentially have a parent care for you, and it would be pretty nice. If you were actually sick it wasn’t pleasant at all because you were sick and that’s not fun. If you were discovered to be faking it then your parents would be less inclined to believe you the next time you claimed you were sick, whether or not you actually were.

Self-victimization speaks to the baseness of human wants, wanting the perks with out any of the suffering. Wanting the highs with no lows. Everyone wants to be the victim without actually being victimized. 

Good fences make bad neighbors


History is the autobiography of a mad man – Alexander Herzen

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Back in 2008 a political punch line was in President Obama’s experience as a “community organizer.” Haha funny right! A guy who organized and led Chicago communities was now trying to organize and lead the country! Clearly local leadership can in no way translate to national leadership… 

But maybe this isn’t just come pathetic conservative critique…maybe it reflects a deeper sentiment in America. The idea that communities are dead. Ever since we’ve banned together in tribes we’ve lived in communities. Small town America was the majority of America in the 20th century. There’s the romantic notion of those who grew up in small towns in the 50’s and 60’s that it’s great. Definitely the tranquility of the 50’s and 60’s are over-romanticized, but the impact of communities is not. 

There’s the saying that good fences make good neighbors. Only a nihilist would say that. Maybe this is just me but if I lived in a home and a new neighbor moved in next door and built a high “good” fence along his property I sure wouldn’t think “hey what a great neighbor! He isolated himself from me and others!” I’d think he was a weirdo. Good fences don’t make good neighbors, good neighbors make good neighbors. And bad neighbors make bad neighbors. 

Unfortunately we’ve become so self involved that our own next door neighbors may be complete strangers to us. In some places we live in big metal boxes and don’t know the people that are literally feet away from us. We hear stories on the news about wackos and we assume that most of those people that we know are wackos. Better be safe than sorry an having a weird interaction right? …I guess? Making walls, both physical and mental is a defense mechanism. If you talk to strangers you’re seen as a weird and weirdos are bad so if I talk to the guy down the hall in my apartment he’s probably weird so it’s better to just pretend like we both don’t live feet from each other and remain strangers. 

There’s another saying that I cringe at. “An armed society is a polite society” It’s said by the same people who think “good fences make good neighbors” and the same people that think most people are weirdos. It takes a good level of cognitive dissonance to hold all of these beliefs. If most people are crazy do you really want the all armed? If it’s better to keep people away then you probably think most people are bad….do you want bad people to be armed? 

These are all false ideas. Reports on violence has gone up but actual violence has gone down. 

Communities look out for each other. They educate each other, their families grow up with each other, and have their interests tied with others. I could speculate on many ideas on why we’ve lost this crucial piece of society, but it remains that no man is an island. A community provides a very real and human sense of belonging, and “generativity.” A word so seldom used it comes up as misspelled on my spell check. It means finding your role. Communities give people roles, provider, student, teacher, coach, cook, gossiper, even “grumpy old man on porch all day” 

In my neighborhood I feel lucky to have some sense of community. I lived downtown in front of a park. A park that people love, met in, held communal events like movie nights and concerts. My elementary, middle, and high school were in walking distance and had active PTA’s. Parents were close, especially with parents of my elementary school friends. My dad helped other fathers with projects in their backyards and I did too when I got older. We mowed the elderly’s yards in the summer and had a communal snow blower in the winter. We watched each others dogs and collected their mail when they went away on trips. We had and my parents still have a genuine care for those around them. We help them, they help us. We dine with them, they dine with us. 

Good fences don’t create these interactions, giving everyone guns doesn’t create these interactions. Community creates this. We have two choices, either put up fences to eliminate opportunity , or tear them down for possibilities.