AMUSED OR BEMUSED – searching for another choice!
Science, the information age, TV, radio, instantaneous world wide communication, computers and the internet have made us ignorant by the accumulation and dissemination of tremendous quantities of information. It’s gotten so immense we have had to redefine the term Renaissance Man. Look what Webster has to say:
1. a cultured man of the Renaissance who was knowledgeable, educated, or proficient in a wide range of fields.
2. a present-day man who has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.
There you have it. The amount of information out there that it is possible to know has become so vast that you can qualify as a “Renaissance Man” with expertise in as little as two fields of endeavor. What chance does a merely smart guy have of keeping up? What chance does Joe Average have? What chance do the socially, economically, or educationally challenged have?
We are bombarded daily on television, radio, and the press, by a plethora of Chicken Littles telling us the sky is falling and who is to blame for it. The war in Iraq, the aftermath of Katrina, the Enron rip off, the decline of “family values” in America, a seemingly endless litany of problems we feel helpless to do anything about, leaving us dazed and confused.
This is then punctuated by hours and hours of mindless entertainment, drivel designed to make us feel better and keep us watching, because permeating it all are the advertisers who are trying to separate us from our hard earned cash by selling us their own version of “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine” “Do people have a tendency to dump on you? Well there’s no need to complain. We’ll eliminate your pain. We can neutralize your brain. You’ll feel just fine now. Are you worried and distressed? Can’t seem to get no rest? Put our product to the test, you’ll feel just fine now. Buy a Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine. You better hurry up and order one. Our limited supply is very nearly gone.”  La La La you get the picture.
Is it any wonder that for many people the choice is between bemusement and amusement? We need to explore other options. Henry David Thoreau chose to withdraw and live simply “On Walden Pond”. Thoreau is dead. The America he lived in is long gone. It was a much simpler time. We can no longer afford to simply withdraw.
Communication and transportation advances have made the world a smaller place. The increasing population puts us in ever closer proximity to each other. Today it is nearly impossible to find a Walden Pond to retreat to. And if we could find such a place I submit it is increasingly dangerous to do so. We are rapidly filling up this planet. People from vastly different cultures are in competition for ever shrinking resources. I don’t know how well traveled Thoreau was, but I doubt he had many dealings with any Muslims (terrorist or otherwise). In his day the military situation was characterized by, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes”. Today we can deliver multi-megaton nuclear weapons with great precision thousands of miles away. We can no longer afford to withdraw, tend to our own immediate needs, and let the (worldly) chips fall where they may. If we do, sooner or later some nut case fanatic is going to get his hands on this technology and make 9/11/2001 seem like a bad hair day.
We’re in trouble. The sky is falling. I get that. But I don’t want to be just another “Chicken Little”. How can I help to prop it up? In a recent class we talked about the relationship between Agape, Paradox, Dialog and Knowledge. Perhaps you could write about this subject in these pages at some point. It seemed to me that understanding this dynamic process is the key to spiritual growth and responding in an appropriate manner to events of the world we live in. It sounds like a lot of effort but I sense a message of HOPE in there somewhere. I don’t pretend to have a firm enough grasp on the subject to expound on it here. Except to say, it seemed to me that dialogue seemed a key part of the process, expressing ideas, sharing experiences, asking questions, checking sources and the like. I think dialog is the key because it’s the only verb, a word of action.
“Language is the source of misunderstandings.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
“Genius’s erudition is a guarantee son. Nix speech and stay mute.” – GOLDFERN
P.S. And funny, it is the cure too! “Meaning” issues need an extra user dialog. G.
Yep, you guessed it. My anagrams are leaking out again. They are a hobby, they are a diversion, but they are also an inspiration for me. In looking for words to make the anagram self referential I need to examine closely the definition of the words involved, look at synonyms and antonyms, and consider the intent of the original writing. These exercises help develop skills that I hope may prove useful to critical thinking on more important matters.
The first line is a quote from “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. I agree that this is certainly the case. The first anagram I did back in December of 2003. It expressed my agreement and makes a suggestion on how to proceed. I was so proud of it. I even worked in a by line. Indeed I have spent much of my life staying mute, avoiding conflict, avoiding misunderstandings, but also unfortunately avoiding understanding as well. I met Dr. Strickler in 1993. At first I was a part-time pseudo-student from afar. Even now when I consider myself a full time student, my job has me on the road 70-80% of the time, and I am constantly playing catch up either through recordings or brief reviews Dr. Strickler gives to clarify a point during the classes I am able to attend. But through it all he has been slowly and relentlessly and patiently extracting me from my shell. The journey has been long and the end is not in sight. Indeed, I am beginning to get that it’s not so much about the end as it is about the journey. It has been a lot of work. It has been at times a painful process, but ultimately a liberating, empowering, and joyous trip.
The second anagram is from this month. In a recent class we were talking about sources of information, how language is used in advertising, in politics, and in religious dogma.
We talked about the importance of questioning the sources, discovering the motives and underlying agenda of different sources of information. We talked about defining terms to be sure we’re talking about the same thing and limiting confusion. This quote from Saint-Exupery jumped to mind again. Later I returned to this anagram to explore it some more. This second anagram takes the form of a Post Script to the original and I signed it simply with a G. It still refers back to the original; it is true but a bit contradictory to the original. Shall I call it an antigram? How is it possible that language is both the source and the cure for misunderstandings? It exposes another layer of meaning. It just goes to demonstrate that a little bit of information can be a dangerous thing. Keep asking questions. Keep peeling back the layers. The truth is out there.
The more I study the less I know, and the less likely I have been to write (thus exposing my formidable ignorance). More correctly, the more I study the more I am aware of how much I don’t know. Either way, these questions come up.
What do I have to say? I am no teacher. I do not have definitive answers. I do have experiences and ideas I can share. If anyone can benefit from it, so be it, but this writing is more about exploring and developing my own spiritual growth.
What do I have to say? I suppose there is nothing that I must say. I have been fairly practiced at silence. However, this newsletter has provided me an opportunity to develop and express my ideas about the world and my life. You have put three of my articles out there for the world to see, (Do Something, Participate on Purpose, and Mercy Won Me That Future Chance). A while back I thanked you for the opportunities and assistance on the occasion of Teacher’s Appreciation Week (Festschrift for David). Recently I have reviewed these writings. Part of the value for me of putting these things down in writing and showing them around is that I now have a sense of responsibility, obligation, to practice what I preached. Well, it seems that Jack (that’s me) has allowed himself to be put back in the Box again for some time. I was astounded to see that it has been over a year since I last participated on purpose in this forum. No excuses, but my apologies to Dr. Strickler, my fellow students, and the readers of Spiritual Climate for the length of this absence. This is my attempt to continue the dialog, to participate on purpose.
The problem as I see it is not so much that we have multimedia, but rather that we have so much of it and the purpose seems to have changed. Since the dawning of Humanity we have always had the theater. Stories of the hunt told around the campfire at night. Folklore designed to educate, preserve cultural traditions or historical information and yes to entertain. We have had playwrights such as Shakespeare, whose work was entertaining, and often cloaked social or political commentary.
The printing press brought us books. Books brought to us access to novelists poets philosophers, political social essayists, newspapers, The Bible, textbooks on math, science, history, you name it. Movies brought visual action and sound into the game, theater in a can. First radio and later television invaded our homes, theater in a box.
I grew up with television as most of us have. In the fifties and sixties in Cleveland, Ohio we had three stations. There were broadcasts from maybe 7am and the stations would sign off shortly after the news at 10 or 11pm. Today we have 100 plus channels, most of which run 24 hours a day. When is the last time you saw a test pattern on TV? This is the first part of the problem. Before theater came into a box in our homes, how many theaters were in your town and how many hours a month were there actually performances going on? Now with over a hundred channels running 24/7 the demand for programming to fill all that time is so great that the standard of quality has been lowered and we see a lot of trash out there. Haven’t you had the experience of flipping though the channels looking for something worth watching?
The technology and logistics of bringing the theater in a box into our homes has a monetary cost far greater than most of us would be willing or able to pay. Enter the second part of the problem, advertisers. The purpose of this little theater in a box is no longer just about entertainment or education, etc. It is about selling you something, anything, the big bright green pleasure machine. Ever wonder why it takes three hours to broadcast a one hour football game? Not into sports? Take a stopwatch to your favorite “hour long show” and see how long the show part is actually on. The Geico gecko says it pretty clearly. He is there so we think we are watching entertaining TV but it’s really a commercial. We laugh, he’s cute, but the joke is on us because it’s true.
So how is this for another choice? Shut the box off (at least sometimes) and think.
Try making this choice. Shall I be reactive or proactive? Let’s visit Webster again.
1. tending to react.
2. pertaining to or characterized by reaction.
3. Elect. pertaining to or characterized by reactance.
serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, esp. a negative or difficult one; anticipatory: proactive measures against crime.
Being reactive is about stimulus and response. Something happens and I respond, stimulus response. I get hungry and I eat something, stimulus response. Reflexes are reactionary. If you stick me with a pin, I jerk away, stimulus response. No thinking required. These are good things. They are a part of life.
Being proactive is about anticipation, preparation and intervention. What I choose to eat when I get hungry will have consequences. From experience I can anticipate those consequences, choose to prepare healthy meals and intervene in the progress of my body. The next time you approach me I’ll be watching for the pin. Anticipation, preparation, and intervention do require thinking. These are good things. They are a part of intelligent life.
Now the question becomes, “How do I get there?” Here’s a tool to start with:
Back in the mid-80’s I took a one year excursion into middle management with the medical company I work for. I was not well suited for it. Although I was getting the job done, it was far too stressful and I was not happy. When I found myself pacing around in the garage at night talking to myself, I decided it was time to take a step back into the clinical setting. There were no repercussions, no regrets. I learned a lot about the business, which allowed me to be a more valued employee to the manager who replaced me. During that year the company had several internal management training classes. It was in one of these classes that I ran across a list of seven rules that have stuck with me. They have proven useful not only at work, but for problem solving in literally all aspects of my life. They are pretty basic, nothing too earth shaking. The key is to remember to use them and reuse them over and over again.
LIST OF SEVEN
ACQUIRE INFORMATION – Ask questions. Look at both sides of a situation, positive and negative. Due diligence is required. Get the best information you can in a reasonable amount of time. But don’t get stuck in the acquisition mode. Conrad Brean said “A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” You can always make adjustments. The sooner you get started the sooner you’ll reach the goal. Before I lose you to the thought, (Who the heck is Conrad Brean?), I better mention he was the ultimate spin doctor played by Robert DeNiro in the movie “Wag the Dog”.
MAKE A DECISION Set a goal. Change occurs, nothing is static. Nobody is in a position to make all the decisions but within your sphere of influence, who decides if you do not participate? Are their goals the same as yours? And if no-one makes decisions entropy wins and chaos ensues.
TAKE ACTION – The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, but how sad if the plan never even gets out of the starting blocks. “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” Hamwise “Gaffer” Gamgee (From “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien). Just Do It – Nike.
ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY – This is not about taking the blame. What this rule encompasses is responding with ability. We have the ability to think, to plan, to be proactive. We have the ability to learn from our experience and make adjustments. Is the goal appropriate? How can I change my behavior to alter the outcome going forward?
NO ASSUMING – I think most of us have heard that when we assume, sooner or late it makes an ASS out of U and ME. Don’t assume that because you have had a discussion and agreed upon a course of action, that the action is going to be accomplished. People forget. People get distracted. Set a time up during the discussion for completion, or in larger projects for progress reports, and follow up to be sure things are on course. This rule applies even if the original discussion involved me myself and I.
NO SECOND GUESSING – If someone has done something hurtful, perplexing, or counterproductive, don’t guess at their motivation or reasoning. This is a form of assuming and a waste of time. Of all the possibilities, it’s unlikely to hit upon the right answer with a guess. Talk to them about it. They may not even be aware their action was a problem for you.
NO FAULT FINDING – When things don’t go as planed, what you want to find is rule #1 and start the process over again with the new information gained from experience. Finding fault and blaming people immediately puts them on the defensive. Whether it’s you or others involved, fault finding is a distraction from solution finding. This rule goes hand in hand with rule 4. You want to identify the behavior that didn’t work and make modifications, while avoiding personal attacks. When others are involved and you’re identifying actions that didn’t work, use “We did this” rather than “You did this”. It focuses attention on the behavior rather than the person, acknowledges your stake in the process, and is less likely to invoke a defensive response. It’s subtle distinction and takes practice, but will allow you to progress to solution finding more directly.
In summation, whether your goal is global, national, local, or personal, I hope you find this list useful. I encourage you to take action, to participate on purpose.
One more anagram before I go.
CHOP WOOD, CARRY WATER = ACCORD A WORTHY POWER
Do the work, reap the reward. You can’t win if you don’t play.
The Best of the Holidays to You and Yours,
 Excerpts from the album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme”, by Simon and Garfunkel, Track 5, “The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine”.