Sunday, April 28, 2013

Right the wrongs

Last June, a lot of media attention was given to Karen Klein, a bus monitor who was bullied by children on the bus.  Fourteen minutes of bullying was caught on video.  Seeing this video inspired people to donate money to Karen Klein.  She ended up with over $700,000, and she chose to create the Karen Klein Anti-Bullying Foundation.

What my friend said was, "Where's my money? I was bullied for a lot more than 14 minutes!"

He estimated that he was bullied at school 140 days a year for 2 hours each day for 7 years, and bullied at home by his brother 300 days a year for 2 hours a day for 7-8 years.  That comes to 1,960 hours of being bullied at school and 4,500 hours of being bullied at home, for a total of 6,460 hours of his childhood spent being bullied.

And that was all he mentioned in that context, but that's not the only suffering he has known.  He counted what his brother did to him as bullying.  But there was also the father who never approved of anything he did, who told him he didn't measure up to his older sister, who doled out physical punishment.

What doctors did to him when he was a young adult he doesn't say much about.  It was too traumatic to talk about.  There was something about a procedure which is usually done with anesthetic being done without anesthetic.  There was also something about them treating him as a freak, a spectacle.

There are the frequent migraines.  The knee joints that have hurt him since he was a toddler.  The two fingers that were hurt in two different injuries and have never been the same since.

But those are conventional medical problems that can sometimes be alleviated by medications.  They are nothing compared to the pain he experiences every day.  No clear diagnosis, though it's thought to be some sort of autoimmune disease.  Nothing to alleviate it.

People gave Karen Klein money because they felt she had suffered too much, because she deserved something good.  My friend too has suffered more than anyone should have to suffer.  The world is filled with people who have suffered bullying, harassment, intimidation, violence, illness, injury, and injustice.  How can we wrap them all in kindness? How can we right the wrongs?  I can't fix it all myself, but how can I be part of the solution? I help by being a friend to one person who has suffered. What else can I do? No one should have to suffer the things he has been through.

Seeking truth vs. seeking validation of pre-existing beliefs

The Friday before last, the news was all dominated by one thing.  I was taking a vacation day from work, too tired to do anything, just lying there listening to the radio, so I heard a lot of it.  One thing that I heard was Shankar Vedantam saying that when we hear about things like that, we frame it in terms of our pre-existing beliefs.  He talked about how after the Newtown shootings, some people focused on guns while others focused on mental illness.

Then my friend called me, ranting about how outraged he was that some people on the internet speculated that one of the Boston bombers was Sunil Tripathi.  It struck me how much that came from his pre-existing beliefs, that of all the things that happened, that was the only thing that he was going on about.  People say all kinds of stupid things on the internet, this was just one of many stupid things people say on the internet.  But to him, this was the most important thing.  More important than the bombing itself.  More important than the good things people did afterwards to help the victims of the bombing.  More important than the fact that the New York Post printed a photo identifying two innocent people as suspects.  More important than the fact that more reputable news media (such as NPR, which is what I was following) did a better job of presenting accurate reports.

The same set of events has different meanings to different people, depending on their pre-existing views.  People seem so wrapped up in proving their point.  They don't use research to search for truth.  They use research to search for evidence to back up what they already believe.

On Facebook, I see lots of posts that are about showing how stupid the other side is.  They imagine that everyone who disagrees with them is some monolithic other side, with no diversity or subtlety or reason, and then the post things putting down this imaginary other side.

A liberal posts a photo captioned, "If you believe your factory should not be subject to federal regulations,  then you should not get federal funds when it blows up."

A conservative posts an image that says, "The 2nd Amendment isn't subject to opinion polls."

Both of these statements include underlying premises about what the people on the other side believes. I think that they are painting the other side with a broad brush.  That offends me.  It seems like the goal should be to seek truth.  The goal should be for all of us to work together to learn how to thrive as the human race.

What I would like is to see everyone trained in rhetoric and logic.  For example, one device that is used is to present something as "what the government's not telling you," or "what the corporations aren't telling you," or "what the media's not telling you."  I think people respond to this.  They instinctively latch on to the idea of a cover-up.  But if they were savvy to the fact that this sort of phrasing is often used as a way to tap into people's emotions, then they could see past that part of it, and more clearly evaluate how much truth there actually might be to the claim.

What can I do? Can I help my community to seek truth?  In a way, it's what I've wanted to do my entire adult life.  In my 20's, I wanted to do research to figure out how best to address social problems.    I was concerned that the solutions people were throwing at poverty and violence were based on ideology, and I wanted to do research to find out what really would work.  In my 30's, I wanted to work in educational administration, to help shape schools into environments where student learning would thrive.  Now I am thinking of being a librarian, to preserve and pass on knowledge.  I still don't really know what exactly my niche is, but what has been consistent is that I want to contribute to a search for knowledge and wisdom.  In particular, I want to support the quest to learn how we humans can best live together in compassionate, just, and sustainable ways.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Human endeavors worthy of attention

People tend to zero in on certain things.  This past week, everyone was talking about Boston.  A few months ago, it was Newtown.  Explosions, bombings, shootings, they happen all the time all over the world, and usually we ignore it.  There are just certain ones that capture the attention of the nation.  People pay attention to events which they feel could have happened to them, or to someone they know.  They ignore it when they think it only happens to people who are different -- people who live in another country, or a different kind of neighborhood.

It's not only bad things that draw the attention.  There's a certain type of positive story that attracts attention.  The heartwarming stories, the dramatic stories, the stories of a particular moment, a particular deed.

What people don't pay attention to is the everyday hard work that it takes to build something good.

I can't really blame people.  We evolved this way, to pay attention to certain things. But we also evolved with the power to reason and make choices.  And my choice is to think about the everyday hard work that it takes to build something good.

  • Parents going to work, earning money to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their children.
  • Parents listening to their children, playing with their children, treating their children with respect.
  • Musicians, dancers, and dance callers putting in hours of practice in order to learn to do something that will strengthen bonds of community.
  • Event organizers, attending to all the logistical details, in order to create an event which will strengthen bonds of community.
  • Organizers of community gardens.
  • Pedal People, which uses bicycles for taking items to be recycled, and delivering produce from local farms.
  • People who lead nature walks. 
Those are a few who come to mind at the moment.  The list is endless.

Better times with humans

Thursday evening.  Home from work.  Exhausted.  Glad to be home away from the bizarre humans, glad for the peace of solitude.

Friday vacation day.  Slept a lot.  In the evening, spent an hour and a half talking with someone I like. I really enjoyed it.  I like people.  

Saturday a big day.  Left my house 7am, got home 10:30pm.  Around humans all day.  The people in the crowds -- I didn't know them, but I like being around them.  They are the kind of people I feel good about being with.  The people I was with -- I know them.  I like them.

A three hour trip by car.  Six hours round trip.  I spent six hours confined in a small space with them. I did not get annoyed with them.  My liking of them only increased.

I always give rides to people.  A half dozen people have been my passengers for various trips in the past few months.  I enjoy the company.  I enjoy being useful.

Sometimes I get tired though. Sometimes I feel like I'm tired of helping other people.  When is anyone going to help me?

He offered to take a turn driving. I let him.  I sat in the passenger side and relaxed.  I didn't have to be in charge any more.  I trusted him to get us home safely.

It's like when I dance with a partner.  He's leading.  I open up, listen to where he wants to take me.  I don't have to be in charge any more.  I put my trust in his hands.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Humans are strange

Recent  news story.  A man was found dead in the woods.  It appears that he was living in a tent in the woods for some time.  The media quoted someone described as the dead man's best friend.  The friend said the dead man was like a brother to him.  The friend said he had not known the dead man was living in a tent, and he was shocked that he had just gone to live in the tent, and not reached out to friends and family for help.  The friend said the last time he had seen the now dead man was in December, and that at that time, he had been fine and not living in the woods.

He's your best friend, and you haven't talked to him since December? That brings up again something I've been puzzled about all my adult life.  Grownups don't have friends.

In high school and college, our lives revolve around our peers.  Then we go off and get careers, spouses, kids, and houses.  We don't have time any more for friends.

Grownups talk to their coworkers. Grownups talk to the parents of their children's playmates.  Grownups get together with friends for dinner every few months.  Grownups stop and chat when they see each other at the farmer's market.  To me, those are not friends.  Those are acquaintances.  Sometimes these people introduce me to other people as their friend, and it seems odd to me that they call me that.

I'm still think of the definition of friend that I had when I was college.  I thought of friends as adopted family members.  If they needed something, I'd do it for them.  I realize this is not what other people think of when they talk about friends.  I realize that the guy who refers to someone he hasn't seen since December as his closest friend is a normal person.    I realize I'm out of step with most people in many ways.  Every day I see people behaving in ways that seem so strange to me.  It's strange to me the way people walk down the street yelling profanities in the middle of the night loud enough to wake me up when I'm inside with windows closed.   It's strange to me that women think it's nice to say to other women, "You've lost weight."  To me, that's rude because 1) it implies you thought the person was fat before, and 2) you're  not supposed to talk about people's bodies.  It's strange to me that people think it's appropriate to go up to complete strangers on the street and ask, "Is that your  natural hair color?"  It's strange to me that people go up to pregnant women who are complete strangers to them and want to touch their bellies.  It's strange to me the way men will be friends with me for a while, always calling me and asking me to do things with me, and then all of a sudden they'll stop, and they say the reason they are not comfortable with me any more is because I want too much from them. It's as if they completely forget that they were the ones who were always asking me to do stuff.  It's strange to me that when women see photos of babies, they make noises that sound as if they are wailing in pain, because they think that the babies are so cute.  It's strange to me that people seem to believe that the best way to get others to do what they want is to try to act intimidating and threatening.

So, all these things and more seem very bizarre to me, and yet, they are apparently widespread practices.  Therefore, I realize that I'm actually the strange one.  I don't really blame anyone for acting in these ways.  I know they are just doing what normal people do.  I'm just glad I'm rich enough to be able to live by msyelf, so I can go home and listen to music and escape from all the bizarreness around me.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

True stories

Last night I listened to the story "Dr. Gilmer and Mr. Hyde" on This American Life.  It was a compelling story.  Actually, I don't listen to This American Life that often, but when I do, I usually find it to be telling a compelling story.

They don't just tell you what happened.  They know how to tell a story.  They develop characters and build suspense.  And they do all that while telling true stories.

Often, books and movies are based on a true story.  They alter the facts in order to make the story more compelling.

Druids are storytellers and historians.  What if in our commitment as historians, we were committed to telling true stories, without adding embellishments to make them more dramatic?  I don't think fiction should be banned.  I like fiction.  But I think fiction should be clearly labelled as such, and people telling true stories should be very conscientious about sticking to the truth.  Perhaps my Quaker background comes into play here -- truth is a core Quaker value.

The world around us

People in my culture spend time on Facebook, playing video games, watching youtube videos, watching movies, etc. I think reading books counts too. And listening to radio or mp3s. People engage their minds with images on a screen or page, and with sounds that come through speakers or headphones, instead of of engaging with the sounds, sights, and life forms immediately surrounding them.

Why is that? Maybe it's that these virtual realities are designed by people to capture the attention.  The world immediately around us wasn't designed for that purpose.  The world immediately around us is full of life forms whose purpose is to survive and reproduce -- they have their own purposes, purposes other than capturing our attention.

People decry the amount of time we spend in virtual realities.  Is it bad? What's wrong with it?

We evolved to survive and reproduce.  That's how we got here, but now that we are here, it's up to us how we choose to make use of the opportunity to live.

I do want to use the internet, books, and radio to connect to the world beyond my immediate surroundings.  I want to use them to show me knowledge, ideas, cultures, points of view.  I don't want to only take in knowledge.  I want to put it out there to.  I want to put my observations and ideas out there, add them to the great mix of knowledge that humans have collected.

All of that could be done in the virtual world.  I could read books, and then write about conclusions I've drawn from the reading.  I don't want that to be all though.  I want to be alive in the world. I want to use not just my mind, but also my body -- to feel the joy of dancing and rollerblading, to feel the sunshine and the wind, to smell the ocean, to hear the birds.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


This morning on NPR, there was a story saying that BP is facing a lawsuit, and that is is accused of putting profits before safety.  Why single out BP? Isn't that the American way? Isn't that the capitalist system we've chosen to live by?

Shortly thereafter, they had another story saying the same thing.  In "Construction Booming in Texas, But Many Workers Pay Dearly," they talked about many workers get paid less than minimum wage, or don't get paid at all.  They said that 1 in 5 construction workers in Texas get injured badly enough to require hospitalization.  And, the story says that the reason for the poor pay and unsafe conditions is that customers want big houses for a low price.

There's something in American culture that says you should always try to get the best deal.  That if you pay a higher price than you have to for something, that it's because you were stupid.  I've never felt that way.  I have an attitude about money that seems to come from the Quaker culture I grew up in.  My attitude says that a seller should be focused on providing quality and service, not on price, and that the buyer should be focused on paying the price that is deserved, not on getting a deal.  I have an aversion to bargaining, because in bargaining, the buyer is expected to try to pay less than the object is worth, and the seller is expected to try to get more than the object is worth.  I have an aversion to gambling (including lottery, buying raffle tickets, and owning stocks), because gambling is about trying to get more money than you've earned.

We live a life of conveniences.  We turn a switch, and we have light.  We turn a thermostat, and we have heat.  We go to the store, and there are shelves and shelves of food.  We hop  in the car and we go some place.  But what is behind it all? What goes into producing the electricity and heat? Where was the food before it was in the store? How many miles did it travel to get here? How were the workers who harvested the food paid?  Are there pesticides in the food? Are the pesticides in the workers?   What materials went into making the car? What emissions is the car putting into the air? Where did the gas come from?

Why did BP put profits before safety? Because we demanded it.  We demanded cars and heat and fresh produce all year round, and gas for our cars, and we demanded to pay low prices for all of it.

As a druid, my responsibility is to think beyond the surface, to see all that is behind the surface convenience of light switch, thermostat, supermarket, and car.  It's not an easy task.  Our society is set up to allow us to take these things for granted.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Madeleine L'Engle

When I was in my teens, a number of decades ago, Madeleine L'Engle was my favorite author.  I re-read several of her books a few weeks ago.  I don't really like her any more.  She struggles to expand her mind to embrace diversity of race, class, and sexual orientation, but it feels like it's a struggle for her.  Her mind is still fenced in by a life of privilege. Mercedes Lackey and Tamora Pierce present diversity with more ease.

Beauty and the Werewolf

Robin McKinley wrote two stories of Beauty and the Beast: Beauty and Rose Daughter.  I read both.  I think I once read another Beauty and the Beast book told from the point of the Beast.  Other than that, I hadn't read any other Beauty and the Beast stories, or watched any Beauty and the Beast movies.  Then I read Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey.  It just seemed so much more satisfying than the Robin McKinley books.  The reason Robin McKinley is falling out of favor with me is because her stories are too fairy tale-ish.  Beauty and the Werewolf just felt more real to me.


This year, spring is later than it was last year.  My photos from March 13 of last year show my world looking about the same as April 9 this year.  Last year, crabapple leaves peeked out March 19, but this year, they are not yet out on April 9. 

This year, it seemed that winter lasted about two and a half weeks past the vernal equinox.  But on Sunday, April 7, the winds were howling all day long, and apparently that was the sound of spring blowing in.  It looks like warmer temperatures are with us now. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sick again

I am not healthy enough to live a normal life.

I am not sick enough to be considered disabled.

So I keep trying to live up to being a normal person.

No one can help me.