Friday, March 26

I've never been so tired

You know how people talk about being tired and say things like "I've never been so tired!"? Well, I've never been so tired. 

Yes, I'm physically tired. Sleep has been elusive for months. Part of that is age and part of that is the time in which we're living. And that's what is really making me so tired.

I've never been so tired of people making excuses for bad behavior and somehow justifying incivility, rudeness, and hate-mongering. 

I've never been so tired of people who make crass and ridiculous assumptions based on rumor and third-hand gossip from someone who really doesn't know but heard it from a friend who heard it from someone else.

I've never been so tired of people who are willing to believe the worst in others and who are seemingly willing to yield to their worst instincts in behavior and attitude.

I've never been so tired of people who are willing to think someone else is intolerable because they identify in a particular way, and whatever that way is whether it is a political party, a sexual identify, a racial identity, and preference for a type of music. I don't think that last thing has happened yet, but given all that is going on today, it could.

I've never been so tired of people being hateful about someone else because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes or what they wear on their heads or because of their accent.

I've never been so tired of people who are unwilling to admit their own mistakes and simply apologize, and apologize like they mean it rather than for a smippet. That's a social media snippet; you're welcome.

I've never been so tired of people who make self-righteous and selective proclamations, such as no voting on Sunday because it is the Lord's day. Well, my friend, every day is the Lord's day and that is true regardless of one's religion. Sunday may be a day of Christian worship, but the Bible calls Christians to pray without ceasing and to worship in spirit and truth which should happen, methinks, every day and not just on Sunday or whatever day your church chooses to gather.

I've never been so tired of Christians who behave in ways that are so incredibly unlike Christ, even though there's not a one of us who could hope to do that well.

For one of my classes students are reading Sartre's No Exit. His most famous line "Hell is other people" comes from that play. For some, it is the most accessible to try to understand what Sartre then believed to be true about existentialism which I have oversimplified, like the cretin I am, to this: You are your choices.

But re-reading the play got me to thinking about the time in which we live and how it is can be to think that yes, hell is being around other people. And that got me to thinking about how The Good Place toyed with the idea of hell being a place in which one is tortured by other people because of who they are and how they behave. But in The Good Place, people overcame who they were and became better people precisely because of the others and their realization that they needed each other.

And that got me thinking about C.S. Lewis's classic The Screwtape Letters and how very, very pleased Screwtape and Wormwood and their ilk must be with how very badly we are behaving and how very easily we are being led, how very willing we are not to be discerning or take any time to think things through or search for ourselves.

However, I've also been thinking a lot about how the pandemic has shaped and continues to shape so much of our thinking and behavior. Would there be this much animosity and vitriol without the pandemic? 

And then I pause to wonder if the pandemic has not been some great test of our humanity.

Thursday, March 25

Danger of a Single Lens

You may already be familiar with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. She explains this danger in a number of ways including the story of an encounter with a young American man who presumed that all Nigerian men were of a particular type based on the reading of her first book, Purple Hibiscus. Adichie replied, though she probably retorted, that having just read American Psycho she was sorry to hear that all young American men are serial killers. 
The danger of a single story.

Just recently I was reminded of the danger of a single lens.

I was asked to send some information for a "getting to know you" game. I'm not a fan of such games; I never have been. And so, somewhat churlishly, I replied with my answers. There was, however, one question that caused me considerable pause because I realized I really did not know how to answer it because I knew I could not answer it completely honestly.

At first glance, it's a simple question and non-threatening: What did you get in trouble for as a child?

From a certain perspective, it's a completely innocent question. If my childhood had been one with somewhat typical difficulties, it's a simple question. Maybe I got in trouble for stealing cookies from the cookie jar. Or maybe I got in trouble for picking on my sibling. Or maybe I got in trouble for writing my sister's initials on the carpet in chalk and blaming it on her even though she could not yet read or write. Actually, that did happen and it took my mother a few steps away to realize that my sister could not have written her initials on the carpet.  Now that I think of it, I could have shared that one because it did not end as badly as some other things did and most of the time, those are the things that come to mind. 

The challenge is that I often seemed to get in trouble for no apparent reason. That's not to say I was a perfect child because I was far from it. But my mother was wicked quick with a wicked backhand and often equally quick with a beating and sometimes it seemed I bore the brunt of her rage simply for walking in the door.

But the game questions reminded me of the times I'd made assumptions about a group of people because of who they are now, because of where we were, because of the type of gathering we were, etc. That list could be long.

We are often surprised when someone doesn't fit whatever we have preconceived or who has a background or experience that seems to be outside of whatever lines we have drawn.

It was simply a subtle but powerful reminder to me that it is dangerous to imagine that even like-minded people have seen or experienced the world in the same way.

It is a reminder of the value and importance of being willing to see the world from someone else's perspective, and realizing that even those we think are like us may actually have a very different set of experience, a very different lens through which they have viewed and experienced the world.

Sunday, April 5

Wondering about "normal"

I had to laugh out loud, and literally out loud, when I skimmed this article. The one thing that stood out is that everyone wants the world to return to normal. And, to be honest, I stopped even skimming after that.

I'd jut gotten back from going to the bank and the grocery. I wiped down the ATM keyboard and screen before I used it and then wiped it down again after I used it. Not normal. I put on gloves when I went into the grocery store, made sure I had a two-cart distance between me and other shoppers, pondered those who were wearing masks or some facsimile compared to those of us who weren't, wondered if the people behind the deli counter should be wearing masks (they probably should), noted the store workers who were wearing gloves and/or masks and those who weren't, took note of what shelves are still relatively empty and those that aren't, and offered up several prayers of gratitude that most of what I wanted and needed was on the shelves and that I can easily get to the store. Most of that not normal.

I thought about how empty the streets are. Not normal.

I noted how friendly people are even as they maintain their distance and even as there distinct degrees of quiet and sombreness.

I find I think a lot about what the world will be like once we emerge on the other side of the pandemic. I wonder, too, about other parts of the world and how isolated I feel from really knowing what's happening in other parts of the world. It's as though the media is no longer able to get information from other parts of the world. So I worry about the locusts in Africa and have to go find that information myself. Did you even know about the locust plague in Africa?

In truth, the locust plague in Africa is of less concern to me than the thousands of kids who aren't eating in the United States because schools are closed. And yet I see there are school districts that have found truly creative solutions through the monster efforts of their cafeteria staffs who prepare meals and get them loaded on school buses to be distributed to families.

I do wonder about education and if we'll be able to take advantage of this situation to really rethink what education is and how we should do it. I wonder if we'll take serious notice of the depth of the digital divide and how many of our children don't have access and what we should do to ensure they do have access.

I wonder if teachers and parents and administrators will think differently about the work of teachers and what should really be their responsibilities and what should really be the responsibilities of parents and guardians.

I wonder about the future of work and the nature of work. What jobs will change? What jobs will disappear? How will the work place have to evolve and not just because we might worry about another pandemic, but because we should be less complacent about the possibility of tragedy.

I wonder how long it will take for us to become complacent again.

I wonder how long it will take for us to be noisy and raucous and focused on ourselves again. 

I wonder if we will spend so much time yearning for a return to whatever seems normal that we won't take advantage of this amazing opportunity to change and change for the better.

I wonder if having this time to think and reflect, having this time to appreciate the Earth, will get swallowed back up into the need to return to whatever we thought normal was and is.

I wonder how long it will take to get back to devastating levels of smog and pollution once industries do their best to return to whatever they think is and should be normal, though the Earth is vibrating less and pollution levels are down. . . for now.

I wonder how many of us are and will be more traumatized than we realize as we gauge the distance between us and strangers, as we find ourselves counting cars in a parking lot, as we pause for that split second if we happen to cough to assess how our lungs feel. I wonder how much our social attitudes and behaviors will change and what will really be most important.

I wonder how many of us are thinking about the nature of our relationships and, if we don't have much family, how much we counted on work colleagues and even moderately good friends with whom we used to get together periodically. I wonder how much more effort many of us are making to connect in various ways--social media, texts, email, even letters.

I wonder if we'll be able to see the world differently because the pandemic is affecting the world. I wonder if we'll be able to see beyond our borders differently, if there's a chance we can all be more compassionate or if we'll find that even more of us will be victimized by the power players who think only about the themselves and how much power and money they can grab because of other people's misery.

I want to have faith in people and our ability to connect, be empathetic, be compassionate, but too much of what I read seems to be about those who are grabbing for headlines, grabbing for power, grabbing to shape the world in whatever narrow way they see it, which is one of the reasons I read less news and tend to skim a lot of the stories I read regardless of the source.

I wonder if we really have an idea of what "normal" is or if what we think we want is whatever was before and that we'll consider normal to be whatever comes after, but I wonder if we realize that whatever happens after and whatever we become and do and are after will never, ever be like what was before. That normal will be different, no matter what.