“To dispute with him, to controvert him, or even to agree with him, was a decidedly hazardous business.”
- H.L. Mencken on Friedrich Nietzsche.
I often dream of dead people. Quite often they are relatives. My grandmothers used to be frequent participants in dreams. The strange thing about the dreams is that the deceased just sort of shows up and is there. They don’t talk, don’t interact, but they are present. They don’t look like zombies, but they don’t look normal either. They are gray - that is the best way I can describe it. Almost inanimate, but with the ability to move in a limited sort of way. They are almost always present after dark too.
In the case of my grandmothers, they would simply show up at a family gathering. Often, with my grandmothers, there is some sort of time limit too; we have to return them to their coffin after everyone has visted with them. These dreams, which I have not had in a while, are pretty stressful and painful.
A couple of nights ago I dreamed that my family and I had to go somewhere and when when I went out to get the car ready, a dead person who I am pretty sure was supposed to be my great-uncle Earl was standing in the driveway, blocking my car. He was wearing a red and black plaid shirt tucked into dark khaki pants. I was pretty aggravated in the dream because there isn’t really anything you can do. I mean how do you get rid of a dead person? I went back inside, and flabbergasted told my wife that we were just going to have to wait for him to leave. A while later, when he still hadn’t left, I went back out there and pushed him out of the way so we could leave.
Another first in my short career as a parent happened yesterday. I watched my oldest daughter fail at something. Fail is a strong word, but I’ll stick with it. She’s 4 years and 8 months old. In the words of one of her daycare teachers, “some kids you have to push to the next developmental thing. Olivia goes looking for it.” In sum, I think she’s very smart. Regardless of whether not I am right about that - every parent thinks that, right? - she has not had to try very hard to do anything up to this point in her life. She’s good at lots of things without trying.
She often leaves her gymnastics class upset. Part of it is her teacher - she isn’t mean to Olivia but she is visibly frustrated with her and Olivia picks up on that. Olivia said “When I leave gymnastics, I feel upset.” “Why?” “Because I don’t like the way she talks to me. I feel like I am doing something wrong.” The other part of it, which is the larger part, is that Olivia does not appear to have the skill set to be good at gymnastics. She’s probably the worst of her group.
I have said that discipline, the idea of it and its long term implications on the most important aspect of my life (my kids), is the most overwhelming event I have faced. Despite its overwhelming nature, I have kind of fallen into a routine that insulates me. I don’t know what box my feelings fit into about Olivia “failing” at gymnastics but her are my thoughts and impressions.
- Failure isn’t the right word because not being good at something does not equate to failing. I am not a failure because I suck at baseball. Limitations is a better word. This the first instance I can think of that Olivia has been confronted with a limitation. So the way she reacts and the way we guide her through it is probably important.
- I don’t want to come across as blaming the teacher. Olivia isn’t going to get along with everyone. Having to deal with (and be subordinate to) a teacher that you don’t like is good practice for the real world. This is true because I have not seen the teacher do anything I thought was inappropriate.
- I want to make sure and instill determination into this lesson. Obviously, I am not going to make her stay in gymnastics at this class, but I do want her to learn that she has to be okay with not being good at everything and that she can’t give up just because she doesn’t immediately excel at something.
One concern I have discussed is the source of our morals. Specifically,one positive of religion and/or belief in deities is the power of those beliefs to police behavior: reward good behavior and punish evil-doers. As humanity becomes slowly more secular, what is the source of our new morality? My answer to that question is that we are alone and we are all we have. There is no other-worldly savior to protect us from ourselves or any other source of danger.
How do we distill that “truth” into morals and ethics? One of the guiding principles to guide that inquiry is that our civilization(s) have to become increasingly more inclusive. Any rule, group or idea that results in division between humans is bad. The easiest example I can think of is a religion that makes non-believers damned outsiders. Easily seen examples are homophobia, racism and xenophobia. These ideas only cause harm to the whole by strengthening a false impression of division where none exists.
My family and I are enjoying our annual trip to the gulf coast. I did not grow up a fan of the beach. Growing up, my family’s vacations were very active. We did something every minute of the day. My vacations with my kids have been very different and follow a simple pattern: wake up, eat a quick breakfast, go to beach (build sand castles, jump waves, sit, walk), come back, shower, eat lunch, nap, go to the pool, clean up, eat dinner, go to bed.
I have found that I enjoy the beach because it makes me feel small. It reminds me of the brevity of my existence. The rthymic waves erasing my footsteps or the sandcastle I build with Olivia and Julia is an almost too obvious analogy. Years ago, I had the opportunity to go to the ruins of a Roman-era beach resort near Olympos, Turkey. Each time I come to the beach, I think about the Romans looking at their footprints in the sand and watching waves wash them away; eating seafood, jumping in the water, sunning themselves. They enjoyed the beach for many of the same reasons that I do. In another thousand years, I suspect people will enjoy beaches for similar reasons. It is a good reminder to enjoy what we have while we have it. Which is what I am about to do!
Perception is infinitely more important in our daily lives than reality. On a very basic level, we may not even have access to reality and, even if we do, our ability to separate it from our perceptions is doubtful. Perception is basically all we have.
Our entwined feet are ignorant
Of the dark surrounding us
Of the cold above the red quilt
Of the dreams occupying our sleeping minds
— Thomas Jefferson (via early-onset-of-night)
“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions.”
- Paraphrased from a million people by Dr. Steve Walton.
So, as it turns out, this blog may not be wholly motivated by narcissistic impulse. I recently participated in a program with the Alabama Bar that included a Birkman Method evaluation. Turns out, I “must have ample opportunity to explain and justify my point of view.” So thanks for listening apparently, you, the anonymous interwebs, are meeting a deep-seeded need of mine.
By the way, I am generally highly skeptical of personality tests, but I have to say the forty-page report that I was given pretty much nailed me - good and bad. It is meant to help people within organizations understand themselves and specifically how they relate to others. It measures preferences in how we (re)act toward others and how we prefer others to act toward us.
On the reverse of
an ad for a phone
or is it a latte?
I remember youth.
A surplus of time
to wander the streets
searching for the
I read and hear lots of complaints from my Christian friends about atheists and agnostics who are just as evangelical as the religious. As a solid (!) agnostic who was raised a conservative Christian, I can see both sides of this conflict.
I see my friends and relatives caught in the tangle caused by their religious beliefs and I wish I could share my perspective with them so that they could live their lives under the freedom that I have come to know. That sounds very much like the old baptists preachers I grew up listening to speaking about the lost, so this is the evangelical motivation that my Christian friends complain about. However, I feel more compulsion to share what I have processed and experienced that led me to admitting that I don’t know than I ever felt to share my “testimony.”
An intelligent friend of mine is so pro-Israel, based solely on the bible, that she stated that she believes the only solution is just to blow up the Palenstinians. As she discussed the horrors that the Palestinians have committed on Israelis, I caught myself thinking about how much better the situation in and around Jersusalem (and the Middle East) would be if religion could be removed from the picture all together so that the purported differences between the two side would be minimized.
I hear my co-workers arguing about Christmas. Some are in favor of removing the secular from Christmas all together - no more Santa, Christmas Tree, etc. - in favor of a simplified, Christ-centered Christimas. Others hold to those secular traditions as valuable and part of a magical. As I look at it, I can’t help but see it from the perspective that the only value that either set of traditions have is what we give them. There is something very compelling about two poor teenagers giving birth to a baby - believed to be the savior of the world - in a stable. There is something similarly compelling about the magic that dies when a child finds out that Santa Claus is a lie.
I think about the opposition to Gay marriage and its basis in the bible (I should probably insert “purported”). Religion has drawn a line, which based on my perspective, is arbitrary. It has encouraged people to cultivate their prejudice of a lifestyle different than theirs instead of encouraging them to grow and love each other.
The recent school shootings in Connecticut showed another negative aspect of religious belief. In response to my assertions that we need to act to minimize the potential of acts like this in the future, many of my friends asserted that the government had removed God from schools or that Jesus was going to heal the hearts of the victims’ families. One of the strengths of religion is when it serves as a coping mechanism for negative occurrences. This one of the reasons it has been such a consistent part of the human experience. However, it is also at times a vehicle for avoiding personal responsibility.
So I catch myself wishing I could change those beliefs that I see as counter-productive or harmful. As I have explained before, I believe that we are all that we have. There is no external source of help. To be even more cliche about it, we’re all in this together. When Religion (or anything) obscures that perspective, it bothers me.