Re: Adamant

I went down a rabbit hole of ideas recently after working on a Jumble Word puzzle: ‘a mad ant’ translated to a surprisingly apt anagram for adamant. Ad-a-mant is a catchy word for a repetitive melody. For days I hummed a one word song using a made up tune. From there, my word search journey took me from early punk rock through to memories of a difficult work colleague.

This word reminded me of Stuart Leslie Goddard, aka Adam Ant! I have no idea if Mr. Goddard created his band Adam and the Ants (and later his solo name) because he was adamant about his musical role in the world. His videos https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o41A91X5pns seem to scream adamancy, so he must have considered that Adam Ant might be an appropriate label. I thought his chosen name sounded a bit like a Marvel superhero, so I did more research and found Mr. Ant was indeed written up as a comic book character.

Adamancy sounds like something that must be in Latin as part of a heraldic crest. It suggests to my ear, a level of religious zeal. I hear someone say, “This is where I draw a line in the proverbial sand.” Indeed to be adamant is to express serious concern about a topic, principle  or behaviour. I asked my partner to describe some things she was adamant about; cleanliness came to her mind first. I wondered what I felt adamant about. I do have a stubborn nature: You can’t tell me what to do! Yet I don’t want to come across as being unbending. I remember a story in my youth that had something to do with how it is better to be a reed in a storm rather than a mighty oak. The latter plant will often crack, be uprooted or break under the relentless force of the wind. 

When I am in a heated discussion I will fight for those principles I feel adamantly about. Some of my beliefs are sacrosanct: Autonomy, Optimism, Preparation, Husbandry, Honesty, Forgiveness, Redemption. Hopefully I can make my point without making the other person or group feel threatened. It is a balancing act to be authentic whilst maintaining an open mind to suggestion or persuasion. Listening to a different point of view doesn’t have to make you feel manipulated. Changing my mind doesn’t mean I’ve lost my way.

I once had a conversation with a principal where I worked as a teacher. He was adamant that all his staff pursue a consistent approach in their professional practise. He was a ‘My way or the highway’ kind of guy. I suggested that individually we could reach for consistency in our methodology but what he was really expecting was uniformity. Many people, like this school principal, want others see the world as they do in order to maintain control. This can lead to intolerance, prejudice, bigotry and racism. In any relationship the worst thing you can do is try to change the other.

Re: Compass

There is a compass rose on the sidewalk at the busiest corner of our downtown. I found it helpful when I first moved here to orient myself on the street grid. It provided a sense of place for the wayward way I was feeling while I settled into my new home. A compass rose is normally a feature on a map and as a kid I loved planning imaginary adventures while tracing the outlines on maps. I got hold of maps of ancient mariners like Vasco da Gama or Francis Drake so I could follow their routes around the world. Most youngsters enjoyed comics yet I also found pleasure leafing through an atlas, which gave me an all encompassing view of what might be possible, at least in my imagination.

The compass is one of the four great inventions that came from the dynasties of China. The device was modified through the ages from a simple lodestone beginning. Navigation over great distances became possible. It helped fulfill our innate urge to go somewhere; to boldly go where no one had been before. I was given my first compass in Boy Scouts. I learned how to use it on rambles through the woods and while canoe tripping. Having one in my pocket gave me confidence that I would not lose my way. Later I would teach the use of the compass during a fun outdoor activity called orienteering. Using a topographical map and compass bearings, students in teams could find the quickest or most efficient way to a fixed point. Somewhat like this sport is a newer craze called geocaching; this international activity uses a GPS device to discover treasure drops left by others, uniting geography with community.

I love the way the word Compass is part of the word Compassion. This was surely by the coincidence of matching letters, yet compellingly accurate since the act of compassion can show us the way to meet others in life. Being compassionate is akin to being kind and is promoted by all religions and creeds. I was once given a translation of the Bible called ‘The Way’.

Merely holding a compass in your palm can be philosophically profound. As the needle naturally settles to magnetic north, you become aware of the 360 degrees which encompasses your position. This suggests a moment of unlimited potential as you choose which direction to face, then take your first step. You are the centre of the world, have a unique vantage point and fundamental choice regarding which way to go. The cliché of ‘the way forward’ becomes a shallow expression since your options, by degrees, are in the hundreds. You can go back from where you started, veer to the northeast, or, in Peter Pan speak, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”

Technology continues apace with digital devices like the commonly used GPS, which has become invaluable for modern day adventurers.  It does position you globally in a very precise way, however, perhaps paradoxically, it only shows you where you are, it doesn’t tell you where to go. That is up to you.

Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

Re: Hate

I actually hate Hate: It scares me. Hate is normally directed towards others on our human evolutionary tree who we don’t believe belong, neither on our branch, our tree, nor even roaming around our savannah. Hatred springs from intolerance. This strong feeling can produce behaviours that damage relationships, families, communities and nations.

Love is often considered to be the opposite of hate. I prefer to think of these two feelings as residing on different spectrums. Apathy, Indifference or Ambivalence would likely be found on the other end of the Love scale. On a second spectrum, Hate on one side might be opposed by Peace. Mahatma Gandhi well demonstrated that the compassionate promotion of peace could resolve hatred. His practises in a time of change in a divided India during the first half of the twentieth century persuaded millions of people to reject hatred.

Hate has always been with us. It is sustained by each generation. As a human feeling it resists corrosion. The language for its expression sometimes changes yet the result is similarly dangerous. Currently countries are struggling with a resurgence of nationalism, racism and tribalistic reactions to local or national problems. Hate crimes have been defined, and legislation written as a response to outrages committed by the intolerant few.

The internet has been a wonderful invention that I can fortunately embrace in my lifetime. I enjoy the way its structure permits a free exchange and expression of ideas. Yet hate is found here. On various social networking platforms it is easy to find hateful comments that are passed off as reasonable or comedic opinions. Hate mail has become illegal in several countries as a result of suicide claiming the victims of this horrid form of harassment.

I have felt hatred. I once called a nasty Principal ‘Raisin Head’ in front of my young sons. I hate the current President of the United States. I have hated human behaviours, like arrogance, hypocrisy and bullying. I’m not very tolerant of people who have great wealth. I ranted over billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates ‘controlling the agenda’ of health response and I said I hated him. My friend was shocked, “I never saw this side of you.” I was angry. That’s not always my response to hateful feelings, usually I retreat and ignore out of fear of this strong emotion.

Passionate feelings can get mixed up with other stuff going on in one’s head, so it can be hard to sort everything out. Recent protests due to government requirements to quarantine over COVID19 realties have shown that some people just hate being told what to do. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/protesters-michigan-whitmer-coronavirus-covid-19-1.5551373

I hate being in crowds. The unpredictability of human nature makes me nervous. Shouting from a group can cause an alarm response in my heart. I can be timid yet I will speak out if I feel the cause is just. I would and have rallied against Hate. I try to keep a close watch over my prejudices so I may steer around them when they produce hateful notions.

Re: Pause

Thankfully I haven’t had to suffer physically from the COVID19 pandemic: Thus far, at least. Like many, I have found myself with lots of time to reflect. Looking back from some future time I may coin the quintessential phrase for this period of human time. Perhaps something descriptive like; Culture Paused.

Long before the remote control device was invented I was hitting my own personal Pause button. An Adam Sandler movie called Click explores this attempt at managing your life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZNC5emNyEQ . Time travel is suggested in the film yet for me, the Pause button was most creative. Going into Pause mode in my life is about zoning out. During moments of inner exploration I’ve come up with some astounding notions, however one button on a remote is boring, so I’ll add two others to better represent my experience: Yes, No and Pause.

Yes: Is full speed ahead and don’t turn back! Embrace life and fulfill your wishes. No: Is life as negative, a dull pit where even thinking is viewed suspiciously. Pause: Let’s digest, regurgitate, forecast while chewing on some serious cud! These three settings on my remote control are an internal function, not a response to others. Importantly, “No!” is an appropriate answer to an outside directive. I can say no readily even when I am in my Yes internal setting because I don’t want someone or something to stand in my way.

My Yes moments generally come when my partner can share my curiosities. These are mildly manic times when I felt supported to try new things, experiment with new opportunities. I have jumped into marriages, leapt into fatherhood, changed dreams to accommodate unexpected passions, embraced new places and methods. I was not thrill seeking yet I surfed on high levels of confidence that opened pathways to new adventures.

My No periods have been awful times when I denied my own personality. Time would march on for others while I made excuses to get out of stuff. I lied with a “Maybe” or “Let me get back to you.” I retreated to places that kept me from decisions. I preferred to reside in my hollow. The No button, on my device, represented guilt, failure and insignificance. I can recognize myself in stories of people who admit they have given up on life. They are in a No time. I too have once said No to life. I’m forever grateful to those who stood by me as I found my way back to Yes.

Young or old, there are times in our lives when hitting the Pause button is meaningful. Fascinated by my own hands and how they fit together palm to palm, I once confounded my grade six teacher when I asked (during the middle of an unrelated lesson) if I could exert enough pressure to expel all the air from my hands so that they would remain locked together. Perhaps forever glued, without adhesive! He asked me to continue my experiment while sitting in the hall.

I like to think that perhaps my question gave him pause.

Re: Character

Actors who play supportive roles in movies or plays are sometimes referred to as character actors. Even though Robin Williams has played the lead in films, I like the way he brings out the personality of the characters he plays. Mr. Williams is also adept at caricature. His imitation of cultural icons by vocal and physical impersonations is hilariously accurate. People who mime others surely must have great skill in observing a person’s characteristics, beyond the obvious ticks, accents and mannerisms.

I often wonder how we get our particular character traits. Some must come to us genetically, while others are likely crafted over time from our connection and responses to mentors, neighbours, coaches, teachers or friends. I have a quiet character. I am quite patient, faithful, persistent and optimistic. Those are some self-perceived personality traits of a positive nature that I hope others recognize in me. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to ask someone how they might characterize me. I might not like an honest answer.

As an elementary school teacher, I have asked my students to choose an animal that has characteristics that might best match their personalities. I have also asked them to tell me their favourite comic book superhero. One autistic fellow refused to play this game of self identification unless he could choose a dinosaur that best represented him. This matchmaking with a safe non human character lead to some great lists of characteristics and of important values like courage, fairness, cooperation, kindness, honesty and determination.

Sometimes we recognize our character in another and rejoice in the knowing. I remember a conversation I had with a complete stranger that entered into this realm of soul connection. It struck both of us as profound and later he brought me a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy saying mystically, “You are one of us.” Much later I watched the film Avatar and relived this moment from my past when one of the animated characters said, “I see you.”

Sometimes I’ve wished that another person’s character would change so that I would find them more agreeable. With maturity I realized that I would have to change my ways or find a path of acceptance when it comes to individual differences. I still love stories where the central character sees the light and vows to behave in a more positive manner. I wish that this would happen with President Trump most days, but I’ve had to conclude that some characters are immutable.

The content of one’s character is an important matter in any historical age. Men and women of virtue, from all walks of life, have provided us examples of how to live productive and compassionate lives. Who hasn’t heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak these words on the significance of character. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxc6iqRC-n8

We look to influencers who can show us the way to our best selves. Hopefully each of us can then model an example of exemplary character that ripples ever outward.

Re: Best

Those of us who are competitive or ambitious want to be more than better; we want to be Best. The urge to ‘Be Best’ would get the attention of the current First Lady of the United States of America. Ms. Trump is determined that her program, despite the poor grammar, will be valuable for child development. Comedian Randy Rainbow suggests a different conclusion.

I’ve never had the honour of being the best man at a wedding. Somedays I feel better than others. I’ve been told I am a good neighbour. I believe in the presumption that the best is yet to come yet I also realize that Good is often good enough. When I’m not feeling my best it’s usually best for me to meditate or take a nap rather than transfer my mood to someone else. I try to be better everyday but I know I’ll never be perfect ‘cause that would make me Best and who am I to say I’m better than you anyway.

Grammatically speaking I see the value of superlative and comparative adjectives. They aid the writer who’s into description. Philosophically however, I resist thinking in these terms. I don’t like the feeling of dominance that Super brings to Superlative. And without a clear criteria for comparative points of view how can you have a satisfying conversation? For example is it the Best Poutine Ever because of the crispness of the fries, the squeak of the cheese curds or the savouriness of the gravy? Just what are we arguing about here!

Discussing the qualities of film is always a lively debate in my family, especially when it comes to the Oscar pick for Best Picture in any given year. Here’s the top pick from 1946: The Best Years of Our Lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yc5PugV4mk . It’s not your average overacted late forties melodrama! When I revisit this film I’m stunned by these performances. Others may be stunned in another way by the slower story-telling pace of the film. Before an argument begins it’s probably best to say that choosing best of anything is subjective, at best.

Speaking of controversy, I had this jingle in my head as I shaved yesterday. “Gillette! The best a man can get.” The catchy tune came from this 1989 advertisement which seemed harmless for its time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThDBf14qPsc
Recently the same company got into hot water for attempting to send a message in this post #metoo age about how men could be better behaved.

The 45th President of the United States has been called many things. This sophomaniac continues to convince voters with his braggadocio attitude that he is the best choice for your vote in this election year. He has called himself the “Greatest president God ever created.” New red ball caps may need to be embroidered ‘God Knows Best’. My anxiety levels need lowering so I’m hoping that beastly Trump gets bested in November.

Re: Herd

A pandemic is declared. The behaviour of humans is now a matter of life and death. The human herd is working hard to protect itself from the Coronovirus. Details change daily, sometimes hourly, in terms of government directives and casualty figures. “Have you heard the latest?” is the question posed by neighbours, family and friends even as they practise social distancing and spacial awareness lest the virus reach out its infectious properties. Since we are affected as a group in these situations, we necessarily respond as a group. We can help or hinder each other’s health by how we look after ourselves and our herd.

I have found it curious to be a witness as countries and their governments decide how best to take on the issues presented by this pandemic. At the outset of risk to their country, the United Kingdom chose to pursue a controversial policy endorsing the concept of Herd Immunity.
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/herd-immunity-slow-coronavirus-pandemic-200320092928984.html. They soon reversed their position when infected numbers grew alarmingly. There is some logic to letting things work themselves out, but as a society where do we draw the line on numbers of dead people? Stranger still is how we tolerate lifestyle illness, suicide and traffic deaths more readily than succumbing en masse to viral infection.

Herding humans is an art form at Disney resorts around the world. Here, park goers are herded efficiently through endless lineups to get to their tickets, get them to their ride or help them get fed. I’ve always been anxious in a herd, part of it has to do with being an introvert. Amusement parks, arenas and packed airports are places that make me hyper alert. As an individualist, I’m not myself when others surrounding me have the potential to exhibit random behaviour, so my tendency is to resist the pull of the mob. Herd behaviour was seen recently as shoppers struggled to stock up on social isolation supplies. Survival is the imperative to the point of scoring the last rolls of toilet paper, canned SPAM or, more menacing still, ammunition. Herd mentality clicks in during crisis.

Once, as a young father I had to quickly gather my young sons at their grandparent’s trailer park location. There was a commotion over a car, seen racing through the park grounds. The driver was cornered near us by bat and crowbar carrying residents who smashed his windshield. Further violence seemed imminent. Fortunately the police arrived in the nick of time and took the cowering driver into custody as park citizens continued to taunt and shout their anger. My children saw a herd of humans at its worst.

There are other formal names given to animals that gather. I’d like another word than Herd to describe humans. We could Band like gorillas, Parade like elephants or even Convocate like eagles. Being Shrewd like apes might be helpful to emulate. In Canada we humans gather to make decisions like owls in a Parliament. My favourite collective noun is a Zeal of zebras.
I could join that fun sounding herd.

Re: Mean

“Everything happens for a reason” is easy to say, harder to believe. Just what do we mean by that phrase? Perhaps we are merely trying to find meaning in what might have just happened to us. We want to fathom the grand meaning of life, yet we don’t have the context to make a reasonable connection. To paraphrase a classic, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in my son’s backyard, I’ll be inclined to go ten pin bowling.”

Imagine a strange scenario: A baby born in the backcountry. Her parents die and she is raised by wolves. She survives, thrives, grows old and dies never having known another human. Did her life have meaning? Surely life can have no meaning without context or connection. We have meaning only when those we have touched remember us and respond to that memory. I think that is why funerals (or Celebrations of Life) are so important. During an end of life event, we get to pronounce what a person has meant to us. As a collective we confirm that the person did not die in vain; that a legacy remains despite the loss. We, by extension, are made significant for having known another and are encouraged to continue our journey.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write about the word Mean for a while. Sometimes with a word like this it’s hard to cover all the thoughts that bubble up. I mean it! I could go on a rant about how I wish people weren’t so mean to others. Or I could say how happy I was to discover that the mean price of a house like mine has risen in the last six months. Each time I pick apart a word my intention is to find out how it has affected me.

Perhaps intention is key to meaning. When we say we want a meaningful relationship with someone, we are intending to give as much as we get. Reciprocity can add to our understanding of life. It starts by ‘walking a mile’ in someone’s shoes. Yet sometimes after all we do to find commonality and mutuality with another, we must go our separate ways and define a new meaning for our personal path.

Graffiti, like other art forms, is rooted in an exclamation: I exist! All artists use creativity to find meaning. Regardless of an artist’s depth of training or natural skill, their work shows us what they have discovered so far. One of the first ubiquitous bathroom stall etchings was a drawing of a head with a large nose peeking over a horizontal line with the caption, ‘Kilroy was here’. A one-liner, a bumpersticker or a meme all do the same thing: They attempt to crystallize our thoughts on the meaning of life.

Sometimes I have felt that life has no meaning for me. On those occasions I’ve been grateful for the loving souls who have given me counsel to let some time pass. The urgent question, “Why am I here?”, is often solved by waiting patiently for meaning to present itself.

Re: Judge

Someone who has an opinion is often thought to be judgemental, now that’s an unfair judgement. In fact I believe the word Judge needs a hard look before we jump to conclusions regarding a person’s intent during a conversation. I think evaluation is appropriate. It keeps us safe from dangerous situations and people who may wish to harm us. Judgement implies sentencing and I’m not for that. Society sometimes has to judge and individuals who are authorized by governments to make judgement must tread carefully, lest their judgement ends up doing harm. In my experience judgement can lead to abuse.

For example, I may be walking in the wilds and come across a bear. I have heard that bears are dangerous, shouldn’t be fed and may strike out when cornered. My personal conclusion is to give bears a wide berth. My evaluation may suggest bears and I have to find ways to co-exist. That would be my preference. It would be wrong to judge, that because of my evaluation, all bears must be killed or be put in cages.

I have been in conversations where someone has said, “Now don’t judge me.” This usually means that the person is not sure how I would feel about their behaviour. I have to reassure them that I’m not here to judge. I might jokingly say that they are in luck because I didn’t have my gavel with me that day. Or I might refer to Sammy Davis Jr. posing as a judge on the television show Laugh-in and uttering what would become one of comedy’s first memes “Here Come Da Judge! ”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hIcKkKID8k . Hippies might have said, “I don’t care about your behaviour, just don’t hurt anyone.”

Polite manners of speech often force us into thinking along the lines of judging or being judged. Too bad, since once an emotional line has been crossed both sides stop trying to come to a mutual conclusion. A threat has been perceived, thoughtful exchange degenerates into shouting or worse. When an evaluation can come about as a result of full participation then no judgement is really necessary, only planning together for resolution of the original problem. No further protest is needed since there is a will to rectify rather than justify.

I’ve been shaped by film as some people are shaped by books or influential mentors. One of the themes of A Christmas Carol (1951, starring Alastair Sim) is judgement. In a memorable scene at a rag shop, characters gather to talk of their employer after his death:

Charwoman, “Why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? …If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him…”
Mrs. Dilber, “It’s the truest word that ever was spoke…It’s a judgment on him.”

This scene is the clincher. Lucky for Scrooge he is given a view of his selfish, misguided life while he still has a chance to change it. He sees the truth in his charwoman’s statement, not in judgement, but in genuine curiosity; “Why wasn’t he kinder?”