Re: Understand

I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.” 

We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.

For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love. 

If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!

Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.” 

Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.

Re: Right

I’m right handed so that means my left brain is dominant too. Left brainers are logical and enjoy using language to solve problems. Our left brain also holds the controlling functions, which drives my family crazy since I am constantly weighing the odds, reducing the risk and planning strategies for comfort and continuity. I do however, feel the rightness of this approach.

Yet, I encourage my right brain. The right hemisphere thinks spatially and is usually not aware of the passage of time. This side sometimes corresponds to left handedness and is therefore often associated with artists. I once purchased a workbook to tease this creative side; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Written, a while back, by Betty Edwards, this book is a classic treatise that unlocks this poorly used hemisphere while helping many people to draw and think in a right-sided way. I believe there is an artist in all of us and sometimes we have to tell our left brain to stop being so bossy.

It may seem contradictory but you can be left handed and still have a right wing ideology. This notion of politically being left or right came about after the French Revolution, when the more conservative thinkers (think aristocrats) sat on the right side of the appointed leader of the assembly. Left wing thinkers are generally considered to be more inclusive and progressive when assessing policy. I feel sort of strangled when simplistic labels are tossed about. We can hinder dialogue and even promote division when rushing to call someone out, purely based on their political position. Folks on either side of this dividing line can spout self-righteous dogma. Everyone wants to feel like they are on the right side of an argument. Trouble is, we are rarely right all of the time. 

Currently the United States of America is locked in a right/left ideological campaign that will be tested, thankfully, hopefully, by an election. I don’t quite understand how the Republican Party has become synonymous with Right Wing Rednecks any more than I fathom how some think all Democrats are Tree Hugging Commies. Voices on both sides have shouted over each other claiming Constitutional priority. It’s been astonishing to watch so much pain and passion literally spilling out onto the streets. All the world over is tense about the outcome of who will be in charge of the planet’s most powerful country, once this extraordinary year is over.

I admit that I am left leaning yet I can appreciate that, logically, a bird needs both wings to fly straight. My conservative nature used to drive my sister nuts. I can thank my love of the arts for bringing me to mental landscapes of inclusivity often enough to be able to empathize with leftist behaviour. I feel anger when conservative governments claim they have the answers. A government is not a business. Jobs are not the most important thing. I look forward to a time when our society recognizes the value of each individual life. It’s the right thing to do.

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: 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: Need

I recently pleaded to a nurse, “I need to be rescued!” Needless to say she paid attention to this call to action and found a way to get me the help I needed. Bless her heart. Most times I think we are individually reluctant to say we need something. We like to be independent in our quest for the things we require. We don’t want to appear as whiners or be left feeling bitter because someone else got what we were needing, so generally we are quiet searchers for the things that will make us healthy, happy and whole.

We can all agree that for mere survival we need air & water. We often band together and demand needs as our rights: affordable housing, a clean environment, education, equal pay. When our side seems abandoned we protest, we argue and literally stomp our feet and bang our drums to right the injustice over the distribution of these human needs. How we define a need from a want can lead to further discord until a unified consensus is found.

Parents have to be wise in differentiating between needs and wants so their children can grow to understand. Very young children may have tantrums when they want something. In the film The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character finds out the differences between needs and wants through a humorous journey. In this scene I laugh at the childlike way he adds to his list of what he “really needs”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSWBuZws30g

Is emotion to want, as survival is to need? I’ve had some insightful conversations with my academic activist son on this topic. He easily lists Education, Housing, Employment, Food, Health Care as needs. He argues these needs must be supported by governments and to a larger or smaller degree they all are. Being a Star Trek fan, I would agree these five primary needs to be free for all, supported by tax dollars. Far from being utopian in scope, once these needs are met then we can tackle other areas of life with full bellies, open hearts and keen minds.

Trouble is, some of us think waging war is needed. Some think we need massive amounts of wealth. Others think education is only for boys or the rich or the white. Still others think the food that we grow, the water we drink must be managed for maximum profit. Information is even being commodified. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” used to be a boast, a school yard taunt or a military pronouncement. Now, in the search for basic facts, the information you need may end up costing you.

My personal needs for optimum emotional health include safety and love. Sometimes what you need has to actively pursued. Sometimes it’s a matter of seeing what has been there all along. The song, ‘Without You’ written by Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Welsh rock group Badfinger plaintively captures the universal need for love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPco24LS31A

Re: Stubborn

This word’s structure is smile worthy. Two syllables; stub and born. In a quick dictionary search I found the word is listed as having no origin. I take this to mean that someone blindly made it up during a swearing tirade after having born the pain of a stubbed toe. Anyways, that’s what I would go with, if it came up while playing Balderdash.

I’m a person who admires perseverance, the sweet cousin of stubbornness, even if I lack it in some situations. I once quit a Bronze Level Red Cross swimming program after the first session. I neither had the mental stick-to-it-ness nor the physical stamina required to be a life guard-in-training. An Olympic level athlete has to be gold medal stubborn. Just like striving for the podium however, an unbending position comes at a cost, or at least a consequence. I try to take my time developing an opinion. Once it is set in stone it’s more difficult to retract. Most often in a conflict of interest situation, when my idea isn’t part of the groupthink, I will retreat and find my own ship to captain. Passive/aggressive stubbornness?

The value of stubbornness and its costs is depicted well in the film, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’. Here, a hard scrabble west coast family owns a logging operation during a state wide strike. In a gasping portrayal of our environmental times we see several scenes of the rape of the planet for profit. Lives are altered, even extinguished in the dogged quest to fulfill a contract. The family motto is; “Never Give a (sic) Inch”. There is added tension when the prodigal son, a hippy, returns home. We watch and wonder if he will bring change. Alas he joins the foolishness of exploitation. The final scene gives us a literal middle finger from the patriarchal arm raised as the family’s tugboat pulls logs to market. The human multitude, following on the banks of the river, only shout and wave their fists at the injustice. I saw a parallel to today’s industrial titans, continuing their wasteful and polluting ways in the name of profit, stubbornly never giving an inch.

Being bull headed or stubborn as a mule can make you as immovable as a rock. Yet a rock can be covered in Rock,Paper,Scissors. A rock can erode over time. A rock can even be sold as a pet. To some, stubbornness is a manly virtue, where you stand tall, face to the wind, unbending until you crack, never backing down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA

Being a stubborn force in the world can make you an oak, a rock, an island or a wall. There’s unfairness here in amongst the stubborn, foolish pride of going it alone. The barriers you put up may close in on you as readily as they keep others out. Paradoxically, in my own stubbornness, I feel the greatest need to touch and be touched. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKlSVNxLB-A

Re: Naïve

I enjoy how language can evolve. New words are coined. Words from other languages are kidnapped and tossed into our vernacular. The English Language has always been good at borrowing from other tongues. Words can be usurped and become so familiar that we just assume that they have always been ours. Naïve is such a word that started from Latin and moved through the French before being inserted into regular English discourse.

There are many synonyms for Naïve. I hear people use this word when wanting to disparage an individual. The implication being that they need to grow up, be realistic or just stop being so stupid. I think of myself as Naïve and I don’t like it when someone calls me that, when they really mean I am ignorant. I am ignorant sometimes because I don’t know everything; can’t possibly. My naïveté comes from being trusting; which I try to be.

Certainly naïveté can be ridiculed. You are considered a fool if you are too trusting to the point of being duped. Someone who is naïve is a target for a predator. That innocence can be picked up like a scent to someone who enjoys manipulating others.

The levidrome match for naive is Evian which I find amusing. A character in the film Reality Bites discovers this in a charmingly naive way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y
I can’t help but wonder if the naming of this product is a sly wink at the consumer who is paying for essentially something they can get for free, from a tap. I have no doubt we are living in a time when corporations encourage us to trust them over mere flesh and blood humans.

If trust is a value we still hold dear, in who/what or where can we place our trust? Many people put their trust in a deity. Faith in God is all about trust. Have corporations become the new god simply to help us mortals who are bombarded by so many competing choices? When we get worn down from so much decision making it’s easier to go with the label that looks familiar.

In politics we are massaged into putting our trust in the candidate who says they have our best interests at heart. Before we cast our ballot, we must separate the rhetoric from the appearance. We must wade through the issues and pick the values or ideas that are presented before we can honestly and objectively decide amongst the candidates. This is tough work!

Some of us worry that we will make the wrong choice in our naïveté. We might err on the side of caution, reluctant to commit because of our doubts. We might choose the lesser of two evils. We might follow our peers, blindly, in an effort to fit in. At the end of the day we must trust that things will work out and hope that we haven’t been conned as individuals or as a society.

Yet voting still matters. No matter the cost, your view matters. Stand tall.

Re: Generosity

In the column of values that define me, Generosity is low on the list. I can be very selfish when it comes to my material possessions: My belongings are just that, my belongings. I think of my house the same way I think of my clothes: I wouldn’t want anyone to put their hands in my pockets. It’s almost a question of privacy. I like to provide for people when they are my guests, but I can’t seem to use the phrase ‘make yourself at home’. I do envy those with such big hearts they can shout, “Mi Casa Su Casa”. These folk likely believe that what you give comes back to you. And I believe that too. However, being an introvert by nature also makes me timid about opening wide too many doors at once.

I’ve been told I am a good host. I’m attentive and often a good listener.
My dad taught me that the best thing you can do for someone is to make them feel they are special. When someone is in my company I try to keep the focus on them. I’d actually call myself bashful if the focus turns to me so I’m more comfortable asking questions that lead to storytelling.

I once got an evil eye for commenting about a heaping plate of salad, “That’s a generous helping you have there”. I can certainly be generous with my opinions. I try to appreciate that being opinionated can be construed as being judgemental yet I so often find that life is just such a big, sometimes overwhelming, bag of curiosities. I don’t have the time or desire to proclaim judgement, just to comment.

I wonder if one can be generous in receiving? If so then I can do that. I think that’s what makes me a great audience member. I have the utmost respect for performance, which is in itself, an act of giving generously. I get such a thrill after a show, if I can speak to the artist personally about what their effort has meant to me. Certainly I am one who is generous with praise. Some would say lavish and others might say I am too gushy. No matter, my generosity extends to cheering on my fellow citizens whenever I see the merit, and I refuse to hold back. Those who are willing to make themselves seen; either in politics, sport, art or as a citizen concerned with justice, deserve to be acknowledged for their effort and leadership. I do not wish to wait to sing someone’s praises after their death.

One of the quickest ways to feel a part of a new community is to volunteer. Giving generously of your time and talent gives a boost to you and others. Since retiring I have found great value in volunteering. I have enjoyed working in this way with several groups who have shown respect for my generosity by inviting me into their special world. This in turn has made my world larger and more beautiful than I ever could have imagined.

Re: Assurance

There is great satisfaction in figuring something out and then taking the time and energy to make it all work. Artists rehearse and rehearse. Editing has a purpose: to try to remove doubt, to seek assurance that the work will be the best it can be.

I think of the word assurance in a forward way. By planning ahead I feel I can cover whatever eventualities might occur and then “come hell or high water” I have some assurance that my plan will reach a preferred outcome. I’m not one for leaving things to chance. I don’t want to gamble my life with a ‘wait and see’ attitude.

Assurance is different from insurance in my mind. Insurance is a bet you make that something is going to go wrong and then you will be compensated. I don’t want compensation. I want confirmation that I have taken steps to reduce the inevitable risks of life. Shit will happen. Assurance is what I provide for myself by checking. I look to see if I am on the right track. I refer to my self designed map to assuage doubt.

I can be slothful, but only after my plans have been made. My plans often come in the form of forecast. I like to see the future as I would like it to be, then take the steps to arrive there. It’s logical to me. Sometimes I will plan down to the smallest detail, laying out various scenarios in my head. The downside of this is that I will often be disappointed.

Being a planner has its benefits and its baggage. When you wish to be in control you must commit time to planning. Truth is, I am not a ‘random’ person. That philosophy appeals to me on a Zen level; live for today and all that. But randomness is too close to chaos for my liking. My planning is my security blanket that I wrap around me when chaos reigns. I feel I have developed a set of strategies for when I have to surrender control. I’m getting better at going with the flow when others are making the decisions yet my patience is still tested until I have some assurance of the outcome.

Some have said that plans are for fools because there is always the unknown eventuality. Robbie Burns in his Ode to a Mouse captured this in the oft repeated line; “the best laid schemes o’ mice and men”. By seeking assurance I am not so naive as to believe that I can eliminate all random acts. I know that you can’t plan for everything. There are some things that we just can’t imagine might happen, these are the unpredictables or the “unknown unknowns” as Dick Cheney once said. He also spoke of known unknowns, which I believe, with planning, you can ameliorate to some extent.

I want adventure in my life. I want to explore even the deepest forest. Assurance to me is about feeling confident that, even if I do get lost, I can find my way back home.

Re: Parent

This word can be used in various places in a sentence and in public. Everyone has an opinion, whether they are a parent or not, about what constitutes good parenting. I have seen a lot of changes in people’s views of parenting during my lifetime. The proverbial pendulum has swung from letting your kids go free range to hovering and now there is a return to a more loosely guided parental approach based on reasoning that includes plenty of dialogue between the elder and the growing child.

Most people my age can tell tales of being out in the world at an early age. I lived my formative years in Scarborough, Ontario. From grade three onward I was what some have called a latch-key kid: Apartment door key tied to a shoelace around my neck, I left before eight in the morning to walk the two miles to school, making it safely back home in time for dinner. No, the journey wasn’t uphill both ways. On weekends I would play outside all day at a nearby urban creek until my dad would come calling for me. When I was nine I was allowed to go to the annual end of summer Toronto Exhibition for the first time on my own. Mom checked my wallet for bus tickets, free entry pass and a two dollar bill and some coins. She gave me a pat on the bum and told me the usual, “Be back before dark.”

In today’s culture, I wonder if my parents would be put on charges. I can say I felt they were both good parents. I can’t say my mom was a stellar role model (especially for my sister) but both she and my dad gave me the essentials. My mom had a ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ style of parenting and I generally obeyed whereas my sister used my mom’s contradictions and absences to full benefit. Both my parents worked (my dad had three jobs for a stretch) so I was often expected to be the guardian older brother to my only sibling. That role gave me parental insight, but mostly I felt saddled by unwanted responsibility at too young an age.

It’s commonly said there is no such thing as a ‘parental handbook’ and there is no sure way to predict if your particular parental approach is going to deliver the perfectly well adjusted child. Yet everyone seems to be watching and providing a critique on how you are doing.

I used to lead a series of parenting workshops with my late wife. First we were asked by other folk in our church congregation to play host to circle discussions on child rearing. Word spread of our apparent success as facilitators and soon we got a gig with the city to run a series of night classes. Our qualifications? Parenting three sons and having a willingness to learn with others.

Two of my sons now have babies. Time for me to watch and learn some more.