Tag: society

Manners, People. Manners

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Yesterday, Richie and I were in Rockport, Massachusetts, a picturesque little town on Cape Ann. There, we got into conversation with a resident. He talked about his work (owning and managing apartments) and how much he missed his wife of fifty-eight years who had recently died. We were three humans, connecting. Then I looked up and saw in his window, a sign: “Proud to be a member of the basket of deplorables.” Oh dear, I thought, a trump supporter. {Still!} We carried on talking in our friendly way and Richie mentioned that we were here for the Gran Prix Cyclocross race. I could feel the man pull back, in much the same way I had when I read his sign. Oh dear, his body language said, one of them. (The Gran Prix is not liked by residents because it tears up the park—although the race hires landscapers to repair it afterwards.) But we continued talking, continued connecting, because we are well-mannered people.

Currently, within the United States manners have been, by some, derided as “political correctness.” They’re not. They are an essential survival tool for a society. When manners go, society goes. Good manners towards another human indicates respect. No, you needn’t agree with their positions on things, but your display of good manners confers to them the respect due to another member of your society and by doing so—and this is key—you also establish to them, your own sense of self respect.

Invariably, rude people are unsecure people. As President Obama recently observed about a certain someone who most decidedly lacks good manners, “he pumps himself up by pushing others down.” When we feel threatened—insecure—our instinct is to hit back to force our threatener to feel worse than we do. Ergo, we are not at the bottom anymore!

Manners prevent us from lashing out destructively while we (ideally) work out within ourselves that which is making us feel insecure. The process of working it out is self-responsibility. Accepting self-responsibility is growth. Growth feeds self-respect.

Courage: grace manners under pressure.

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The Commodification of Creativity. . .

. . .is nothing new. Renaissance devotional panels were commissioned and the patron usually insisted that their likeness be inserted, next to the Madonna and Child. Kind of like a selfie with the Pope.

So it’s nothing new to have artists paint for patrons.

But these days, though, there seems to be  a proliferation of what is euphemistically called some version of “idea tanks.” A pseudo-creative tag that hides the business of commodifying creativity. Here’s how it works: business people get an idea, which invariably is more or less a rip off of something that has already been successful, hire a “content provider” to make it and then market the heck of it.

This is a commodity, pure and simple. It is not a labor of creativity. It is a labor of…well, labor. Kind of like factory work. There’s nothing wrong with factories and the commodities they produce, but creativity is not factory work.

Creativity is for taking leaps and pushing boundaries and all about making the artist grow and when she presents her creative work, the public, experiencing it, grows too.

Think about Andy Warhol and how he presented our commercialism as art and how it made us think about our world. Think about The Catcher in the Rye, and how it defined adolescence. Think about Piero della Francesca and how the stillness in his frescos ring with the exhale of God. Think about To Kill a Mockingbird and the photographs by Dorothea Lange. Even thinking about them, picturing them in my imagination makes my lungs fill with cool, fresh air.

If all we feed people are commodities—stale air—they’ll never know what they’re missing, because they’ll never how much more inspiring it can be. It doesn’t have to be all worker ants and the ones that control them. Or maybe it does.

The Renaissance is over. The age of communication has begun.

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No Problem

I’ve been thinking about thank you, or rather its response. The traditional response when someone says “thank you” is “you’re welcome.” But you rarely hear that anymore. When I listen to an interview and the interviewer says “thank you for coming on the show” the interviewee usually doesn’t say “you’re welcome.” More often they say something like “thank you” or “it’s been a pleasure”, or “I’ve enjoyed it” or “thank you for having me,” and on and on.

I’ve noticed that with twenty-somethings, “you’re welcome” has been replaced by “no problem.” How this started is a mystery to me. It partially speaks of a consciousness of we are all in this together, which is nice, but it also speaks of a self-absorbed world. This is highlighted when I’m at a restaurant and my server, say, fills up my water glass. When I say ”thank you” and he says “no problem” and what I really want to say back is “I didn’t think it would be since it is your job” but I don’t because they wouldn’t get it and would just think how they’re not going to become a crotchety middle-aged person like me.

Responding “you’re welcome” speaks of knowledge of the self and the role it has played in the particular interaction for which you are being thanked. “No problem” speaks of a sense of blissful arrogance—“I am doing this for you, but I’m going to graciously assure you that it is not a problem for me, in case you were worried.”

Or, perhaps “no problem” is not so self-absorbed but is instead a resigned dismissiveness to the baby-boomer generation—a generation that has squandered their responsibility to pass along a viable planet. Perhaps they are really telling us, “it’s no problem for me to do this for you, unlike the huge problems you have passed on to me. Thanks for nothing.”

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Strong Men Marry Strong Women

There is a trend I’ve been noticing in the public forum lately–that of men publicly respecting their wives. Not the age-old, rather patronizing professed admiration for their mothering skills, but a real respect for them as partners beyond gender stereotype. It is perhaps most noticeable in Barack Obama. He clearly and publicly respects his wife and perhaps this has given tacit, sub-conscious permission for all strong men to publicly respect their wives. My own husband is a case in point, although he didn’t need the permission of the commander in chief to extol my virtues (as he sees them, others may disagree). He has been on my side since day one and made it no secret.

Another notable respecter-of-their-wife is mega-author Stephen King. I don’t know him personally, but I did read his “On Writing,” a book that is part memoir, part writing advice and a paragon of clear thinking. He doesn’t go on and on about how his wife, Tabitha, is the “wind beneath his wings.” He just tells it like it is, inserting her contributions into his success where they belong. There are plenty of them and they are pivotal. In this way, he is paying her the compliment of genuine respect—he’s not overstating it, and not understating it.

It’s a good trend—this trend of men being strong enough to be vulnerable enough to give someone else the credit they deserve. Women are strong. That’s just a fact. And as more and more men stop trying to ignore that and more and more women accept their own strength, we become the partners we’re supposed to be.

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The Real Thing and the Performance

Today I watched someone die. I had watched him become weaker and weaker over the last two days, and this morning he was too weak to stand or get out of bed. I sat and held his hand and gave him water mixed with ice chips that he seemed to gratefully take in. He had tremors for a while then he subsided, and for a time the only sounds in the room were the ssslip, chuuunk, ssslip, chuuunk of the oxygen machine and the rattle of him trying to get breath into his lungs. After a time, the breaths got further and further apart until there was an exhalation with no inhalation. And he was dead. It was peaceful.

We all sat with him in the room and said our goodbyes. We shared memories and stories as we stayed with him. We were waiting until his daughter, driving furiously home, came here before we called the police and got society involved. His daughter came, said her goodbyes, and then we called. And that’s when the natural world ended and the performance began.

Flashing lights, hurried steps, uniforms and blaring radios. His simple passing, as natural as a birth, was transformed into high drama. And then later, the funeral home people arriving with their blue latex gloves and their hastily donned ties, for respect. They zipped him into a bag and carried him somewhat clumsily down the ramp, onto the gurney, into the anonymous sports utility vehicle.

Maybe the processing of death in a ‘civilized’ society has to be this performance. But I was privileged enough today to be shown the real thing; the quiet harmony and natural rightness of a passing when its time has come.

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SOS

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At a whiskey drinking little get-together last month with a new French friend, Richie, Michel and I got onto the subject of being rescued, as in, “Mayday” which comes from the French, “m’aider”­­­­­­––help me. We had been talking about sailing and ocean storms and the type of person who likes to go to sea and risk their life. Richie likes to watch storms at sea on the TV; Michel and I are both sailors with blue water experience, so we like to experience storms at sea in person. But perhaps ‘like’ is not the appropriate word here since there’s not much to ‘like’ about being soaking wet, cut and bruised, sleep-deprived, nauseous, and fearful of dying at any moment. Maybe ‘appreciative’ is a better word.

 In our coddled twenty first century Western world of home and hearth, we experience adrenaline surges as spectators. We root for our favorite sports teams; anxiously watching them live on TV. We watch reality shows that pit people with dangerous situations, just like the ancient Romans did at the coliseum. Participating in virtual, rather than actual adventure takes away the contrast. Taking away the contrast takes away the appreciation.  And life should be appreciated. As the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki was fond of saying: “Pay attention, pay attention, pay attention. Because your life is going very, very quickly.”

The acronym SOS, I learned from Michel, stands for “Save Our Souls”.  This tugs at my heartstrings, as it seems so touchingly archaic. It speaks of a time when people held the soul, that anchor of life, as something rare, unique, and precious–something with weight and worth. I can’t really think of anyone thinking up the words “save our souls” in this day and age.

SOS today would more likely stand for “Save Our Stuff”.

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Growing Pains

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Trained to look at the bigger picture and to deconstruct what seems to be apparent; I am pushed to apply these ideas to the massacre of children. As a forty plus year resident of Connecticut who only recently moved to Massachusetts, I still feel like a Connecticut-er, and the killings in Sandy Hook affected me in a familial way. These were my people, my state. Any news of people being slaughtered will shock and tear but these were my babies. That is how it feels.

Beyond the grief, then anger, comes a desire to make sense of it all. Make sense of our society, our nation. Why, I ask myself, are we like this? Why do we need to have guns, and more basically, why is ‘personal freedom’ so pervasively core to our priorities in this country?

Religious freedom (which, ironically, became intolerance to anything differing from the new religious practice) is the historically taught cornerstone for the establishment of many settlements in the colony of America. But the idea of a place to go away from King and class restrictions had to have been appealing to many of this country’s first settlers. And then there were the amazing natural resources of this country. People came here for opportunity. This is how most, if not all human societies start. One culture usurps another and then works out how it will establish itself and grow. As it matures, it faces and addresses the growing pains of being a society.

The United States, as a nation, is a young society. I think of us as adolescents. We are not children anymore, but we are not adults either. We still think our personal freedoms are more important than what is good for our society as a whole. Like adolescents, we are the center of our universe. Our wants and needs are the most important thing to us. This is not a bad thing, it is the way things grow. Before you can look beyond yourself to establishing your place in the world at large, you must first figure out who you are. That is the role of adolescence.

In the United States,  we are figuring out who we are. And like individual adolescents, our black and white ideas are being challenged. Some of us need to feel we are free by being able to own guns, and others of us need to feel free by feeling safe from people owning guns. Whose freedom is the right one? That’s what we are wrestling with now. I have no doubt that, as a society, we will grow and mature like all successful societies have. And that means limiting personal freedoms for the general good of the society as a whole.

After all, if a society cannot keep its children safe from itself, then it has failed its primary purpose—that of perpetuating itself. All successful societies have realized this at some point, and it is at that point that personal freedom has grown up and become collective good.

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