Celebrities are the Ornaments of Modern Life

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Celebrities, you feel like you know them, but you don’t.  You feel like they are your friends, but they are not.  You feel like you love them, but they don’t love you.  None of these facts matter though and we experience a level of pain and grief when they are gone that is as strong and often stronger than for the death of our own family and friends.

We manufacture celebrities.  We produce and consume celebrities just like we consume products and services.  Somewhere on Maslow’s hierarchy there must be a need for celebrities.  We are endlessly fascinated by their comings and goings.  We all dream of becoming a celebrity.  A Star is Born becomes an inner mantra for our yearnings.  Attention is the holy grail of modern society. 

“Celebrity distorts democracy by giving the rich, beautiful, and famous more authority than they deserve.”  — Maureen Dowd

Yesterday, I found out that the actor and playwright Sam Shepard had died four years ago.  He was aged 73 when he passed away.  This morning I was watching reruns of the Rifleman when I heard that the son on the show, Johnny Crawford, had recently died (April 29, 2021) of the Corona Virus at the age of 75. 

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No one called me to tell me that some of my favorite actors had passed.  Sometimes, as with Sam, we do not find out for several years.  In Johnny’s case, it was only 9 days after he died.  There are no hot lines to tell fans about the passing of our favorite celebrities.  We may hear something in the news if the death is tragic or unexpected but when it is merely due to natural causes, their deaths are usually not noteworthy enough to make the 5 o’clock news.  The exception is if they rank in the top tier of celebrities. 

But celebrity is a fleeting state for most who achieve stardom.  All it takes to become a celebrity is one great movie, one great song or one great performance and you may find yourself vaulted into stardom.  It can be a very heady feeling to suddenly be surrounded by throngs of reporters and fans who want to know everything you think and everything you plan on doing.  Being treated like this is a form of narcotic.  It can be addicting.  You begin to think that you are special.  You welcome the hoards of attention bestowed on you.  You start to expect that it will never end. 

Then one day, and that day does come for most, the news hounds stop coming around.  You have had no more hit songs or starring roles in popular movies.  Your performances were less than stellar.  You were traded out of the big leagues.  You have not recently been invited on the Jimmy Kimmel Show or any of the major media shows.  The fans start to disappear.  You are no longer a celebrity.  Your star rose and your star fell.  Maybe it was age.  Maybe it was lack of creativity.  Or maybe it was simply the fickleness of people who expect their idols to stay on pedestals.   

We are surprised when our idols take their lives.  For famous writers and famous musicians, suicide seems like an occupational hazard.  Why we wonder?  They have it all.  Fame, fortune, and power surround celebrities.  Some even get elected to the Presidency of the United States.  They are the royalty of America.  They are America’s aristocracy.    

“I always want to say to people who want to be rich and famous: ‘try being rich first’. See if that doesn’t cover most of it. There’s not much downside to being rich, other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money. But when you become famous, you end up with a 24-hour job.” — Bill Murray

170731-sam-shepard-mn-1120_93f7a45307fd06eeb16c1a9e32fdd476.fit-760wAbout twenty years ago, I was sitting in a coffee shop in Stillwater, Minnesota when a scruffy lanky tall guy walked in.  I had been involved in several motorcycle clubs during this time in my life and I thought that I recognized him from one of the clubs.  I got up and walked over to him.  I asked if we knew each other.  I then asked if he belonged to any local bike clubs?  He replied somewhat curtly that he did not know me and that he did not belong to any bike clubs in the area. 

I sat back down with my friend Bruce and kibbitzed about this situation for awhile as I was sure that I knew this guy from someplace.  Finally, I got back up and walked over to where he was standing.  He was still waiting for his expresso.  I asked him his name and he replied “Sam Shepard.”  I started to mention all the movies that I had seen him in and how much I admired his acting.  I stuttered for awhile and could not think of a single Sam Shepard movie that I had seen.  This despite the fact that I had just recently seen him in a movie called “Snow Falling On Cedars.”  I asked him if he wanted to join my friend and I for coffee.  He replied “No, he had to go.”  That was the first and last time I ever saw Sam Shepard in person. 

I have had several other encounters with celebrities, but I won’t bore you with the details.  Suffice it to say, I never was invited out with any.  I never became pals with any.  I never went to the Stork Club or any other place where the rich and famous hang-out.  I have continued to live my average life in average places with an average amount of money and an average amount of talent.  Sometimes, I think my “averageness” has been a blessing.  They say, “be careful of what you wish for, you just might get it.” 

Think of the downsides of being a celebrity: 

  • Surrounded by sycophants
  • Afraid to go out in public for fear of being mobbed and importuned
  • Fearful that some nutcase might kidnap you or your family for ransom
  • Never knowing if people love you for your money or for yourself
  • Having to live up to unrealistic expectations of friends and fans
  • Dealing with people who want something from you

But perhaps the worse of all is the addiction that stardom creates.  You begin to need the adoration of your fans.  It is like needing a drug.  You get high on the cheers and applause.  But eventually things change.  You cannot deliver a number one hit song.  You can not hit the ball out of the ballpark.  You cannot write another great novel.  You begin to feel like a failure.  The narcotic of fame evaporates, and you are left alone surrounded by memories of the past.  You long to recreate the past but you soon find that you can never go back.  The past is over.  You must move on, but how?  You were “King of the Hill.” 

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What can compare to being King or Queen?

“I was a common man, and I will always remain a common man. No amount of stardom will ever consume my soul. Money comes, money goes. Fame comes, fame goes. I believe every human being is a celebrity in their own right.” — A. R. Rahman

 

 

Don’t Tell the Truth, Hide Behind a Euphemism

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New Introduction:  May, 2021

I wrote this six years ago.  Last week, (May 2021) I was teaching a class on Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and was explaining the difference between analogies, metaphors and euphemisms.  I remembered that I had written this blog several years ago and decided to see if it had any relevance.  I was struck by what I had said about policing back then since my comments have supported more recently by numerous examples.  I have decided to republish the original blog.  I will go through and correct some egregious editing and grammar problems.

January, 2015

I woke up at 3 AM the morning of January 2, 2015 with military euphemisms on my mind.   Knowing that I would forget the ideas I had, I jotted down a few notes on paper before going back to bed.   A few of the specific euphemisms that were running through my brain included:

  • Collateral Damage
  • Surge
  • Village Pacification
  • Enhanced Interrogation
  • VUCA
  • Shock and Awe
  • IED
  • Drone Kill

Thinking that this was probably a very incomplete list of the euphemisms out there, I decided to Google the following:  Military Euphemism Examples.  Here is what my screen looked like:

Pages of Search Query

You will notice that I now had 254, 000 results.  I next went to the “Glossary of Iraqi War Euphemisms” and I found a site full of euphemisms that I had not thought of.  At this point, I realized that any possible list of euphemisms that I could compile far exceeded the limits of my prose for this blog.  I had originally thought to list a few of the more commonly heard euphemisms and discuss the implications of these words in respect to our thinking and behavior.  I would still like to accomplish this objective but now with more deference to those who have gone before in this effort as well as with increased humility in terms of the extent of the problem we are facing.  (Following this blog, are two references which anyone who wants to explore this problem further should pursue.)  See the late great George Carlin on Euphemisms.

What is the problem you may ask?  David Bromwich put it very succinctly:

“The frightening thing about the use of euphemisms is their power to efface the memory of actual cruelties.  Behind the façade of a history falsified by language, the painful particulars of war are lost.”David Bromwich

Dangerous-LiarsLet’s take a concrete example to illustrate the problem more.  The United States Senate recently released a report officially titled as:  Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program.   Unofficially, it has been called the Senate Report on Torture.   I downloaded and saved the above report (525 pages) which I assume is the condensed version or summary of the full report.  Just for curiosity sake, I searched for the word Torture in the summary.  There were 131 instances of the word in the 525 page summary.

I then typed in “enhanced interrogation” and found 997 instances of the term in the report.  Apparently our Senate is no fonder of the word Torture then its intended victims were.  Given our penchant for euphemisms, I am almost surprised that they did not call it the “Senate Report on Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.”  With such a title, they could probably sell it to Human Resource Managers looking for better ways to screen potential new hires.  I also typed in the word Victim to see how many times this was in the report.  It was found a total of 6 times and in each instance, it was related to the phrase:  “United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.”  Apparently, the word victim is too harsh to use.  Maybe we should call victims of torture something like “unintended recipients of undesired attention.”  You must admit it has a sort of ring to it.  I think it sounds a lot more interesting than “victims of torture.”  We could abbreviate it as URUA which can then be used when needed so as not to offend anyone.

grave yard euphemismA euphemism is a word or phrase used in place of another word or phrase.  However, a euphemism is different than a synonym.  The difference is important because it is insidious and it strikes to the heart of the problem that we are facing here.   This is an example from Baker Editing Services on the use of synonyms versus euphemisms which I think does a good job of illustrating the differences:

“You need to select your synonyms carefully.  Euphemisms are sometimes a good choice as a specific category of synonym when selecting an alternate word.  They are neutral, mild, or vague terms that can be used to express a more offensive or traumatic word or situation without giving offense.  Rather than saying a coworker is a competitive ass, you might say that he is “driven” or “very dedicated to achieving his goals.”

war picturesNotice the difference?  When we use a euphemism, we may be trying not to give offense.  We may also be trying to hide the truth or something that might be unacceptable if rendered in plain English.  Thus in war, words like casualties replace deaths and “suppressing the enemy” replaces “killing” the enemy.  American casualties are reported but not enemy casualties since we don’t really care about the number of freedom fighters (Oh, I meant terrorists) we kill.   We did not really destroy the village and all the women and children and freedom fighters (Oops, my mistake again, I meant terrorists) in it.  We pacified the village.

(‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’, a United States major said today. He was talking about the decision by allied commanders to bomb and shell the town regardless of civilian casualties, to rout the Vietcong.)Peter Arnett

We certainly pacified the town of Bến Tre which now has a population of over 140, 000 people.  Of course, back during the Vietnam War, they were not people, they were Gooks.  I was curious to find out just how many people were killed while we “pacified” the village but I could not find any specific figures.  (If anyone knows the number of people killed at Bến Tre during the offensive, please let me know.) 

Another euphemism or at least it seems to be a euphemism is the concept of “force continuum”:

force continuumA “Use of Force Continuum” is a standard that provides law enforcement officials and security officers (such as police officers, probation officers, or corrections officers) with guidelines as to how much force may be used against a resisting subject in a given situation.

excessive forceThe principle idea here is to use only the amount of deterrence necessary to protect oneself and also accomplish the objectives needed by the situation.  Practically speaking this means that if someone calls you a name, you do not shoot them.  If someone comes at you bare handed, you may use the minimum level of force necessary to protect yourself.  This might mean you would use tear gas or a Taser before you would blast them with a shotgun.  I mentioned that the concept of force continuum seems like a euphemism but perhaps it is more of a misnomer since it often seems like it is an upside down continuum with police shooting first and asking questions later.

The problem of euphemisms is evident in policing as well as in military situations.   However, it is more insidious and subtle here and thus more difficult to recognize.  Nevertheless, it plays an important role in police efforts to prevent crime and violence.  If instead of looking at someone as a human being or a citizen, police label them as “violent perps”, then they will likely use more force than they need to.  Many of the recent examples in the news of “police brutality” reflect this overuse of force due to the stereotyping of African Americans as more violent and dangerous than Whites or other ethnic groups.  Again, we see the problem here is that we are labeling people not as they really are but as we are programmed for them to be. Human life becomes cheap.  Maybe we should call it a “killing” continuum instead of a “use of force continuum.”

euphemismMadison Avenue has become an obscene part of the communication process in both the military and law enforcement.  Hide it.  Obscure it.  Obfuscate it.  Give them what they won’t understand.  Make it sound benign.  Sugarcoat it and they will buy it every time.  We did not kill the man.  We neutralized him.  We did not choke him to death.  We used acceptable deterrence procedures.   We did not abuse the woman; we used standard assault control techniques.   Let’s not say what we mean.  Let’s not call it what it really is.  He injured himself in the course of our investigative process.   She was injured while we were restraining her for her own safety.

Euphemisms are dangerous.  I would go so far as to say they are evil.  They hide the truth.  They convey a message which does not fit reality.  They paint an inappropriate picture of what is happening in our lives.  They distort the facts.   Without seeing things as they really are, we are lost in a fog of illusion.  We are navigating in a maze without any sense of direction.  We are looking in a mirror that shows us what others want us to believe and not what is really happening.   Here is a recent news story about a 90 year old war veteran who was arrested for feeding the hungry.  Notice the euphemisms:

“While video available on YouTube shows Arnold Abbott and ministers being taken away in police custody, the Mayor states that Mr. Arnold had not been arrested, but rather was detained, cited, and ordered to appear in court.  Those cited face possible jail time and have taken the city to court to fight the ordinance.”  CNN,  11-5-2014

Should you get arrested, I hope you will remember the difference between detained and arrested.  It might help in your plea to the court.   Here is another example of a euphemism that has evolved over time.  It is from the pen of the famous cartoonist Scott Adams known for his Dilbert series.

“You’re fired.”  (1980)

“You’re laid off.”  (1985)

“You’re downsized.”  (1990)

“You’re rightsized.”  (1992)

Do words matter?  Of course they matter.  Why would advertisers, marketers, PR people and political pundits go to such trouble to use words to disguise meanings if they did not matter?

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’  (From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.)

bank exampleThe golden rule applies unilaterally when euphemisms and misinformation must be spread.  The golden rule is “he, who has the gold, makes the rules.”  In most cases, this easily answers Humpty Dumpty’s question about who is to be the master?  The person who has the most gold is the master.  The poor, the underprivileged, the defeated, the economically disadvantaged, the bottom of the pile minorities, and lower income groups do not get to choose the words and make the euphemisms.   If they did, it might lead to a type of new grammar which I would call “reverse euphemisms.”  This is euphemisms named by a group that has nothing to hide or would really like to see the truth out.  Thus, in Michael Brown’s case it would have been said that he was:

  • Indiscriminately slaughtered
  • Butchered in cold blood
  • Executed
  • Assassinated

Eric Garner did not die from aspiration or asphyxiation or not being able to get a breath while in a police restraint.  Eric (it would be more accurate to say) died from:

  • Being strangled to death
  • Choked to death
  • Unwarranted and unnecessary application of dangerous and lethal police procedures

article-eric-garner-wife-1203All lives matter:  Black, Brown, Yellow, White, Blue, Pink or any other color.  No exceptions.  No one’s death is a cipher.  When we diminish the victims meaning and their importance through the use of sophistry, euphemisms and carefully crafted words to hide behind, we increase the probability that no lives will matter.  We must not allow others to hide behind words designed to conceal the truth.   Start speaking the truth.  Say the truth.  Change the words you use to reflect the truth.  The truth may just set you and the world free.

Time for Questions:

What is your favorite euphemism?  Why?  What do you think would happen if we stopped using so many euphemisms?  Would we have more truth or less?  Do you think euphemisms are helpful or harmful?  Why?  Can you trust what anyone means anymore?   What is the difference between a lie and a euphemism?

Life is just beginning:

Here are some good sites to visit if you want to explore this subject further:

 

 

 

 

The Legitimization of Greed

 

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Let me start off with some major caveats.  First, greed has always been with us.  Second, among certain people, there has always been excessive greed.  Third, we will never eradicate greed in the human species.  Why then you may well ask, another screed against the excesses of greed? The answer is that we have entered a new era of greed.  Never before has greed been so widely accepted and so widely admired. 

Throughout history, prophets and religious leaders have warned us about the pursuit of wants that never satisfy the soul nor do anything to enrich humanity.  In the past, greed was the mindless pursuit of more.  Jesus said that “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” – 1 Timothy 6:10.  The Bible says more about the dangers of money and possessions than any other subject.

Ignatius of Loyola gave this message to his followers:

Lord, teach me to be generous;

Teach me to serve you as you deserve;

To give and not to count the cost”

Gautama Buddha made the following comment concerning greed:

“Inflamed by greed, incensed by hate, confused by delusion, overcome by them, obsessed by mind, a man chooses for his own affliction, for others’ affliction, for the affliction of both and experiences pain and grief.”

Islam has many comments about the evil of greed and the pursuit of more and more:

“Three Habits Destroy

a Man Or Woman:

Greed, Envy

and Pride.”  ― Hamid al Ghazali

“Greed is permanent slavery.”  — Ali ibn Abi Talib

If greed has always been with us, then what is different today?  The difference is that in the past, greed was recognized as evil and as an element that would distort human nature.  Today greed has become legitimate.   

The definition of legitimate is: 

To give legal force or status to; make lawful.

To sanction formally or officially; authorize.

To demonstrate or declare to be justified.

5451174-1020-PXWe shop till we drop.  We invoke our privilege to use our money as we want to.  We make holidays out of holy days where we spend our time hunting for bargains and sales.  Greed has now become a sacrament.  Greed is no longer evil.  Greed is holy.  Greed is the American Way of Life.  Millions of Americans adore the wealthy.  The story of Lazarus holds no credibility – Luke 16:19-21.  Nor does the story of the Rich Fool – Luke 12:13-21.  Money is sacred and those who have more are worshipped by Americans and exalted as better people and better leaders.  We elect millionaires and billionaires to Congress and even the Presidency on the sole basis of their acumen at having stored up wealth.

Wealth Trumps compassion.  Money Trumps kindness.  Possessions Trump love.  No one would argue today that leaders should have compassion, kindness, and love for others.  These are sentiments that hold no currency.  The values that Americans believe in today are bitcoins, stocks, bonds, gold, and credit ratings.  Wise people are not listened to.  Instead, rich people are sought out and worshipped because they are smart enough to game the system and attain more than the rest of us.  A 3,400-foot home with four bathrooms for people with no children is a sign of success and not wretched excess.  A Porsche, BMW or Mercedes is proof that you are an important person.  Living in a neighborhood with walls and private security guards helps you to feel safe because wealth is envied by those who do not have it and they might take it away from you. 

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Living the good life today means having more than your neighbors, friends, or relatives.  According to Merriam-Webster, success is “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.”  Success is not measured in America by kindness, compassion, or love for others.  Millions of people watch reality shows where fame equals success.  A new breed of celebrities exists solely on the basis of being famous and not for any achievements. 

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Movie stars are the aristocracy of America and are adored because of the illusions that they present and not because of reality.  John Wayne is the Icon of American Manhood.  He was a man that personified heroism and masculinity.  In reality, he was a racist who denigrated Black people, Gay people, and Native Americans.  He received a 3-A (family deferment) after Pearl Harbor and never had to fight except in his many heroic movie roles where he extolled American militarism.  Movie stars are idolized because they are rich and famous and have more of these attributes than the general population. 

So where do we go from here?  There are many good people in America.  There are many generous people who give freely and share their wealth with others.  Attributes such as generosity and empathy for the needy still exist in America.  However, what I have called the “legitimization” of greed has infected too many of our people.  It has become acceptable.  Americans have failed to grasp the insidious nature of greed.  It is not something that takes over your life suddenly.   Greed creeps up slowly and silently until one day, you are consumed by it.  Our nation has made greed an attribute to be admired.  No school in American dares to mention the perils of greediness. 

Can we reverse the trend that has led us down this path to self-centeredness and narcissism?  What can be done to turn the trend back towards valuing compassion and kindness?  Not just compassion and kindness for those who look like us but compassion and kindness for all people.

I will try to answer these questions in my next blog.  We will need a change of mindset that will lead to a new Zeitgeist.  The present paradigm we are living in is destroying humanity.  Trump and his supporters are not an aberration but a reflection of how far we have gone down the wrong road.   If we keep going down this road, we will have a world where there is no humanity left in people.  We will continue to destroy our environment as greed dictates taking all that we can get and not leaving anything for others.     

1088095675-165f712656ffe880e57d5c42bd82ccf3

Queer from a Straight Perspective

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I am a straight guy.  Over the years I, like many other people in the world, have had to grapple with a number of questions that challenge my view of the world.  They challenge my view of how things should be.  They challenge my view of what is right and what is wrong.  I want to first look at some of these questions.  Then I will give you my background with gay men and gay women over the years.  Encounters I have had with them.  Friends I have had who came out or did not come out.  Finally, I want to give you my opinion about what is the fundamental question that fuels all controversy concerning homosexuality.  That question is “Are homosexuals normal or abnormal?”  This is basically the question that upsets people who want normalcy in the world. 

Some Questions:

How would you feel if your only daughter wanted to marry another woman or your son wanted to marry another man?  Although same sex marriage was legalized in the USA in 2015, many states still have laws on the books making such marriages difficult.  To date, only 29 out of the 195 countries in the world have legalized same-sex marriage.

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How would you feel if your church had an openly gay minister or a lesbian priest?  In more than fifty percent of all churches in America, homosexuality is regarded as a sin.  Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church cannot bless same sex marriages, never mind ever ordaining a lesbian or even a woman priest.

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What if your granddaughter told you that she was changing her name from Ashley to Fred and was going to undergo gender transformation to become a man?  A record number of bills to limit transgender rights have been introduced this year in state legislators across the country, with lawmakers in 28 states considering 93 bills targeting the rights of transgender Americans according to the Human Rights Campaign.  Many state legislatures are weighing measures that would bar transgender youth from participating in sports or receiving medical treatment. 

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2020 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people in the US: 45 transgender people were killed, up from 26 in both 2018 and 2019. This year is already on pace to be even deadlier, with 15 killings in the first 109 days of 2021.

My Queer Experiences:

I was born to an Italian father and Irish mother in 1946.  My father was 6’4” tall.  He was a decorated WWII veteran and had fought professionally as a boxer.  He was as macho a man as ever lived.  He would have put John Wayne to shame.  I grew to the age of 14 with no knowledge of gays or queers or any words to even describe them.  They were not part of my universe.  I was a fighter like my dad and had no problem in bare knuckle fighting to resolve problematic issues.  Somewhere along the way, I grew to hate bullies.  Some of my earliest fights involved kicking the shit out of some bully who was attacking a friend or even a stranger.

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When I became old enough to hang out nights with a street corner gang, the issue of queers became more salient.  It would seem that several guys on the corner would get “blow jobs” from gay men.  Some other guys would go out on Friday nights down to the docks to roll some “queers” and take their money.  I had several invitations to pursue these endeavors.  I had no desire to get a “blow job” from a guy.  This smacked of homosexuality to me but the guys on the corner who participated never thought of themselves as queer.  I also had no desire to roll a queer or take their money.  No gay man had ever done anything to hurt me, and I did not have any inclination to hurt them.  I can’t say I spoke out against this practice, but I never joined in. 

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Years later when I was in the military, I was assigned to a new base.  Upon arriving at the base, I was befriended by another service man who offered to show me around and be a buddy.  I appreciated his offer and we started hanging around together.  Soon, a bunch of other soldiers approached me and warned me that Mike was queer, and I had better stay away from him.  I did not break off all contact with Mike, but I limited my time with him after this warning.  I did not want anyone to think that I was “queer.”  Mike shipped out a few months later and never made any passes at me.

In the later seventies, something called the “Men’s Movement” started to emerge.  A “Men’s Center” was started in Minneapolis and I became a member.  I ardently attended men’s support group meetings, seminars, conferences and read much of the literature being published by leaders of the movement.  In due time, a straight men’s support group was formed, a gay men’s support group was formed, and a mixed group was formed.  Curious about the gay perspective on this movement, I joined both the straight men’s group and the mixed men’s group.

gay90-1d61x8dAt one of our mixed support group meetings, a gay man from our group challenged the rest of us, mostly the straight men to go out to a gay bar.  A popular one was the Gay Nineties on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.  We accepted the challenge and decided that after our next support group meeting, we would all (straight and gay men) go to the Gay Nineties for a drink. 

We arrived there and found a table together.  There were about nine or so of us sitting down at a large round table.  There was a bar and a dance floor.  Many same sex couples were dancing, both male and female couples.  There were also some mixed couples.  We had a few drinks and talked for a couple of hours.  During that time, I watched somewhat nervously as men at other tables were approached by other men and asked to dance.  I was hoping to avoid any kind of an encounter like that.  However, during my time there, no one came up and asked me to dance.  I began wondering if something was wrong with me since I did not have any invitations to turn down.  I thought my conflicting feelings were somewhat funny. 

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In 1981, I became a Manpower Counselor II with the WIN program in Wisconsin.  I had received my M.S. degree in Counseling, and I took a state test to apply for this position.  The WIN program was the Work Incentive program, and the aim of this program was to help get AFDC or Welfare people back to work.  The program was a Federally funded state effort.  It involved joint cooperation between the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations (DILHR).  DSS assigned a Social Worker, and I was assigned by DILHR to work together to form an employment plan for eligible AFDC applicants.  The social worker would provide social support and I would provide logistical support to help applicants find suitable employment.

I met Lisa Patefield, who was the social worker for the program, during my first month on the job.  Lisa was cool to me and did not seem very friendly.  She was an attractive and athletic young woman with an M.S. degree in Social Work.  Several weeks went by and she continued to seem very distant and almost hostile towards me.  One day just before a meeting with a client, I confronted Lisa.  I asked her if I had said or done anything to offend her.  She put her head down and started crying.  I asked her what was wrong, and she raised her head and said, “I am a lesbian and whenever anyone I have worked with finds out, I am soon ostracized and ridiculed.”  I replied that I had no problem working with her nor did I have any qualms with her love life.

Lisa and I became good friends.  We often went out for lunch and a few times she came over to my house to visit.  One day, Lisa asked if she could take my daughter, who was about 12 at the time, to a baseball game with her.  I must admit that my first thought was, “What if she turns my daughter into a lesbian?”  Then I thought, “How stupid.  You don’t turn anyone into anything.  People make their love choices for any number of reasons.”  Lisa was as good a role model for my daughter as anyone I ever knew.  Chris went to the ball game and until I left the WIN program Lisa and I remained good friends.  I have often wondered what happened to her. 

I grew up.  I got older.  I have had many gay friends over the years. 

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Are homosexuals normal or abnormal?: 

A 2020 FBI report shows that victims targeted for their sexual orientation – listed as gay, lesbian, or bisexual – comprise the third largest victim category at 16.7 percent, the report notes.  The FBI report says there were a total of 1,195 hate crime incidents targeting victims because of their sexual orientation.  Out of that figure, 746 are listed as anti-gay male, 115 as anti-lesbian, 17 listed as anti-heterosexual, and 26 listed as anti-bisexual.

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The Bible, the source for many people on what is right or wrong condemns homosexuality in no uncertain terms.  Christian and Jewish religions are quite fond of using the Bible to support their bias against gender choices.  These same religions conveniently overlook the Bibles condemnation of adultery, lying, prostitution, divorce, and pre-marital sex.  You would be hard pressed to find a single human being on earth who did not daily violate something written in the Bible.

When we look at the question of “normality” we need to first define our terms.  Normal means to reflect what is generally accepted by a majority of the population.  It is the usual, average, or typical state or condition.  Abnormal means to deviate from what is accepted by the majority.  It is the unusual or untypical.  When people do not follow the conventional social or moral rules of their society, their behavior is considered abnormal.  To be abnormal carries a negative bias or connotation. 

If you think about these definitions for a second, you will realize how ridiculous the terms and concepts are.  First, if everyone were normal, there would be no creative or innovative people.  Normal people would never do abnormal things and the world would be very boring.  Innovation is based on people doing things that have never been done before. 

Second, the idea of normalcy is based on averages.  The problem here is that an average throws everything into one pot and comes out with a mean to represent a group.  The average or mean height for a man may be 5’9” but there are plenty of people who do not fit that mean.  We have a world full of averages that ignores variation and looks at differences as deficits.

Finally, life and social mores continue to evolve.  Slavery was once “normal”, but slavery was and always will be evil.  Prejudice against religions, race, ethnic groups, and other nations is quite normal in our world but such prejudice is and always will be evil. 

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Prejudice against people because of their gender choices is evil.  If you want to be prejudiced against anyone or anything, you should be prejudiced against politicians that divide people instead of uniting people.  You should be prejudiced against religious leaders that preach intolerance instead of tolerance.  You should be prejudiced against people that attack or harm others because of lifestyle choices that do no harm to them.  The only harm gay people do is to disturb their petty ideas of what is right and wrong.

We live in a world of too little tolerance for others.  We have too little respect for differences.  We have a world full of myopic views of how life should be lived.  It is time we start embracing the magnificent array of choices that life brings to us.  We will only make a better world when we stop discriminating against people who are different from us.

“It is absolutely imperative that every human being’s freedom and human rights are respected, all over the world.”– Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

Que Sera, Sera

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I think that I am a coward.  I don’t want to grow old.  They say that growing old is not for the faint of heart.  Every day, I understand that aphorism more and more.  In the last thirty days, four friends have passed away.  Mickey, Glen, Bill, and Dick.  I could write a blog about each of them.  They were all just nearing 80 years of age.  Not one of them died of Covid.  Had you known any of them, you would have been truly fortunate.  Perhaps, one of my greatest blessings in life has been to have people like this for friends.  People who lived life to the fullest and cared about other people.  Men who went out of their way to help not just family but strangers.

Two weeks ago, we found out that Karen’s oldest daughter Julie had five brain tumors.  For the past year or so, she had been acting very strange.  She had frequent bouts of forgetfulness along with severe headaches and neck pain.  Doctors had been treating her for an enzyme imbalance for several months, but she kept getting worse.  Her husband thought it might be the onset of early dementia.

Finally, someone decided to do an MRI for her.  At first, it looked like one large brain tumor but a neurosurgeon looking more closely at the scan found four other tumors.  Julie had been diagnosed with leukemia when she was six years old and for ten years had undergone frequent trips to the hospital for chemo and radiation treatment.  They believed that the tumors were related to the radiation treatments.

Julie is now fifty-three years old.  She went in for surgery on Tuesday of this past week.  She was in surgery for nearly seven hours.  They chose to remove the largest tumor but indicated that they would need to go in for another one at a later date.  They were not able to remove the entire tumor since it was awfully close to the optic nerve and they were afraid of damaging it and causing blindness.  Ironically, they want to use radiation therapy to try and remove the rest of the tumor.

Karen flew out Friday night thinking that she could try and help Julie when she returned from the hospital to her home.  Only one person could be in the hospital each day with Julie and her husband was the obvious choice.  Karen worried all week as complications arose each day and Julie did not seem any closer to coming home.  As I write this, it is now five days past surgery and Julie is still in the hospital.  She has been in and out of intensive care since the surgery.  Karen and Rob (Julie’s husband) have agreed to alternate days spent with Julie at the hospital.  So Karen is in Minnesota now and I am watching the home front here in Arizona.

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I am growing old, but I am growing more tired of seeing people I care about either get sick or dying.  I went to a concert last night with two friends Evelia and Angie.  Karen originally was going to go but being with her daughter was the greater priority.  The concert was put on by the True Concord Singers and Orchestra in Tucson.  It was held outside on a patio at what appeared to be an old mansion that had become a private men’s club.  It was called the Mountain Oyster Club.  Since it was members only, they would not let us dine there.  I had originally thought that after the concert we could dine at this exclusive club but that was not to be.  We ended up going to a resort called the El Conquistador.  My two companions are both Latina and I wondered what they thought about dining at a place called El Conquistador.

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The concert was called “The Trailblazers” and consisted of songs arranged by women composers and based on the works of noted women writers and artists.  Some of the composers included Judith Weir, Hildegard von Bingen, Emma Lou Diemer, Ysaye Barnwell and Alice Parker.  The writers and poets included Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, and Edith Franklin Wyatt.

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The fifteen songs performed were arranged along a series of themes.  One set of the songs was called “Remembering Those We’ve Lost.”  Thinking back to my lost friends while these songs were performed brought tears to my eyes.  Reflecting on what it might mean to me if Karen should pass away before I do, I could not bear the thought.  Coward that I am, I am hoping to pass from this world without too many more losses of those I love.  Here are a few of the lyrics from the songs in the concert.  It is of course quite different and much more moving hearing these sung but the lyrics themselves are quite compelling.

From: “My Companion” by Edith Franklin Wyatt (1873-1958)

Let the roadside fade:

Morning on the mountain top,

Hours along the valley,

Days of walking on and on,

Pulse away in silence,

Let the world all fade,

Break and pass away,

Yet, will this remain,

Deep beyond all singing,

Beautiful past singing.

We are here together,

You and I together,

Wonderful past singing.

From: “Wanting Memories” by Ysaye Barnwell (1946- Present)

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms,
You said you’d hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you’d comfort me in times like these and now I need you,
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
To see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you’ve gone and left me, there’s been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

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I finished a run this morning in the mountains.  Saw a large coyote on the trail and thought at first it was a deer.  You are not likely to see a deer in the desert, but the coyote was large and brown and from a distance it did look like a small deer.  As I ran, I could not help but thinking of the song by Doris Day “Que Sera, Sera.”  The lyrics that go “Whatever will be, will be.  The futures not ours to see, Que Sera, Sera.”

We scheme, we plan, we strategize, we organize, we bribe, we cajole, we blackmail so that we can control the future.  We pray to whatever god or gods we believe in to keep our loved ones safe from harm or pain.  I am sure that every one of you reading this would rather suffer death or pain before seeing your family, friends or children suffering.  Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

But as written in Ecclesiastes, it is all vanity.  Nothing but vanity.  I can’t stop a single person I know from dying or suffering pain.  The best that I can do is to be there for them during their suffering.  This is the role that my spouse has chosen to take with her oldest daughter.  It is a role that I would gladly have pass by me since coward that I am, I find it harder to watch my family, friends and others suffer then to deal with my own suffering.

I once loved the poem that admonished us to: “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.”  Now I wonder, what could Robert Browning have been thinking?  I am waiting for “the best that is yet to be.”  I must be missing something.  As each day goes by and as yet another friend leaves this earth, I am more and more wondering what I will have left when they are all gone, and I am the only one here.

Nothing I have ever worked for, saved for, bought, owned, or possess will have any meaning without the ability to share it with those I love.  I think about walking through the house where I am now sitting without my spouse or friends or family and it is by far a fate worse than death and dying.  I won’t rage into the night.  I am reflecting upon death as a comforting blanket than I can pull over my head and use to hide from the sorrows of the world.  I will not rush it, but as many have realized that have gone before me, at some point, we all know that our time has passed, and that we must leave this world.  As for what will come after, I can only say “Que Sera, Sera.”

I think you will enjoy this song:  https://youtu.be/xZbKHDPPrrc 

Que Sera, Sera

When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart, what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said

Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

Optimist, Pessimist or Realist

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Are you an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I have a good friend who always says that he leans towards being a “guy whose glass is half-full.”  I guess he is a pessimist.  I know I am married to an optimist, because whenever I say anything negative about anyone, she will provide a contrasting optimistic perspective.  I tend to believe that I lean towards pessimism.  I like to think that I am a realist.  When someone asks me if my glass is half-full or half-empty my answer will depend on whether my glass is being filled up or emptied.  Nevertheless, I suspect many would find that my blogs reflect a rather negative view of life and humanity.

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Climate Change:

Pessimist: “The end is near; the end is near.  We have destroyed the world with carbon pollution, and it is too late to do anything about it.  Nature magazine published a study which shows that Global Warming stated as early as 1830 CE.”

Optimist: “There is still time to do something about climate change.  Humanity has faced disasters before, and we always overcome them.  They thought that we would destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but we learned to use other strategies to deal with our differences.”

Realist: “Maybe we have just been lucky.”

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Corrupt Government:

Pessimist:  Politicians since the days of Plato and Socrates have always been corrupt.  There is no such thing as an honest politician.  Lying comes naturally to all politicians and the truth is only an inconvenience for most of them.  Politicians have become worse and worse over the years in terms of lacking morality and ethics.  They will always do what is expedient and they are all amoral.”

Optimist: “How can you make such a blanket generalization?  There have been many good politicians and many or them are very honest and moral.  Look at Marcus Aurelius, Rómulo Betancourt, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Jimmy Carter, and Muhammadu Buhari.  These men were all honest leaders who fought for the welfare of their people and did it selflessly.  They were capable, incorruptible leaders who made a real difference in the lives of their followers.

Realist: “You win some and you lose some.  On the whole, it would seem that we have more leaders like Trump than we do leaders like Gandhi.”

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Education:

Pessimist: “Pouring money into education is a waste of time.  Kids are learning less today than they did in the early days of public education.  Half the kids in school are bored.  Teacher turnover is at an all time high and classrooms are chaotic.  Parents do not support teacher discipline anymore.  Schools have become jails for most students who would rather be home.  Kids today do not see the value in education because parents do not.  Schools are just factories for the more privileged to come out and get the high paying jobs in society while the rest of the pack will work for Walmart or McDonalds.”

Optimist: “We live in a more educated society today then even twenty years ago.  Education has been responsible for raising the standard of living the world over.  People are living longer than ever because of scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and public health.  Without education, we would still be dying in our mid-forties instead of in our mid-seventies.  Kids today learn different things then when we were in school.  They are more visually literate, and computers have been a new tool that students today are using to change the world for the better.”

Realist: “We seem to take two steps forward and one back.  For every pro about education today, there is a con.  For every pro about technology there is a con.  We need to have a broader perspective on change that will enable us to embrace new ideas and let go of old ideas that no longer work.”  We simply keep adding pages to school textbooks without taking any out.”

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I could go on and on with examples of the quite different outlooks that life provides us.  Who is right?  I doubt that we will ever really know.  Many of the old sayings exist to provide us with some direction on how to live.  A friend of mine tried to convince me that writing should be positive and inspirational.  His motto was, “You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”  According to my friend, people will ignore writing that is too dismal and negative.  It is his opinion that writers should provide a path forward to growth and development.  I told another friend the other day that “hope without action is hopeless.”  It is not enough to just hope for change, you need to do something about it.  I like to think that my writings provide a path forward.

Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the concept of being too “Pollyannish.”  Someone who is too Pollyannish always sees the positive in everything.  Pushing the envelope on optimism they become extremists who see a bright spot in every dark endeavor.  We sometimes refer to these people as wearing “rose colored” glasses.  A realist would argue that sometimes a bright spot does not exist.

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My writing instructor, Dr. Wedin informed our class a few weeks ago that the story of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel written by American author Eleanor H. Porter, has been grossly misrepresented.  In common usage, a Pollyannish person is someone who is too unrealistic about life and its difficulties.  I decided to watch one of the many movies based on the novel and found a quite different interpretation of young Miss Pollyanna.  One that I assume was more in line with the novel.  In the movie, Pollyanna is a young girl who faces her share of joys and unhappiness.  However, remembering what her father told her, she always tries to find a bright spot in life regardless of how difficult things may be going for her.  Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic and positive attitude she learned from her father.

As a man who has leaned strongly towards pessimism for most of my life, I found myself admiring Pollyanna’s attitude and efforts.  They say pessimists live longer lives but optimists live happier lives.  There is something about pessimism that wears one down and tires others out.  Friends, family, spouses, siblings, and children all have a difficult time being around someone who is relentlessly pessimistic.  Just as hope without action is useless, pessimism without a plan to change things is depressing, gloomy and dreary.  Would you rather be around a pessimist or an optimist?

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But what about our third choice?  Would you want to choose a realist for a life partner?  Is this the Golden Mean that the Greeks worshipped?  I think not.  The problem with being a so-called realist is twofold.  The first problem is that realism must be based on a foundation of facts and evidence.  Herein, you can immediately understand the problem.  It is difficult if not impossible to obtain evidence that will prove irrefutable and reliable.  Life is full of lies, half-truths, unsubstantiated facts and impossible to find evidence.

The second problem with realism is that it is not useful without a path forward or some means of making sense out of reality.  Knowing reality is meaningless if you cannot do something about it.  Finding the best path forward always involves a number of decisions that go beyond the facts.  For instance, if I decide that my car needs a new engine, will it be more cost effective to purchase a replacement engine or buy a new car?  You might be able to work out an equation to make this decision, but I guarantee you that there will be several unknowns in your equation.  Every unknown impacts the outcome of your decision making.  Then of course, there are what we call “unintended consequences.”  Charting the unknown, even realists must go into mysterious territory.

So we arrive back to where we started.  Would you rather be an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I would love to hear your comments on this question.  Please feel free to send me a reply.

Only send optimistic comments though.  😊

What About White Supremacy Makes You Feel Superior?

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I want to introduce you to a very remarkable woman.  Her name is Hazel Scott.  Hazel was born on June 11, 1920 and died on October 2, 1981.  I never heard of Ms. Scott until two nights ago.  They don’t teach you about people like Hazel in American schools. 

I was listening to a YouTube video featuring the pianist Dorothy Donegan.  Hazel Scott popped up as someone else I might be interested in listening to.  I listened to several of her videos which featured her playing both jazz and classical piano.  She also accompanied some pieces with her beautiful voice.  She is one of the most amazing piano players I have ever heard or not heard of.  I soon found out that Hazel was much more than just a fantastic musician. 

Curious as to her background, I got on my computer and found a Wikipedia which gave some of the details of her life.  (See Hazel Scott)

Hazel was a singer, pianist, and actor.  She was the first Black American to host her own TV show in 1950.  However, I am sure that if Hazel were still alive today and writing her eulogy, she would say “Don’t tell them, I was a singer and pianist.  Don’t tell them I was a Hollywood Actress.  Tell them I fought for the rights of Black Americans.  Tell them I refused privileges denied to my people.  Tell them I refused to play in segregated venues.  Tell them I refused to take roles that denigrated Black Americans.  Tell them I refused costumes that stereotyped Black people.  Tell them I used my money to bring lawsuits to challenge racial discrimination.”

In 1950, Hazel found out that she was on the suspicious list of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  A group that was on a notorious witch hunt against communists.   Whenever, I hear of this HUAC, I think of the birthday party in Alice in Wonderland. 

mad_hatters_party_large`I mean, what IS an un-birthday present?’

`A present given when it isn’t your birthday, of course.’

Alice considered a little. `I like birthday presents best,’ she said at last.

`You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ cried Humpty Dumpty. `How many days are there in a year?’

`Three hundred and sixty-five,’ said Alice.

`And how many birthdays have you?’

`One.’

`And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?’

`Three hundred and sixty-four, of course.’

Humpty Dumpty looked doubtful. `I’d rather see that done on paper,’ he said.

Alice couldn’t help smiling as she took out her memorandum-book, and worked the sum for him:

`To be sure I was!’ Humpty Dumpty said gaily, as she turned it round for him. `I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that SEEMS to be done right–though I haven’t time to look it over thoroughly just now–and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents–‘

`Certainly,’ said Alice.

51cvn6Ui9oL._SX260_Do you see?  If everyday is a possible un-birthday except your birthday, you may celebrate an un-birthday every day and get presents every day in addition to your birthday.  Anything that is not “American” which I will assume includes:  Mom, God, and Apple Pie, can be construed as “Un-American.”  If you are out to condemn or harass people, it becomes an open-ended warrant to attack anyone who exhibits traits other than a belief in Mom, God, and Apple Pie.  You have a 365-day open house to attack anyone in the USA who exhibits a philosophy contrary to what might be termed “Patriotic.”  I find this rather scary since I don’ believe in God.  I don’t like apple pie and I thought my mother’s cooking was terrible.  My list of “Un-American” traits would take up several pages but I suppose I would be condemned simply on the basis of rejecting these wonderful characteristics of Americanism.  By the way, I don’t like baseball, golf, football, basketball, or bowling.

Let us get back to Ms. Scott.  She voluntarily appeared before the HUAC and defended her friends who were being targeted.  She denied having anything to do with communism but defended socialism.  She stood up proudly and defiantly in front of a group of fascists intending to end her career.  And that is exactly what they did.  One week after she appeared in front of the HUAC, her TV show was dropped from the network.  She was as they like to say today “Cancelled” by this group of so-called patriots.

These hypocrites who would label anyone who believed in social inequality as “Un-American” but never identified the KKK as Un-American.  These patriots would probably include the KKK with Mom, God, and Apple Pie and therefore call their activities American.  Nothing Un-American about prejudice, lynchings, racism, discrimination, and attacks on minorities.

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I put on some more of Hazel’s piano videos.  Mesmerized by her flashing hands and her joyous way of playing the piano, I thought of the White racists in America who feel that they are superior to Black people.  In my mind, I contrasted Hazel with a White Supremacist.

Hazel:  Talented pianist 

White Supremacist:  Can drink lots of light beer

Despite billions spent on diversity and inclusion, new research from the Center for Talent Innovation finds that black professionals face prejudice, a lack of support from managers, and a cycle of exclusion that keeps them from the C-suite –  New Study Takes an Unprecedented Look at Being Black in Corporate America

 

Hazel:  Concerned for others.  Fights for the rights of others

White Supremacist:  Hatred for others who are different

Who ever walked behind anyone to freedom? If we can’t go hand in hand, I don’t want to go. — Hazel Scott

Hazel:  Beautiful, elegant, aristocratic, cultured

White Supremacist:  Tattoos, beer belly, swastikas

 

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Hazel Scott on the cover of ‘Round Midnight.

Hazel:  Brave, Courageous, stands up for what she believes

White Supremacist:  Hides behind white sheets and a pointed white mask

 

Hazel:  Juilliard School of Music

White Supremacist:   Probably dropped out of high school

 

Hazel:  Multi-lingual

White Supremacist:  Hardly speaks good English

 

Is there an irony here or am I missing something?  The race hating, immigrant hating, neo-Nazis with little culture or education espouses a doctrine of White Supremacy because he/she thinks that they are superior to Ms. Hazel Scott.  I must be living in Wonderland.

 

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Peace

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“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.” — John 14:27

Peace is perhaps the second most spoken word in the English language as well as the second most misunderstood. 

546ad58cbe260aa3bb2946b2a7c566acA Rabbi, Iman, Pastor and Buddhist Priest were all discussing the issue of peace in the world and in particular peace in the Mideast.  The Rabbi said there could only be peace in the Mideast if all the Muslims left.  The Iman said that there could only be peace if all the Jews left.  The Pastor jumped into the argument and said there would only be peace if all the non-Christians left.  The Buddhist cleared his throat to interrupt the argument and said, “There will never be peace anywhere as long as there are Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics and even Buddhists in the world.” 

Peace is the nexus that links politicians and religious leaders.  Peace drips from the lips of religious leaders and politicians so often that I would be a billionaire if I had a quarter for each time one of them uttered the word peace.  There is a symbiotic relationship between religious leaders and politicians.  We have hundreds of years of racism, greed, sexism, discrimination, and militarism pursued by political leaders and blessed by religious leaders all over the world.  Politicians need religious leaders to sanction their immoral behaviors.  Religious leaders need politicians to foster behaviors that are not endorsed in their official religious teachings.

We have a world that needs peace.  Peace is to the soul as food is to the body.  Peace sustains us spiritually and mentally.  When we think of peace, we think of such phrases as “Peace in the valley.”  “A life of inner peace.”  “Go in peace.”  “Let there be peace between our people.”  “It was a peaceful day.”  “Peace begins with a smile.”  Racism, sexism, greed, discrimination, and militarism all destroy peace.

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Happiness and joy are two of the sought-after states in the world, but neither state can exist without a foundation of peace.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,”: Matthew 5:9.  You would think that those who say they are called to be Priests, Ministers and Pastors in the Christian religion would understand that Jesus expected them to be peacemakers.  Sadly, that seldom seems to be the case.  It is even sadder that the idea of peace is blasphemed by these same people whose vocation is to foster peace.  The concepts of spirituality and peace go hand in hand.  One cannot be a spiritual person and sanction the wanton and needless destruction of life.  Peace is meaningless if it is just a word.  If we really want peace it must be a way of life for all of us.  You cannot preach peace in the pulpit on Sunday and then support racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism the rest of the week.     

Mens-Peace-guins-Long-Sleeve-Crusher-Tee_70962_1_lgThe peaceful person does not use violence against others.  The peaceful person is a diplomat who solves problems with his/her brain and not with tools of aggression.  The peaceful person is confident because they have integrity.  The peaceful person has serenity because they have no fear.  Fear is the enemy of peace.  When the world is on red-alert, people live in fear.   People become fearful of others and fearful of living.  Racism, sexism, discrimination, greed, and militarism create fear.  With fear, no one can be at peace. 

We can only appreciate peace if we are carriers and messengers of peace.  The person who endorses violence, abuse or discrimination against others can never be at peace because they have no peace in their heart.  Such people live on violence and thrive on aggression.  They reap what they sow.  By sowing death and destruction, they ensure that they will never know peace. 

51qBtOmrIgL._SS500_We should all be grateful for peace.  This means we need to appreciate peace and understand that it cannot be taken for granted.  Peace is up to us to create.  It is too important to leave to religious leaders and politicians.  If we want peace in our lives and peace in the world, we must create it.  There can never be peace for anyone if there is not peace for everyone. 

Think about peace today.  Do you live in a land of peace?  When you get up or go to bed today, do you feel peaceful?  Are you at ease with life or are you anxious, nervous, and fearful?  Do you appreciate what or how peace in your life would feel?  What would it take for your life to be more peaceful?  Do you think the world deserves peace?  If peace is everyone’s responsibility, what will you do to sow peace today? 

Peace starts with living peacefully. 

Mark Twain wrote a short story called the War Prayer.  It has been made into a ten minute video.  It is very moving and something everyone should see.  The link is below:

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Physical Health and Fitness

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There is a lot to be appreciative for in this category.  Sadly, too many people ignore or take these elements of life for granted.  Many people confuse good health with the health that they are born with.  Nature gives us a health plan when we are born.  Some of us get a better plan than others.  Fortunately, happiness and success are not totally dependent on the plan we are born with.  There is a large category of mental health which I am not going to talk about.  It is important to recognize though that mental health and physical health while no doubt correlate to some degree are not perfectly correlated.  There are many instances of people with major disabilities who are quite happy and quite successful.  The element of mental health and mental fitness are essential to overall happiness regardless of your physical conditioning.

Physical fitness or PHY ED classes are remembered by most former students as either something they tolerated or something they hated when they are were in high school.  The lessons if any that they learned in GYM classes were promptly forgotten when they left high school.  Those that excelled in sports and loved the extracurricular sports confuse sports with fitness.  I have met many former athletes who played football, soccer, baseball, or basketball and thought that was enough to be fit.

There is a great deal more to being fit than simply exercising or playing sports.  If you look at the people around you today, you will see a nation of unfit people.  Years ago, the obese person in your high school was a minority.  Today, they are a majority.  Walk down most any street in America and you will see a nation of fat and overweight people.

When I taught college, I would see entering freshmen coming in many of whom would have met health guidelines for weight.  Four years later, these same students had joined the ranks of obese Americans.  All too many had no fitness plan.  High school never gave them a fitness plan and neither did college.

But I want this blog to be about appreciation and not about how to do a health program.  If you need a fitness plan, you can search my blogs and find a great deal of information about starting such a plan.  Today, lets look at the fun and value in each of the six major elements of physical health.

I have put together a model based on my experience that includes six elements I think are essential to overall physical fitness.  These include:  Stamina, Strength, Balance, Flexibility, Nutrition and Weight Control.  Each of these elements are interdependent with the other five elements but each are unique in many ways.  I think there is great joy and fun in all six of them and I want to share some of my appreciation of each with you.  Let’s start with stamina.

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Stamina

Instead of talking about Cardio or Cardiovascular activities, I chose to call this group Stamina.  Stamina activities build endurance and also build a strong heart and vascular system.  People can be overweight and still have good stamina.  I was in a bike race and I looked over my competition.  It was my first race, and I selected a few guys with muscles on their legs that looked like basketballs.  I was sure one of them would take first place.  Two hours later, the winner was this skinny kid from the University of Connecticut who looked like he could not punch his way out of a paper bag.

Activities like running, swimming, biking, skiing, roller blading, ice skating, all build stamina.  Experts call them aerobic activities as opposed to anaerobic activities.  I have met many overweight men who see me running and say, “I wish I could run but I blew my knee out playing football in high school.”  I want to say “Bullshit.  There are many other stamina activities that put less stress on the knees, and you could use to get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of these guys would rather sit on the couch and watch football than get out and exercise.  Walking is a great stamina activity, and you can walk with extra knee support and it will improve your conditioning without doing more damage to your knees.

You can and should appreciate the range and variety of stamina activities that have been developed and that are available today.  They offer variety and fun and surely beat sitting on your couch remembering the “good old days.”

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Flexibility

Can you touch your toes?  Can you manage a day without your back aching?  Do you get aches and pains whenever you do any physical activity?  Over the years, I have noticed when going to the gym or involved in some sports that men gravitate towards weights while women gravitate towards flexibility exercises.  Karen and I started doing Yoga about 25 years ago and we do it together about 2 or three times per week.  Most of the Yoga instructors are women.  We use Yoga tapes that are on DVD or now on Amazon Prime.  It is rather sad that many men think flexibility training is something for women and that “real” men lift weights.  The two are not mutually exclusive and in fact, the two are essential.  They have a Yin and Yang relationship.

I can’t say that I ever liked stretching.  After thirty years of doing Yoga, I am still not much more flexible than I was when I was forty.  I would rather lift weights and I can see more progress when I do.  I have been running for nearly 45 years now.  About 25 years ago, I started developing back problems.  Back aches, back pain and back spasms would hit me at the oddest times.  I did not see the relationship between tight hamstrings and low back pain.  I finally made the connection and started doing Yoga.

For the past ten years of so, I have seldom had any back problems.  I can’t do many of the Yoga postures like the instructors.  I often wonder if my muscles could ever be that flexible.  I don’t know the answers to these questions, but both Karen and I will swear that Yoga has helped us over the years to avoid back, hip, knee, and shoulder surgery.  If you look at the list of surgeries, these are epidemic today.  The medical profession makes more money doing surgery than referring people to Yoga classes.

I appreciate Yoga and I am thankful that there are so many great teachers who will put their classes out on Amazon, YouTube, or other media.  Yoga is actually fun if you don’t try to imitate your instructor or compete with your spouse.

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Strength

Lift that bag!  Tote that bale!  Pick up that grandkid!  Strength looks like big muscles to many people.  Everyone wants a six pack abs, bulging biceps and great triceps.  The funny thing is that I have seen many really strong people who don’t fit the stereotype.  There are different types of strength training.  Years ago I would focus on power training to build large muscles and lift large weights.  Now Karen and I use small dumbbells and focus on endurance training by doing higher reps with lower weights.  I don’t need to pick up a 100 lb. bag of cement.  I will leave that to the people that are twenty or thirty years old.  But there are days when I will need to do some yard or garden work and the ability to shovel a ton of dirt, or more is very much appreciated.

20210324_143136Just a few weeks ago, I put a new rock river in our home here.  I had a yard or about 1600 lbs. of river rock loaded into my pickup truck.  I got home with it and used a large Home Depot red bucket to scoop the rock up and put the river rock down.  It took me about two hours of steady work, but I had no aches or pains the next day.  I was quite surprised, and I give credit to one of our strength trainers that we use a lot.  Her name is Cindy, and we purchased her DVD on Amazon.

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Balance

Balance is probably not something that you think about or much appreciate when you are young.  You take your balance for granted.  As you age, balance becomes more salient in your life.  More and more experts are telling elderly people that balance is essential to preventing falls and broken bones.  Karen and I added some balance DVDs to our exercise regimen a few years ago.  I thought at first that these “silly” exercises would be easy.  I run four or five times a week on rugged mountain trails, “What do I need balance exercises for?”  Then the instructor said, “If this is too easy, try doing it with your eyes closed.”  I closed my eyes and fell into my wife.  I still have not been able to do many of these exercises with my eyes closed.

I have noticed that some of our friends have had bad falls resulting in broken bones.  The older you get, the longer it takes for anything to heal.  I have had three falls so far this year since returning to Arizona and running the mountain trails.  I thank both my flexibility training and balance training with preventing any serious injuries when I fell.  The most I have received has been some scrapes and minor bruising.  As the years go by, we will focus more on balance training.  It may look silly, but it is another one of those elements that have improved our lives and that we can be appreciative for.

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Weight Control

Do you like McDonald’s fries, fish sandwiches, or biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese?  Do you enjoy Olive Garden’s Lasagna?  Do you go to the Golden Corrals’ breakfast buffet or do you prefer the Saturday night fish buffet at your local casino?  Do you expect me to tell you that these are all high fat options and that you should eliminate them from your diet?  Are you waiting for me to tell you that a garden salad full of greens and tomatoes is a much better option?  If so, you will have a long wait.  I love all of the aforementioned.

20210324_150814I now weigh 139 lbs. and am 5’ 7” inches tall.  You might think that my running and exercise is what keeps me thin.  OF course, exercise helps but let me tell you a secret.  If I run for 60 minutes, which is an exceptionally long run for me, I will burn up maybe 600 calories.  A McDonald’s Sausage, Egg and Cheese McGriddle is equal to 550 calories.   A large fries at McDonalds is 490 calories.  I can go through a buffet at Ak-Chin’s Casino and on my third trip to the buffet will easily have eaten enough calories for three runs in the mountains.  I can get an apple fritter at the Circle K after my run, and it will give me back 450 to 600 of the calories that I have just spent an hour or so losing.  I can eat a McDonald’s sandwich in about ten minutes and the apple fritter in less than five.  Here is John’s Law: “You cannot exercise off more calories than you can eat.”

Weight control is essential to good health.  A host of health problems are associated with obesity and being overweight.  We live in a society of food abundance and higher than ever before calories per item in the supermarket.  The supermarket should be called “The fat Market” because of the high calories food you will find there.  A standard box of Pringles holds 900 calories.  If I wash that down with a Modelo beer, I will have just consumed 1100 of my daily allotment of 1800 calories.  You want to know another secret?  In two hours I will be hungry again.  My wife made me a Mexican cheesecake the other day.  Ninety grams for a standard size piece of this cheesecake gives me almost 450 calories but “Oh, is it delicious.”

20210324_131838Weight control is not about good nutrition.  It is about balancing the calories that you get in with the calories that you put out.  You can get 2000 calories of good food or you can get 2000 calories a day of bad food.  You can drink yourself to death by consuming a bottle of alcohol a day.  You can eat fatty foods that will give you high blood pressure and high cholesterol and increase your chances of a heart attack.  Foods that they say are “bad for you” are also foods that we enjoy eating.

I started off by saying that I would not tell you to avoid certain foods.  That is still true.  What I will tell you is that you will enjoy these foods even more if you eat them in moderation.  Rosie Greer the famous football player had to watch his weight.  He loved ice cream sundaes.  He did not give them up, but he would make a mini-ice cream sundae with a fifth of the calories of a full ice-cream sundae.  I often use the “Rosie Greer” strategy in my eating.  Instead of eating a large amount of something, I will dish out a smaller plate and put the rest away and out of temptation.

Scale_Feet_732x549-thumbnailTwo items are excellent for weight control.  One is a health scale.  This is more than just a scale that tells you your weight.  Mine tells me such things as muscle percentage, bone density, body fat and BMI.  I put these down in a log and every few months or so, I add the updated information to my log.  This way I can track how I am doing over time.  You can purchase a good scale for about fifty dollars.

The second essential item is a food scale.  Karen and I keep one on our counter and use it at dinner to weigh out our portions.  It is easy to eat a sixteen-ounce steak.  Instead after weighing it out, we might only eat six ounces and save the rest for a second dinner. Looking at how much we are putting on our plate helps us deal with the number of calories we are putting in.  We lose it when we go for third helpings at the casino, but our casino trips are much less frequent than our dinners at home.  If it were the other way around, I would probably weigh 1000 lbs.  Last Sunday we went to the Angry Crab Shack in Phoenix for lunch.  We had a two hour wait and missed lunch but had dinner.  When I came home, I calculated that my one meal there with two beers, fried oysters and soft-shelled crabs on a po’boy sandwich was over 1700 calories and I took ½ of my sandwich home.  Nevertheless, it tasted mighty good.

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Nutrition

Nutrition and weight control are another balancing act or Yin Yang relationship.  I mentioned above that all things in moderation is a good strategy for eating but good nutrition should also be on your scheme of things.  It is important to eat food that provides a balanced diet with the right amount of fats, carbs, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  It is much easier to do this with fresh foods.  The world is full of “diet” plans and most of them seem designed to sell you some book or program.  There is plenty of good information freely available on what constitutes healthy nutrition.

You do not have to be a nutritionist or doctor to form a plan for good nutrition.  I have heard it said that being poor leads to lower nutrition and higher fat and sugar intakes.  I have also heard it said that a mobile society has no time to prepare healthy foods from scratch.  I do not believe that either of these two constraints cannot be overcome.  Both Karen and I have worked all of our married lives with two full-time jobs and now two part-time jobs.  Both of us are very frugal and look for bargains at the grocery store.  We minimize the number of high-priced cuts of meat or fish that we purchase and do the same with vegetables.  If I can get Mexican squash for ninety-nine cents a pound, I will purchase that over asparagus that sells for 4.99 a bunch.  We will purchase chicken at 1.39 a pound with bone in rather than 3.99 chicken filets.  We will seldom buy frozen pre-cooked foods.

Here are some of my simple principles for good nutrition. 

  • Learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods.
  • Look for healthy foods in the grocery store that are bargains.
  • Some grocery stores are more expensive for some things than others, explore your local stores to find the best deals.
  • Measure your portions to your desired weight.
  • Don’t buy “junk” food except in moderation. Think of it as a special treat.
  • Always eat leftovers. Use first in first out to eat leftovers before they spoil.
  • Cook meals that will last a few days in the refrigerator. Such meals as
    • Crock pot pork roast
    • Chicken soup
    • Turkey stew
    • Chili
    • Fried rice
  • Freeze any leftovers before they go bad. Use a marker to put title and date on the container.

I love eating.  It is one of my greatest appreciations of life.  I love eating exotic or interesting foods.  I love trying new restaurants.  Food is more than just a way to live.  Food brings us companionship and adventure.  New places to visit and new tastes to acquire.  Eating a balanced healthy diet should be thought of as a challenge.  Life seldom offers us as many challenges that are as important to living as eating.

“Eating is not merely a material pleasure.  Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship.  It is of great importance to the morale.” — Elsa Schiaparelli

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

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The famous French philosopher Sartre said that, “Hell is other people.”  What I think he meant to say was that “Friends and family could be hell.”  A number of years ago the mother of a good friend of ours passed away.  The fight between her siblings over who was going to get what was vicious and resulted in a permanent schism between the siblings.  I was commiserating one day with her over our very dysfunctional families.  I noted, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we had normal families?”  My friend replied, “We do have normal families.”  I knew exactly what she meant.  Years earlier when I was attending support group meetings for men who were violent and abusive, we would always hear newcomers say, “My family is so screwed up.  I wish I had:” (Pick one)

  • A more loving mother
  • A non-alcoholic father
  • Parents who did things with us
  • A father who was not a gambler
  • A mother who was not a drug addict
  • A mother or father who was not always gone
  • A mother or father who was not abusive

The more seasoned men in the group would listen to these plaints for awhile but eventually tolerance would run out.  Then you would hear someone say, “If you want a happy family, turn on TV and watch “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best.”  The rest of us would sagely nod our heads.  In our milieu, healthy happy families did not exist.

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ― Leo Tolstoy , Anna Karenina

downloadWell, you are probably thinking, “You can’t always pick your relatives, but you can always pick your friends.”  This is absolutely true, but how many people do you know that have lifelong friends that they can trust and rely on in an emergency?  I could start a long list of friends that I have left behind over the years for one reason or another.  I have ex-friends who became rabid Trump supporters whom I said goodbye to.  I have ex-friends who said goodbye to me, and I never knew why.  I just did not hear from them anymore.  I have other ex-friends who I could no longer relate to for one reason or another.  Friends seem to me to be like annual flowers.  They pop up for a while and then they fade away.  I have five good friends left.  I would have more, but some died early and one committed suicide.

You may be scratching your head now and thinking, “What does this narrative of misery have to do with appreciating our friends and family?”  One answer is that I do not like to sugarcoat things.  Most of life is composed of the good, the bad and the ugly.  I Latino-Family-small-1-850x566have put the bad and the ugly out first so that you would not simply hear a chorus of how wonderful friends and relatives are.  The truth of the matter is that as in most of life, you often have to take the bad with the good.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.” ― Bob Marley

Another point for acknowledging the bad side of things is that it helps us to appreciate the good side.  If things were always great we would never appreciate the bad.  We love the sunny days more after the rainy days.  We enjoy a good movie or a good painting because we know what a bad movie or a bad painting is like.  We develop models in our heads for the good and the bad and they are to some extent a mirror image of each other.  The Yin and Yang of life is a push and a pull.  Happiness, joy, and good health are more appreciated when we have experienced the opposite in our lives.  We appreciate good relatives and good friends more when we acknowledge some of the “mistakes” that life has dealt us.  We rise above life by dealing with the bad, putting it aside and saying prayers of thanks for the good friends and family in our lives.

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Family:

I do not know how many “Leave it to Beaver” families are out there, but I do have many friends who have had loving fathers and mothers.  Their families might not have been perfect, but they learned good values from their parents.  The other night we had two friends (Tom and Nancy) over for dinner.  We started talking about some of our family.  Since we were all over 70, our fathers, mothers and several siblings had all passed away.  We shared some of the good things we missed about these relationships.  Our conversation prompted me to ask, “What are the three most important things you learned from your parents?”  The discussion on what we learned was heart-warming and lasted nearly an hour.

Portrait Of Extended Family Group In Park

The answers to my question elicited several traits that we had all absorbed from our parents.  Among the common ones were a value for hard work, education, and honesty.  Tom mentioned that he learned, “You should always finish your work before you play.”  I could hear the same words echoing from my father.  Karen mentioned that she learned the value of frugality from her mom.  Nancy added that she learned caring from her parents.  This was seconded by both Tom and Karen.  I added that I learned to be accepting of other cultures and races.  My father was intolerant of racism and prejudice.  I grew up fighting for the under-dog as a result of what I learned from my parents.

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”   ― Maya Angelou

Good relatives and good families infuse us with good values and good character.  You learn what you live with.  Live with honesty, hard work, and compassion and you will be a person who cares for others and who is unselfish in their efforts to succeed.  Success is more than just one person succeeding, it is an entire world succeeding.  I have always loved the line from John Donne’s poem, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” (No Man is an Island, Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions)

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Friends:

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Perhaps he was not as wise as Socrates, but he left us numerous writings which provide a guide for right living.  Aristotle wrote quite a lot about the issue of friendship (See his “Nicomachean Ethics, Books VIII and IX).  He commented that it was good to have many friends.  However, Aristotle had a typology of friendship based on three characteristics.  These characteristics were:  pleasure, utility, and virtue.

e232a636b958e0e88ab2b927e3db8531Friendships based on utility derive some perceived benefits from each other.  Perhaps helping each other with building or fixing things.  Friendships based on pleasure derive fun or shared activities together.  Friends who canoe or ski or golf together.  Friendships based on virtue derive mutual benefit from pursuing shared values and goals.  Friends who work together for a common good.  According to Aristotle, friendships based on pleasure and utility tend to be shorter than friendships based on virtue or goodness because needs and pleasures often change over time.  Our values in life are less transient and more permanent.  Friends who share your same values will be friends for life.

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.”  ― Helen Keller

The value of a good friend is immeasurable.  Someone who understands you.  Someone you can trust.  Someone who cares about you and will step up in your hour of need.  Someone who will have your back when you are in a crisis.  Someone who consoles you when you are in grief or mourning.  Someone who cares about your life and wants to share your joys and your pain.  I hope that everyone reading this blog has at least one good friend.  Count your blessings if you have more than that.

downloadI have written about friendship several times in my blogs (See my Friends and Friendship: Part 1 and Part 2).  I have said that Facebook friends should not be counted as true friends.  FB friends are closer to what I call acquaintances.  Facebook can introduce you to possible friends but it will never be able to create real friends.  True friendship is difficult if not impossible to establish on FB or any other social medium.  Friendship is like marriage.  You get out of it what you put into it.  If you look at the high number of divorces today, it may blind you to the almost equal number of marriages that last for decades.  My spouse has some friends since grade school.  I have a few friends going back to high school.  We both share bonds of time and life experiences with these friends.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”   ― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

In my experience talking to other married couples, the ones that last are the ones that invest time and effort into their relationship.  Good marriages take work.  Good marriages are not taken for granted.  Good friendships also take work.  By work, I mean taking risks to improve your friendship.  The risks can be self-disclosure, honesty, confrontation and saying no.  Good friends are not born, they are made.  And like everything in life, they require effort and maintenance.

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The Beatles had a song and one of the lines was, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of this line and its relevance for both family and friends.  We are social animals, and we need other people.  We need people to love and people who love us.  Our friends and family are the wellspring for giving and receiving love.   The Covid Pandemic has clearly shown the negative impacts that isolation has on people the world over.  The biggest joy that will come out of defeating the Pandemic will be when we can all freely share time with our loved ones again.

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