Friends and Friendship: Part 2:

I confess I ended a number of friendships this past year.  I decided to simply “let go” of people who don’t call me or who do not seem to have any interest in whether I am alive or dead.  I can’t say this task was easy.  I have misgivings about when and how I have approached the effort.  My solution has been to simply not call or contact others unless they contact me.  I have for many years felt like I was the one doing most of the work in several “friendships.”  I am not sure whether it is the “parsimony” of old age (i.e., only so much time left on this earth) or simply laziness.  Somehow though, I thought: “Well, if they want to see me, they can call me for a change.”  Maybe it simply means that I do not care about friendship enough to invest the work they need.  I even had misgivings over my “best friend.”   I began to feel that we had drifted apart over the years and no longer had the basis for a friendship.

In Friends and Friendship Part 1, I described some basic theories of friendships and went back to the ideas of Aristotle to help describe what friendship is and the types of friendship possible.  I outlined my theory on the importance of intimacy to friendship.  Here in Part 2, I want to identify ten behaviors that I think are necessary for a true friendship.  I am not sure ALL of them are necessary (You may have good friends without all ten being present) but I do think most of them are essential for a friendship.  I would like to describe each behavior and why it is important and its role in helping to create a true friendship.  I think friendships take time and effort.  In this respect, I don’t think friendships are any different than a good marriage.  You can’t take your partner for granted and ignore them day after day and expect your marriage to last.  I believe the same is true for friends.

As you read my friendship behaviors, please remember that I am not advocating that anyone take their friendships lightly or that you simply jettison friends who do not meet my criteria. I am simply saying that if you want to have good friends there are some behaviors that are necessary to create, maintain and continue a friendship.  Given the need to invest time and effort to keep good friendships, the idea of 2,000 or even 200 Facebook “Friends” is ludicrous.  If you can maintain even one good friendship in your life, I would consider you lucky.

If the time comes and you decide to take stock of your friendships, please remember one thing:  You do not have to “let go” of old friends.  You can rejuvenate or refresh your friendships by once again becoming a friend.  If your efforts are not reciprocated over time (and not necessarily fifty-fifty) you might want to reevaluate just who you should spend your time and energy with.  This might sound “cold and calculating” but if you have found a better solution please send me an email or drop a comment in the box.   I would sincerely like to keep as many friends as I can and if there is a way to do it without time and effort; I have not yet found it.

1. Disagree respectfully:

I cannot imagine a friendship where we agree on everything 100 percent of the time.  However, I also cannot imagine a friend who would insult me, disrespect me or try to make me look foolish.  I would not call that a friend.  I expect my friends to listen to my ideas and even if they do not agree, to at least try to understand where I am coming from and not deliberately try to denigrate or diminish my theories or opinions.   I have no problem with friends presenting facts or logical arguments against said opinions, but I don’t believe a friendship can be based on disrespect unless it can be done in a caring manner which is sometimes possible but usually very difficult to effect.

2. Overcome anger:

I have often noticed that real friendships seem to start “after” friends get angry with each other.  Perhaps, more than the anger signaling the start of true friendship is the process by which you are able to overcome the anger with your friend.   If we can’t confront the anger with another, it is unlikely that we will become good friends.  I remember once going to a marriage seminar and they said there were three things you needed for a good marriage:   1. A communications process.   2.  A fight-fair process.  3.  A realistic budget.   I was very intrigued by the fight-fair process. What this entails is the ability to communicate with your spouse or friend about things that make you angry or disappoint you.  It goes beyond daily communication to encompass “extra-ordinary” situations that arise when something does not go as we expect it to.  For many of us, this is a daily event.  If you can’t communicate with and overcome your anger with another person, you probably do not have a true friendship.

3. Share common interests:

Perhaps, you met your friends at Curves or work or playing bingo.  We meet people all over and I allow that ninety five percent of the people we meet are simply acquaintances.  They never become true friends because they never go beyond sharing common interests.  Nevertheless, the sharing of common interests helps create a bond that is fundamental to a good friendship.  It is indeed possible to stay good friends with someone long after the initial interests have disappeared simply on the basis of the shared history that you now have with that individual.  For instance, you might have been on a trip together or been in the service together.  These shared memories act as the cement to continue to provide a sense of common interests.   At some point however, these former interests become faded and need to be replaced by new and more salient experiences that can be shared together.  Without such interests as a foundation, I have seen many former friendships simply fade away.

4. Help each other when in need:

There is perhaps no truer saying that “A friend in need is a friend in deed.”  The power of the feelings that are manifested towards someone coming to our aid in time of need is beyond comparison to any other single aspect of friendship.  I remember a good friend of mine who once told me during my divorce: “The hell with your ex-wife, I am here for you.”  I will never forget how grateful I felt towards him for the fact that he was willing to unequivocally provide me with emotional support when I needed it.  Friends may help you in many ways, but perhaps no help goes further than the emotional support that we provide towards friends when they need it.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

5. Don’t expect your friends to be perfect:

This is a simple but profound truth:  None of us are perfect.  If you constantly find fault with others, chances are you will not have many or even any friends.  It is not always easy to accept the faults in others.  For instance, I disagree with one of my friends over some of the people whom he calls friends.  I would not have a racist or a bigot as a friend.  I am willing to overlook many warts and blemishes in my friendships but I draw the line at liking or even tolerating people who hurt or pick on others.  Perhaps I should be more charitable.  I admit, I write off many potential friendships because I will not tolerate hateful attitudes towards others.  Nevertheless, I do recognize that the more that you can handle and deal with the imperfections in others, the more friendships you will potentially have.

6. Care about each other:

This might be the single most important bond for a good friendship.  Do you really care about what happens to the other person?  Are you willing to go out of your way to take an interest in their needs and lives?   Caring can take many forms and might be attending a funeral at one of their relatives or driving your friend to the hospital or giving them a ride to the airport.  A few years ago, I remember a friend who told me that whenever any of his friends were in need, he simply showed up with helping hand, or a pie or a shoulder to cry on.  He said that he did not ask the common question “How can I help you?”  He simply went ahead and tried to help without being asked or given permission.  His initiative seemed to me more powerful than the common refrain “Let me know if I can be of help.”  I would be much more grateful towards the friend that simply showed up rather than waiting to be asked.

“It’s the friends you can call up at 4 a.m. that matter.”
Marlene Dietrich

7. Occasionally reach out to each other:

I believe it is important for friends to have some form of regular contact with each other.  I cannot understand or believe that a good friendship can endure without some form of mutual interdependence.  Whether, you come by for dinner, attend a movie together, take a trip together or simply call or even email your friends, it seems (to me anyway) that friendships need some form of regular lubrication that mutual contact provides.

I have said that Facebook friends are generally not true friendships. They do however; provide regular contact between “potential” friends and people who you truly call good friends.  The simple “like” button provides a very powerful and instant means of letting others know that you appreciate, admire or support something they are engaged in.  I have given many likes and received many likes on Facebook and I always feel closer to those individuals who take the time to “like” or note some issue that I care about.  Liking is not a very big effort but it forms that sense of mutual contact that I think is the lubricant for a good friendship.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”
A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

8. Apologize when you hurt the other person:

Good friends do not deliberately hurt each other.  However, hurts both physical and emotional will often be inflicted.  I cannot tell you how many times I have bumped into Karen, stepped on her toes, or unintentionally inflicted some pain on her while we were together.  Fortunately, it was nothing ever very serious.   More serious to our relationship, has been the emotional pain and hurts that I have too often inflicted on her.   Some of them were intentional, some were not.   None were ever deserved though.   At such times, I think it is critical and essential to apologize to the other person.  Whether or not it was intentional is not the point.  The point is that you have hurt the other person and if you truly care about them, you want to know how you can help alleviate the pain.

A number of years ago, I was on the Oprah Winfrey show. The subject was apologies.  The expert that Oprah had on the show said that a true apology has three parts:  1. Saying: “I am sorry.”  2.  Listening to the hurt or pain you have caused the other person.  3.  Setting things right.  Part one, saying you are sorry is often the easy part.  However, many of us expect that as soon as we say we are sorry, the other person should forgot about it and get on with their lives.  Simply issuing an apology may not help the other person move on.  The difficult part is listening to the feelings, emotions and disappointments that your actions have led to.  People may all respond differently to different insults and individuals are responsible for their own feelings.  However, we all have feelings and in a good relationship you must care about the feelings of others.  Whether or not you have caused the feeling is a moot point.  Can you listen to and empathize with the pain that is in the other person?   This is often the only way; that they will be able to move beyond the pain and truly rejoin a relationship with you.

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

9. Kidding or joking with each other:

Insulting a person or demeaning a person deliberately is a far cry from kidding someone or even “roasting” another person.  The first is done with malice and hatred, the latter is done with love and admiration.  I have never been really good at humor and my efforts to be funny have often backfired.  Good friends are friends that you can joke with.  Of course, everyone has their sensitive spots and tolerances and knowing these are important to a friendship.  The deeper the friendship, the more likely you will have a greater tolerance towards each other in terms of how much you can push the boundaries of joking and ridicule.  Most of us have learned that texting, emails and online communications do not lend themselves to humor and spoofing.  That is why an entire arsenal of symbols 🙂 has arisen to show the other person that “no malice” is intended in our comments.  In our face to face communications, our body language readily communicates towards our friends our intentions and whether or not they are playful or benign.  I cannot conceive of a real friend who I could not joke with or make fun of from time to time and of course vice verse.

10. Trust your friends:

The amount of trust you would put in a friend might be the single most obvious indicator of how strong that friendship was.   But what do we mean by the word Trust?  We often hear the phrase “trust me” used today.  What does it mean to trust though?  ASU Online defines trust as follows:

Trust is both an emotional and logical act. Emotionally, it is where you expose your vulnerabilities to people, but believing they will not take advantage of your openness. Logically, it is where you have assessed the probabilities of gain and loss, calculating expected utility based on hard performance data, and concluded that the person in question will behave in a predictable manner. In practice, trust is a bit of both. I trust you because I have experienced your trustworthiness and because I have faith in human nature.

A friend is someone who you can expose your vulnerabilities with.  In Part 1 of this blog, I discussed the importance of intimacy to a friendship.  When we are intimate with someone, we are more exposed and more vulnerable.  There is no escaping vulnerability in a good friendship.  If you want a strong friendship, you must be willing to trust the other person and that means you must be willing to be vulnerable.  The fewer secrets you have with your friends, the stronger your friendships will be. The issue of trust is paramount here because who but a fool would share secrets with someone they could not trust.  The Internet is full of ridiculous instances of people posting, texting or sharing secrets with others who it became glaringly evident they could not trust.  Some of us are more trusting than others, but I think that most good friendships grow in trust as our experiences teach us whether or not the other person can really be trusted.  Thus, the final hallmark of a good friendship is trust.

Time for Questions:

Are you happy with your friendships?  Do you have some good friends?  How do you define friendship?  How many of the ingredients of friendship that I have outlined do you share with your friends?  Which ingredients do you disagree with? Which ingredients do you think I have missed?  What do you need to do tomorrow to have better friendships?

Life is just beginning.

Friends and Friendship: Part 1.

It is easy to measure friendship today.  Simply count the number of “friends” you have on Facebook and subtract the number of people who “defriended” you.  Multiply this number by the number of followers you have and divide by the number of people you are following.  This number or index will accurately tell you the number of friends you have in the whole wide world.  If you are not good with math and numbers, then simply call up each of your “friends” and see who will lend you a hundred dollars.  Another quick and easy solution to see how many friends you have is to count the number of your “friends” who bring you some chicken soup when you are home in bed with the flu.    

The subject of friendship has been written about since writing first began.  An advantage of friendship and perhaps one of its most enduring qualities is that you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your mother, father, aunts, uncles or other relatives.   While “blood” may be thicker than water, actual counts show as many dysfunctional families as dysfunctional friendships. (An observation extrapolated from my 67 years of experience as a relative and friend.)  Another advantage of friendship is that people seem to have more concern about being a good friend than they do about being a good relative.  To test this latter point, I went to Amazon.com and typed in “friendship.”  I found 57,722 books on the subject.  Next I typed in “relatives.”  I found only 20, 930.  Since this experiment did not seem very definitive I also tried the following.  I went to Google and typed in: “How to be a better friend?”   I found 1,470,000 hits on this subject.  Then I went back and typed in “How to be a better relative?”  I used the quotes to frame both question.  I found NO hits.  Not a one. NADA.  ZERO.  Go ahead and try it yourself.  Type in: “How to be a better relative?”   Here is what you will get:

   No results found for “How to be a better relative?”.

https://www.google.com/#q=%E2%80%9CHow+to+be+a+better+relative%3F%E2%80%9D

So there you have the second major or perhaps third major advantage of friendship.  Namely that people care about being a good friend but no one cares about being a good “relative.”  You are just supposed to love your relatives and that’s it.  End of subject.  “I love you brother.”  “I love you sister.”  “I love you Dad.”  “I love you Mom” are words taken for granted.  Your friends might regularly invite you over for meals and never say “I love you.”  However, your relatives may never invite you over for a meal, but they will not hesitate to say: “I love you.”  I guess love should be the subject of another blog, since the love of relatives seems to be something that needs better defining.  However, to return to the subject of friendship, let’s look at Aristotle’s three types of friends.  I will refer you to Amazon for more works on friendship.  Anyone reading all 57,722 books will receive a certificate as a bona fide “Friendship Expert.”  Simply mail me the ISBN number of all the books you have read or rip off the back cover and send them to me.  I will mail your certificate ASAP. 

Aristotle identified three types of friends.  I would like to compare Aristotle’s ideas on friendship to my ideas on friendship.  I wrote on the subject about thirty-five years ago and it was my first piece of paid writing.  It appeared in a Men’s Journal somewhere on the West Coast.  I regret I cashed the check as it would have been a nice souvenir and it was only for twenty dollars.  However, I was in graduate school at the time and twenty dollars seemed like a lot of money back then.  The title of my article was called:  “Male Friendship and the Three Types of Intimacy”.   I will return to my theories later, however let’s start with Aristotle since I give him a head start on the subject and much greater profundity.

Aristotle’s ideas on friendship were part of his larger work The Nicomachean Ethics.  Aristotle divided friendships into three types based on the motive for forming them.  These three types were:  Friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.   

“Friendships of utility” describe encounters with others that are very commercial or practical.  There is no love or intimacy exchanged in such relationships and they are simply based on a quid pro quo type of arrangement.  For some, these types of friends would better be called acquaintances but I think acquaintances lack the level of commitment that is sometimes necessary in “friendships of utility.”  Many of the people we work with, have business transactions with or even network with on LinkedIn would fit into this category.  Such relationships are not very intimate but they can engender a certain depth of emotional attachment. 

Aristotle’s “friendships of pleasure” include those individuals who we enjoy being around or spending time with.  These are people we like because they are fun to be with or they make us feel good or they bring some level of excitement to our lives.  Many of these types of friendships involve some type of shared activity.  You might be on the same bowling team, church council, or simply hang around in a bar or coffee shop together.  The intimacy involved in this type of friendship is deeper than in “friendships of utility” but it is often is limited to the activity that is being jointly pursued.  Once the activity ends, often the friends go separate ways.  Such friendships may end unless there is some other reason to create a bond or another reason to interact together.  

Aristotle’s third and deepest friendship is the “friendship of the good.”  Such a friendship is based on the enjoyment of the other person for some “good” or character trait that the person exhibits and which you find compelling or attractive. You like the person not for what they can do for you but because of who they are.  According to Aristotle these are the enduring type of friendships since they are not based on utility or shared activities but on a mutual liking or affection between the friends.  As long as the character traits enjoyed by each friend do not change, the friendship will continue. 

While I find Aristotle’s three types of friendship interesting, I do not think they go far enough or deep enough to define friendship.  I think he comes closest to my idea of friendship with his “friendship of the good” but even that does not go far enough.  The major fault I have with Aristotle is that he misses what I think is the key ingredient of friendship, namely intimacy.  A friendship must involve intimacy or it is not a friendship.  Intimacy is the key ingredient for all “true friendships.”

Intimacy:

1. the state of being intimate.

2. a close, familiar, and affectionate personal relationship.

3. a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.

4. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity or affection: the intimacy of using first names.

5. a sexual liberty.

6. privacy, esp. as suitable to the telling of a secret: in the intimacy of his studio.

I believe there are three types of intimacy upon which a friendship can be founded.  I do not include sexual intimacy here since for the most part, I am describing “non-sexual” relationships.  Relationships between lovers usually involve sexual intimacy but they do not have to include much if any of the three types of intimacy that I think are a key to a good friendship. It would be a better relationship if they did.  You will note though that it is frequently hard for ex-lovers to remain friends because once the sex part ends there is often little of the intimacy necessary for true friendship. 

I have labeled the three types of intimacy as: 

  • Face to face
  • Side to side
  • Back to back

Face to face intimacy is more emotional and affective and generally involves two people sharing feelings, problems, emotions, and issues that they would not discuss with anyone else.  Women are typically considered to be very good a face to face intimacy.  You can find women sitting together over coffee discussing any number of emotional issues.  Dealing with personal subjects with another party is central to face to face intimacy.  No gender has a monopoly on this type of intimacy but in the past, men were brought up to avoid dealing with emotions making such intimacy very difficult.

Side to side intimacy is doing and conative.  It is active and involves sharing some physical activity with the other party.  This could be working together, playing sports together, helping each other with some tasks or chores or simply taking a walk together.  This is an area where men in the past found much of their intimacy with other men.   Sports and other side to side activities were more condoned for men than sitting exchanging emotions together.  Time has changed and women are now as active in many sports as are men and we increasingly see men spending time with other men talking and sharing feelings.

Back to back intimacy involves a willingness to share risk or face a threat for the other person.  Soldiers develop strong friendships because of their need to rely on each other.  Police also develop strong friendships with their partners because of the element of shared risk and the strong need to rely on each other during emergencies and threats.  Any individuals that help each other during emergencies or dangerous situations can experience the type of intimacy that I call back to back intimacy.  (Just as an aside, I used this phrase before the term “I got your back” became popular but the current phrase  does express the essence of this type of intimacy.) 

A friendship may involve one, two or all three of these types of intimacy.  They are not all required for a good friendship.  A friendship based on only one of these types of intimacy can be very strong and profound.  However, all things being equal, a friendship based on two or three of the types of intimacy will be stronger than one based on a single type.  The caveat here is that when the intimacy no longer exists, there is a good chance that the friendship will fade away or become only a source of memories. 

In my blog next week, I would like to address some ideas for developing, maintaining and even enhancing our friendships.  I speak from having some experience at developing friendships but also at losing many good friends over the years.  Friendship much like love, romance, marriage or any other type of strong bonded relationship must be worked at.  A failure to commit to working on a relationship is the death knell for that relationship.  Bonds are only as strong as the glue that cements them together. When the glue loses its adhesion, the bond falls apart. The glue for friendships is intimacy.  Lose the intimacy and you lose the friendship.

Time for Questions:  

Do you have many good friends?  What do you do to maintain your friendships?  Have you ever lost a good friend?  Why?  What do you think you need to do more of to have stronger friendships?  Which type of intimacy are most of your friendships based on?  Do you have friends that fall into Aristotle’s three types?  Which ones?  How much work do you put into your friendships?  Do you put enough? 

Life is just beginning.

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Friends and Family

Adults and kids sitting on the grass in a garden

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.

asian-american-family

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)

1_gMf66bZlU3a1KbSHMJLpJg

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.

teensfromgayfamilies_fullsize_story1

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.

A Tale of Two Men

download

It is a time of overwhelming greed.  It is a time of underwhelming altruism.  The hoards of poor and destitute and abused are still at the gates but the gates have been replaced by a wall.  The few that have managed to get over the wall or under the wall have found that their dreams of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have been replaced by barbed wire fences and security police intent on finding and locking them up in cages.  In truth, there are no streets paved with gold.  The gold has long since been stripped by billionaires and the American dream has been supplanted by a Trickle-Down theory which the billionaires are cynically prophesizing.

trickle-down1

Through the country stride two men.  One man driven by money laden with stocks, bonds, and coupons for a cheap cup of coffee.  The other man driven by compassion with a calendar always full of dates to help someone else out.  One man has plenty of gold, the other man has plenty of time.  No two men could be more different.  One man represents the America that was.  The other man represents the America that could be.  The two men frequently cross paths and to some extent even like each other.  There is no hatred between the two but a mutual inability to understand the other’s motives has always existed.  Each thinks that the other is of unsound mind or to put it another way is “out to lunch.”  This is their story then.  I tell it from a neutral objective.  Strangely, I like both men.

tom

Tom is a white middle class male in his mid-seventies.  Tom is driven by the almighty dollar.  Hardly a day goes by that Tom is not trading or looking at his stock portfolio.  Tom (everyone agrees) is “all about the money.”  Tom is a Trump supporter.  In many respects, he does not fit the typical demographic for a Trumpist.  Tom has gone to college.  He worked at a white-collar job and he has one of the largest houses in the town.  Tom always dresses well, speaks well and never utters a vernacular word.  Tom has never owned a motorcycle and I doubt he has ever shot anything in his life.  He is the epitome of decorum and propriety.  He has kept himself in good shape and looks physically fit.  Indeed, he looks several years younger than his age.  Tom is soft-spoken and is the last person you could think of who would ever get in an actual fight with anyone.  

Tom prides himself on his frugalness, some would say cheapness.  He will buy a coffee at the local coffee shop and when it is time to pay, he will search the internet with his smart phone to find a coupon that will allow him to get 50 percent or so off the cost of an already low-priced cup of coffee.  But greed cannot be measured by cheap cups of coffee.  In some respects, it is difficult to separate greed from fear.  Many a conversation with Tom, I walked away thinking that it is not so much greed that drives Tom as fear.  Fear that the immigrants might take his house away.  Fear that women will take his job.  Fear that minorities will get his share of the America pie.  Fear that LGBTQ people will gain access to his bathroom.

money 1 counter

If it is true that Trump supporters are driven by fear and greed, then Tom (regardless of demographics) is the quintessential Trump supporter.  Tom defies the category of “Trump Deplorable.”  You can have an intelligent and civil conversation with Tom on many a subject.  Nevertheless, he defends Trump no matter what the issue.  Trump is his God and can do no wrong.  Despite Tom’s penny pinching, he is proud enough of his Trump affiliation that he has spent the money to purchase some Trump paraphernalia.  He proudly wears both a Trump hat and a Trump t-shirt.  This always puzzles me. 

Tom has never suffered poverty.  He lives well and has a beautiful lake front home with a mortgage long paid off.  He drives a luxury car with a brand image.  I am sure that neither NAFTA nor Globalism has ever been of undue stress to his finances.   Quite to the contrary, Tom has undoubtedly benefitted from the good that has come out of these policies.  Unlike the white rural blue-collar worker who saw his job and company go overseas, Tom has prospered in the 21st Century economy. 

ron 1

Ron is also a white male in his mid-seventies.  Ron did not go to college.  Ron was a blue-collar electrician until his retirement.  Ron grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.  Ron rides a Harley Davidson and when he was younger went on many a deer and elk hunting trip.  He still proudly has an array of rifles that he seldom now uses.  Ron has even won some rifles and given them away.  Ron can be difficult to talk to.  He is passionate about his position and not always willing to listen to others.  You cannot always describe his discussions with others as civil and polite.  Some people would describe Ron as uncouth.  He cares little about fashion or image.  He usually looks like he needs a good haircut.  If you did not know Ron, you would have no difficulty in putting him down as a Trump supporter.  You would be dead wrong.

Ron is a generous man.  He is one of the most generous persons I know.  Ron is not rich.  He has never purchased a brand-new car and he does not live on a lake.  Ron does not have a great deal of money, but he will often pay for my coffee and the coffee of others at our table.  Ron is most generous with his time.  Never a day goes by that he is not doing a favor for someone.  His generosity extends well beyond his immediate family.  Three years ago. Ron and his wife were given an award as Volunteers of the Year.  If anyone needs something or help with anything, they will call Ron.  I do not think of myself as “ungenerous”, but I am loath to admit that I sometimes think Ron is too generous with his time. 

favor image

Politically, I would describe Ron as an independent thinker.  Ron gets a good pension from his former IBEW union and if there is anything he is proud of and will defend to the nth degree, it is unions.  He despises Trump and the Republican politics of greed and Trickle Down.  However, he does not defend the Democratic party either.  He has said that the Democrats sold too many Americans down the drain with NAFTA and Globalism.  It would have been one thing to pursue these policies if there had been some type of life jacket or safety net for the American workers displaced but the Democrats as well as the Republicans simply ignored the side effects of these policies. 

Ron is no racist, no sexist, no hater of immigrants.  If you talk to Ron about these subjects, you will find a man that is not fearful or belligerent towards others.  Whereas Tom would lock America down, Ron would tear the walls down.  Tom will deplore violent protestors.  Ron will deplore the violence that lead to the protests in the first place.  Ron loves to travel and meet new people.  Tom spends most of his days in the same town that he has always been and traveling the same safe pathways that he has always traveled.  Ron has taken several foreign students into his home on an exchange program and is always eager to hear stories about other people and other places.  Tom has a child who is developmentally disabled that he is a loving and kind father to. 

A tale of two men.  Both men married.  Both with families and children.  Neither man a criminal or drug addict or law breaker.  Both men admired by others in the community.  Both men loved by their families.  Both men with friends who speak and think well of them.  Men who are on opposite sides of any imaginable political spectrum. 

A time in America when the divisions seen to outweigh any points of commonality.  When the divisiveness and polemics drive everyone either right or left.  When disagreement is called evil and rudeness and bullying substitute for politeness and civility.  When you are my enemy if your politics disagree with mine.  When truth is now called a lie and facts are now called fake. 

old men drinking coffee

Ron and Tom still sit down mornings at the coffee shop and talk to each other.  There is often passionate disagreement.  Ron will storm and foam at the mouth.  Tom will quietly state his position and seem somewhat amused at Ron’s vehemence.  I am not sure who has the most difficulty understanding the other but watching Tom and Ron interact is something like watching a TV sitcom.  Are Tom and Ron following a script that the rest of us do not know about?  Perhaps there is a script written somewhere that we are all following.  

“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.” ― Ted Koppel

The Man Who Was Smarter Than God

Business-Intelligence-and-Management-leaders-1-768x432

Once upon a time there was a man who was smarter than God.  At least that is what his friends said behind his back.   Michael was indeed one of the smartest men you could ever meet.  Now some might call this a blessing while others might call it a curse.  His mother was fond of saying that “ignorance is bliss” while his father believed, (though he did not practice it himself) that intellect and knowledge was everything.  A man who was smart enough could rule the world.  His father continually berated Michael to think and to use his intellect.  Michael’s father demanded that Michael read only non-fiction and in an argument stick to the facts.  The only things that mattered in the world were facts, data and evidence.  Emotions ruled stupid people and decisions based on emotions were decisions that were stupid.

Michael grew up with very little respect or tolerance for anyone or anything that was not logical and rationale.  When the first Star Trek series became popular, Michael was surprised at the admiration for Lt. Commander Spock.  Many people saw Spock as the epitome of logic and rational thinking versus Kirk’s impulsiveness and McCoy’s rampant emotionalism.  However, Michael saw Spock as divided between emotions and intellect.  He could not accept that Spock was a role model for logical thinking.  Nothing was as important to Michael as mind and intellect and the ability to ignore and suppress emotions. This of course had its negative side as far as Michael’s social aspirations were concerned.

Michael had few if any male friends and zero female friends.  Men did not like Michael because they feared his put downs and lack of acceptance of their often biased and illogical thinking.  Michael was very intolerant of what he saw as inept thinking and has no qualms about correcting anyone.  It was hard to deny that Michael was usually right, but this meant that being around him would make you feel inferior and stupid.  No one wants to associate with anyone who makes them feel insignificant.

Michael was attracted to women and would have liked to date and have a social relationship with the opposite sex.  However, most women saw him as wooden and unemotional.  This was a state that Michael was rather proud of.  Moreover, compassion and love were traits that Michael saw as incompatible with a rational human being.  There traits would lead to decisions based on emotions and not logic.  Dates that Michael went on with the opposite sex usually lasted less than an hour and calls for a second date by Michael would always go unanswered.

Somewhere along the line, some of Michael’s friends (more like acquaintances really) tagged him with the moniker “The man who was smarter than God.”  This was the source of endless jokes and laughter, all of course behind Michael’s back.  Michael grew more and more isolated from any human contact, particularly after his mother and father passed away.  Michael never even bothered to attend their funerals.  “They are dead” he reasoned, “So my going to their funeral is not going to bring them back.”

As the years went by.  Michael became lonelier and lonelier but also richer and richer.  Michael was a genius with computers and also finance.  He invested his money earned from writing software programs into a stock portfolio that he managed.  This portfolio grew to nine figures and Michael never had to worry about working for a living or where his next meal would come from.

136104625lonelinesscrop

Michael loved to take walks to break up his work and enjoyed being outside.  One day while taking a walk, he stopped at a little bench in a park and sat down to take a short rest.  A young man about 16 years of age walked up to the bench and sat down next to Michael.  “Hi,” the young man said, “My name is Joshua and I am special.”  “That’s nice,” replied Michael, hoping to end the conversation quickly.  “I am running away from home” came back a reply.  “Oh”, said Michael, not particularly caring why.  “Nobody likes me” explained Joshua.  “My sister makes fun of me and my mom and dad don’t do anything about it.”  Somewhat curious, Michael asked “Where are you going to go?”  “I always go to this bench until its time to go home” said Joshua.  This did not make any sense thought Michael, so he continued the conversation to find out more about this strange boy.

29870179-portrait-of-cute-boy-with-down-syndrome-posing-at-camera-outdoors-

Joshua was fifteen years old and a developmentally disabled child.  He had suffered a fall when he was very young which left him with a severely diminished cognitive capacity.  He also suffered from some physical limitations.  He was now in high school but spent most of his time in special needs classes.  From early on, his family told him he was special.  They were very loving parents and did their best to help him cope with his limited capacities.  They knew he would never be able to live on his own.  His older sister Inez, whom Joshua loved dearly, frequently became exasperated with him.  She did not quite have the patience of his mother and dad, but right about now, she would go out looking for Joshua.  The typical pattern was that Joshua would become angry with her and “run away from home” to this park bench.  Inez would come and “find” him and take him home.  She loved him as much as he loved her.

The conversation finally ended when Inez showed up.  Joshua introduced his new friend Michael to Inez.  She said hello to Michael and that she was very happy that Joshua had a new friend.  Joshua asked Michael if he could come to visit him after school sometime if he did not live too far away.  Michael reluctantly agreed thinking that he would never see Joshua again.  In some respects he regretted this since he actually felt a stirring of compassion towards Joshua and he was moved by Joshua’s openness and lack of pretentiousness.  Goodbyes all around and each left to go home.

str2_ez_ezautism_DONTUSE-e1524195982754

A few days later, much to Michael’s surprise, who should knock at Michael’s home but Inez and Joshua.  Inez said that she would drop Joshua off if it was okay with Michael and pick him up in an hour or so.  Michael agreed and spent the next hour or so talking to Joshua about many different things.  Joshua was surprisingly able to comprehend many things that Michael would bring up and they had some interesting if eclectic conversations.

Michael learned that Joshua loved science and animals and nature.  He also learned that Joshua’s parents were not very wealthy.  Michael deduced that they did not have enough money to buy some of the things that Joshua wanted and that they often struggled to buy some of the things he needed.  Apparently, the fall did more than just brain damage to Joshua and he had some severe internal injuries which needed ongoing treatment.  Joshua never complained though and saw most of these hardships as simple facts of his life.

al_roker_marqueeThe first day that Michael and Joshua spent together turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months.  Each week, Michael and Joshua would spend at least an hour together.  Some days, Michael would play video games with Joshua and other days they would do “walk and talks.”   Inez would drop Joshua off and Michael would take Joshua home.  Michael looked forward each week to seeing Joshua and spending time with him.  Michael often tried to buy Joshua some of the things that he wanted, but Joshua’s parents were very proud and explained that they would prefer that he did not.  Michael accepted their request but would take Joshua out for a hamburger or pizza whenever possible.  His parents did not mind this as Joshua had a prodigious appetite.

A few years went by and Michael s life became less lonely and much happier.  Michael greeted people on the street and spent time talking to other people without correcting them or giving them advice.  Every week Michael and Joshua would get together.  Then one week, Joshua did not come by.  Michael was disappointed but simply thought that some event had come up and Joshua had to attend it.  The following week went by and again no Joshua.  By now, Michael was very worried.  He called Joshua’s parents.  Inez explained that they were at the hospital with Joshua who was very sick.  She said she was sorry she had not come by to tell Michael about it, but things had been rather chaotic.  She said Joshua had asked about Michael and when would he come up to visit.   Michael told her that he would go right now.

When Michael arrived at the hospital, he found Joshua in bed with many tubes sticking out of him and his worried parents at his bedside.  Joshua looked up when Michael entered his room and his face turned into a big smile.  “I knew you would come,” he happily exclaimed.  “I am dying,” he whispered to Michael.  “But don’t worry about it, I will be OK.”

Michael stayed for awhile until Joshua fell asleep and then went out of the room followed by Joshua’s parents.  “We are very sorry we did not call you sooner”, they apologized.  “We always knew this time would come but we thought he had a few more years.”  “Isn’t there anything they can do?” replied Michael.  “No”, said his father.  “We wish there was, but they have done everything they could.”

05_022

Michael came up every day to visit Joshua for a week.  Then one day, when he came to the hospital Joshua was no longer in the room.  The nurse explained that Joshua had died in his sleep the night before.  Funeral arrangements were made by Joshua’s parents and Michael attended the wake.  At the funeral, Michael gave his condolences to Inez and Joshua’s parents.  Michael was nearly as devastated as they were.  Joshua had a simple funeral, but Michael made sure that there were plenty of flowers there.

peace-always-casket-spray-SY020318.425 (1)

Michael went home and for the next week did nothing and said nothing.  Then one day, he thought.  I am not going to forget Joshua.  I am sitting on a pile of money that is not doing anything for anyone.  I am going to start a home for “special” children where they can come each day to play games, have meals and interact with toys that their parents could not afford for them to have.  My home will have first class aides that are well trained in caring for special needs children and we will have all the security needed to ensure that these children have a safe and secure environment when not home.  This will be someplace that parents can drop their children off when they need a break or rest.

So Michael started this home.  It had the capacity for about 150 children.  The home had numerous playrooms, security cameras in each room and a full kitchen staffed by cooks with degrees in dietary nutrition.  The home was free to qualified children which was based on need and not income.  Parents would fill out an application and it was reviewed by a board of professionals versed in the needs of special education children.

Michael came each day and spent at least four hours at the home.  During these visits, he would meet the parents of each child and spend time with all the children to find out how they were doing and what they liked and did not like about the home.  Michael was constantly making improvements to the home.  When he was not at the home, he was using his genius to earn more money that he would then plow back into the home.  Michael named the home: “The Joshua Home for Very Special Children.”  Michael was admired by parents and loved by the children for the care and compassion he put into this home.

largefuneral

Twenty years or so when by and Michael passed away.  In his will, he set up a foundation and trust to manage the home.  Every penny he had was put into this foundation.  Michael specified that he did not want an elaborate funeral and wanted a very simple burial.  Despite his request, the number of people that called to inquire about his wake and funeral soon dictated that his request would go unheeded.  A number of unnamed benefactors put up money to have the funeral moved to a larger venue.  Even with a bigger church, there was standing room only.  Estimates were that over a thousand people attended Michael’s “simple” funeral.  Many people stood up to talk about his generosity and compassion and all the children that he had helped not only with the home but often with medical expenses and care that they could not afford.  And no one referred to him as: “The man who was smarter than God.”

The End

58bd0e1ca771212e3288e3bb960d1227

Dick Doyscher: A Man for a Few More Seasons

20190907_102553

The world is full of extraordinary people, but Dick Doyscher is not one of them.  Therein lies the problem.  We are inundated with news of extraordinary people, some stupid, some evil and some great.  We have become accustomed to news of people who have won 4000 gold medals, who have made $50,000,000,000 dollars with a new line of running shoes, who are four year old virtuosos that can sing the Soprano role of Gilda in Rigoletto and dance “Thriller” better than Michael Jackson could, or nut cases who have gone out and shot 45 people with a single round that we ignore people like Dick.  Dick is not extraordinary, but he is remarkable.  To paraphrase the “History Guy”, Dick deserves to be remembered.

As we get older, we no doubt read more and more obituaries.  The typical obituary is not like an obituary for Princess Diana or Kobe Bryant.  People write books about the rich and famous.  The typical obituary for the common person is one or two paragraphs long usually ending with something like:

“They worked as an air conditioner repair person for thirty years until they retired.  After retiring they took up gardening and were known for helping their neighbors plant flowers.  They were loved by all and will be dearly missed.” 

Perhaps a beautiful life rolled up into a few paragraphs and a short sweet ending.  You still know little or nothing about the deceased except that they loved flowers and died.  So sad.

Well, I wanted to say something about Dick while he is still alive.  You should know why he is a remarkable individual because I am sure it will not be listed in his obit. He is now 80 years old as he loves to remind us.  He is fond of saying, “Well, when you are as old as I am.”  I think he knows this drives me crazy.  I will perhaps never be old enough to say “I told you so” to Dick since he will either a.) always be older than me or b.) when I turn 80, he will not be around anymore.  So really, I am writing this blog about him as a way of getting even with him for all the times he has flaunted his age in our library group.  But before I tell you why he is remarkable, a short background on how I came to know Dick.

20181008_110614

Ten years ago when we moved to Frederic, I discovered a bunch of guys (See the “Old Library Guys”) who meet daily in the Frederic Public Library for free coffee and donuts.  There are about seven or eight of these guys who are sometimes joined by wives or women in the library.  We are not gender exclusive, but our conversations tend to be around politics, cars, guns and local goings on.  A few years ago, we created a “Last Man Standing Bottle.”  We purchased a bottle of “Old Grand Dad 114 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” (Seemed appropriate) and sealed it in a wooden case with seven of our names on it.  Two of the men on the bottle are now deceased.  Dick and I remain among the living with three other men.

old-grand-dad-114-bourbon-whiskey-1

When I first met Dick, I cannot say that I was impressed.  He was a retired mechanic with a younger attractive wife (Gladys, who I will talk about later) and no formal education beyond high school.  Dick liked cars and guns and Lorie Line.  He did not show much interest in reading the great books, traveling to exotic places or listening to classical concerts.  He did like one pianist name Lorie Line than he had heard but felt little need to explore other pianists.  I nicknamed him “Dick the Stick.”  This was short for “stick in the mud.”

By all known stereotypes, Dick should have been a classic Red Neck.  Now even Red Necks can be kind and caring individuals and you might be thinking that perhaps Dick the Stick was a kind individual who lent money to other people and helped them dig their gardens.  If so, you would be dead wrong.  Dick does not believe in lending money.  He says we should go to the bank for that and he does not do much heavy lifting since he has a bad back.

So nothing remarkable about Dick yet.  But as the years went by, I started to learn more and more about Dick.  Politically, he did not conform to stereotypes.  He is one of the most open minded and creative political thinkers I have ever met.  He argued with me for years that the USA is in a sort of decline like the Roman Empire.  It took me several years to come to believe that he is probably right.  Nevertheless, he supported Obama and even voted for him despite his belief that we were wasting our time voting.

Many of our politicians seem to thrive on fear or greed.  Many of the constituents that continually reelect these self-serving politicos swoon to the melody of greed and fear.  The politicians pander to these base needs as they extort more and more money for their never-ending re-election campaigns.  The broader interest of the world is suborned to the petty greed and fear of their constituents.  Dick is not swayed by either fear or greed.  Dick is clearly a global thinker who sees beyond any narrow horizons to think about the good of others and not just his family and friends.

Now Dick has been a hunter and still has a cache of guns in his house.  But again breaking stereotypes for such men in the North woods, Dick is no supporter of the NRA nor some of the rabid positions they have taken on gun control.  Dick is a pragmatist when it comes to gun control and supports an element of sensible controls without trying to take all guns away from the second amendment supporters.

54bd1b7c4e715_-_trophy-wife-george-hamilton-1209-04-deI mentioned his “Trophy Wife” Gladys.  I will probably have to duck some punches when she next sees me for this slight, but the standard stereotype is an old guy that marries a younger woman who is a gold digger willing to give up her youth and beauty for money and support.  Gladys loves to travel, but Dick the Stick says, “My traveling days are over.”  When I first heard many years ago that Gladys was going on an exotic bike, hike or kayak trip, I thought to myself “Well, Dick, you will never see her again.  She will find some kayaking stud and that is the end of your relationship.”  To my surprise, Gladys returned home.  Over the years she has gone on many trips abroad without Dick the Stick and always comes back.   Dick is more than supportive and never questions her trips or the financial aspects.  He is one of the least jealous men I have ever met.  They respect each other as individuals, and each pursues interests both together and apart.

Gladys the “Trophy Wife” mirrors another remarkable aspect of Dicks character.  Both are very caring individuals without being obvious or obtrusive about it.  Dick befriended Brian Rogers who was one of the men in our “Last Man Standing” group.  Brian had cerebral palsy and was becoming more and more disabled from the disease.  Dick seemed to know just how to help Brian and they became very close.  Brian would not take charity or help from anyone and was very independent.  However, they formed an almost symbiotic relationship with Brian helping Dick with his depression and Dick helping Brian with his cerebral palsy.  It was a beautiful relationship which ended when Brian died.

Dick has helped other men in the group who need help.  I am often surprised by his ability to transcend insults or sometimes mean-spirited attacks by people in our group.  He will forget the insult and if he sees that the person needs help, Dick will make a phone call, pay a visit or extend a hand to help.  I will say “Screw him Dick” and Dick will say “He is not feeling well” or “He has had a string of bad luck.”  I will stick by “Screw him” but not Dick.  He is always willing to forgive and forget any slight that I have seen leveled at him.

His wife Gladys works part-time with a community church, but I have often seen her at other churches where she helps out with the events or dinners.  Many of the churches in our community have an aging population and need help with volunteers because of the older ages in the church.  Gladys has done more than her share to help other churches.  I mentioned that she mirrors Dick, but it is fair to say that it works both ways.  Dick mirrors Gladys in her compassion for others.

beaver tshirtNow less this sound too much like a soap opera, I should point out some of the character flaws that are obvious with Dick.  He once had a battle with some beavers that resided on his property.  These beavers were adept at building a dam using a stream that flowed near a road leading to Dick’s house.  The dam would cause the water to back up flooding the road.  Dick would go out there and break up the dam but faster than you could say “Dick the Stick” the beavers would rebuild the dam.  I asked Dick why he did not shoot the suckers.  Dick replied that he promised Gladys that he would not kill them but try to get them to relocate.  So periodically Dick would come in with his back aching from breaking up the dam and I would say “Give me your rifle and I will shoot the suckers for you.”  Dick would never do this.  I finally bought him a t-shirt with “Beaver Advice” on it.

new-2018-summer-vladimir-putin-t-shirts-menI mentioned that Dick does not want to travel anywhere (Except maybe Duluth).  I would attribute his “been there, done it” to a possible birth or brain defect but to be fair Dick did go to England, Peru and a bunch of other countries when he was younger.  Furthermore, unlike some people, he is always interested in hearing about the travels of Gladys and others in the group.  I am going to Russia this coming year and I keep telling him that I am going to have an audience with President Putin.  Dick often jokes about Putin and his strong political resolve.  I may bring him a Putin t-shirt when I come back from Moscow, assuming that I am allowed to leave the country.

Well, “That’s all Folks” as Porky Pig used to say.  I am not expecting Dick to go anytime soon.  But in case he does, you will all know some things about him now that probably will not be in the Frederic Inter-county Leader.  I think he is a remarkable man and maybe if he reads this, he will remember me in his last will and testament.

 

The Mean Old Man and the Single Chair

The following story was inspired by a true story about a mean old man and his single chair.  My friend Don Johnson told me this story and I have put more details into it.  Nevertheless, I must thank Don for the basic outline and for the great way he told the story which as I said inspired me to write this tale.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Old man scowls, leans forward and shakes his cane

When I was a young boy my parents, two sisters and I lived in a mobile home or trailer as some would call them.  Though, we never trailer-ed it anyplace.  Villagers said we lived in a trailer park and kids at school would laugh and joke about us being “trailer trash.”  I got in lots of fights with other kids over these insults.

Every day, my sisters and I would walk to the pickup site for the school bus.  Back in those days, kids could still go to school without a chaperone.  We even went out trick or treating by ourselves and kept any food or candy that we collected.  The one house we did not go to for tricks or treats belonged to a mean old man.  My parents and the older kids in the trailer park warned us to stay away from his house.  They all said that he was very nasty and hated everyone.

Each day after coming back from school, school let out at about 3:15 PM, the school bus would drop us off and my sisters and a few of my friends would walk home.  We would go by the old man’s house.  He would inevitably be sitting on a makeshift porch in front of his trailer in an old rocking chair.  We would stroll by his home and occasionally wave but he would never wave back.  As we went by, he would fix a relentlessly hostile gaze on us which could put fear in anyone’s heart.  We imagined he was mad at the world and that certainly included us.  Inevitably, we picked up our pace and tried to hurry by his place as fast as we could.

istock_000006097067large

A few years passed and the mean old man simply seemed to grow meaner.  One day after the bus dropped us off, a few of my friends and I were walking home.  As we were passing the old man’s home, he was sitting in his usual place and just staring at us.  My friends started laughing at and taunting him with various insults.  “Hey grandpa, what’s it like being so mean?”  “Hey old man, can you help us find our cat?”  I told them to stop it as he had never bothered anyone.  They turned their taunts on me and said “If you like him so much, why don’t you go talk to him.  We dare you to go talk to him.  They cried out at me: “Chicken!  Chicken!  Chicken!”

I tried to ignore their jibes, but finally, I had had enough.  “I am not afraid. I will go talk to him.”  I started to walk down the path to where the old man was sitting.  My heart began beating faster and faster.  I wondered what I was going to say.  Nothing occurred to me.  The old man was staring at me intently.  I could hear my friends laughing and hooting behind me.

As I reached the old man, he looked very angry.  “Ok”, he said, “What do you want.”  I said the first thing that came into my mind: “Well, I was just wondering why you don’t have another chair so someone can sit and talk with you?”  “None of your business”, he answered, “Now why don’t you just run off and go back with your friends.”  I could not think of another thing to say.  As I turned to leave, I said “Goodbye, have a nice day.”  The old man mumbled something which I thought might be “same to you” but I could not be sure.

Saturday and Sunday passed quickly and Monday we were back in school.  After school adjourned, I decided that I did not want to be go home with my usual friends so I took the “late” bus from school.  I got off at the bus stop and started home.  As I passed the mean old man’s house, he was sitting in his chair.  Much to my surprise, he had a single chair sitting right next to him.  Somewhat emboldened by this turn of events, I walked up the path to his house and stood in front of him again.  He looked at me and asked me “What do you want.”  I said “Well, I notice that you have a single chair free, would you mind if I sat and talked to you for a while.”  “OK” was all he said.

black man in a rocking chair

I sat down and started to tell him about all the things that I was doing in school.  I told him about my classes, my teachers and my friends.  I talked about my parents, my sisters and my grandparents.  He listened intently to all I said and never interrupted or asked any questions.  Realizing that it was getting late and that my parents would be worried, I said that I was going to go home but I would see him again tomorrow.  He simply nodded and said “Goodbye.”

My trips and visits to the mean old man’s house continued for many days.  The days stretched into weeks.  Over time, we started to talk more about his life.  I found out that his name was Bill and that he had been married but his wife had died about ten years earlier.  He had not had any children.  Bill was a veteran and we talked about his wartime service and experiences.  Bill was always more interested in what I was doing and asked me many questions about my school and life.  Bill said that he did not have any friends and no surviving relatives.

I asked Bill if he did not have any friends in our local church but he said that his wife had been the church goer.  He had occasionally gone to church with her, but after she died, his stopped going.  Bill confided in me that he had never been a social person and had always found it difficult to make friends.  Most of the friends whom he once had were his wife’s friends and after she died, they stopped coming to visit.  He was all alone now.

Weeks turned into months and it became my habit to routinely stop by Bill’s house on my way home from school.  We talked and I told him about my day and he listened and asked questions which made me think a great deal about my choices and decisions in life.  I could share things with Bill that I did not share with anyone else.

Then one day when I was coming home and passing Bill’s house, I saw that someone else was sitting in the single chair.  Not wanting to interrupt, I waved and walked on by.  The next day we resumed our discussions as usual but the following day, the chair was again occupied.  Over time, the single chair was alternately occupied by myself and many other people.

two old men on a porch

I found out that Bill had started to go to church again and he had met people from all walks of life.  Some were retired and some were not.  The people who met Bill found him to be a very interesting person. They would stop by and sit in the single chair next to Bill and talk about various and sundry things.

High school came and went.  Bill and I had many talks but just as often, he had someone else sitting in the chair when I came by.  I went off to college and saw Bill much less except when I came home to visit my parents.  Bill and I discussed writing to each other but we both agreed that we were not writers.  I finished college and found a job in another city.  My times with Bill had dwindled to a mere pittance of what they once had been.

A few more years passed by.  My parents notified me that Bill had died.  I came home to go to his funeral.  It was well attended and nearly a hundred people were there.  Many nice things were said about Bill.  Everyone talked about what a good listener he was and how he always cared more about what others were doing or thinking.  He was one of the least egocentric people you could have met.

single chair on a porch

About two weeks after the funeral, a letter arrived in my mail.  It was from my home town but I did not recognize the address.  I opened it up and inside were two pieces of stationary.  I opened the one with the typing on it.  It read, “We were going through some of Bill’s possessions and we found this note on his bedside.  We thought he meant to give it to you but never got around to mailing it.”  I opened the second piece of stationary.  It was in rough scrawl which I recognized as Bill’s handwriting.  Bill wrote the following:

Dear Tim,

You are the best friend I ever had. 

Thanks,

Bill

I still keep this note.  It is perhaps the nicest compliment I have ever received.  Whenever, I miss Bill, I pull this note out to remember him and the many talks we had.  Bill in his rocking chair and me in the single chair beside him.

Time for Questions:

My writers group said that the “Mean Old Man” was iconic and that every neighborhood had such a character.  Can you think of someone in your neighborhood like this “Mean Old Man?”  Did anyone ever try to talk to him or find out what bothered him?  What happened to him?  Why do you suppose children are often likely to befriend such people?

Life is just beginning.

“My mother says that when Mrs. Rowley is mean, which is generally the case, it is really because she is just unhappy, and who could blame her with a husband like that . . . She says this is really the only reason people are ever mean–they have something hurting inside of them, a claw of unhappiness scratching at their hearts, and it hurts them so much that sometimes they have to push it right out of their mouths to scratch someone else, just to give themselves a rest, a moment of relief.”  — Laura Moriarty

Dear Friends and Family:  Happy Holidays and a Wonderful New Year to Everyone in 2017 in the Whole World

20161201_2055481Karen says that I should start our annual holiday letter off because I write better than she does.  Well, since it is the holiday season, I will let her slide.  For my part, (Karen will add hers in a short while), I promise not to talk about politics, religion or philosophy.  We are all sick of politics and you are probably only marginally interested in the latter two topics.  What’s left then?  Well, I was thinking that I just turned 70 in September.  I never believed that I would see 30 years of age.  Now here I am 4 decades later pondering the same mysteries of life that I pondered forty years ago.  Feeling a little nostalgic, I got to thinking about the “firsts in my life.”  For instance, my first kiss and my first job.  So how about participating in a little nostalgia here and fire up your memories as well.  I have posted a list of “my firsts” with my responses to each item.  List is on the left with my responses to each one on the right.  Can you remember your answers to my list?   I would love to hear your list of firsts.  Please post your FIRSTS in the comments section if you can remember what they are and don’t mind sharing.

  • First day at school? — I remember just walking to school by myself 
  • First job? — I was a newspaper boy in Woonsocket, Rhode Island
  • First promotion? — Got my first stripe in the USAF after basic training          
  • First car? —  1947 4 door Plymouth, cost 50 dollars in 1960
  • First apartment or house? —  Osceola, Wisconsin in 1967
  • First child or grandchild? —  Christina born in 1968 in University of Minnesota
  • First day you left home? — I joined the USAF in October of 1964 
  • First date? — High school with a friend of mines girlfriend’s cousin                     

20161008_1133251Hi all.  I think I’ll stick with my firsts for the past year.  My first Dulcimer Jamboree in April, 2016 in Mountain View AR where I met the dulcimer 9 years ago.  A fateful meeting it was.  My first chromatic travel dulcimer which I took with me to New York in Nov.  My first raised bed garden this past summer made from old discarded stock tanks.  It produced more food than we could eat and it was so easy to weed and harvest.  My first grandson, Garrick, getting married to Kat this coming spring.  My first viewing of an opera at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC.  My first concert in Carnegie Hall.  My first trip up the Statue of Liberty and out to Ellis Island to look for ancestors.

20161124_1108581It’s been a full, fun and sometimes exhausting year.  We still work part time to support our “snow birds” lifestyle.  I’m working with start-up home care agencies, teaching and consulting, and ICD 10 coding.  John has taught both on-line and residence classes.  We escaped our part time work with trips down to Kentucky for Kentucky Music Week, trips to the ocean in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, and a fall anniversary trip to Bayfield, WI.  And, of course, the trips back and forth from WI to AZ where John tries to find new unspoiled routes each time we go.

20161109_1958091

Juli and Rob remain in Hastings with daughter Logan as a H.S junior this year and son Garrick and fiancé Kat are fixing up a home and planning their wedding.  Susan bought a home in Bloomington and accumulates mileage on her car with Sam (also a junior) in Northfield.  Her eldest son Zach is a college junior at Augsburg.  My son Kevin is still with LinkedIn and living in Silicon Valley, CA with his 3D printer and other tech stuff I don’t understand.  Megan works with AZ Multiple Listing Services and trains realtors on their software.  She writes the company blog and is about half way through her first novel.  She has discovered writing and loves it.

John volunteered this past year with Interfaith Caregivers in WI and spends time with the “Cucumber Guys”—the group who daily solve the world’s problems at the Frederic Library.  My “spare time” is generally spent practicing and playing with my dulcimer friends in both places.

Our good friend, Dar, frequently wears “Life is Good” t-shirts.  It’s a nice saying.  I’m thankful for our many blessings, friends, family and activities.  We wish you a very Happy 2017 and hope to see you all in 2017.

Love, John and Karen

What are the Myths and Realities of Marriage? — Part 2

Last week we looked at what I called the “Cons” or negative assumptions about marriage.  This week, we will look at some “Pros” or positive assumptions that one can make about marriage.  I offer both sets of assumptions with the thought in mind that “The truth will set you free.”  Marriage is not all sweet and sugar but neither is it all sour and vinegar.  A good marriage has its ups and downs but a really happy marriage will have more ups than downs.  Most happy marriages are based on a set of realistic assumptions concerning what marriage is all about and what it takes to make a good marriage.

  1. Marriage is a means by which two people can in time learn the true meaning of love.

Most of us are pretty young when we get married.  With the exception of second marriages, where naiveté can be attributed to a rebound effect, most naiveté in a first marriage is due to youth and inexperience.  Many second marriages show that often older people are no wiser than younger people.  Love in a first marriage is more about passion and infatuation than about true love.  Saying “I love you” about someone you hardly know means about the same as saying “I love my new car.”  You cannot really love anything or anyone until you have some history with that person.

Love is a learned trait.  Most of the time, we use love in a very simplistic and general manner.  Jesus said “True love is the willingness to lay down your life for another.”  I disagree with this definition.  I think this kind of love can be a form of courage or bravado even without any notion of love whatsoever.  How can you love anyone whom you do not know?  I might be willing to risk my life to save someone who is drowning in a frozen lake, but it would be ridiculous to think I love that person.

True love is closer to a passion that is based on respect and admiration and gratitude.  When you first marry anyone, all three of these traits may only exist in very rudimentary states.  Time and shared experience help bring more perspective to each of them.  Over time, we begin to respect each other as we learn more about each other and how we treat life.  We begin to admire our partners more as we see how they cope with problems and as we both sacrifice our own needs for the good of each other.  Gratitude is the highest state of love in a marriage.  When you are truly grateful for your partner and when you feel this gratitude in your entire being, you have arrived at the shore of true love.

“True love doesn’t happen right away; it’s an ever-growing process. It develops after you’ve gone through many ups and downs, when you’ve suffered together, cried together, laughed together.” — Ricardo Montalban

  1. Marriage is a system for raising a new generation that will carry on the best values of the old generation.

Parents have a responsibility to raise children who have sound moral, ethical and personal values.  Each new generation builds on the shoulders of previous generations.   It would be foolish to think that the values of the past should all be the values of the next generation.  The needs of each new generation demand new values to cope with problems and issues that could not have been foreseen by previous generations.  Nevertheless, there are many values and ideas from the past that an emerging generation should have knowledge and insight of.  Lessons from the past can help to inform the future and mistakes from the past can still have meaning and relevance to issues that are current today.

Parents have an obligation to help insure that any children that they are responsible for, whether adopted, natural birth or foster children, learn a set of values that will help them to be people who understand the concepts of discipline and integrity.  Too many parents see their children as means to their own end or as “mini” friends.  Helicopter parents, soccer moms and sports dads are all manifestations of parents who have little idea about their real obligations towards their children.   Such parents want to be “best” friends with their children instead of fathers and mothers.  Even worse, are the parents who want to live vicariously through their children and dream that their kids will live the lives that they wanted to live.

“To let them go on believing that the world is safe, that they will be provided for and achieve worthwhile things even if they remain stupid, shirk integrity, despise courtesy, and act only from self-interest, that they ought to rely on those stronger, smarter, and more able to solve their problems, would be the gravest disservice: to them, and to society as a whole.”  —  J. Aleksandr Wootton

  1. Marriage is a potpourri of passion, ecstasy, happiness, sadness, grief, anger and challenge.

I may be repeating myself here, but I want to emphasize that all marriages will have good days and bad days.  Some of the bad days will be due to poor judgement, selfishness and poor planning.  They are days that could have been in the range of your ability to change.  Other bad days will have little or nothing to do with you.  Friends will die.  Relatives will get sick.  Accidents will happen.  You and your partner will grow old.  You will have no control over any of these things.

Whether or not you can change things, what matters the most is that you and your partner can support each other through the ups and downs.  You need to expect that bad things will happen to good people.  When they do, how will you support the other person?

A number of years ago, my wife and I went scuba diving for the first time.  We had both received our PADI certification and done a few lake dives.  We decided to visit the Caribbean and do some scuba diving there.  We went to an island off the coast of Belize called Caye Caulker.  We found a dive shop on the island and scheduled a day of diving for a day or so after we arrived.   Karen had not had any experience with ocean diving.  I had done quite a bit of diving but it was many years before.

We suited up and went down.  We were partners on this dive and that meant that we would have each other’s back.  Karen has more problems with buoyancy control than I do but we finally got her weights adjusted correctly and down we went.  We descended with six or so other divers and the dive master.  We had a great time though Karen kept trying to bob up instead of down.  When it was clear that we had little oxygen left we decided to come up.  We signaled the dive master and most of the group also headed back to the dive boat.  We had stayed above 120 feet so the bends were not really a concern.  We still wanted to ascend slowly though as it always is a good idea to observe this protocol.  I rose with Karen until we reached the surface.  The water was pretty choppy on top.

When we hit the surface, I was feeling tired and I headed to the boat.  I totally forgot Karen and I took my tanks up and got on the boat. When I looked back to see how Karen was doing, she was still in the water. She was tired and having a hard time getting her tanks off.  Some of the other people were in the water and they came to help her.  She finally made it back in the boat very tired and exhausted and somewhat scared.  I felt really bad.  I had deserted her and thought only about myself.  It was somewhat hard for me to get out of the water and on the boat by myself but it was next to impossible for Karen.  I did not think about her and I felt guilty for the rest of the day.  I promised her and myself that from then on, I would make sure she was on the boat before I tried to get out.

It is not always easy to look after another person.  It is very easy to put our needs first and our partners needs second.   A key dilemma of marriage is how to put both needs first or how to know when one needs to go first and the other can go second.  Marriage presents us with endless possibilities to work on this problem.  Sometimes we will succeed and sometimes we will fail.  However, as with any worthwhile endeavor, the trick is to keep trying, keep working on things and when you fail to try again and to never give up.  The effort to care for another person builds trust in a relationship and this trust is the foundation for a good marriage.  Layer it with respect, admiration and gratitude for each other and you will live “happily ever after.”

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”  — I Corinthians 13:7

Time for Questions:

Have you ever been in love?  How many times?  What do you think love is?  What do you think true love is based on?  How does one create true love?

Life is just beginning.

“You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end.  And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you yourself keep it.  But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word.  We are your friends, Frodo.” — ― J.R.R. Tolkien,

 

Debate versus Discussion:  Why Debates are a Waste of Time!

(Listen to the Debate Song, while you read my blog this week.)

berniedebateOnce upon a time, I thought debates were the answer to the question of “how do we discover the truth?”  I thought that if you put two intelligent people together and each took opposing positions on an issue, that through the interplay of ideas the truth would emerge.  If you think about this a bit, it is the basis for our judicial system in America.  One side argues for the defendant, the other side argues for the prosecution or against the defendant.   It is also the basis for an academic exercise called Dialectical Research or Dialectical Inquiry.

dialectical inquiryA dialectical investigation is a form of qualitative research which utilizes the method of dialectic, aiming to discover truth through examining and interrogating competing ideas, perspectives or arguments.  This latter method is often applied through the use of case studies in which students or investigators discuss real world examples of complex situations.  The purpose of a case study is to provide a more thorough analysis of a situation or “case” which will reveal interesting information to the reader.  As I use them in my classrooms, my goal for my students is to help them understand how to better form strategies for success in business.

159_TJ_Dillashaw_vs_Dominick_Cruz.0.0Unfortunately, in the real world the strategy of debate does not work.  Debates are a waste of time when honest discussion takes second place to winning or looking good.  Dialectical Inquiry is also often useless since the complexity of the subject can be beyond the ability of many students to grasp.  Real world situations are froth with uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity or as some have called it VUCA.  VUCA is an acronym used by the military to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.  Many complex situations are seldom able to be accurately modeled leading in most instances to weak images or portrayals of the actual situation.  This is why debaters opt for simple explanations rather than complex explanations.  Another example of this watering down of reality is a Hollywood movie depiction of a supposed “true” story.  Recent movies that come to mind include the following:

  • The Revenant – Story of legendary frontiersman Hugh Glass.
  • American Sniper – Story of U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle
  • Steven Jobs – Story of the founder of Apple Corporation
  • The Theory of Everything – Story of physicist genius Steven Hawking

Hollywood loves to take stories of great enterprise and or daring do and change them into a 1. 5 hour dramatic show full of love, heroism and imaginary situations that often did not exist.  Did I say lies?  Perhaps that would be more accurate.  For often, these Hollywood epics are no more than half true.  The other half are stories added for dramatic impact.  Even worse perhaps are the often skewed biases that intrude into the movie which distort the reality of the character or situation.   For instance, here is what one critic had to say about the Steve Jobs movie:

“With all this in mind, I was disappointed in the Steve Jobs movie.  Partly because as an Apple expert I watched the film in dismay as events were pulled out of context and people appeared in locations and at times where they simply wouldn’t have been around.  I can’t help but think that in his desire to avoid the chronological retelling or Steve Jobs story, a traditional childhood to death epic, in favor of three acts (which would be better suited to a theatrical production) Aaron Sorkin constrained himself too much.  The only way he could tell the story was to pull events from all corners of Jobs’ life and present them as if they had happened in the 30 minutes before a keynote presentation.”  — Karen Haslam, 10 Nov 15

I mentioned earlier that debates cannot work when winning is the primary objective.  Hollywood’s version of winning is making money.  Making money becomes a more important objective than telling the truth.  Similarly, the truth takes second place to winning in political debates.  Winning for the networks means providing entertainment to sell ads, not necessarily a stage full of erudite rationale individuals trying to discover the truth.

The 2016 debates for both the Republican and Democratic candidates have not only been a farce but they have been an insult to the American People.  Here is one comment regarding the Republican debate on TV a few nights ago:

“The GOP debate on FOX last night was an embarrassment.  The talk show hosts said it best.  This debacle stooped to a new low. Penis size?? C’mon people.  Seriously. We need to respect our President.  It is beyond my comprehension how anybody could respect this pathetic excuse for a candidate.”

politifact-photos-Trump_gesturesI have watched several of the debates now and I see no evidence that truth is being discovered.  The debates have become hyperbolic spectacles of insults, half-truths, reality distortions, innuendos and petty personal attacks.  I doubt if anyone has found much truth in these debates never mind elucidations of complex policy positions for any of the candidates.  Trump 2495-so-funny-and-true-rhetoric-wallpaper-427x454will build a giant wall.  Cruz will fix Syria.  Rubio will fix health care.  Sanders will fix inequality in America.  Hillary will fix Obamacare.  Do you know how any of the candidates will accomplish these lofty goals?  Of course not, since they know that the “debates” are no place for such a complex discussion.  Trump perhaps realizes this fact better than anyone and has kept his discussion and clarification of his policy positions to less than fifteen second descriptions.  The general consensus seems to be that if a candidate cannot explain their position on any subject in less than fifteen seconds, they are doomed, i.e., they lose.

In their book, Presidential Debates: The Challenge of Creating an Informed Electorate, (1988) Jamieson and Birdsell make a case for the importance of Presidential debates but only if certain changes are made to the usual format.  Their book was written over twenty five years ago and if you have watched the recent debates, you will note that their recommendations were not heeded.  Furthermore, the present debate formats have probably encouraged worse excesses in rhetoric and sophistry than either Jamieson or Birdsell could have imagined in 1988.  Looking historically at debates, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the epitome of rationality and decorum.  Today, the networks want drama and entertainment.  Debates such as took place between Lincoln and Douglas would never qualify as either drama or entertainment.

debate parrotsOn a more personal level, I have a problem with debates.  I have a few friends who love to debate.  I have noted as a result of recent discussions with them concerning the Presidential elections that do not want to understand or clarify any issues, they just want to argue or perhaps debate.  I say that they want to argue, because their main agenda seems to be looking good or advancing their points and not understanding my points.  They often enter into these contests (Since that is what a debate means to them.  It seems to be a contest between winning their points and looking good or losing their points and looking bad.) with a pretense of trying to understand why I think or feel a certain way.  Sometimes, they start the “debate” with a flat out rejection of my position or with a declaration such as “you are dead wrong” or “you don’t know what you are talking about.”  I confess that such latter utterances often preclude my disposition to have a rational discussion with them.   I see no point in it.

Have you ever changed anyone’s mind which was made up?  Have you ever tried to have a rational discussion with someone who was being emotional?  Have you ever tried to explain something to someone whose main objective in talking with you was to score points or make you look stupid?  Under the rubric of “debate,” are we to think that our antagonists give one farthing for the truth or where we stand on an issue?  There is a big difference between debating me on an issue and discussing an issue with me.

The result of these “debates” with erstwhile friends have led me to two inescapable conclusions.  First, I don’t need or even want debaters in my life.  I have little time left for scoring points or winning games by making someone else look bad or proving that they are wrong and I am right.  Second, debates do not start from an honest position of fruitful and objective inquiry and thus cannot lead to truth or relevant knowledge.  Rather, most debates start from a position of “I am right and you are wrong.”  The antagonists goal being to show you or the audience how right and smart they are and how wrong and stupid you are.  Is there a point to such an exhibition?  I presume winning is the payoff and reward.  As Vince Lombardy once said:  “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

If your objective is to understand something or if you want to find the truth, I suggest that you think more of discussing and less of debating with others.  A good discussion aims to find an understanding and comprehension of complexities that is often beyond our singular abilities to understand.  The truth can usually (but not always) be found between two extremes.  However, the process of truth seeking is more important than the process of truth finding.  The truth will inevitably change over time.  You will never have found a truth that will be good for all eternity.  There will always be a new truth to be found somewhere.  Thus, the process of truth seeking becomes a way of life that outfits the seeker for a journey through the cosmos that may take the seeker to the end of the universe and back to the beginning.

Well, if you finished my blog and you think I did not give a fair presentation on the evils of debate, then please listen to the song I noted above.  This song makes a case for the value of debate.  It does it in an Indian Rap song with great visual effects, music and choreography.  I am probably undoing my entire argument by including this song but Amen or so be it. 

(Listen to the Debate Song, it makes a great case for the value of debate)

Time for Questions:

Do you seek first to understand or first to be understood?  Do you debate others or discuss with others?  Are you more concerned with understanding or looking right?  How do you grasp complex issues?  How do you insure that you truly understand and are not being duped by charlatans trying to sell you simple answers to complex issues?

Life is just beginning.

“And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:”  — The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom written by Thomas Jefferson in 1777.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: