3563– Tuesday, July 30, 2019 – Can We Ever Really Find Ourselves?

identity-confusion

Over the years, I have often found myself searching:  Sometimes for my purpose in life, sometimes for the meaning of my life, sometimes for who I really am.  Goals, strategies, plans for my life always seem to revolve around the answers that I find to these questions.  Sometimes these questions seem like fantasies or to paraphrase the famous nihilist philosopher Max Stirner: “Wheels in my Head.”  My wheels spin around and around and around and I wonder if I ever come back to a new place or am I just a hamster on a spinning wheel.

It is very difficult to know anyone else.  I frequently attribute motives and behavior to others based on a very weak assessment of their intent.  We all want to know why someone did something and we assume that if we can only find the right information, we will be able to understand why.  Why did he do this?  Why did she do that?  We are sure the answer must exist.  If only, they had left a note or a manifesto.

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Can we ever learn the real motives of others?  Is it ever possible to walk a mile in anyone else’s shoes?  Do they really know why?  I wonder if it is even possible to know our own selves let alone anyone else.

It is difficult to look into our true selves since a great deal of our ego and self-image is based on skewing the results of what we find.  We paint ourselves as better than we might really be.  We look into a mirror and seldom see how much we have aged.  We look into our hearts and perhaps never see how hard they have become.

I think I am smart and wise, but more often I am just very judgmental.  What seems as a positive trait to me can and does come across as presumptive and derogatory of others.  I prefer to think of myself as intelligent and not judgmental.

I pride myself on being competent.  I always finish what I start.  I believe that I do a good job at everything I do.  But I am dismissive of quitters and I am a perfectionist who looks down at the work of others.  I have very little compassion for people who I think are fuck-ups.  I prefer to think of myself as competent and not compassionless.

I think I am pretty tough.  I am no wimp.  I can take pain, high temperatures, low temperatures, rain or hail and I will slog through the muck and mire with the best of them.  But I am defensive and thin skinned.  It takes very little to rub me the wrong way and then I will launch a withering attack designed to protect myself and preserve my image.  I prefer to anoint myself as tough and not defensive.

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I take no shit from anyone.  I speak my mind.  I voice my concerns and I will defend my positions regardless of who I am dealing with.  Be it boss, client, spouse or friend, I stand up for what I believe.  I often seem angry.  I can be mean, sarcastic and ill-spirited towards friends and foe alike.  I am heedless of when I say things and how I say things.  I am more concerned with being right than understanding what right is.  I prefer to think of myself as a man of integrity and not an angry man.

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I am a very resourceful person.  No matter what the situation, I can usually find a solution to a problem.  I pride myself on being quick thinking and creative.  Pride can lead to intolerance and I am cold to those whom I think are incompetent or who do not measure up to my standards.  I prefer to think of myself as resourceful and not cold-hearted.

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I love creative adventures and delight in coming up with new ideas for places to visit, things to see and events to attend.  I am always on the lookout for novelty and adventure.  Karen lists this as one of the things that she loves about me and how it keeps our relationship interesting.  Talking about places that I have been and things that I have done can be boastful and off-putting to many people.  Who besides Karen and I care that we have been to thirty-three countries?  Seldom, do our children, let alone our friends, want to see all the pictures of the latest trip we have taken.  I prefer to think of myself as adventurous and not boastful.

I pride myself in having a wide range of knowledge about many different subjects.  I read a great deal and I spend a significant amount of time studying and learning about new ideas and new things.  I have always enjoyed being on the forefront of new technology.  To some, I am too opinionated and think I know more than I really do.  Some see my search for knowledge as a way to be superior to other people.  I prefer to think of myself as knowledgeable and not opinionated.

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I think I have a great deal of insight into human nature and I think that I am very tolerant as a result of these insights.  Nevertheless, there seems to be a large group of people who think I am intolerant of their views and opinions.  I am often seen as too opinionated and dismissive of contrary viewpoints.  I prefer to think of myself as insightful and not opinionated.

I am John Persico, a man of intelligence, competence, toughness, directness, resourcefulness, creativity, knowledge and insightfulness.  To others, I am John Persico, a judgmental man who is often without compassion, defensive, angry, cold, boastful, opinionated and intolerant.

Who is the real me?  Like Jekyll and Hyde, who will I be today?  Does anyone see the real me?  Do I see the real me?  Is there a real me?  Am I a chameleon or totally schizophrenic?

“A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete.  A self is always becoming.” — Madeleine L’Engle,  “A Circle of Quiet”

 

 

 

Once Upon a Time, I thought I knew Everything.

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The older I get, the less I know.  Isn’t it supposed to work the other way around?  A friend of mine, Jerry, gave me this quote from Bertrand Russell the other day “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”  The Greek philosopher Socrates was once proclaimed to the wisest man in the world. The day before he died, Socrates declared that he knew nothing.  On that same day, the Oracle at Delphi was asked “Who is the wisest man in the world?”  She replied “Socrates is the wisest man in the world.”  This was reported back to Socrates who said “When I was young, I knew everything but now I know nothing.”  The Oracle, who was never wrong, was asked “How can Socrates be the wisest man in the world when he knows nothing?” She replied “Only the wisest man in the world would know that he knows nothing and have the courage and humility to admit it.”

Facts

We go to school to learn many facts and figures.  We study history to learn the story of humanity, we study physics to learn the theory of the cosmos, we study biology to learn how animals grow and develop and we study science so we will know how the world really works.  We learn more and more and are coerced into theories and opinions and positions.  We become more and more certain that we are wiser and smarter.

The more degrees that are conferred on us, the smarter we are supposed to be.  If we are really smart, we begin to feel that all of these facts and data bits are not really helping us to understand the world.  The older most of us get and the more learned most of us become, the more we suspect that there are no truths to the world.  We begin to see that there are always truths behind the truths that we think we have found.  Our profundities become curiosities as we age until at some point they wither away and become obsolete.  How many theories have you seen that were proven wrong?  How many times have you had to eat humble pie because something you were absolutely positively sure about was proven conclusively wrong?

horrible face

I remember seeing a picture in the paper the other day of a man accused of sexually molesting a young girl.  He was accused of pedophilia and charged with a felony offense.  I took one look at the visage staring out of the paper at me and promptly proclaimed “If there were ever a guy who was a pedophile, he sure is.”  A few weeks later, a more complete investigation proved him completely innocent of all offenses and the young girl admitted that she made the story up for some unknown reason.  I was beyond having egg on my face.  You would think that at my age, I would have learned to avoid a rush to judgment.  I can make no excuses for my blatant stupidity.

Every few months, the media finds some new tragedy or murder case to focus on.  A few years ago it was the Trayvon Martin case.  It seemed that every day we were confronted with some new facts that supported a change in who the media wanted us to think was guilty.  Trayvon initiated the encounter.  Zimmerman initiated the encounter.  Trayvon provoked Zimmerman.  Zimmerman provoked Trayvon.  Trayvon was a good kid.  Zimmerman was a good guy loved by all of his friends.  Trayvon was a racist.  Zimmerman was a racist.

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Tapes, witnesses, photo enlargements, medical information, acoustic information, video tapes, the entire gamut was presented daily with one expert after another telling us what they think.   This same scenario plays itself out over and over again in the media.  The “crime of the century” has been replaced by the “crime of the week.”

Right Way

Each day regardless of what news we read or what cable show we watch, it appears we know more and more about less and less.  What are we doing here folks?  Are they looking for truth or are they selling papers?  Are we voyeurs to some weird witch hunt?  Are we taking sides so we can become right?  If so, we will truly have become a Roman Circus instead of a civilized society of laws and courts and presumptions of innocence until proven guilty.

If we can somehow get pass this media circus that pretends to convey the truth,  there are lessons that we need to learn.  If you remember the famous story Rashomon, you may realize that truth is often a matter of perspective and not hard cold facts.

Time for Questions: 

What can you help do to overcome the types of bias and prejudice that the media often promotes?  How can you avoid your own “rush to judgment?”  What does it mean to “judge not others, less you be judged yourself.”  How often do we see the mote in others eyes but ignore the pole in our own?

Life is just beginning.

“We live in a culture where everyone’s opinion, view, and assessment of situations and people spill across social media, a lot of it anonymously, much of it shaped by mindless meanness and ignorance.”  — Mike Barnicle

Is Civility Overrated?

be fucking civil

All the talk these days by political pundits, news reporters, columnists, journalists and of course politicians seems directed towards decrying the lack of civility in politics.  It is common knowledge that there is a war between the Democrats and Republicans going on.  Each side sees the other as bent on destroying democracy, mom, god and apple pie.  They have become bitter enemies, and no one is taking prisoners.

To study this problem more, I decided to invoke Santayana’s famous dictum on “those who forget the past.”  I fired up my trusty time machine and selected four eras and events from the past where it seems civility had also been called for.  As you perhaps know, when journeying to the past, you become invisible and there is no way that you can influence any past events.  This is in accord with Novikov’s Self-Consistency Principle.  I report on these events in the following four narratives as I witnessed and remembered the discussions.

Moses and Rameses – 1440 BCE

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:   Not on your life

Moses:  Then I will bring numerous plagues to smite you Egyptians

Rameses:  Go ahead.  See if I give a dam

A few weeks later:

Rameses:  Look Moses, can’t we be civil about this

Moses:  Sure, let my people go

Rameses:  Not happening

Moses:  Then I will bring a new plague that will strike all first-born Egyptians dead

Rameses:  I thought we agreed to be civil.  Can’t we discuss this more?

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  The hell with you Israelites

One week later:

Rameses:  Moses, I thought we agreed to be civil.  Look how many of my people you killed

Moses:  Let my people go

Rameses:  To hell with you, get out and don’t come back.  I hope I never see you again

Moses:  Now that is what I call being civil.  Goodbye!

in pursuit of civility

War of Independence – 1776 CE

King George:  You dam colonists.  Who do you think you are?

Benjamin Franklin:  We are your loyal servants my lord, who merely want to be treated with the same rights as Englishmen in your country

King George:  You are low-lifes with no civility.  I can’t believe you dumped all that tea in the harbor?  Furthermore, you don’t even have tea-time each day like we do.

Benjamin Franklin:  My lord, the customs in our country are very different

King George:  Different my ass, you people are nothing but barbarians

Benjamin Franklin:  All we want is to eliminate taxation without representation

King George:  Do I look like I care what you want?  I’m the king

Benjamin Franklin:  I am afraid we are prepared to go to war over this issue my lord

King George:  We want to have a civil discussion and you dare to threaten me?

Benjamin Franklin:  What does civility mean to you my lord?

King George:  Your people stop whining about our taxes and get their asses back to work

Benjamin Franklin:  I will bring your message to my people your lord, but I don’t think they will agree

King George:  Then we will crush them like we crush all the enemies of the empire.  They will be begging for tea and not coffee.  You are dismissed.

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Somewhere in Mississippi – 1860 CE

Plantation Overseer:  How many times Moses have I told you that you can’t run away?  You are going to get another whipping boy

Moses:  Yes, master

Plantation Overseer:  How many lashes do you think you should get Moses?

Moses:  I don’t rightly know master

Plantation Overseer:  Look Moses, I want to be civil about this, so I am asking your opinion.  I was thinking that since it was fifty last time, we should add ten making it sixty.  That would be ten for each time you ran away – agree?

Moses:  Go to hell!

Plantation Overseer:  Mind your mouth boy.  I thought we were having a civil and friendly conversation and now you go ahead and insult me with your vile mouth.  I am going to add ten lashes to your whipping.  That will teach you to be more civil!

Moses:  Go to hell!

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Hollywood Producers Office – March 15, 2018 CE

Producer:  Look Emily, I would like for you to get on the couch and take your clothes off

Emily (Aspiring actress): I don’t understand what taking my clothes off has to do with an audition

Producer:  Well, you have heard of “quid pro quo” right?  Well, I just want you to do me a little favor and then I will do you a bigger favor

Emily:  And what if I refuse?

Producer:  Can’t we be civil about this?  We are both adults

Emily:  I do not plan to screw my way to a role in your production

Producer:  I am tired of trying to be civil, now get your ass on that couch

Emily:  Unlock the door!  Please let go of me!

Producer:  Just relax, you will enjoy it more

Emily:  Get off me, I will scream!

Producer:  Can’t you be more civil Emily?  I am just doing this for your own good

Emily:  Fuck you, get off me!

Producer:  Not until I finish what we started

Emily:  Crying

Producer:  See it wasn’t so bad was it? Maybe after this we can be more civil to each other

Emily:  Screw you!

trump on civility

Well, that is all the time I had for my time journeys. I report the above narratives to the best of my memory.  I was wondering what messages or meaning I could ascribe to these events in terms of the problem of civility that I mentioned earlier.  I know Trump, McConnell, Graham and many others on both sides of the aisle have all called for more civility in politics.

Somehow though, I question when and where civility is appropriate and where a good “Screw you” is more appropriate.  I have no doubt that civility is of value in some circumstances but like any value, perhaps it can be overdone.

death of civility

Webster’s defines the term Civility as: 

1:  Archaic training in the humanities

2a: Civilized conduct, especially COURTESYPOLITENESS

b: A polite act or expression

If we dismiss the first definition, we are left with courtesy and politeness as being the sine qua non of civility.  But I ask, who and when should we be courteous to?  Should we be courteous to:

  • Someone who is robbing us
  • Someone who is trying to kill us
  • Someone who is obviously lying to us
  • Someone who is preaching hate and fear
  • Someone who is taking money from the poor to give to the rich
  • Someone who will deny others the chance for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

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There is a time for civility.  I have no doubt.  But there is a time for anger and indignation.

It takes more courage to stand up to bullies and wrong doers than to merely stand passively by and acquiesce to calls for civility.  To conclude, I observe this about civility:

  • It is often a call by the more powerful to the weaker to be subdued and humbled
  • It can be used to hide evil of the first order and should be suspect
  • It is of merit only when it is reciprocated

Beware the Trojan horse!  Beware those who want civility without justice, truth and freedom!

Time for Questions:

Are you always civil?  When are you not civil?  Why?  Do you agree that civility is not always a virtue?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“In politics, disagreements between opponents is the sign of a healthy and flourishing democracy. When politicians show too much deference to each other, fundamental ethical questions are likely to get buried and power can go unchecked. Meyer points out that insults are a non-violent way of curbing the excesses of the powerful, and he argues that politics must therefore ‘allow for a boorishness typically at odds with polite society’. Similarly, Kennedy argues: ‘The civility movement is deeply at odds with what an invigorated liberalism requires: intellectual clarity; an insistence upon grappling with the substance of controversies; and a willingness to fight loudly, openly, militantly, even rudely for policies and values….” Meyer, ‘Liberal Civility and the Civility of Etiquette’, 79; Kennedy, ‘The Case against “Civility”’, 85.

The above exercpt is from:  “Six Questions About Civility” by Nicole Billante and Peter Saunders, 2002

 

 

 

Tommy:  A Boy for all Seasons

This is a story about my best friend in high school.  His name was Thomas Donnelly.  This story took place over fifty years ago.  I still think of the influence that these events have had on my life.  Many of you will be repelled by the story that I narrate.  If you can suspend your morality, you might be able to accept that the culture I grew up in made these events very normal even if you do not consider them to be moral.

Street Corner Gang

It happened one hot Saturday afternoon in the summer.  I was hanging out on our Manton street corner.  As with all Italian teenagers, we hung out in a certain geographic area and this association led to our identity as the “Manton Gang.”  Manton was a suburb of Providence R.I. and a primarily Italian neighborhood.  My father was Italian and my mother was Irish.  It was just the reverse for my best friend Tommy.  His mother was Italian and his father was Irish.  Nevertheless, anyone with Irish or Italian blood was accepted into our street corner gang.

At fourteen to eighteen years of age, few of us were interested in anything except gambling and sex.  Gambling tended to be a regular event on the corner where we hung out but sex was much more episodic.  Good Italian girls in the sixties still did not have sex outside of marriage.  This left us to find those “bad girls” whose discrimination did not tend towards marriage or even long-term love affairs and who were much less choosy in terms of selecting “affairs of the heart.”

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Tommy and I were sitting on the corner discussing nothing important when a blue and white 56 Ford four door Fairlane pulled up to the curb and started honking.  At first, we did not recognize anyone in the car.  Two guys were in the front seat and no one was in the back seat.  We finally recognized Dave and Bob.  Dave was an infrequent corner member but Bob was a regular.  We sauntered over to the car.  It was always important to look cool and nonchalant when we were growing up.  As we approached the open window on Dave’s side, he yelled out.  “Hey, you guys want to get laid?”

“What’s up” I said.  Dave replied, “Get in and I will tell you on the way.”  Both Tommy and I jumped in the back seat.  Bob already had shot gun.  Dave gunned the accelerator and off we went.  “Okay, so where are we going” asked Tommy.  Bob said, “Well, there is this chick and she is hot to go with anyone who comes over to her house.”  “You mean she will take all of us?  What’s wrong with her?” I wanted to know.  Bob continued, “Who knows.  She is just really open to more than one guy.”  “Well, where are her parents,” I persisted.   “She lives with her dad who is a police chief” said Dave.  “What, are you crazy” both Tommy and I said in synchrony.  “Don’t worry” said Bob, “her dad will not be home.”

new england houseThe idea of sex in our minds easily overrode any caution or concern about getting caught by her father.  We arrived at her house.  She lived out of town somewhat in Scituate which was a more rural area of R.I. in the sixties.  When we arrived, Bob said “I will go in first and check things out.  If it is okay, you guys can come in.  Bob went inside the small average looking New England Colonial house with two upper dormer windows and came out a few minutes later.  “OK guys” Bob said, “She is willing.”  We all trotted inside the house to the first room which was a kitchen with a small table and four chairs.  Dave, Tommy and I sat on the chairs and Bob headed up a small staircase.  “I will go first” said Bob “and Dave is next.  You and Tommy can decide who goes after Dave.”  “Oh”, said Bob, “her name is Barbara and she likes to be called Barb.”  No one challenged this order of affairs as it was taken for granted that since Bob had set this up, he had first dibs.

Bob went up the stairs while Dave, Tommy and I just sat and kibitzed.  I wondered what was in store for me when I went up the stairs.  Bob came down about twenty minutes later looking quite proud and content.  “She likes to talk a little before” said Bob, “so you have to be a little patient.  But be persistent and she will get on with it.”   It was Dave’s turn next and he wasted no time going up the stair case.  Sometime later Dave came down, also looking very proud and content.

Tommy and I decided that I would go next.  Up the staircase I went and into a small bedroom where I found Barb half-dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed.  She was a very attractive young girl of sixteen or seventeen years of age.  She had long brown hair and a small frame that was nicely curved.  She had a very pretty face and could easily have been a cheerleader.  She was probably about five feet four inches in height but it was somewhat difficult to tell as she was sitting cross legged on her bed.

sad girl on bed

I introduced myself.  We started some small talk and I learned that her mother had left her father some time ago and that she now lived alone with her dad.  She had no other siblings.  Her dad was very strict and would not let her date.  She said that he scared most of her friends away and was very difficult to live with.  I sensed that her escapades today were a chance for her to rebel against her father’s strict sexual codes.  She was willing to go all out and did not care about any side effects.  No birth control or sexual disease prevention even came up as an issue.

We small talked for about a half hour or so and I sensed that I had better get on with the action or she would talk forever.  A real man talks less than he acts and I had talked longer than most real men would have.  I started to lay Barbara down on the bed.  She put up no resistance and meekly laid back against the sheets.  I placed my body down over hers but before starting to remove any of our clothes, I gazed into her eyes.  They were brown and sad.  I stopped to think.  This poor girl is looking for someone to love her and does not really know how to go about it.  I would just be taking advantageous of her.  I can’t do this.  I lifted her back up and quietly left the room.  She never said a word to me and I left without another word.

Feeling very guilty, I walked back down the staircase.  I did not say much when I met Tommy.  Both Dave and Bob had gone back out to the car and were now playing cards in the front seat.  Hi Low Jack was a popular game on the corner and we played it for money whatever chance we had.  I said to Tommy, “It’s your turn.”  Tommy went up the staircase and returned about thirty minutes later.  We silently left the house and went out the front door to the car.  I never saw Barb or that house again.

guys in car

We piled back in the car with Dave and Bob.  There was some minor discussion about Barbara and how hot she was on the way back to the corner but most of it took place between Dave and Bob.  Neither Tommy or I said I word.  Truth be told, I would never have admitted to either Dave or Bob that I did not have sex with Barb.  Tommy and I were dropped back at the Manton Street corner where our friends all hung out and Dave and Bob drove off together.

Tommy and I sat in silence for a while.  I finally broke the silence and asked Tommy “well how did it go?”  Tommy looked very pensive and replied, “I did not do a thing with Barb except to talk to her.”  I was somewhat stunned as I figured that I had wimped out but that Tommy (who was one of the best-looking guys on the corner) would have scored a home run in sixty seconds flat.  I asked Tom “why?”  I did not tell him that I had also struck out.  At the time, that is how I felt.  Like a batter who comes up to the plate, takes three swings and strikes out.

Tommy quietly replied “I did not want to take advantage of her.  She was lonely and scared and needy.  She needed a friend more than she needed getting laid.”  I had felt the same way but many years ago, pride and ego would not allow me to admit that I had also not gone all the way with Barb.  I persisted with Tom “Well, what are you going to tell the other guys.”  Tom then replied with a statement that I have remembered all the rest of my life.  Tommy said, “I don’t care what they think, I have to live with myself.” 

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Over the years, I have lost touch with Tommy.  We have traveled very different roads.  Tommy became a minister and works with the poor.  I became an educator and management consultant.  Many years and many different philosophies now separate us.  But I will never forget the lesson that I learned from Tommy that one hot summer afternoon about integrity and being who we are called to be and not who the world wants us to be.

Time for Questions:

Why do I call Tom a “boy for all seasons?”  What does it mean to have integrity?  How do we go about developing integrity?  How do we increase our empathy for other people?  What does it mean to be ourselves?  Are people naturally good or evil?

Life is just beginning.

“That’s what Jamie didn’t understand: it was never just sex.  Even the fastest, dirtiest, most impersonal screw was about more than sex.  It was about connection.  It was about looking at another human being and seeing your own loneliness and neediness reflected back.  It was recognizing that together you had the power to temporarily banish that sense of isolation.  It was about experiencing what it was to be human at the basest, most instinctive level.  How could that be described as just anything?”  — Emily MaguireTaming the Beast

My Life:  The Story of a Penny

penny

It wasn’t always this way.  If you are old enough you may well remember.  Once upon a time, I was admired and looked up to.  I was put in the mouth of deceased humans to pay Charon the boat man for taking them to the afterlife.  People made a big deal out of receiving me.  I was avidly saved and respected.  Abraham Lincoln walked two miles to return me to a customer who had been overcharged.  Children were given penny banks when they were of age to appreciate my value.  Many youngsters found that with only five of me, they had enough money to buy a candy bar or go to a movie.  A very popular saying was “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

I was the first currency of any type authorized by the newly formed United States of America.  I was born (or minted at they call it) on April 21, 1787, when the Congress of the Confederation of the United States authorized a design for an official copper penny, later referred to as the Fugio cent.  Benjamin Franklin was my designer and on one side I had thirteen chain links interlocked with the words “We are one” representing the union of the first 13 American states.  On my other side, I had a picture of the sun and the sun dial with the words “Mind your business.”  Over the years, I have had many different designs printed on me.

old original penny

I was made legal tender by the Coinage Act of 1864.  I was so popular in my middle years that Abraham Lincoln’s visage was put on one side of me and on my other side was Lincoln’s tomb and the Latin words “E Pluribus Unum” meaning “out of many one.”  Honest Abe well knew the value of a penny.  For over two hundred years, I have represented the business and entrepreneurial spirit of America.  Those were my golden years.  There was no shame in saving a shiny new penny or even an old worn and scratched penny.

How the times and fortunes have changed my life!  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say how the Fortune 500 has changed my life.  Inflation and stock values have continued year after year to erode my value until I am now just a shell of what I once was.  There is even talk of doing away with me as not worth the metal it takes to mint me.  People leave me in little baskets at convenience stores and young children simply drop me or throw me down the street.  I get run over by cars, motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians.  Hardly anybody will bother to pick me up off the sidewalk.  I am looked down upon and despised.

5.-Frugality-1024x524Those who say that I am not important or who ignore me are part of a new generation that values image over substance.  The word “frugal” is now associated with cheap and the word “thrifty” is associated with the idea of miserliness.  It seems the world of finance is dominated by short-sighted individuals who have forgotten the old values that made this country great.  Hard work and prudence were values that resonated among the early pioneers like so many notes in a great symphonic piece.

piggy bankWith hard work, you earned a penny.  With prudence, you saved your pennies until they became dollars.  In the old days, no one would ever have thrown me away or ignored me when laying in the street.  Too many people have forgotten the value that I represent.  From early times, there have been people who really understood my value.  Even before I was an official U.S. coin, the value of a penny was recognized by some.  I regard these people as paragons who really understood the meaning of money.  Let me tell you a few of their stories.

Back in the days of Jesus Christ, there was a poor widow who gave her last two cents.  The story is told by Mark 1:41-44 in the New Testament:

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury.  Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Both Jesus and the poor widow understood the value of money and that it was not how much money you had but what you did with it that mattered.

Then, there is the story of little Hattie May Wiat.  This was a young girl who lived in Blue Bell Pennsylvania around the end of the 19th Century.  She loved to go to a nearby church but it was often so crowded that she could not find a seat.  She decided to start saving her money to help build a bigger church.  Her parents were very poor and sadly she died about two years after she had started saving her pennies.

When they were preparing her body for burial, they found beside her a little purse with fifty-seven cents inside and a note scribbled in her handwriting which read, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday School.”  This so inspired the minister of the church that he started a fund-raising campaign that turned Hattie’s initial pennies into nearly a quarter of a million dollars.  The church was expanded and many more people would eventually be able to come to church.

penniesHattie had faith in money.  Money requires faith but it is a faith that rests on the good that money can do and not simply how much money one can acquire.  Hattie had this kind of faith and it persisted beyond her death.

A more recent story is about John the runner.  John goes out jogging four or five times a week regardless of the weather.  Some days he feels great running and other days he is just anxious to get his run over with.  Nevertheless, no matter how long he has run or how tired he is from his daily run, if John sees me on the street, he will always stop to pick me up.

frugallivingbubblessmall.jpg

John believes that if he becomes too proud to pick up a penny, where will it end?  When will he become too proud to pick up a nickel or a dime?  John brings me home in his fist and puts me in a large glass jar shaped like a coke bottle.  I am in good company there with quarters, half dollars and even some Susan B. Anthony dollars.  When John is ready to go on a vacation, he takes me down to the bank and converts me into cash for his trip.

John does not relish wealth or the mere accumulation of money.  It is not his greed that compels him to pick me up but his acknowledgement of the symbolism that I represent.  Whether it is a hundred-dollar bill or one penny laying on the ground, the meaning is the same.   Money should never be taken for granted.

There are hundreds of other stories I can tell to show you that many people throughout history have understood the idea that “if you watch your pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.”  This is still a very valuable lesson that needs to be taught in all finance and business classes.  From what I see, it is a lesson that too many people today have never learned.

dollar-sign-made-with-real-shiny-pennies-as-tile-sheets

So, the next time you see a penny on the street, think about my life and what it stands for.  Do not think I simply represent 1/100 of a dollar.  I represent far more than that.  I represent the start of a global business.  The start of a financial fortune.  Even more importantly, I represent the start of needed surgery for a poor child in a developing country.  The start of a fund to help protect the environment.  The start of a young girl’s education.

Time for Questions:

Do you stop to pick up a penny?  What does frugality mean to you?  What does thrifty mean to you?  Do you think being frugal is a vice or a virtue?  Do you save for a rainy day?  Do you think credit cards have made the idea of thrifty better or worse?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

The question is very understandable, but no one has found a satisfactory answer to it so far.  Yes, why do they make still more gigantic planes, still heavier bombs and, at the same time, prefabricated houses for reconstruction?  Why should millions be spent daily on the war and yet there’s not a penny available for medical services, artists, or for poor people?  Why do some people have to starve, while there are surpluses rotting in other parts of the world?  Oh, why are people so crazy?”  — Anne Frank

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facts, Data, Evidence and the Search for Truth – Part 2 – What is a Fact?

In Part 1, I discussed the difficulty with finding the Truth.  It is a quest complicated by the amount of information that we are inundated with on a daily basis.  It is further complicated in that much of the information we find is either erroneous or outright lies.  The average person has never studied information theory in school and is ill equipped to sort through the morass of Data, Evidence and Facts that are presented to them.  I admitted in Part 1 that I do not have the entire solution to this problem.  Namely, how do we find the Truth?  In Part 2, 3 and 4, I want to describe the three elements of Truth seeking:  Facts, Data and Evidence and then in the final Part 5 show how they relate to the problem of finding the Truth.  We will start by looking at what a Fact is.

facts-not-fiction

Facts:

The common definition of a Fact is something that can be verified.  But the concept of verification is a very difficult idea to pin down.  What do we mean by verify?  Do we mean that we can find other people who agree with the “Fact?”  For instance, most people today would agree that the world is round or at least elliptical.  However, there was a long period in history, when common knowledge held that the world was flat.  Thus, common knowledge is not always a good means of verifying a Fact.  Nevertheless, we often rely on common knowledge as a means of Fact verification.  Most so called Facts are simply things that have become commonly agreed on.  For instance, that Columbus discovered America in 1492.  We are taught this in history but we are not taught that many people would not agree with this Fact.  Common knowledge is a very dangerous form of verification.

It is very easy to accept a Fact as Truth if we forget or ignore the limitations of such verification.  In many court trials, jurors have considered it as a Fact if they have verification by an eyewitness to the sequence of events or people who were present at a particular crime.  History has shown however, that eye witnesses are very unreliable (see How reliable is eyewitness testimony?).  Today we rely more and more on video cameras for verification of certain events.  Even their use has not proven to be the panacea that many have hoped for.

Another means of Fact verification is measurement.  What if we can measure the Fact?  Surely, the ability to measure something should be conclusive proof that a Fact is accurate or true.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  For instance, it is now stated as a Fact that Mt. Everest is 29,029′ in elevation (Wiki).  We can accept this measurement as a Fact but there are two problems with doing so.  First, the height of every mountain in the world is constantly changing.  Weather, erosion and other forces of nature will over time lower some mountains and raise other mountains.  Second, any measurement system is dependent on the accuracy and reliability of the measurement instrument and the process used in the measuring of the particular variable.  A sloppy process of measurement can lead to false or unreliable results.  The OJ trial was a good example of where the jurors refused to believe the Facts obtained from the LA crime labs.

misinformation“The prosecution had expert witnesses that testified that the Evidence was often mishandled. Photos were taken of critical Evidence without scales in them to aid in measurement taking; items were photographed without being labeled and logged, making it difficult, if not impossible, to link the photos to any specific area of the scene. Separate pieces of Evidence were bagged together instead of separately causing cross-contamination; and wet items were packaged before allowing them to dry, causing critical changes in Evidence.”  http://www.crimemuseum.org/crime-library/forensic-investigation-of-the-oj-simpson-trial/

Take your common bathroom scale.  If you weigh yourself regularly you will notice that you can get different readings on successive times of getting on the scale.  I am not talking about different days but even taking these readings at the same exact time.  Get on your scale, get off again and then get right on again and you will very likely get slightly different readings.  Our ability to measure things has become more and more accurate.  Nevertheless, every measurement system is either subject to errors of validity or reliability.

fact-finding-techniques-1-638A validity error is when we are not measuring the right thing.  IQ tests have been repeatedly criticized for not really measuring the intelligence of a human being or for being biased by many cultural Factors.  Thus opponents of IQ tests argue that they are not valid measures of intelligence.  A reliability error is when our measures are not consistent.   The scale example given above illustrates the problem with reliability.  Most people use a scale to weight themselves and most scales have problems with reliability.  However, if you tried to equate your weight with your health, you would be assuming that the scale could also measure health and this would be a problem with validity.  Scales cannot measure health although health might be correlated to some degree with appropriate height and weight.

A correlation is a measure of how much things vary with each other.  Thus, the amount of grass growth is generally highly correlated with rainfall.  The more rain we get, the more the grass grows.  The amount of money one makes is somewhat but not highly correlated with IQ.  Earnings tend to be more highly correlated with amount of education but this is only true up to a point.  The concept of correlation is a very important concept in measurement.  We are often fooled by thinking that things are correlated when they are not.  This can lead to poor decision making.  Here are some examples of positive correlations:

  • The more time you spend running on a treadmill, the more calories you will burn.
  • Taller people have larger shoe sizes and shorter people have smaller shoe sizes.
  • The more hours you spend in direct sunlight, the more severe your sunburn.
  • As the temperature goes up, ice cream sales also go up.
  • The more gasoline you put in your car, the farther it can go.
  • As a child grows, so does his clothing size.

examples.yourdictionary.com/positive-correlation-examples.html#JFuQhtBXA6whRayS.99

When a 100 percent or 1-1 correlation does not exist, you can always find exceptions to any rule or Fact.  A false correlation is created when people assume two things to be true and related when they are not.  For instance, Trumps claim that a good businessperson will make a good president has no basis in Fact or historical Evidence.  False correlations lead to many problems including delusions, myths, fanatical beliefs and not just poor but disastrous decision making.  Following, I will provide some examples of false correlation:

  • The more one exercises, the more weight one will lose
  • Reading will make a person more intelligent
  • Paying people more will increase productivity
  • A happy worker is a productive worker
  • The longer one is married, the happier they are
  • Lowering taxes will create jobs and improve the economy

Understanding the concept of correlation is critical to measurement and hence critical to Fact finding.  If we assume that measuring anything is the best way to verify a Fact, we must be critical and open minded about the limitations of the measurement system that we decide to use.

bull-spottingBefore we move on to looking at the concept of Data, we will look at two more problems with the concept of Facts.  These are distortion and bias.  Distortion relates to twisting the meaning of something.  This can happen by taking something that someone has said out of context.  For instance, I might be talking at a conference and say something in sarcasm such as “Yeah, I will definitely vote for Trump.”  My words could be repeated verbatim and it would sound like I was endorsing Trump.  It is difficult to detect sarcasm.  To most people reading or hearing my words second hand, it will sound like I am a strong Trump supporter.  Slick politicians and advertisers will often distort a Fact to make it sound like the Fact is supporting their position.

Bias is another major problem with Fact checking or Fact verification.  Sites like PolitiFact have lulled people into thinking that Facts can be checked with great accuracy.  Not only is this assertion mostly false but there is another problem.  Bias will inevitably creep into the process of Fact checking when some Facts are checked and others are not.  Another example will illustrate this problem.  Let us take a debate between Hillary and Trump as our example.  During the course of a 90 minute debate there might be as many as 200 assertions that could be Fact checked.  PolitiFact will not check all of them.  Which ones will they check?  The Facts that might make Hillary look like a liar or the Facts that might make Trump look like a liar?  By judiciously choosing the Facts that I decide to check, I can bias the results for either Trump or Hillary.  Just having the most Facts on one’s side does not insure that one also has Truth on their side.

Next week in Part three, we will look at Data and the how this concept informs our search for the Truth. 

Time for Questions:

Can you tell me how you know a true Fact from a false Fact?  How do you decide what to believe?  How much credibility do you put in the news that you hear?  How do you choose the news that you want to hear?  How do you decide who is telling the Truth?

Life is just beginning.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the Truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real Facts.”  —  Abraham Lincoln

When the TRUTH Will Not Set You Free!  Final Part – I Was Wrong!

the-truth-shall-set-you-freeI have discovered the Truth and I was wrong, it will set you free.  The philosophers, prophets, seers, wizards, warlocks and all the saints throughout history were right.  The Truth will set you free.   And for only 1 dollar, 1 peso, 1 ruble, 1 euro, or one penny, I will share it with you.  You see, I have been giving away ideas here for too long.  It is time that I like Jerry Springer, Pat Buchanan, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell and Joel Osteen profit from my blog-evangelism.  Thus, I say to you now, “send money and I will send you the Truth.”   Money will give you the Truth! We all know money is the foundation of everything we stand for.  The more money you have the more Truth you will have, right?  Actually, wrong.  Money will not give you the Truth.  So put your centavos away and read on.  I will share the Truth with you for free.  Keep in mind though, that I am simply giving you a map to the Truth.  You must find the Truth on your own and you will envy Diogenes and his search.  (The Honesty Song by Billy JoelClick on and listen while you read my blog today. 

If there was one thing I learned after our jaunt through the ten crimes against humanity it is that the Truth is very elusive.  I asked myself all week, why?  What makes the Truth so difficult to find?   Is it simply subjective and no one can ever have an objective Truth?  Is there no such thing as an objective truth?  An objective Truth is a Truth that can be verified, tested and accepted by all people.  [Subjective Truths are always personal and cannot be verified by others.  Subjective Truths are usually considered to be feelings and opinions but opinions can be objective if they involve a premise that can be verified.]  After extensive pondering of these questions, I have realized that there is objective Truth, what it is and why it is so hard to find.

There are two elements to an objective Truth.  You cannot have an objective Truth without both of these elements.  The two elements are Honesty and Accuracy.  First let’s look at honesty.  Honesty is defined as:

  1. The quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness.
  2. Truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness.
  3. Freedom from deceit or fraud. www.dictionary.com

There is a certain amount of circular reasoning here.  Honesty is defined as being honest?  That is not very helpful.  The second part of the definition is only partially correct.  You can be honest and truthful e.g.  I don’t like fish.  That statement can be both honest and truthful if it reflects the sincere feelings of the speaker about their feelings towards fish.  However, such statements about feelings are always subjective and they do not reflect any kind of objective Truth for the world.  They simply reflect a personal Truth.  However, statements or opinions that go beyond subjectivity become objective.  These are statements that can be verified by others. Hence, they can become objective.

Honest and AccurateObjective statements such as opinions etc. may be honest but they may also be untruthful or wrong.  E.g.  “I think the Empire State Building is the tallest building in the world.”  This statement may be an honest reflection of my beliefs but it is wrong.  I may be honest in my statement but my statement is not truthful because it is incorrect.  It can be verified that my belief whether honest or not is simply incorrect.  The element that must exist for an objective Truth in addition to Honesty is Accuracy.  Accuracy reflects how close the statement comes to reality.  Accuracy can be defined as:

 

  1. The condition or quality of being true, correct, or exact; freedom fromerror or defect; precision or exactness; correctness.  
  2. Chemistry, Physics.  The extent to which a given measurement agreeswith the standard value for that measurement.  
  3. The degree of correctness of a quantity, expression, etc.

At this point, you might be wondering why accuracy alone is not enough for an objective Truth.  The reason is that you can have accuracy without honesty but you will not have the Truth.  For instance, I can say that my home was broken into by someone and I can describe some person with great accuracy.  However, I may be lying about the home invasion simply to point the finger towards an innocent victim.  If I am lying but accurate, the Truth does not exist.  Thus, to have an objective Truth you must have both Honesty and Accuracy.  This is one reason why Truth is so hard to find.  There are few truly honest people.

Honesty is a very elusive quality as Diogenes discovered.  Here are ten interesting facts about “Lying” (10 Research Findings about Deception That Will Blow Your Mind)

  1. Humans are lied to as many as 200 times a day.Gandhi-Quote
  2. Humans detect lies with only 54% accuracy.
  3. Between 75% and 82% of lies go undetected.
  4. Of the lies we tell, 25% are for someone else’s sake.
  5. Children begin deceiving as early as age 6 months.
  6. Gorillas, fish, birds, even orchids engage in deception.
  7. Avoiding eye contact is the most presumed sign of lying around the world—even though it’s false.
  8. Law enforcement officials—including FBI agents, customs agents and judges— performed no better than the average person in detecting deception.
  9. One in six juries reaches an incorrect verdict
  10. Training can improve a person’s lie detection ability by 25-50%.

If it is difficult to find an honest person, the second element “Accuracy” is even more difficult to find.  The reason for this is that most people treat Accuracy as though it is either on or off, it is either accurate or inaccurate.  Accuracy should be thought of more in terms of a normal distribution.  For every process, there is a norm or standard which we try to attain.  The norm of Accuracy is 100 percent.  This is a goal but when it involves humans or even the world, it will never exist.

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.”  ― Spencer Johnson

“All models are wrong” says George Box.  People are unreliable.  Eyewitnesses at trials vary widely in their descriptions of both people and events.  Even physical objects are subject to constant change.  Heraclitus said “you never step in the same river twice.”  The world and everything in it goes on evolving.  Entropy insures that all processes eventually decay.  Quantum physics proves that you cannot measure both the velocity and position of an object at the same time.

process meanThe best we can do to find Accuracy is to assume a “population distribution” of results for any given parameter and then assume with some degree of probably based on facts and verification that our parameter exists within the distribution.  We will not be able to achieve 100 percent accuracy in most of life’s events.  When we do, it will not last for any great length of time.  We may attain it briefly but it will soon pass.  In terms of people describing life, the best we can do is to strive towards a series of successive approximations.  We can keep coming closer and closer to the Truth but we will never find an ultimate Truth since it is beyond our abilities to attain.

“Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”   ― Joseph Campbell

quote-they-say-that-the-truth-will-set-you-free-but-then-again-so-will-a-lie-it-depends-if-you-re-ani-difranco-224427Thus, the Truth that will set you free must combine Honesty and Accuracy and a process of never ending search for more and more accurate results.  The Truth is a journey that you can choose to embark on and the ship leaves every minute of every hour of every day.  Some people never get on the ship and choose to remain ignorant.   Many other Truth Seekers board but soon decide that they are really tired of the journey and get off.  The few who can keep their focus and dedication to the quest may someday find the Truth that will set them free at the end of the journey.

Time for Questions:

Have I helped you to find the Truth?  What did you learn about Truth in the journey through history that we took?  What Truths can you share with others?  Please post comments etc.  I would love to hear your truths.

Life is just beginning.

“We must pass through the darkness, to reach the light.”   ― Albert Pike

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