Queer from a Straight Perspective

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

Some Questions:

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

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

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

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

My Queer Experiences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are homosexuals normal or abnormal?: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life:  Travel and Food

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Yesterday I had an argument with myself.  One of my key values is gratitude.  Years ago, I attended a Demontreville Retreat, and the Retreat Master gave us a sermon.  In the sermon, he told us that Saint Ignatius Loyola believed that ingratitude was the gateway to all sins and misbehaviors.  I thought about this and realized that I am often ungrateful for the joys and benefits that life has given me.  I take things for granted.  I ignore things.  I am simply unappreciative of things.  I compare myself to others and come up ungrateful and angry.  Wondering why or how these people got more than I did.  More money, more talent, more fame, more prestige.

When I started to think about writing this blog, I was confronted with a question.  Are gratitude and appreciation the same thing?  I discovered at a marriage retreat that Karen and I attended that tolerance and respect are not the same thing.  Once, I had thought that my goal in life should be to tolerate others.  I frequently used the quote that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority and the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.”  I thought tolerance was the epitome of human behavior.  I learned at this retreat that respecting others is much different than simply tolerating them.

gratitudeappreciation2Thus, the question arose in my mind about the difference or relationship between appreciation and gratitude.  Perhaps this is like asking how many angels can dance on the head of a needle, but I thought the question deserved some reflection.  Is the relationship between gratitude and appreciation similar to the relationship between tolerance and respect?

After looking up the definition of both words, I have come to the conclusion that gratitude and appreciation are more symbiotic than tolerance and respect.  To have gratitude is to have an appreciation for something.  However, while gratitude is easily defined, the concept of appreciation presents more difficulty.  Websters Online Dictionary defines appreciation as: “Recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.”  I may be grateful for something and this is a heartfelt or emotional process.  Enjoying the good qualities of someone or something is more of a mental or cognitive process.  What exactly do I appreciate about my spouse?  I say every day that I am grateful for a wife like Karen but why?  What are her good qualities that I appreciate?  How often do I compliment her on these qualities?

In this blog, I am going to talk about appreciating travel and food.  Covid 19 has rendered both of these tasks more difficult.  One of the symptoms of the Covid virus is a loss of smell and taste.  Without smell and taste, you cannot tell the difference between a medium rare steak and roast chicken or between vanilla cheesecake and a chocolate brownie.  Until you lose these abilities, you may never realize how important smell and taste are to your life.  Food is never something to simply sustain life.

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own.

The Covid virus has also made travel an onerous task.  Countries have closed their borders.  Many nations have instituted mandatory quarantines on travelers arriving in their countries.  Dangers exist in crowded places such as airports and airplanes.  Fools are out there in public insisting on their rights not to wear a mask.  Travel means to be in closed confined spaces with a multitude of people.  All situations which exaggerate the risk of getting the Covid virus.  Furthermore, who wants to come down with a deadly virus in a foreign country 5000 miles from home.  These facts have made travel truly frightful for many formerly adventurous people.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” — Saint Augustine

“Well, I’ve done a lot of traveling and, I think over all, travel does broaden one’s soul. If anything at all, that’s probably the most important of what’s happened to me during the past five or six months.  — Malcom X, An Interview with Bernice Bass (December 27, 1964)

Travel and food go arm in arm and hand in hand.  You must eat if you are traveling.  Travel exposes you to mysteries every step of the way.  What will this new land be like?  What will the people be like in this foreign country?  Will they like Americans?  How will I communicate with them?  What do they eat?  Will their food make me sick?  What foods should I avoid?  How will I know what their food tastes like?

Belize Trip-035 (3)If you do not like to try new things, you should not travel.  One of my mottos is “I have never met a food I did not like.”  Karen and I eat at street vendors.  We often shop locally and pick out foods that we do not even know what they are.  When we were on Naxos, we found a meat market.  We entered and were greeted with a variety of skinned animals hanging from hooks.  There were no labels on these various creatures.  We assumed they sold the meat in kilos, so we asked for a ½ kilo of this and ½ kilo of that.  We decided that we would take the meats or whatever they were back to our little apartment and cook them.  We figured that once we did this, we might be able to guess what we were eating.  This was many years ago and I do not think we ever figured out what we were eating.  The food was good and twenty-five years later we are alive and kicking.  It was a great adventure.  One that we have replicated many times.

Karen and I avoid prearranged travel tours.  We have a formula that has worked for us over the years.  We rent a small apartment with cooking facilities.  We then take day trips by car to places that we want to visit, or we might take a train or plane.  We do not have to pack for more than an overnight stay and we have our own “home” to come back to.  Having kitchen facilities means we can eat out or in.  Days that we decide to eat in will find us at the local food markets.  It is always exciting going to these markets.  We buy things that we have never eaten before.  Another of my sayings is that, “I have never met a food that I did not like.”

Belize Trip-083 (2)I was forty years old before I had my first trip out of the USA.  I had always wanted to travel and my four years in the military had not provided me the opportunity to travel.  Later on, I became so busy with school and work that traveling seemed like a remote luxury.  One day I was on a plane coming back from Thompson, Manitoba.  (Canada does not count as foreign travel.)  I had been working with a mining client that week and was now headed home.  Next to me sat a young woman holding a travel guide to Spain.  It was May and schools were getting out for the summer.  I remarked “Are you going to Spain?”  “Yes,” she replied.  “Oh”, I said, “you must be very excited.”  She answered somewhat petulantly, “No, I went there last summer but my parents wanted me to go again since I am studying Spanish.”

Peru Trip 2007-334 (2)I did not say anymore to the young woman, but I thought “My, would I love to go to Spain or anyplace for that matter.”  Then and there in that moment, I made up my mind.  Karen and I were going to travel.  We were going to see the world.  When I arrived home, I shared my decision and determination with Karen.  She was delighted but wondered how we would manage it.  We have since been to 33 countries for a total of about 25 or more trips.  We like to go to one country and see various sections of it rather than trying to see the whole of Europe or Asia in one trip.  Usually we go for three weeks or so.  We are very budget oriented and try to behave like pilgrims rather than like tourists.  Our trips are usually a balancing act between being a pilgrim and being a tourist.

What have I learned from these trips about the world?  I would say my two greatest insights have been as follows:

  1. Americans are not exceptional.  We are privileged to have been brought up in a country with a great deal of natural and cultural advantages.  People the world over are as smart as we are.  People the world over work as hard or harder than Americans.  The inventiveness and level of development in many countries would astonish many Americans.
  2. People in other countries want the same things that we do.  People all want a successful life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Wherever we have been, we have seen people striving to live a good life surrounded by friends and relatives that they can share it with. 

We try to respect the cultures and people we visit.  We take some time to practice languages where we are going to travel.  We research cultural faux pas and expectations so as to avoid insulting or disrespecting other people.  We are visitors in their countries, and we are always grateful for the help that people give us.  Many times we have been helped by people whom we have never met before and who have gone out of their way to befriend us.  We have always been treated with respect on our travels and not as outsiders.  We have made many friends during our journeys.

Conclusions:

Travel to another country may be as educational as a year in school.  A life lived without travel is not really a life lived.  Travel requires risk but the rewards are great.  You will meet people who can enrich your life beyond your wildest dreams.  And to top it all off, the icing on the cake, will be the new foods that will expand your palette of tastes and smells and provide a variety to your diet that will make your life infinitely more interesting.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  ― Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad.

Compassion:  The Sixth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Compassion is number six of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Saturday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to be strong and kind in the face of adversity, attacks or injustice perceived and help me to always be Compassionate in dealing with others.

what is compassionCompassion is the most important of the seven virtues.  Compassion is just one stroke short of love.  Compassion leads to love but it takes some doing to get there.  The journey involves a number of steps each predicated on a trait or behavior that is uniquely human.  In this blog, I want to describe the journey to compassion and beyond to love.   Each step of the journey is a commitment to humanity.  If you do not care about others, you will not be interested in the journey.  Compassion is the opposite of narcissism.   A narcissist loves them-self.  A person with compassion loves others.  With a narcissist, it is “all about me.”  With a compassionate person, it is “all about them.”

5aHomeless-Corbis_435_290The journey starts with sympathy.  We think of sympathy as “feeling sorry for someone.”  It is the ability to have feelings for another person.  We see another person who looks hungry or unhappy or ill and we feel some sense of remorse or regret for the other person.  We might be distressed for them or we might simply be glad that we are not in their shoes.  A part of us hurts or aches for the other person, but we do not identify with them on a deeper level.  Our sorrow goes no further than to perhaps wonder what had befallen them to bring such misery.

“Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to them.”

compassion two childrenOur next step in our journey to compassion takes understanding.  We need to try to understand others and to put ourselves in their shoes.  We must avoid separation and thinking that we are so different from others.  We must avoid judging others.  When you couple understanding with sympathy, you have taken the next step.  You have now arrived at empathy.  To have empathy for others, is to combine sympathy and understanding.  You are sorry for those who are less well-off then you are, but you do not separate yourself from them and instead you seek to find the common ground that links you to the other person.  Sympathy involves the heart.  Empathy involves both the heart and the mind.

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” — Andrea Arnold

By the way, not everyone thinks empathy is a good thing.  Paul Bloom, psychologist and Yale professor, argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse.  While we’ve been taught that putting yourself in another’s shoes cultivates compassion, he says it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions.  He blames empathy for war and many other social injustices.  You can see his argument for his case against empathy at:  “Against Empathy.”   This is a short 3 minute video where Bloom makes his case.  I personally think his case is fraught with logical fallacies and unproven assumptions.  However, I suppose the fact that he is a Yale professor will sway many people.   

we must actThe next step in our journey is action.  All of the empathy in the world will not make a difference if we do not take action.  Empathy + Action = Compassion.  Compassion is the way we make a difference to others.  Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”  He did not say to just take pity on them or to simply have empathy for them.  Empathy by itself does not clothe the poor, feed the hungry or help the weak.  We must make action and doing a part of our empathy for others.  This is true compassion.

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As I said before, compassion is the opposite of narcissism.  Compassion is about what you can do and will do and are doing for others.  There are many stories of compassion.  Hollywood, novelists, ministers and pastors of all stripes will tell us story after story of compassion.  We hear these stories and are touched.  We sympathize and empathize with the victims in these stories.  But are we moved to take action?  Unless we take action to help others, we can never get to true compassion or love.  Love goes beyond compassion.  Love entails pro-active measures to care for others.

Compassion + Pro-Action = Love

Compassion can involve two types of action.  It can entail reaction or pro-action.  Compassion that is reactive takes place when you see a need and do something about it.  However, there is a final step in the journey.  Love is our ultimate destination. When you love others, you do not wait to be asked or wait until the need is apparent.  When you love, you are pro-active.  You reach out before you are asked.  You seek for those that need help and you do not simply wait for them to arrive or show up on your door step.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” — John 15:13

I can recall a situation where I once had a friend in need.  I called Mike up and asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said “No, he was ok.”  I thought that I was doing a very fine thing by being pro-active and asking if Mike needed any help.  A short time late, I found that another friend (Bob) had gone over and actually rendered some assistance to Mike.  I asked Bob how this came about as I noted that I had called Mike and he said that he did not need any help.  Bob replied: “Yeah, he told me the same thing, but I did not believe him.  Mike will never ask for help.”

acts of loveBob’s actions made a great impact on me, since I had seldom gone further in my life than either waiting to be asked for help or sometimes asking others if they needed help.  It would never have occurred to me to just show up and help.  Perhaps, you might think that simply showing up and helping someone is going too far.  However, think about yourself.  Would you really ask others for help?  I know I probably would not.  Pitching in to help when not asked may not always be warranted but I now see it as something worth endeavoring to do more often than not.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I did not include love as one of my seven greatest virtues.  This was no accident.  Many writers have described love much more adequately than I have.  The Greeks over two thousand years ago described four types of love.  Love has been the subject of more novels, poems and songs than there are stars in the sky.  We are constantly bombarded by the use of the word love.  How many times have you been told “I love you” by some relative or perhaps a friend who seldom goes any further than their admission of love for you?

I am skeptical of love for two reasons.  First, I am still not sure that I know what it is.  Second, I hear the word used so often that I doubt anyone else really knows what it is either.  If everyone in our world who was professing love really loved, I cannot believe that we would have the wars and violence and cruelty that we see every day on the TV and in the papers.  I think “true love” probably exists but I do not think it is practical for my daily journey through life.  It is one of those things that like happiness we do not seek but it finds us.

free sandwiches for the homelessCompassion is a much more useful and practical virtue for my life.  I can deal with compassion and I can be more compassionate if I really aspire to.  I am not sure I can be more loving.  I have a hard time “loving” others whom I dislike or who do unkind things to people I do like.  I more often “love” others who think and act like I do.  I may be taking the easy way out, but if I can be more compassionate to others and if someday I am thought of as a compassionate person, that will be enough for me.  If you are further along in your journey through life, then you should consider including love as one of your “most” important virtues.  No one will be a worse person for it.  For me today, compassion for others is enough of an effort.

Time for Questions:

 Are you a compassionate person?  Do you have compassion for strangers as well as friends and relatives?  Can you be compassionate towards people of different ethnicity, philosophies, religions and political ideologies?  What makes you a compassionate person?

Life is just beginning.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.  If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”  ― Barack Obama

The Seven Greatest and Most Important Virtues for Humanity

christian_virtueI thought I would start the year of 2021 off with a positive slant.  Namely, some things we can all do or practice to be better people.  However, before anyone should pay any attention to what I am about to say, there are several questions they must ask themselves.  I would advise you that the veracity and hence credibility of an author is critical to your acceptance of what the author is trying to sell you or convince you of.  Do not buy an argument from someone who cannot be trusted.  Think about the comment that “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”  An uncritical acceptance of any idea is dangerous to your own integrity and responsibility.  Hence, the questions I would want answered (If I were you) would be as follows:  Who is this writer to say what the “greatest” virtues for a human are?  How did he come up with these Seven Virtues?  What is the difference between a virtue and a value?  Is this an important difference or is he about to sell me another new religion?

Taking each question as noted, who am I?  What credibility do I bring to the subject? 

The-Virtue-ContinuumI would like to answer that I am a seeker of truth and knowledge.  I am very opinionated, often highly judgmental and have frequently been accused of being a “know it all.”  Many people would write my opinions off as being too liberal while others would say that I am too rational.  I place great value on being logical and trying to stay open to many possibilities.  I have been studying philosophy and religion since I was eighteen.  I have no degrees in either.  But the number of books and articles and stories that I have read number in the hundreds.  I have attended many different worship houses and types of religious services.  I was brought up as a Catholic until I rejected its teachings at about the age of 10.  When no one would give me a good answer for “Who made God?” I more or less decided that most religions were based on superstitions.

I continue to read and study and write in the hope and belief that continuous learning is critical to living a good life.  As Socrates noted “An unexamined life is not worth living.”  I want to examine all aspects of existence.  From good to evil, from logical to emotional, from predictable to unpredictable.  I want to understand and comprehend all of the mysteries of the universe.  Nevertheless, I am not trying to be omnipotent nor do I think that anyone can or will ever understand all that the universe holds.  The quest is the most important thing, but the results of the journey are also very important.  My goal is to dream the impossible dream.  I am dedicated to the idea that truth and knowledge will bring me closer to being able to live this “impossible” dream.  As the song notes:

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star (From Man of La Mancha (1972) music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion)

How did I derive these Seven Virtues?

In all honesty, seven is a good number for any set of factors since most humans can only remember between five to nine random numbers.  Seven is the mean for a large proportion of the human race in terms of memory capacity.  We note that many cultures have used seven as a sort of “perfect” number for deriving sets of values, ideas, virtues, and even mundane things like phone numbers and license plate numbers.

virtues_listGiven that one could easily comprise a list of ten or perhaps one hundred important virtues, why do I believe that my seven are the seven greatest and most important?  How do I have the audacity to make such an assertion?  I might have been sitting under an apple tree one day, or perhaps simply thinking about life at one of my yearly silent retreats at the Demontreville Retreat Center, when I compiled a list of seven virtues.  While I truly “value” these ideas, I understand them more as virtues than values.  I will address this difference later.  I decided that I want to live by these virtues.  Each day for the last fifteen or more years, I have selected one of these seven virtues to help guide me through the day.  Whether it is patience, kindness or courage, each day I start by reflecting on this virtue and trying to make it a part of my life.

How does my list compare to other lists?  One of the most famous lists of seven virtues is the Catholic Hierarchy of Virtues.  The top three in the Catholic Hierarchy are Faith, Hope and Love.  Of these, my list includes Faith and Love, though I use the term compassion rather than love. The next four in the Catholic Hierarchy are justice, wisdom, moderation and courage.  My list includes courage but not wisdom, justice or moderation.  This is not to say that I do not think these are important, but my list is based on feelings more than knowledge.  This is somewhat ironic since I believe that knowledge and wisdom are two of the keys to understanding life.  However, l cannot argue with the question: “What wisdom is there that is greater than kindness?”  Comparing my list to the Catholic list, I realize that I am emphasizing feelings over thinking.  I am emphasizing the heart over the brain and love over logic.  My final list of seven virtues includes the following:

  • Gratefulness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Faith
  • Compassion
  • Courage

Over the next several blogs, I will present each of these as virtues and explain why they are important and how we can go about integrating them in our lives.  I know and believe that we will all live better lives if we are living a life based on virtue.

What is the difference between a Virtue and a Value?  Is it important?

I would like to include the following excerpt from an article by Iain T. Benson called “Values and Virtues:  A Modern Confusion.”

“Now George Grant, the Canadian philosopher, whom I mentioned a while ago, made this point in an important comment on a CBC radio program a few years ago.  Here is what he said, “values language is an obscuring language for morality, used when the idea of purpose has been destroyed. And that is why it is so widespread in North America.” In North America, we no longer have any confidence that there are any shared purposes for human life. We don’t. It is that dramatic. Consequently, we cannot order any human action towards an end, because all means are related to ends.” 

Looking at the Oxford Dictionaries definitions of these two terms will also shed some light on the differences.

  • Virtue is defined as follows:
  1. Behavior showing high moral standards: paragons of virtue
  2. Quality considered morally good or desirable in a person: patience is a virtue
  3. A good or useful quality of a thing: Mike was extolling the virtues of the car
  • Value is defined as follows:
  1. The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something: your support is of great value
  2. The material or monetary worth of something: prints seldom rise in value equipment is included up to a total value of $500
  3. The worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it: at $12.50 the book is a good value

I think it is easy to see from these definitions that a value is generally something we attach to a product or service.  A virtue is more often attached to a behavior or character trait.  We value things, while we practice virtues.  A man or woman may be virtuous but we would not say they are “valuous”, in fact the word does not even exist.  We might say they were valuable, but then we would probably not be talking about their character but addressing their instrumental worth to us.  Therefore, I have labeled these critical seven behaviors as virtues.

-The-12-Lakota-Virtues-native-pride-33907515-700-630The danger in this discussion lies in your taking a sectarian or religious approach to my writings.  I assure you that I am not a religious person.  I may be a spiritual person but I do not think of myself in either of these categories.  I am an agnostic who wants to live a better life and help build a world that is a better place to live for future generations.  Living by these seven virtues is one way I believe I can contribute to this goal.

My Vision for my life is “To live a healthy useful and wise life.”

My Mission is “To live one day at a time.  To be the best person I can be each day and to do the best I can each day to do good for the world.”   I hope I sometimes achieve at least some of these goals.

virtue is doing itIf I have satisfactorily answered the questions that I posed above respecting my integrity and credibility, I will now set off to address each of my Seven Virtues and explain why they are so important and the difference that I think they can make in our lives.  Look for my virtues over the next several weeks in my blogs.

Time for Questions:

What do you think of my list of seven?  What would you change?  Do you have your own list that you live by?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.  — Buddha

Killing for Machismo

It was a crime of passion

She took me by the heart when she took me by the hand

Crime of passion

A beautiful woman and a desperate man  —- Ricky Van Shelton

I find it ironic that there are Seven Deadly Sins or vices but they do not include the “Sin of Machismo.”  I would venture to argue that there are more people killed in the world every day because of Machismo than any other cause or problem that you could name.  To not include Machismo in any list of major crimes or sins or vices, is one of the most egregious oversights in history.  Is it because Machismo is a uniquely masculine concept that it has never acquired the degree of condemnation that it merits?  Or is it an example of the “Fish being the last one to see the water.”   Some would argue that it is more likely a blatant example of sexism.   

Men extol Machismo, reward Machismo, give medals for Machismo, High Five Machismo, glorify Machismo, drink toasts to Machismo, pat each other on the back for Machismo, die for Machismo and happily kill each other for Machismo.  A Macho man never cries, never shows pain, never is soft, never loses, never surrenders, never shows fear, never gives quarter, never is remorseful and never ever changes a diaper.  You are not a “Real” man if you don’t have Machismo.  Machismo is the foundation for masculinity in every culture in the world.

Ma·chis·mo

  [mah-cheez-moh, –chiz-, muh-]  

1.  a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes or concomitants of masculinity.

2. a strong or exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate: The military campaign was an exercise in national machismo.

 There are two opposite concepts to Machismo.  You may ask how you can have two opposites.  Well here is a case in which two opposites of a concept exist.   The first opposite to Machismo is “femininity.”  Femininity is soft, warm, supportive, nurturing, accepting, forgiving and the first to change the diapers.  Femininity represents everything that Machismo is not.  No one ever killed another or beat another to death because their “Femininity” was questioned.  We don’t go to war because our “Femininity” was questioned nor do we invade another country to protect our “Femininity.” 

 “Machismo makes no provision for preparing lunch, doing the laundry, or minding the baby.”  — Mason Cooley

The second opposite of Machismo is Gayness.  Gay is not tough.  Gay is “queer.”   A “Real” man is not Gay.  Gay men must be feminine since they cannot be Machismo.  Gay men don’t play football or baseball or soccer or box or join the military since only “Real” Men do these things.  If you are Gay, you can be a hair dresser or actor or flight attendant but you cannot be a police officer, firemen or truck driver since these “Real” men professions require one to be Machismo.  Gays and Machismo are antithetical.

 “The tragedy of machismo is that a man is never quite man enough.” —  Germaine Greer

The number of women that are abused each year by men was the recent focus of a World Health Organization Multi-country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence against Women (2013)Among the findings were the follows:

  • One in 3 women worldwide is a victim of physical or sexual violence, resulting in a global health epidemic, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.
  •  Most of these females are attacked or abused by their boyfriends or husbands. “This is an everyday reality for many, many women,” Charlotte Watts, author of the report and a health policy expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said to Reuters.
  • Nearly 38% of all women murder victims were killed by intimate partners, according to the report, which was co-authored by Watts and Claudia Garcia-Moreno of the WHO.
  •  Forty-two percent of females who have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner suffer injuries, the authors explained.

Common health issues they noted in the study include:

What are the reasons that men kill and abuse women?  Experts identify different reasons for domestic abuse than for murder but the bottom line for both comes down to control and power.

“Most experts say there is no one profile of men who batter or beat women.  Domestic violence crosses all social and economic boundaries.  According to Dr. Susan Hanks, Director of the Family and Violence Institute in Alameda, California, men batter because of internal psychological struggles. Usually, men who batter are seeking a sense of power and control over their partners or their own lives, or because they are tremendously dependent on the woman and are threatened by any moves on her part toward independence.” 

Some reasons given for the abuse by those who study domestic violence include:  jealousy, envy, inferiority, anger, revenge, alcoholism, and simple sadism.  Seldom do you see the issue of Machismo on any of these lists.  However, while there may be different factors precipitating the abuse and violence, without the underlying foundation of Machismo, you would not have the resulting abuse.  Machismo is the “entitlement to dominate.”  If you remove the “entitlement” you remove the abuse and violence.  For instance, if I find my wife going out with another man and I become jealous; it is my “Right to dominate” that gives me the privilege to attack her or the other man.  If I do not believe in a “Right to dominate,” I can divorce my spouse, request counseling, ignore her unfaithfulness, but I will not abuse her. 

Think of all the instances that you read in the paper of stalking, abuse and murder.  In every one of these cases, there is the assumption that is seldom mentioned by psychologists that Machismo gives men the “right to power.”  In fact, not to act on this right is to acquiesce ones maleness.  It is to give up the Machismo that is culturally at the heart of our masculinity.  The strength of this concept of masculinity varies across cultures but few cultures in the world lack the concept of Machismo though it may be called something else:

  • Code of Chivalry
  • Knights Honor
  • Warriors Code

 There is an underlying Machismo in all of these codes that is designed to instill a behavior in a culture which exhorts men to stand up for themselves and their beliefs.  By itself, this would not be bad.  Men must defend their families and countries when necessary.  However, when it comes to defending the more ambiguous elements of honor, reputation, face, dignity, respect and self-esteem, the resort to arms and violence becomes counterproductive.  Solomon Schimmel in “The Seven Deadly Sins” notes that the Sin of Pride led President George Bush to want to humiliate Saddam Hussein while Hussein claimed to be fighting for “Arab dignity.”  How many wars have been fought for national pride or national honor? 

One could make the argument that most if not all wars were not over territory, religion or economics but over national pride.  The Greeks went to war with the Trojans not over Helen but because their masculine pride had been insulted.  Hitler started WWII to avenge Germany’s defeat and loss of face in WWI.  The USA went to war in Vietnam to show the communists that capitalism was more powerful.  Pride is the greatest of all sins identified by religious leaders and philosophers.  However, it is not pride but Machismo which is the trigger to violence and war.  Pride may be the apparent foundation, but Pride by itself does not cause war or violence.  Indeed, a healthy pride mixed with a certain degree of humility is a goal to be pursued by both individuals and nations. 

The danger is that Pride mixed with Machismo creates a volatile concoction which is the source of most violence in the world.  Take any of the Seven Deadly sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Lust, Gluttony, Greed, and Sloth, mix these with a sense of Machismo and you have the recipe for violence.  Machismo confers the right to act on our impulses and to compel others or dominate others that create our internal conflicts.  Without Machismo, we would have to find other means to dispel the psychological problems that arise in each of us.  Machismo allows us to circumvent any introspection by demanding that our honor be revenged or that our pride be restored.  Machismo demands the duel and the Code Duello specifies the rules for killing. 

“The two men stared at each other. Assumptions were made, judgments rendered, dicks measured.” — Jennifer Estep

Time for Questions:

Can women be Machismo?  What would you be like if you had less Machismo in your character?  Can someone have too little Machismo?  What evil do you see in the world that you would contribute to Machismo?  What positive effects of Machismo do you see?  How can we minimize the negative effects of Machismo? 

Life is just beginning.

101 Reasons Why I love the Chinese – 我愛中國人的101個理由

 

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Let’s start with the most obvious reason.  Without the Chinese there would be no Chinese restaurants.  No egg rolls.  No chop suey.  No fortune cookies.  No egg foo young.  No dim sum.  No cute little sayings to make me think about my life.  No Confucius.  No wonderful tea.  No China plates.  But the biggest reason, is that without the Chinese we would have no one to hate.

China being half-way around the world, makes an ideal enemy and scapegoat.  Let anything go wrong in the USA and we can blame China.  We can blame China for the Corona Virus.  We can blame China for a system where communism seems to work fairly well.  We can blame China for having the audacity to become a world power.  We can blame China for Tik Tok.  We can blame China for a complicated language that seems difficult to learn.  We can blame China for huge buffets with unknown foods that taste wonderful.  Have you ever been to one of the Chinese restaurants where they have a gigantic buffet full of great Chinese food?  Makes my mouth water just thinking about it.  Of course, I always eat too much.  The third go-around is what usually kills me.

We can blame China for all our economic problems.  If things are going bad in the USA, it must be because they have stolen all of our ideas.  If our stock market declines, it must be because they have stolen all of our patents.  If our GDP is in the tank, it must be because they have stolen all of our great innovations.  If our country is in deep debt, it must be because the Chinese have a flourishing successful economy.  And now they want to steal a cure for the Corvid-19 virus.  How selfish these Chinese can be?  Don’t they realize that we will be more than happy to sell them a cure for the virus at billions of dollars of profit for our drug companies.

A major reason why I love the Chinese is based on the old saying that “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  My biggest enemy on the face of the earth is a man so despicable, so immoral, so degenerate that he has no scruples or conscience about destroying thousands of lives as long as he can get what he wants.  The man has identified the Chinese as America’s biggest enemy.  That is reason enough for me to love the Chinese.  Not only are they the enemy of my biggest enemy, but if a man who lies every time he breathes is now telling me that the Chinese are my enemy, I can seriously doubt that anything he tells me about them is true.  If he says that they cannot be trusted or that they are trying to destroy our country, I am not about to believe one single word of what he tells me.

Another reason I love the Chinese is based on something that Muhammad Ali once said when he was asked why he did not want to be drafted during the Vietnam War.  To quote Ali:

Muhammad Ali. Speaks With Journalists After The Sentence For Refusing To Enlist. 1967.

Muhammad Ali. Speaks With Journalists After The Sentence For Refusing To Enlist. 1967. (Photo by: EyeOn/UIG via Getty Images)

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?  No, I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end.  I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars.  But I have said it once and I will say it again.  The real enemy of my people is here.  I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom, and equality.  If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow.  I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs.  So, I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

Times have not changed since Ali refused to fight a war that we now know in hindsight was unjust and immoral.  A war with China would serve no more purpose than the war in Vietnam served or the war in Iraq served.  Except to kill millions of people who are doing no more than we are in the USA and just trying to make a living.  I have no desire or need to fight China.  China is not destroying Democracy in my country.  The Chinese have expressed no hatred for me or desire to come over and kill Americans.  The Chinese have not started any wars with the USA, nor have they threatened to start a war with us.

In 1989, Karen and I obtained permission to visit mainland China.  The occurrence of our visit coincided with the death of Communist General Secretary Hua Yaobang in April 1989.  The uprising associated with what has been called the “1989 Democracy Movement” had already begun when we arrived.  We stayed in China for three weeks.  We left a few days before the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4.  In fact, we left just a day before the airports in China were closed for foreign travel.

Huangshan_pic_4

We traveled to China by ourselves.  We were not on a tour nor did we have a guided itinerary.  We arrived in Shanghai.   We went south to Huang Zhou, then we went northwest to Huangshan or the Sacred Mountains.  We then went east to Nanjing and then finally back to Shanghai.  We traveled by foot, train, bus, bicycle, and rented car.  On our trip we met many wonderful Chinese people.  Some took us on local tours of their cities.  Some hiked with us.  Some invited us over for dinner. Some became our long-time friends.  Some even emigrated to the USA and have become citizens here.  No one expressed any hostility towards us during our travels.  No one cursed us.  No one insulted us.  Many desired to speak to us about our country and some simply to practice their English.   Let me tell you one funny story that happened while we were walking about.

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One day while Karen and I were out sightseeing, a bunch of soldiers saw us and came over to engage us in conversation.  Everywhere we went, people wanted to talk to us.  There were about fifteen soldiers in the group who were all heavily armed.  They jostled to take turns talking to us.  We had been warned about staying away from politics while in China but somehow the conversation drifted to our respective political leadership.  Someone asked who our president was.  I noted that George Herbert Walker Bush was our current president.  Immediately, the person who had asked me this question replied in clear English that “Your president is an asshole.”  Now, I had not voted for Bush nor did I particularly like him.  However, my immediate reaction was defensive as my country had been attacked.  I replied without thinking “Your chairman Deng Xiaoping is an asshole too.”  Karen caught her breath.  I thought she might have a heart attack.  Suddenly, a voice said “You are right.  He is too.”  Everyone started to laugh ridiculously hard.  We went our way amidst many hand shakes and pictures that they wanted to take with us.

I bought Karen her wedding ring in China.  We were married three months after we returned from our trip.  Several years after we returned from China, Fu Xibo, a man we met in Shanghai who helped us to arrange some of our travel while in China contacted us.  We had met Fu and his wife Mary and his daughter Dan Dan in Shanghai.  We had been invited to their apartment for dinner and we had traveled on part of our trip with Xibo.  We had many things in common and we quickly established a bond together.  We kept in touch via email after we returned from China.  Nevertheless, I was surprised at the request Xibo made.

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Xibo expressed a desire to immigrate to the USA with his wife Mary.  He wanted to know if we would sponsor him as a US citizen.  Despite our friendship, I had my doubt or perhaps qualms.  I would be financially responsible for Xibo and Mary if they had no visible means of support.  I had to submit three years of my tax returns to show that I had the financial ability to support Xibo.  Karen and I discussed this and the resultant problems it could cause us financially.  I am not a rich man.  We lived in a house that Karen bought in 1970 for thirty thousand dollars.  I was working as a consultant and educator.  We had about a $100,000-dollar yearly income between the two of us.  Nevertheless, we decided to support Xibo and Mary in their desire to become US citizens.  It was perhaps one of the best decisions we have ever made in our lives.  We have never had any regrets.

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Xibo and Mary now live as retired senior citizens in San Francisco.  Their daughter Dan Dan (Diana Fu) married a wonderful Chinese man in the states and has become a full US citizen.  Dan Dan and Woo have two sons and a daughter.  Xibo and Mary have become the day care providers for their grandchildren.  It is a job they undertake with joy and passion.  They are ensuring that the children learn Chinese and appreciate their cultural heritage.  We have visited them in San Francisco twice during the past few years and they have come to Wisconsin to visit us.  Xibo still has an apartment in China and wants us to come again to Shanghai and see the many changes that have taken place since 1989.  I love Xibo and Mary.  We have become Aunt Karen and Uncle John to Dan Dan and honorary Grandma Karen and Grandpa John to Aidan, Braydon and Corrina, the three grandchildren.  They are in the picture below with Dan Dan and her husband Wou.

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I do not see the Chinese as the enemy of our country.  I see a country that in 2020 has 1,439,323,776 people according to UN data.  The Chinese population is equivalent to 18.47% of the total world population.  It is a country whose immigrants have helped to build the United States.  It is a country that fought with us against the Japanese in WWII.  It is a country of hardworking industrious people who all want the same things we do in the USA.  Freedom, equality, and justice.  I can think of nothing more despicable than using the Chinese as a scapegoat for our own economic problems.

I have been a business educator and management consultant for over thirty years now.  I have advised some of the largest organizations in the world on process management and quality improvement.  I have worked with leading experts in the field of business management.  If there is a single thing that I have learned in my thirty years of consulting, it is that we make our own problems.  Business leaders will tell you this.  We are responsible for our economy.  China is not responsible.  We claim to embrace capitalism because competition is vital to a growing robust economy but then we attack China because they are a competitor.  Business leaders look for solutions to problems.  Politicians look for easy answers and scapegoats.

  • Blame China for the virus that our leaders have helped to spread.

“Despite ample warning, the U.S. squandered every possible opportunity to control the coronavirus. And despite its considerable advantages—immense resources, biomedical might, scientific expertise—it floundered.” — “How the Pandemic Defeated America,” The Atlantic, Ed Yong, September 2020.

  • Blame China for our national debt that relies on loans from China.

“Japan and China own about 5.2% and 4.6% of the U.S. debt, respectively. Japanese-owned debt doesn’t receive nearly as much negative attention as Chinese-owned debt, ostensibly because Japan is seen as a friendlier nation and the Japanese economy hasn’t been growing at a 7% clip year after year.” — How Much U.S. Debt Does China Own?

  • Blame China for cheap imports that Americans readily buy.

“Suppose, overnight, Americans stopped buying Chinese products. Some store shelves would be empty, and prices would be higher. One way or another, our economy would shrink.”  Forbes, May 2020

  • Blame China for stealing trade secrets but trade secret theft is a common occurrence among US companies.

“The National People’s Congress of China amended the Anti-Unfair Competition Law (AUCL) in April 2019 to protect the trade secrets of companies doing business in China.  We consider these changes to be major improvements to Chinese trade secret law, giving more protection to companies doing business in China.” — Trade Secrets 2019 Year in Review

Its about time we stop blaming the Chinese for our problems.  Think very carefully before you point any fingers at the Chinese.  No doubt they engage in some unfair trade practices.  No doubt they steal some trade secrets from us.  No doubt they have spies in the USA.  But you are a complete fool if you do not think that we are not doing the same thing to them and other countries.

Trump Administration Proposes $86 Billion Spy Budget to Take On Russia and China — New York Times

“When we understand people;
when we understand situations;
when we understand what matters;
when we understand the why’s, the what’s and the how’s;
when we understand the trigger of actions, we least inflict pain on ourselves and unto others.”  ― Ernest Agyemang Yeboah

 

 

 

The Man or the Office?  Which Do We Respect?

trump

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t wonder whether I should call him Chump, Asshole or Mr. President.  There are many decrying the use of my pejorative adjectives to describe our new president.  They say “Even if you do not respect the man, you must respect the office.”  This rule (I know not where it began) seems to have taken the form of “common knowledge” as though there was some ancient prescription that admonished us to always respect an elected or appointed official.

Ironically, the man in office now gave no respect to his predecessor.  Beginning with the birther conspiracy before Obama even took office and continuing right up until his election, the man now in office took every opportunity to denigrate and insult President Barack Obama.  Nevertheless, I am not using this as an argument to insult our new President.  It fails the test of morality in that we all know “two wrongs do not make a right.”

My dilemma stems from my difficulty with understanding whether we should assign respect to an office regardless of the character of the individual that might be in it.  Perhaps history could shed some light on this issue for us.  What does history tell us about this question?  Is it really a universal law that we must respect the office even if we do not respect the man?  Have people in the past always respected the office even when they disliked the office holder?  Should we respect the office or the office holder?

Let us go back to the time of Israel under the Roman occupation when Herod was king.  What did they say about Herod?

“On an appointed day, Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them.  And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”  Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. …” — Acts 12:19-24 

king-georgeMarching forward in time to the period of the Revolutionary war when George the III was ruler of the American Colonies, what did they think of King George?  Here is what is written in the Declaration of Independence:

“A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Our second President John Adams was called a “hideous hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” By James Callender, a supporter of Thomas Jefferson.

The insults were returned by Adams supporters who called Jefferson a “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

President Abraham Lincoln who is today revered by many as either the greatest or second greatest president in American history received even more scorn than Jefferson or Adams from his contemporaries:

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“George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.”  Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.”  Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.” —- Knowledge Nuts

I could cite pages of examples such as the above.  History is full of examples of insults levied against Presidents, Kings and many other office holders.  I listed only a few to show that insults against an office are nothing new.  However, does this make it right or are these insults simply a lack of character?  What are our obligations to an “office?”   This question might be posed in one of two ways:

  1. We should respect an office even if the office holder is not worthy of our respect.

Yes!  We should respect an office because it represents an agreed upon authority.  If offices had no authority, institutions would break down and there would be no rule of order.   Democracy is based on the acceptance of authority emanating from the will of the masses.  No one person is above the masses in a democracy.

No!  An office has no intrinsic entitlement to respect.  The respect for an office comes from the office holder and not the other way around.  To simply respect a title because it is a title is both illogical and dangerous.  One can think of the harm that was caused by the respect that the Fuhrer had in Germany because he was the leader even when many disagreed with his policies and his behavior.

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  1. We should only respect an office when the office holder is worthy of respect.

Yes!  People can only remain free and independent absent of an authority that comes solely from titles, ranks and names.  If we obey or show respect for an office that is in violation of ethics or morality, we give away our free will.  Massacres, murders and other atrocities often arise from a group mentality or an unwarranted willingness to acquiesce to authority.  An office is not entitled to respect unless the office holder imbues the office with respect.

No!  People must show respect to the institution or office regardless of who the office holder is.  We must recognize that in the case of Trump, millions of Americans chose him over Hillary.  To disrespect Trump is to disrespect the millions of citizens in this country who following the laws of the land duly elected him to the office of POTUS.

do-not-respec

Well, there you have it.  I think I have laid out the “two sides of the coin.”   Now it is time for you to weigh in with your opinions.  Do not sit this one out.  Put your opinions in the comments section and let me hear from you.

Time for Questions:

What do you think? How would you answer these questions?

Life is just beginning.

“In a few days, I will lay down my official responsibilities in this office, to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of President: the title of Citizen.” — Farewell Address, President Jimmy Carter.

For another opinion on this issue, see the article by Jonathan Chait.

Must We Respect the Office of the Presidency?

 

 

 

 

 

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,

 

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