Friday, February 4, 2011

Post No. 156: Great Expectations or Low Expectations - Which Would You Prefer?

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We, here at the Institute for Applied Common Sense, don’t claim to be the sharpest knives in the drawer.

But as the Laughingman often reminds us, “Doing the right thing is not rocket science™,” which is typically followed by, “Common sense ought to be a way of life™.”

In our last post, What the U.S. Deserves, we argued that the individual citizens of any nation might consider taking more personal responsibility for the state of their nation, and place less responsibility and blame on those who they consider to be their “leaders,” elected or not.

Also, in light of the current turmoil in Egypt, we suggested that Egyptians might learn something from America’s experience with that great experiment, still ongoing, called democracy.

Apparently we did a poor job of making our points, since a number of you questioned what we thought the Egyptians might learn from us. Some even felt that it was presumptuous on our part, if not downright condescending, to suggest that a culture of more than 5,000 years could learn anything from one around less than 1/10 of that time.

But in the same way as parents can learn from their children, the current version of this ancient culture, however defined, can still learn something from Michael Jackson and the New Kids on the Block.

There are many, including some prominent historians, who consider Chicago to be the optimal American city. Although not without its warts, it is frequently said that “Chicago gets things done,” and has many things about which to be proud.

Those historians placing the Windy City at the top of their lists claim that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow should be considered one of the great Founding Fathers of this modern city.

By kicking the lantern in his owner’s barn on October 8, 1871, he provided the citizens of Chicago with an opportunity to rebuild, and start afresh. In many instances, the old, the questionable, and the undesirable were instantly destroyed (admittedly not by choice), and in their place the citizens (and many outside of the city) pursued cutting edge, idealistic projects.

These included not only physical structures embodying the latest engineering and architectural thinking, but also grand sociological and artistic experiments in pursuit of Utopian society.

And thus our first point, although poorly stated, was that this presents the Egyptian people with an opportunity to rebuild. And, in the event that the end result of this human revolution is some form of “democracy,” perhaps they can avoid some of the mistakes that America has made during its democratic life.

Democracy comes in many forms, and based on our experience, it can be quite messy. To quote David Letterman, “It is nothing if not constantly evolving.”

Our second point, also admittedly poorly stated, was that perhaps instead of 1,573 leaders emerging from the ashes of this event, the Egyptians might strive to have at least 157,300 of them.

A friend once shared with us that while in high school, he was forced to read two books which would have an impact on his view of the world. The first was Charles DickensGreat Expectations, a novel about growth and personal development, including the themes of class and ambition.

The second, much more modern and much less known, was Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age. As compelling as some might find the title, the subtitle is even more revealing – The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools.

Death is the story of how low expectations of the black kids, on the part of the teachers and administrators in the school system, became self-fulfilling prophesies.

When one expects little, one generally gets little.

When one expects more, one generally gets more.

It’s just as simple as that. Just plain old common sense.

And that’s not only applicable to what we expect of others, but also to what we expect of ourselves. It’s been said that one of the great problems in the Middle East is that so many of the youth, who constitute such a large percentage of the population, are not only unemployed, but have no sense of the future being better than the present.

We, the inarticulate minions here at the Institute, hope that this cauldron will result in a nation with a much higher percentage of its citizens constituting the Creative Class and taking responsibility for its fate, than has been the case here in America in recent years.

P.S. We’re not through with this subject yet.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Post No. 155: What the U.S. Deserves

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It‘s been said, “Each country gets the leader that it deserves.”

Although we had some difficulty tracking down the original source of this saying, we suspect that the author intended to include any geographical region and leaders in general.

We thought about this over the past few weeks, first in connection with Tunisia, and most recently Egypt.

While observing the Egyptian people express their dissatisfaction, we wondered whether it was really so much about their leader’s rule, as opposed to their disillusionment regarding where they find themselves today.

The notion that a country gets the leader that it deserves suggests responsibility on the part of its citizens, each and every one of them.

A single leader may set the tone, inspire the people, or even oppress and instill fear. However, it is ultimately the masses of people who decide, and who define their nation.

There was a popular saying in the 1970s, that those radical anti-establishment types like the Laughingman used to shout - If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been thinking about how the citizens of so many countries “pass the buck” and abdicate their responsibility for their current state of affairs.

Take the United States for example. We have all sorts of problems here: economic, political, military, immigration, health care, business, education, technology, and simply finding a presidential candidate who was clearly not born in Africa. Despite these, we profess that we are still The Greatest Show on Earth.

In one of our very first posts in 2008, The Triangular Box in Which America Finds Itself Circumscribed, we suggested that we Americans really do not like any of the political candidates who we ultimately elect.

The problem is – quite simply – that we expect far too much of our leaders, and far too little of ourselves as citizens. Our unreasonable expectations of what our elected leaders are supposed to do stem from the fact that we pay folks who simultaneously stick their hands in our hip pockets and feed at the corporate trough.

But a society (or a people) can’t blame opportunists for being opportunistic. (We don’t elect fools. There’s a reason so many of them were snakes in their prior lives.)

While the problems and issues of the average Tunisian or Egyptian can in no way be fully appreciated by the average American, we find ourselves cheering them on to achieve what we think we have – freedom.

But freedom is nothing but having options, a right to choose, and with such rights come responsibilities.

Perhaps “responsibilities” is not the right concept. Perhaps the more appropriate word is consequences.

There are consequences associated with not putting enough of our earnings into savings. There are consequences which flow from leading unhealthy lifestyles. There are consequences which stem from not having enough inventors or scientists amongst our neighbors, and too many entertainers.

And there are consequences associated with trying to work a 40 hour week, or even less, so that we have time to play with all of our recreational toys and gadgets piled in that McMansion large enough to house 4 families.

And a failure to accept or face the consequences essentially amounts to irresponsibility, on a national level.

Quite frankly, the health, vitality, and future of our nation should not depend on the acts of socialist, government types nor should it depend on private enterprise, as the free market folks argue.

It should depend on each individual citizen.

Back during the reign of King Jimmy Carter some 30 years ago, he made a speech which many derisively referred to as his “malaise speech.” In it, he suggested that America was experiencing a crisis in confidence. He suggested that we needed to get back to some basics, and renew our enthusiasm.

What he was really saying, in a political way, was that we were not living up to our responsibilities as citizens, which translated to our responsibilities as a nation.

As we approach this Super Bowl weekend, any member of either team will tell you that, there is no more effective and efficient way for a team to get its ass kicked, than for individual players to abdicate responsibility for their individual jobs.

The criticism heaped on President Carter when he told us the truth suggests a fundamental problem with our political system. Perhaps, as Col. Jessup said, “[We] can’t handle the truth.” Instead of embracing what our President had to say, we effectively told him that he couldn’t hack it as our leader.

Here’s hoping that the Tunisians, and the Egyptians, and the Sudanese, and the ________ can handle the truth, and learn from our example.

P.S. Who woudda thunk that this “revolution” would take place in Africa?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Post No. 154a: Article of Interest: "Most High School Biology Teachers Do Not Endorse Evolution"

We came across this article earlier today in the electronic edition of The Washington Post.

Posted at 1:07 PM ET, 01/29/2011

By Valerie Strauss

"The central theme of biology is evolution, yet a new study shows that most high school biology teachers are reluctant to endorse it in class.

In the same week we learned that most American students did not do well in science on a test known as 'the nation's report card,' a study about biology teachers in public high schools was published that said...."

To read the entire article, click here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Post No. 154: The Anticipation

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

It is now 7:59 pm EST, as we begin to type this piece. President Obama delivers his State of the Union message in just 61 minutes, and it is our intention to have this article posted long before the broadcast begins.

In addition, Turner Classic Movies will air, at 8:00 pm EST, what some consider the best Laurel & Hardy movie ever made, Sons of the Desert.

Suffice it to say that we are ”under the gun.” But not nearly as much as our President, following what many have termed the shellacking he took during the mid-term elections. As he walks to the podium, he will be subject to intense scrutiny, and before the night is over, he might wish that he had walked across the Sahara under the glaring light of the equatorial sun.

This piece is not about how he will perform or be received, at least not in an objective sense, but rather how so many have already peeped into their crystal balls, and know how he will perform. For the past three days, the talking heads have told us what they expect of him this evening.

Part of the responsibility for this attitude can be laid at the foot of the President and his staff themselves. In preparation for the speech, the White House has leaked its intentions, put out press releases, and employed all manner of preemptive and public relations vehicles to gain the upper hand and capitalize on the moment.

His detractors have exerted an equal, if not greater, amount of energy preparing to do the Tonya Harding, and test his knee caps with their version of Obamacare, a lead pipe.

As ridiculous as it may seem, somehow we yearn for an era (if ever one existed), where all of us wait in anticipation to listen to what our President has to say, hoping that it will somehow inspire us, and lift us out of our doldrums.

In a recent documentary on Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and the final days of the Civil War, a noted historian quipped, “One of the great ironies about American democracy is that we claim that control is within the power of the people, and yet we yearn for a savior to deliver us from our problems.

[Those of you reading this before the President’s speech might switch over to the Laurel & Hardy movie right now. It’s a beauty.]

A couple of posts ago, in Where Our Heads Take Us, we spoke of pre-conceived ideas and their power. At the end of the evening, we strongly suspect that the Democrats will give the President an “A,” and the Republicans will provide a grade of C-, noting that the President is a gifted orator, although he is wedded to the teleprompter.

And that can’t be good.

For any of us, and definitely not for the Nation.

And so we must confess that we are guilty of having pre-conceived notions also, because we anticipate that nothing will change, and the politicians will all return to business as usual, and all the talk about the potential for a change in tone in Washington following the Arizona shootings will be for naught.

Is that sad? Yes, especially because we consider ourselves to be idealistic optimists. We are also pragmatists.

But there’s hope out there even amongst some of our most cynical followers. Take for example Douglas, who has been with us from the very beginning. In response to our last post, Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, he commented:

“I would argue that each of us, if we are concerned about violent speech, not engage in it. Who knows? It might catch on.”

Douglas is also the guy who from experience told us that when he decided to not argue with his wife and agree with her, it didn’t work, and she continued to argue.

We’ve often told friends of the Institute that this experience (operating this blog) has been simultaneously one of the most rewarding during our lifetimes (in that we have learned so much about how others think), and one of the most frustrating (wondering whether they read the same article that we wrote).

S___ has to got to get better than this. It just has to….

Monday, January 24, 2011

Post No. 153: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones (Rated “C” for “Children Only)

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Since we started writing about personal responsibility in April of 2008, many have suggested that our approach is far too simplistic and child-like.

We frequently refer to sayings by “old folks” uttered “back in the day,” or bits of parental advice, e.g., “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.”

Sometimes we actually have to stop and ask whether the principles suggested are (1) universally and consistently true; (2) only capable of application in certain situations; or (3) applicable simply when the person choosing to use them finds it convenient.

Some of you may recall, “Sticks and stones may break my bones; but words will never hurt me.”

Over the years, we’ve generally been members of the Sticks and Stones School of Thought (originally known as the Turn the Other Cheek School). In our view, targets of racial slurs, inappropriate jokes, sexist comments and such might justifiably be offended, but should simply ignore the offending idiots and move right along. After all, with few exceptions, the offending speech is protected speech.

To some extent, our devotion to this school of thought stems from growing up in the South during the late 1940s and 1950s as a survival technique.

We’ve felt the same regarding symbols, like the Confederate flag. All the time spent organizing an anti-flag rally, traveling to and from the offending state, and participating in the rally, might be better spent generating income – income which could be used for scholarships for poor kids. Education makes people better equipped to prove their worth and value in society, despite what others might think.

We always recognized that our view did not apply to adult – child relationships, or perhaps adult, interpersonal relationships. Constant criticism and hostility in those relationships can potentially inflict long-term, emotional damage.

Where things get a little fuzzy is when the clamor and acrimony are in the public arena, and not directed at specific individuals, or are of a political nature.

During the debate following the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, we wondered about the role that, what some described as the poisonous, acrimonious state of political discourse, may have played. However, we initially felt that the acts of someone suffering from mental instability could not possibly be connected to a sufficient degree for the discussion to even continue.

That is until one of our readers, SmallFootprints, sent us a post by another blogger, whose blog is The River Wanders… but is never lost. In the article, entitled Campaign Silent, the author argues that an environment has been carefully crafted where violence is the new norm. The author goes on to note:

“Does one word, one sign, one blogged paragraph incite violence? Probably [italics in original] not. But I’m not talking about one careless word, one careless sign, one careless comment, one carelessly blogged paragraph. The sheer volume of hate-speech today is accessible and acceptable and toxic and seductive and probably does [italics in original] incite violence. The truth is this: the crazy is out there – the mentally ill who hear inappropriate sentiment as a call to action, the bitterly angry who don’t care who they hurt as long as we share their pain, and the disenfranchised coteries whose groupthink becomes their way of life. To all of us, but especially [italics in original] to these unique populations, language matters. Words matter. Images matter. Message matters.”

While we do not agree with everything the author has to say, and reading it did not convince us to pick up our toys and leave the playground, the piece forced us to re-visit our position.

There was something else we considered about the power of words and the environment in which they operate. For the past several weeks, the History Channel has been re-airing its series on The Third Reich. They chronicle the regime’s rise to power in the 1930s.

Throughout, before rolling film of the atrocities committed by Nazi troops, there appears a screen with simple words used as propaganda to urge the troops to proceed, and to justify the cruelty to the general population.

Arguably, we all have a responsibility to carefully consider the words that we spew out into the Universe, and the potential consequences when people hear them. It’s been said that, “All is fair in love and war,” and perhaps politics. That may not be the case with respect to public discourse.

And, although we, the Fellows of the Institute, may not be personally concerned about less than civil words hurled at us on an individual level (and we are not motivated to act on those words), we now appreciate that there may be others out there for whom words have a different effect.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Post No. 152: What Would Dr. King Say?

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We considered calling this piece, What Would Dr. King Do?, or What Would Dr. King Think?

Frankly, none of them would be really appropriate, since none of us has any first hand knowledge of his thought process, or even a comprehensive appreciation of his view of the world.

For example, most think that Dr. King adopted Gandhi’s non-violent philosophy on his own. Yet, many involved in the movement contend that it was actually Bayard Rustin who counseled Dr. King to adopt non-violence as his MO.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that after having his home and family threatened, Dr. King grabbed a rifle on his way to confront his attackers on the front lawn.

Rustin supposedly stopped Dr. King in mid-stride and suggested how to get the upper hand on his attackers, that being to take the higher moral ground - less subject to attack.

Per Rustin, resorting to a tactic that placed the good doctor in the same violence stratum as his attackers only served to hurt the cause, and made it less likely that others would side with him (defense of his castle be justified or not).

On this past MLK Day, those of you fortunate enough not to have become infected with that virus commonly known as Twitter [which should be changed to “Twitcher”], would have been amazed at the volume of thought-provoking MLK quotes posted by “kids” of every imaginable color, age, country, and station in life.

But two situations or events, both featuring the NAACP, kept bothering us.

Why the NAACP? [That’s exactly what we asked.] Because, in theory, one might think that their positions and the interests advocated by Dr. King would bear some resemblance to one another. In both instances, we’re just not sure what was going on. [Plus, we recognize that only certain racial groups are monolithic.]

The first involved something seemingly innocuous as school snow make-up days.

In many districts around the country, schools are required to end their year by a certain date. Most states also require that a school year consist of a certain number of days. Because of severe snow storms, many districts found themselves trying to discover make-up days on the calendar.

Some announced that they were “considering” having their charges attend school on MLK Day. The NAACP, in virtually every region where such a plan was “considered,” shifted into Sharpton-Jackson mode. [Where is a Michael Steele or an Alan Keyes when you need one?]

We need not even explore the substance of their arguments. Many prominent in the black community even suggested that parents keep their kids home. [That’ll show them.]

But it occurred to us, what better day to spend the time in school, reflecting on all that Dr. King represented, and all that he valued?

What better opportunity for black folks to consider the importance of, or show the outside world how much they value, that education thang?

What better day to suggest and support the extension of the school week to Saturdays, or the school year into the summer?

What would Dr. King have said, or done?

The second situation involved the Governor of Maine. This maverick of a politician was invited to participate in an NAACP celebration in memory of Dr. King, and he declined. [Uh, oh…!]

When questioned further about it, he simply said that there are only so many special interest events that one man can attend in a 24 hour day.

He further suggested that if someone thought that his declination was racially motivated, they could “kiss his butt.” [At least he has the balls to tell some group to kiss his rear end.] He finally alluded to the fact that all one needed to do was examine his family portrait, and they would find that he has a black [adopted] son.

Once again, the local NAACP went ballistic, and suggested that whether he had a black son was irrelevant. [Any of those NAACP folks have any white sons?]

Once again, we asked what would Dr. King have said, or done?

Of course, we don’t know. But we have a guess.

As great as all of the quotes posted on Twitter were, there was one missing that may reflect how he might have reacted.

On Monday night, we watched a tape of one of Dr. King’s speeches at the close of an MSNBC segment. During it, he said:

“We must conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline.”

Did the NAACP heed his word?

You be the judge.

P.S. Yeah, we know. This was not a very dignified post.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Post No. 151: Where Our Heads Take Us

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Earlier today, while twittering around in Twitter, we saw a tweet from a rather attractive woman who asked:

“Who intimidates a man more, a beautiful woman, or an intelligent woman?”

Depending on one’s definition of “man,” one could arguably respond, “Neither.”

Additionally, the question as posed suggests an either / or proposition. For the purposes of this post, our legal staff instructed us to inform you that the official position of the Institute is that ALL women are both beautiful AND intelligent, and patients experiencing an erection lasting more than 4 hours should immediately consult a physician.

One of the Laughingman’s favorite Mark Twain quotes goes something along the line of, “The heart goes where it wants to.” The Logistician frequently uses this as a justification for falling in love with ugly women.

With this in mind, we answered that, assuming one could somehow find a woman who is not both beautiful and intelligent, and considering the time limitations on an ordinary man, the beautiful woman was more problematic.

Our participation in this exercise made us think further about the role of pre-conceived ideas in dealing with others. A pre-conceived idea often takes on a passionate, heart felt patina.

People often ask us how we come up with the subject matter for our articles. Over each weekend, we watch the various new outlets, Tom and Jerry cartoons, C-Span, Turner Classic Movies, and The Andy Griffith Show, and give extra weight to Tom and Jerry.

We come across enough material to generate several articles per week; but we really look for recurrent themes in the shows we watch. Today, it was pre-conceived ideas.

That notion really hit home, courtesy of Ted Turner, through a little known William “Wild Bill” Wellman film, which was a box office flop in 1956, but which has since developed a cult following, Good-bye, My Lady. It is the story of 13 year old Skeeter, an orphan being raised in the back swamps of Georgia by his poor and toothless Uncle Jesse, played by Walter Brennan, of The Real McCoys fame.

The story is one of coming of age for the teenager, who learns a few things about life and responsibility through his brief relationship with a lost dog, which he and his uncle named My Lady. Throughout the film, there are frequent negative references to “Yankees.”

It turns out that the dog has been lost by its owner, and that it is a very rare and valuable dog. The owner posts an ad offering $50 for the return of the dog. Several people in the area know Skeeter has found the dog, but feel that the relationship is too intense to separate the two.

Skeeter ultimately, upon finding out about the ad, does the responsible thing and contacts the owner and returns My Lady. In a very touching closing scene, the owner and Skeeter face one another with stilted formality, and draw out the exchange.

It is clear that the owner appreciates the emotional bond established between the boy and his temporary charge. To cut the cord cleanly, he steps up the pace of the transaction, shakes off the emotion, and hands Skeeter $100.

As the Yankee owner drives off with My Lady in its cage, Skeeter, his Uncle, and the local store owner discuss how surprised they are at the courteous and understanding manner in which the Yankee handled the whole matter. They learned that Yankees are people too, and have hearts.

We all have prejudices. They are built into our being, even into our DNA. They serve a very pragmatic function.

But problems develop when those prejudices get in the way of engaging others, be they Republicans, Democrats, homosexuals, Mexicans, or Yankees, because of our prejudices, and we do not permit them an opportunity to share their humanity.

Let’s hope that more of us use our heads in assessing the values and motives of others with whom we disagree, or who we dislike. We may not fall in love, but we’re far more likely to respect one another. Then at some point thereafter, the heart might have a chance to come into play.

In a letter from Twain to Alvert Sonnichsen in 1901, he wrote, “Civilizations proceed from the heart rather from the head.”

It’s the commonality of interests which draws up together ultimately.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Post No. 150: God, Obama, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Green Party

© 2011 and 2013, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We previously posted this piece in connection with past sports world championship battles. Since the Super Bowl is about to start, we thought that we would re-visit some of the issues addressed. Enjoy.

Last evening, during his comments at the memorial service for the victims of the Arizona shootings, and after visiting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, President Obama shared that Ms. Giffords had, shortly after his departure, opened her eyes.

There followed some confusion regarding an earlier statement, several days prior, by her doctors regarding the opening of her eyes (in response to stimuli) and her opening her eyes on Wednesday (on her own).

Today, all over the Internet, articles flew back and forth bearing titles describing the President as, “the Miracle Worker,” “the Great Healer,” and “the Savior.”

Of course, his detractors characterized the media attention as another example of Obama having been designated as “The Anointed One,” which further complicates his reputation as a detached leader.

However, it reminded us of a conversation that we had two weeks ago in a men’s restroom in a “home style” restaurant here in the Southeast.

All of us have perhaps reflected on comments of players winning championships in their respective games, stopping to thank their God for their victories on their way to Disney World. Obviously Satan was in the locker room of the losing team.

(Hmmm. Does that mean that God sanctions the activities at Disney World and its owners?)

We’ve all witnessed the Democrats and the Republicans claim to be the party of “the People,” sanctioned by God. Somehow, we’ve always felt that some party, other than the traditional parties, might be the party sanctioned by our God; but then again, we suspect that reasonable people could take issue with that assessment. That may be the beauty of Pentecostalism.

Returning to our restaurant, we observed the fellow diner standing at the urinal in the restroom wearing a baseball style cap, which had a donkey on its side, with the top half of the donkey colored red, and the bottom half colored blue.

Our first inclination was to inquire as to which sports team had the donkey as its mascot or symbol, but when he turned to respond to our greeting, we noticed that it was an Obama campaign cap.

More than 2 years ago, the Logistician wrote a piece entitled, Why I Am Concerned that Obama Might Win. He suggested that the economic problems facing the nation and the world at the time of the article (the Fall of 2008) were 25 – 30 years in the making, contributed to by both political parties, and that we were in store for a long period of economic pain with anemic improvement.

He implied that because of the anticipated slow economic recovery, Obama would be a one-term president, and that the masses, both within and outside of his party, would call for his head at mid-term. From a philosophical perspective, he hoped that the first of any minority group, which historically had not occupied the Oval Office, not be viewed as a failure, due to factors far larger and more complex than those capable of being addressed by a mere mortal, no matter how well connected to God.

Since the diner in the restroom was obviously an Obama supporter, we asked him whether he thought that President Obama would be re-elected. Without hesitation, he exclaimed, “Yes. God is on Obama’s side, and Obama has a few tricks up his sleeve for his detractors.”

Although, because of the nature of our training and the mission of the Institute, we were tempted to explore God’s relationship with Obama further, we let the diner’s comment slide. However, it did cause us to remember a comment made by Professor Jonathan Haidt, which he noted in his article, What Makes People Vote Republican?, which we shared with you previously.

Paraphrasing, Haidt claims is that what Democrats have recently failed to appreciate, and upon which Republicans have learned to capitalize, is that politics is more like religion, and less like shopping, which seems to dominate their approach.

And so we watched our fellow diner leave the restroom, content in his mind that God was going to guide President Obama through the remainder of his term, and that he would be re-elected. We also wondered whether more Democrats might choose to attend places of worship during the upcoming year, and spend less time at Wal-Mart.

This just in from our Washington Office: President Obama will take the First Lady and the kids, Aaron Rodgers, and Ralph Nader to “Disney World” shortly after the next presidential election.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Post No. 149: And Now for Some Motherly Advice

© 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

The Mother of one of our Fellows used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.”

During our Institute position policy meetings, much to the irritation of some, he frequently brings up this childhood notion, as if it advances some important adult interest.

Some of us argue that the public is drawn to content with an edge, and that to draw readers, we should adopt a clear position, or at a minimum, enter the fray.

But our “Mr. Nice Guy” always reminds us that our primary goal is not to take sides, but rather to encourage our readers to view issues differently. After all, “There are more than 2 or 3 ways to view any issue; there are at least 27.™”

For two years, we had a tenant neighbor on our floor in our building. The two partners operating the business, one male and one female, frequently engaged in shouting matches resembling those found at heavyweight boxing championship pre-match weigh-ins.

In fact, there were times when we could have sworn that we heard some punches thrown. Visitors to our suite were justifiably uncomfortable while sitting in our lobby.

On several occasions, prior to contacting building management, we gingerly approached the pair, in an effort to diffuse the clamor, only to have the anger directed toward us, for having dared to “interfere.”

The expletives hurled toward us were comparable to, if not worse than, those which they spewed at each other. They accused us of infringing on their freedom of expression.

Our office lease came up for renewal in early December, and during one of our meetings, we discussed whether we could further tolerate our feuding neighbors. Mr. Nice Guy made several interesting observations.

He said that both the male and the female had to have the last word. He further noted that neither party ever conceded anything or suggested a compromise position, and thus neither learned anything from the other.

To address the situation, he suggested that we invoke what his Mother referred to as the “Doctrine of Unnecessary.” His Mother would have asked the question, “Is it really necessary for us to stay in this space and endure the blood-letting?”

Back in early 2009, out of concern about the incendiary nature of public and political discourse, we posted two articles on anger, the first being Is There a Positive Side to Anger, and the second, That Positive Side of Anger Which So Many of You See.

This past weekend, the world focused its attention on the State of Arizona trying its best to comprehend the attempted assassination of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and the murder of numerous others, including a child. The event prompted us to re-visit the articles.

One of our loyal readers, WSteffie (who is from Germany by the way), offered the following comment:

“If everybody would hold their breath, count to [10], think about what exactly the anger is about and then speak, the world would be less violent. I'm just saying that because the problem is not always somebody else. Since we do have the choice of expressing, repressing, or calming our anger, it [might] be wise to first calm our anger.”

Earlier in the day, we wondered why so many talking heads, politicians, and pundits found it “necessary” to immediately weigh in on Arizona’s recent immigration and education battles, gun control and the 2nd Amendment, the Tea Party or Parties, the liberals, the conservatives, and a country run amok - all without anyone really being able to explain the actions of the young man, and armed only with a paucity of the facts.

We imagine that the affected families did not have sufficient time to sort out the events and their emotions, and yet the experts did.

It just seems to us that the responsible pursuit of an explanation is inconsistent with a rush to judgment as to the cause, assuming that a direct cause and effect relationship can even theoretically be established.

And thus we agree with WSteffie, at least to some extent, about counting to 10, and perhaps even 20. But why not consider the application of the Doctrine of Unnecessary?

Those of us not in the business of boosting media ratings, selling sexual lubricants, or getting ourselves or party members elected, might do well to follow a little motherly advice on occasion, and simply say nothing.

To quote the Laughingman, “We don’t have a dog in every fight.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Post No. 148d: Re-Posting of "That Positive Side of Anger Which So Many of You See...."

Back in late April of 2009, we generated a post entitled, “Is There a Positive Side to Anger?”

Many of you responded that there is a positive side, and perhaps more interestingly, many simply responded that anger is a positive and necessary force, without explicitly addressing whether it should be used judiciously, or whether there are negative ramifications.

One of our readers sent the following story to us a few days ago, and it caused us to re-visit our thoughts on anger. We generally try to avoid posting articles which simply confirm positions which we have previously taken. We do not think that advances anything in the realm of public discourse.

However, this little piece made us re-examine our views on anger, and still arrive at the same conclusion.

“There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His Father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he had to hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

“The first day the boy had driven 27 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

“Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all.

“He told his father about it and the Father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

“The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his Son by the hand and led him to the fence.

“He said, 'You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.

“You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. But it won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry; the wound will still be there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

“Remember that anyone with whom you come into contact is a human and all humans have value.

“Anger has a deleterious effect on us all. Including our kids who observe their parents and others."

This made us think further about anger. This little piece might apply to our children, or perhaps our most intimate friends and family. However, does it also apply to our co-workers, people with whom we come into contact throughout the day, and strangers in general?

What about people more distantly removed, government workers, our politicians and leaders?

What about our institutions, or certain professions, or industries, which are not animate beings, but are composed of them?

Let’s assume that you agree that the use of anger against individuals (of course, those who you claim don’t deserve it) is inappropriate. What is the theoretical or principled position that justifies the use of anger against your broken down car, a business, a profession, a government or a governmental official?

Don’t we have the intelligence as human beings to articulate the substance of our frustration, disappointment, dissatisfaction, etc. in words, even well chosen forceful words, without accompanying them with invective and making the points personal?

What say yee you morons, imbeciles, idiots, and vermin?

"There Are More Than 2 Or 3 Ways To View Any Issue; There Are At Least 27"™

"Experience Isn't Expensive; It's Priceless"™

"Common Sense Should be a Way of Life"™