Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mr. Rogers "Week," Day #5: Mentionable and Manageable

Honestly, I could write posts about Mr. Rogers for a year. What I can't seem to do, I'm afraid, is write a new post every day. Ah, well.

 Today, I want to focus on something Fred Rogers said during his testimony to congress in 1969 about the importance of funding public broadcasting. If you haven't seen this video, you really should:

This is where Mr. Rogers talks about the essential reasons for what he does. At about 3:57, he sums it up thusly:

"I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mr. Rogers Week Day #4: Looking For The Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

- Fred Rogers

The above quote is one that I discovered earlier in this week of researching and writing about Mr. Rogers. It struck me as pleasant and sweet when I read it. In applying it to my life, however, I have discovered that it's much more than this: it's powerful.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mr. Rogers Week Day #3: Art's Highest Purpose

Are you an artist?

If you say "yes," to that question, you might mean that you're a professional artist, or are trying to be, working to be able to make your living at your craft. You might say, "yes," but be perfectly comfortable with the idea that that "yes," means, "I am an amateur. I feel that I'm good enough at this to perform, but not good enough to expect to make money at it."

Are you one of the people who'll say, "No, I'm not creative or talented at all"?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mr. Rogers Week Day #2: Re-Humanizing Children

A couple of months ago, I did something that we all have to do from time to time, something that's never an enviable task: I called out some friends of mine for how they were talking about other people and told them it wasn't acceptable to me. Now, many of us in the left-leaning arena of politics may talk about the importance of stamping out words and speech that's racist, sexist, heterosexist, ablist and a variety of other nasty "ists" that keep us from recognizing each other's humanity. It's important work, much as it may make people feel put-upon from time to time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Mr. Rogers Day!

As many of you have already learned from the social networking and memeosphere, today is the birthday of Mr. Fred Rogers. He'd be 85 today, and the world lost him 10 years ago. Too soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Our Culture Of Conditional Love (And Why It's Really Stupid)

Photo by Aallen, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

As some of you close to me may know,  I've had someone come into my life in the last few years who is burdened with what is known as an attachment disorder. For those not in the know, this is a pathological state that occurs as a result of neglect and/or disrupted care during early childhood. People with this condition feel that lack of early love and security well into adulthood and this creates some pretty major emotional insecurities, insecurities that make normal human relationships pretty damn difficult.

As I always do when dealing with a close friend or family member with some illness or disorder, I've been doing some research. Reading about the manifestations of the disorder is useful, of course, but learning about the standard modes of therapy, understanding what the "way back" can look like, is even more so. I can't go around appointing myself as amateur therapist to everyone I love, obviously, but I think there's always plenty to be gained from understanding healthy processes of growth. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Everyday Catastrophic Empathy Failure

Every day, when I walk from my day job to the bus stop, there's a weirdly-shaped T-intersection that I have to cross. That is to say, I have to cross the "stem" of the "T" with the road forming the top of the "T" at my right.

Oftentimes, when I'm waiting to cross, some helpful driver coming up on my left will wait for me at the intersection and signal to me that it's okay for me to go. However, these drivers don't generally bother to look around and consider whether or not it's safe for me to cross based on the traffic coming from the rest of the intersection - in many cases, it is not. So they signal me again, looking increasingly confused and impatient over the fact that I'm just standing there and waiting...until I point to the semi truck that they're encouraging me to walk smack into.

I refer to this sort of incident as everyday catastrophic empathy failure. "Everyday," because it's very common, and "catastrophic" because it makes me think: if we humans are having that much trouble empathizing in a situation THAT obvious, how disastrous is our lack of empathy when the differences between us are more complicated? Harmonious communication and interaction requires that we be able to put ourselves in one another's shoes, but far too often, we stay resolutely stuck in our own, expecting that others meet us there, confused by behavior that we've only bothered to consider from our own point of view.  ..and we don't realize it!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Blowing Off The "Most Powerful Man In The World"

Came across this little news story courtesy of Rachel Maddow's website blog:

Reaching Out, Finding Nothing

The TL:DR version is this: President Obama, in an effort to encourage more bipartisan communication and cooperation, invited several prominent congressional Republicans to a movie night at the white house. Not a single one accepted the invitation.

Understandably, the writers at the Maddow Blog use this story to highlight the utter lack of partisan cooperation coming from the Republican side of the fence. That's all well and good and very true, but what I find most remarkable in this story is this: when you set aside the partisan aspect, what you have here is a situation where the President of the United States gave some political underlings a chance to come and schmooze, and they didn't feel they needed to take it.

In the world of political power, this sort of thing should be unheard of. You don't turn down a chance to be seen by, be heard by, and influence the most powerful man in the land. Unless, of course, he's really not all that powerful after all...and you know it.

Who REALLY wields the power in our world right now?

Monday, March 11, 2013

When The World Sucks, I Remember This

Photo by Justin Ormont, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

When the world seems to suck and it seems like nothing will ever get better, I remember this bit of wisdom:

"The responses are never adequate, until they build and build and something changes. People very often think that there must be some magical tactic, beyond the traditional ones–protests, demonstrations, vigils, civil disobedience–but there is no magical panacea, only persistence in continuing and escalating the usual tactics of protest and resistance. The end of the Vietnam War did not come because the Left suddenly did something new and dramatic, but because all of the actions built up over time."

- Howard Zinn 

...and I remember that it is true, absolutely true. I also remember all the things that are better now, all the things that have gotten better because human beings decided they needed to be changed and did it. I remember that there are now fewer people dying in wars than ever before. I remember that good stories, once thought to only be sources of escapism and entertainment, are uniting people worldwide in social justice movements.  Because the world is shrinking, because we're all talking to each other, because we're telling the same stories together.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Re-Evaluating "Self-Esteem." Again.

In our culture today, we use a lot of different terminology to talk about the concept of having a positive view of - and feeling towards - one's self. "Self-esteem" is the juggernaut of the 80s and 90s, but many of us veer away from it today in favor of terms like, "self-respect," "self-confidence," or "positive self-image." One may talk about being "kind to myself" or "loving myself," in a moment of sensitivity, or we may use the phrase, "accept myself for who I truly am."

I would posit, though, that for all these semantic variations, we're not having a particularly good conversation about the topic. In fact, I think we're really very confused when it comes to even defining the state of mind they're trying to describe, let alone taking healthy action in the right direction. Certainly, we all want to feel good and that requires feeling comfortable with our sense of who we are in the world, but how do we go about actually getting that?

How, in short, do we go about feeling "good enough"?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Political Debate And The Nasty Proportion Problem

When it comes to political arguments, I'm realizing that there are two problems that irk me more than anything else when I'm arguing with people. One of these, unsurprisingly, is when I perceive hypocrisy in another person's opinions, but that's a topic for a whole slew of essays.

The second, however, is a much more finicky, subjective and complicated problem: proportion. I get frustrated and angry when other people seem to have a sense of what is and isn't important that is very different from my own.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Just "choose" an attitude of success? Yeah, right.

I encountered this infographic yesterday, linked from an article at, made by one MaryEllen Tribby:

Supposedly, it's based on real research statistics and stuff. It appeals to me, I guess, because it confirms a lot of what I want to believe is true. The idea seems to be that being a decent and open-minded person will lead to greater success, while being bitter and mean-spirited won't. Certainly, I should think that's a good way to be happy, if nothing else.

Two things that strike me, though:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Freeing Ourselves From The Dream Come True

Because I plan to use this blog for discussion of both the personal and political (and the interplay between the two), today I'm going to talk about a common problem of human behavior, one that I've been thinking and reading a lot about lately.

Here's an interesting article I just read on one of my favorite internet addictions,

5 Depressing Realities Behind Popular Reality TV Shows

If you can't be arsed to follow the link and read it, the long and short of this article is that the truth behind a number of popular "fix 'em up" reality shows is rather ugly. While the television broadcast portrays a Cinderella story or a tale of dramatic personal change, in reality the changes are rarely sustainable. Restaurants that have their kitchens made over still fail. Homes that are flipped become too expensive for families to afford to live in. Weight that is lost comes right back with extra pounds in tow.

In short...reality TV shows that sell the spectacle of miracle transformations and "happily ever after" are lying through their teeth. Not only are these kinds of miracles highly unlikely to ever touch the lives of us regular folks, they don't have a permanent impact on the ones who do experience them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Open Letter To The Guy Who Tried To Get His Driver's License Photo Taken With A Pasta Strainer On His Head

Dear Guy Who Tried To Get His Driver's License Photo Taken With A Pasta Strainer On His Head,'re kinda being a douche right now. Seriously. Knock it off, okay?

I know, you think you're making an Important Serious Point about religion, and you're pretending it has something to do with your religious freedom, but everyone knows that you're not really religious. That's the whole point of Pastafarianism. It's a satirical religion.

When it was created, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was brilliant an on-point satire. It was created in response to the Kansas schoolboard declaring that their public, taxpayer-funded schools should teach creationism as well as evolution. The point of the satire is to draw attention to the fact that teaching creationism in schools is a violation of the 1st amendment because for a government entity to teach creationism is for them to be respecting a particular establishment of religion over other religious beliefs - a serious constitutional no-no.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Few Words About This Blog's Name

I'm really not very good at titles.

The thing about a title is, it has to be catchy, memorable, succinct and sound good all while conveying something important and central to what you're doing with the body of work you attach it to. It's a lot like word choice in poetry, and that's hardly my forte. I prefer getting my point across with a long, verbose flow of words that can allow me more flexibility than the demands of poems, or a title, can ever grant.

That said, I feel pretty good about this title and the idea behind it. It's memorable and succinct enough to be going on with, certainly, and I think it's a good description of what I want to accomplish with this blog. What's more, I hope that it may sometimes serve as a reminder to me.

So what do I mean by "politely outspoken"?

Before I pontificate, I'll share an example to demonstrate. Here is Mr. Stephen Fry delivering a speech about  the Catholic church and its influence on society:

I first saw this video when it was new, about three years ago. At the time, it really helped to catalyze my (evolving, thankfully) opinions about the nature of productive argument. Essentially, I've come to realize that polite debate is nearly always the most effective form of debate.

In this video, Stephen Fry demonstrates exactly why this is the case; though using only diplomatic and considerate language, he makes a very human and compassionate set of arguments that cut to the quick with a power that outstrips the impact of any screaming pundit. He avoids ad hominems and his logic is impeccable and impenetrable. He teaches. He shows consideration to the holders of opposing viewpoints even as he levels the arguments.

This, to me, is the essence of being politely outspoken. Pull no punches, devastate with logic and understanding of the situation and articulate the truth with razor sharpness. This is what can make a person change their mind, or cease to ignore the relevant truths.

There are some exceptions to this rule. Rude, abrupt and insulting dismissals of an opponent or position are occasionally the way to go, but they really only work when you've got the majority of society backing you up on a point. For example, in this day and age I wouldn't ever try to be "polite" to someone who is openly racist. We're done with that debate, as a society, and those who still hold to those points of view should rightfully be shamed and dismissed. We should send a message to them that their racism is their issue, not society's, and that they need to take responsibility for their own shit. We don't need to re-open this debate or treat it with any respect.

Most of the time, however, there is everything to be gained by speaking to one's opponent as a human being, connecting on fair and equal grounds, and speaking plainly about what's at the heart of the real differences between us. It's far from easy, of course; it requires a firmer grasp of logic and a greater control of emotion than most of us can manage for terribly long. It also requires an open mind, something that competition and pride often tend to shut down.

The only way to combat this tendency to create a new culture that values the principles of critical thinking and of rational and emotionally honest conversation. No, I'm serious! I don't think it's an impossible thing to do, either. Human societies are surprisingly malleable things.