Hey Boomers and Gen Xers…STFU

As a fifty-something mid-lifer and a very late Baby Boomer and very early Generation Xer, I frequently find myself in the company of those within ten or so years of my age. It amazes me how many in this age bracket believe I am predominantly like-minded and share many of the same philosophies and ideas they do. They feel free to share their thoughts as if our matching ages will somehow automatically synchronize our opinions.

Wrong.

Perhaps the most prominent area of my opinion departure from many of my contemporaries concerns the judgment of the younger generation, namely the “dreaded” Millennials.

There are so many negative judgments freely and casually dispersed upon the Millennials I cannot keep track. According to many of us old farts, the Millennials are -entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… so much so it is to the extent they are oblivious to the necessary cultural skill set to be effective in contemporary society.

Please. To borrow texting shorthand from my beloved Millennials, STFU old people.

Many of my contemporaries fail to realize it is THEY who have changed, not the 20-something generation.

Standpoint theory suggests that we are constantly viewing life from where we stand and that stance is in constant flux as we age, travel, learn, and well, just live and love. It would seem from listening to the old farts that the first thing to go as we age is memory.

Hey boomers and gen Xers, remember what it was like to be 20? Remember having no direction or idea where you were headed? Remember thinking the world revolved around you? Remember all the dumbass stuff you did that you would love to take back? Remember what it was like to occasionally feel alone and isolated? Remember what it was like to search for identity?

If you want to look at our Millennials and have any critique whatsoever, that critique must be about US and the world WE created for this young generation. Perhaps they are entitled because we handed out participation trophies and heaped praise where none was earned. In our quest to build self-esteem in our children we built false delusions of hope where there was none.

So, old farts, every time you open your mouth and criticize the kids today, you are criticizing yourself. We are the ones that raised this generation so, I suppose you can say, we, as a village, were bad parents.

Yet, alas, I do not believe the Millennials are entitled, lazy, selfish, assholes, narcissistic, rude, obtuse, fill-in-the-blank, etc… at least not any more than we were at that age.

I love Millennials. I love nearly everything about them. Sure they look at their phones a lot, though frankly, not much more on any given day than I, and probably you, do. A good friend of mine, Paul, a high school teacher in Reno, recently stated they had a faculty meeting specifically to address the concern of students and their cellphone use in class. He told me the meeting was a miserable failure as most of the faculty was continually staring down at their phone and not paying attention.

Hypocrites.

I love to bask in the energy of youth and entertain their curiousness and lust for life. I love speaking with my students who may share a “brand new” revelatory idea with zeal and enthusiasm, yet I do not have the heart to tell them this idea was around when I was in school. And why should I tell them? I want them to discover life on their terms, not to mention how many times I have fallen victim to the same thing….remember temporalcentrism?

But wait Millennials, you don’t get off so easy. This next paragraph is for you.

tbh u all can be just as guilty af of old fart disease, or in your case aka yung fart disease, smh. some of u like to complain about todays children being rude or sittin on their tablets during family dinnr. well, tablets r nuthin new as we had em in the 70s. we also would stare at r private screens at the kitchen table during dinnr. they were called etch-a-sketches. so dont be a old fart at a yung age, rofl

(Please notice I never defended the texting-caused bastardization of the English language of Millennials…but I digress).

Imagine if it was socially acceptable to marginalize entire groups of people based solely on a demographic. Oh, wait, we have. Over the years the powerful have marginalized blacks, Jews, gays, and the list goes on -we call them racists, homophobes and anti-semites. Why is it now ok to marginalize one group based entirely on age? In a weird way, it somewhat like reverse age-ism.

So, please, old farts, just in the same way my white friends will not secretly whisper to me the problem with “the blacks” simply because we share our whiteness, please do not bore me and reveal your ignorance with your stereotyped opinions of the youth today….just cause I am around your age.  This criticism says far more about you and your ignorance than the youth and their “entitlements.”

Ily Millennials. And I suppose it would be good advice for ALL OF US, to take a break from our phones every now and then.

And STFU old farts. And be the AITR.

Creepy Guy Part II: A Progressive Female Feminist Perspective

I would like to depart from the normal expression of my thoughts and hand the blog over to my oldest daughter, Rosie, a resident of London and passionate civil rights advocate. Rosie kindly gave me permission to post her impassioned private response to my latest blog entry concerning creepy guys. I received A LOT of feedback from this blog in many forms –conversations, emails, formal written responses, yet, in all, I believe her response strikes to the core of the issue that must be shared.

First, a few things to give some context:

  • In spite of the fact the primary intent of the blog was either poorly communicated or misunderstood, with said intent being the use of all generalized terms that tend to classify large groups of people in general, unproductive and stereotypical fashion, she does strike at the more troubling deeper societal concern: Patriarchal power and practice that many believe necessitates the need to identify the “creepy guy;” which, upon reflection, is a gravely more important issue than the stance one takes on the use of the word creep.
  • Secondly, it is important to note the “conversation” she refers to me having -it never happened -it was a facebook post, stating the creepiness of all older men, which was mistaken for a conversation. In reality, I never responded to the “facebooker” at all; yet Rosie’s points are still very well taken and appreciated.
  • Lastly, if you want to hear an EXCELLENT podcast from an expert on fear, Gavin de Becker, and in particular the fear women experience on a daily basis, this is a must listen. Quite frankly, as I come to a better understanding of this fear and educate myself, it simultaneously makes me both very sad and very angry. I so appreciate those like Rosie who can assertively state their point of view and better inform the rest of us all the while not taking shit from anyone. I wish we had more like her.

So sit back and allow my girl to unpack on her pops…

I just want to unpack my thoughts after I read your blog, so I’m not directly attacking your post or you as a writer at all, but it was a trigger for me, and these are the thoughts that I want to express after reading it. 

A woman told you about her experiences of unwanted sexual attention from men and you centered it on you. With privilege, sometimes what we need to do is listen.

As women, from the time we are sexualized in the eyes of society we experience ‘creepy’ men daily in the form of microaggressions. We are primed from our early teens to behave in ways that make us innately respond with non-aggression (out of fear) and de-escalate. This is basically instinct for most women.

This is from a well written piece on de-escalation, and how men can struggle to understand it: “Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore. We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation.”

But it doesn’t have to be as explicit as a threat. It can be a look, a comment, a smirk. The microaggressions women experience on a daily basis contribute to the institutionalised construct of patriarchy. Without the sexualization of women on the very micro of levels, the patriarchy wouldn’t exist. Think of sexism like building blocks, the first block is the ‘creepy’ look a man gives you that makes you feel unsafe, the next block is the slap on the ass, the next the threat when you rejected his date invitation, the next is the missed promotion and wage gap, so on and so forth until you have every element that contributes to the marginalization of women. When we are addressing institutions like sexism, every block must crumble, including the smallest of microaggressions, and women need to platform their voice and not de-escalate. We must feel safe to voice when we are receiving unwanted sexual attention from men, because this is beneficial for the macro. However, the trigger for most men is Not me! I’m not creepy! I’m not the problem!

Women do not owe you anything. Women are entitled to think someone is creepy. I know you would have not viewed this conversation as a big deal, but when a woman is telling you of her experiences of unwanted sexual attention, instead of victimizing yourself and tone-policing her (or language-policing in this instance), listen. It’s not about you – and the usage of the word creepy is not on our radar. We have other things to worry about (like smashing the patriarchy!)

Being ‘politically correct’ (or the preferred word, intersectional) is hard, and it’s not easy. The past year especially I’ve spent unpacking my privilege, my whiteness, and how that has affected my perceptions and experiences in every single aspect of my life. When a person of color says something that I view as attacking, and my first instinct is to defend myself (I’m not racist! I’m not the problem here! Not all white people! White people have struggles too you know!) and center it on myself because as white people that is what is taught and what is accepted our entire lives – that our experiences are more important and worthy of a voice (thus it’s an easy mode to default back on – and because you know how stubborn I am anyway). When in fact, the most valuable thing we can learn is “I hear you.” We need to start breaking those building blocks and learn to be an ally with even the most mundane of conversations. But it’s not easy because it’s so damn uncomfortable and tempting to go back to our default response – especially as we get older and think our worldviews are correct and solidified and that we have the right to shout the loudest. 

Sexism and racism are societal constructs. None of us want to consider that we might be sexist or racists on an individual level, but we must accept we have been brought up in a white supremacist patriarchy and we have innate privilege (white women do not hold male privilege as we don’t stand to benefit from the institution of patriarchy, but we hold white privilege, and this dynamic of power is strong). White people have always had a platform for their voices to be heard, white males particularly. I really love your writing, but I think it can be a little toxic when you are using your platform in a way that’s projecting males as ‘victims.’ There are other posts (on police and people of color) that were also difficult for me to read. We must always be unpacking our worldviews and how they are evolving and changing within the scope of intersectionality and feminism, in a personal and a communications context. I learned about privilege and intersectionality in my Intercultural Coms class – I’m really grateful my professor introduced that curriculum as it started to emerge academically, but I have so much more learning to do. We are all learning and we are all trying to do better; we all CAN do better and it starts with listening and with conversations and blog posts and so on.  

Here’s a really great article on being a ‘responsible’ devil’s advocate, I really recommend it: https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2013/08/10/how-to-be-a-responsible-devils-advocate/

And here’s the de-escalation article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html

Anyway, that has OBVIOUSLY digressed away from your blog post, which I am not attacking, but stuff I have wanted to share for a while, that you don’t have to take on board (and it’s fine if you don’t want to) but I wanted to unpack with you. 

I’m honored. Thank you.

I’m A Creep. I’m A Weirdo. What The Hell Am I Blogging Here?

Creepy: Having or causing a creeping sensation of the skin, as from horror or fear.

As I have written about previously, it seems we prefer to relegate specific negative descriptions of people to specific genders. For example, men are assholes while women are crazy. When it comes to the creep, it seems we as a society reserve this, what I consider a vague and ambiguous term, nearly exclusively for men.

So today I explore the idea of being creepy while examining just what it means to be labeled a creep.

I first began thinking about the whole “creepy guy” thing when a former colleague of mine; a very sharp, well-educated and progressive minded woman -whom I consider a friend- made the observation on social media that all “older” men are creeps. She wrote that she had a series of episodes when older men made untoward comments and advances on her…therefore concluding that all older men must follow this same profile.

Which, of course, would make the likes of Mick Jagger, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, hell, even George Clooney, some of the creepiest among us as decades separate the ages of their younger lovers, but I digress…

I really expected much more from an educated person and, of course, as the target demographic of this stereotype you cannot blame me for being a bit on the defensive, right?

Now, a year later or so, I just read a wonderful blog entry by a female friend of mine, Jean Franzblau, of Cuddle Sanctuary fame, ironically entitled, “In Defense of Creepy Men,” which dusted off the creepy male milieu topic once again in my mind. This very short and readable blog entry -an entry that I would strongly recommend you take a moment to read- refers to the idea that often times certain behavioral signals are frequently interpreted as creepy, when, in fact, they come from a much different place.

Jean wrote:

I hadn’t thought much about creepy men before…I thought that a creepy man was creepy all of the time. What I learned is that a person can come off as creepy because in that moment he feels awkward. I googled “I’m afraid she’ll think I’m creepy” and got over 19 million results. In Jon Anthony’s article, Why Girls Think You’re Creepy, he explains that creepiness is “much more of a ‘vibe,’ than it is a look.” It comes from a lack of confidence and the need for validation from others.

But wait. A lack of confidence? I feel that sometimes. A need for validation from others? I’ve certainly had experience with that, too. I had no idea I had so much in common with creepy men!

As Jean so artfully demonstrates, it is imperative that we take an educated and critical look at behaviors and make reasonable judgments based on the individual, not the stereotype.

Referring to one as a creep is, at best, just lazy thinking or, at worst, passing terrible judgment onto a man who, among other things, may lack certain social skills or possesses physical traits of which he has no or little control.

So just what are these behaviors women believe to be creepy?

I really wanted to dive into the creepy deep end so I did a little bit of research.

Creepiness is all about not being able to figure out whether there is a threat,” said Frank McAndrew, Professor of Psychology at Knox College and author of a study on creepiness. As I have already mentioned, he asserts that men may be seen as creepier than women because they’re perceived as more menacing.

As a result of this study, creepy traits and behaviors include:

  • Standing too close to someone
  • Smiling peculiarly
  • Talking too much about a topic, especially sex
  • Laughing at inappropriate times
  • Not letting someone out of conversation
  • Displaying unwanted sexual interest
  • Asking to take pictures of people
  • Displaying too much or too little emotion
  • Having bulging eyes
  • Having long fingers
  • Having pasty skin
  • Having greasy hair
  • Having dark eye bags
  • Wearing dirty or weird clothes
  • Licking lips

Creepy? It seems to me that any behavior/trait that we do not understand can simply get thrown into the creepy pile. Any one of these traits and behaviors, perhaps sans the sex stuff, can be the result of any number of legitimate conditions. And if man is too sexual? Tell him to STFU and you are not interested. Rather than throwing him under the creep bus assert some much needed boundaries.

And here is what I am NOT saying: There are no such men that exhibit these traits who have malicious intention. Of course some do. There are some people we should absolutely be concerned about when certain signals demand it. My concern is that we have only two options when pondering one’s creepiness, a legitimate concern or an illegitimate one.  A legitimate concern rests in the human propensity to sense fear and danger in the environment due to REAL threats. While recently having lunch in a family bar and grill, a man walked past and the hair on the back of my neck immediately stood on end and I sensed fear. I could not even see his face from my angle, only noticed it was a sleight Caucasian man, probably a bit older than myself, with a cowboy hat and rodeo-like gait. Long story short: My inclinations were correct as he was shortly kicked out of the restaurant for inappropriate words toward a waitress.

However, and this is my primary concern and the one that drives the central idea of this blog, as human beings we have a disposition towards tribalism and when a person, behavior, thought form or new idea enters our life that transgresses our tribal norm, we typically have the same response: Danger. Rather than deal with the nuances of this “danger,” we dismiss it all as creepy and move forward, or, perhaps more aptly, backward.

“But wait Jimmy, you sensed creepy and your perception turned out to be correct.” Yes, yet my inclination was not based on a different type of person (an older white male, just like me), behavior (walked normally), thought form or new idea (we never even talked); it was a purely vibe-filled, guttural like, instinctual reaction of which I had no immediate control. My then rational side can then conclude that rather than calling this guy a creep, he is more likely an alcoholic that needs to check himself into a 12 step. Sensing danger can be our friend, jumping to irrational stereotypes can be our foe.

I would never want to suggest to stymie one’s perceptual antenna of fear, rather make certain this fear comes from an authentic place and not an irrational one.

As I write the word creep I realize the utter mystery and ambiguity of the term itself. We can describe one as a liar, cheat, nice, friendly, mean, loud, quiet, inappropriate, etc…based on a very particular set of behaviors that may lead you to one of the these descriptive conclusions. Yet to define one as “creepy” there are no set and definitive identifiable behaviors that provide a direct correlation to creepy.

Just like all stereotypes, it seems we like to throw the creep term around when we are too lazy to make more nuanced and accurate assessments of human behavior, only to then make rash and ignorant judgments on an entire segment of society because they appear weird to us…which is really just a self-justified form of xenophobia.

In the day and age of political correctness, an age in which we are constantly changing our terminologies in order not to offend, extending olive branches out to traditionally disenfranchised communities and building an overall culture of acceptance, it seems we are fine with liberally throwing out a label to a demographic of individuals who may have exhibited a particular behavior that we can freely and lazily now refer to as creepy simply because we do not understand it, without so much as a bat of the eye from the society.

Defensive much? Yep. As an older, straight, and “privileged” white male it is not often that my demo is the victim of stereotyping, thus it feels a bit odd and disconcerting. However, it concurrently reminds me of the shortfalls of stereotypical thinking that tears culture apart and how I need to be more sensitive to this shortcut way of thinking in my own life.

So, kids, next time you see or feel the vibe of a creep, think again. Perhaps the person suffers from a diagnosis (ie. Aspergers, alcoholism, autism, stuttering, shyness) of which you know nothing about or you are just reacting in fear as you try to make sense of your world.

It’s 2017 and I think it is high time we retire the creepy term in with the faggot, nigger, wop, kike and retard. At one point and time we called all of these once disenfranchised groups creepy as well.

We should know better.

 

 

 

Anyone Want To Cuddle?

When I first heard the title, “Cuddle Party,” my mind went to the place that your mind is probably going to now; a very weird, new age-y, ultra L.A. fluff, moderately obscene group of people engaging in a type of pre-orgy, foreplay ritual. Ok, maybe your mind is not as perverted as my own, yet I would wager whatever it is you might think these parties might be, you are not even close to what they indeed really are.

And, yes, they really do exist. I “touched” on them in a blog I wrote several years ago. However, when I first heard about such gatherings, I absolutely abhorred the thought of it, let alone imagined going to one.

Why? Frankly, I was never a big “toucher” in my life. I did have a father who was extremely physically affectionate (for which I am very thankful) yet a mother who was exceedingly non-tactile. As a result, I would never consider myself weird and dysfunctional when it came to touch, yet I was very uncomfortable with it -sans those closest to me.

For example, for my 25th birthday my father gave me a gift certificate for a massage –I said thank you and then promptly gave it away as I was not about to have a stranger touch me.

I came to learn that such parties are not about cuddling per se, rather they are groups where individuals can practice asking for what they want, setting boundaries for those things they do not want, while learning the joy of acceptance and the impersonal nature of rejection. Touch is simply the currency used to practice and learn such skills. Hell, they could use dollar bills, food or just about anything else to learn these same concepts. In addition, and perhaps ironically, we all have a surplus of touch at our disposal in society, yet, for a variety of reasons, many still are starving for it as it is a practice we do not engage in nearly enough.

Not me. I’m good. Or am I?

Fast forward to circa 2011. As I shuttered at the thought of such parties, I have this weird chip deep inside of me that is programmed to try things that are WAY outside my comfort zone.

So I made the trek down to a Santa Monica 3rd Street Promenade yoga studio. I sat in a circle with strangers and a cuddle guru, who spent the better part of an hour instructing us on the boundaries, rules, purpose and objectives of our soon to be cuddle experience.

Long story short: I hated it…beyond hate, it truly hurt. I was neither the recipient nor provider of touch that entire long evening.

It was the long trip back over the 405 that I knew I needed to go back and revisit the touch demons inside of me; tactile apparitions that needed either some desperate attention or a flat out exorcism.

I went to few more, another in Santa Monica, a couple in the Bay Area and one in Santa Cruz. It was after this last Santa Cruz experience, circa 2012, was when I concluded my Cuddle Party experiment was over and my demons were at long last retreated. Me and my cuddles were set to retire.

Make no mistake, I still did not like Cuddle Parties, yet I least mustered the competency to not vomit at the thought of going to one.

Fast forward to 2017.

I have the wonderful opportunity to have good chunks of time off in both the winter and summer, while giving me ample time to experience life outside of my teaching. It was during this season when I once again stumbled into the cuddle world.

For a variety of reasons, I found myself at an outdoor Cuddle “Sanctuary” this past Sunday afternoon on the beach in Santa Monica. I really do not know the history, though somewhere in this 5-year period, “parties” morphed into “sanctuaries” and I must say that I am down with the reverent feel of the latter moniker. After all, in spite of the fact I am not terribly comfortable with it, at some level I do believe touch is sacred as we depend on it for survival. I did commit to going on Friday morning, then promptly spent the next 40 hours or so trying to think of excuses why I should back out.

I couldn’t. It was that damn uncomfortable chip gnawing away at my soul again.

The sanctuary was really no different than the party. We spent the first hour doing exercises and going over the ground rules. One of the things I love about the experience is that no touch is required at all. People attend these events to practice setting boundaries in their lives, learning how to say no. I have really never had a problem setting boundaries in life, yet I have had issues asking for what I want and being cool with the consequent response.

I was in the right place.

So with my slight nervous shake and rapid heartbeat, I engaged once again, now a few years older and, ideally, a wee bit wiser.

I hugged numerous people. Held hands with someone as we talked about our families, used one’s thigh as a pillow, even had a thumb war or two with some folk. Every act of touch needs to be mutually agreed upon and any touch whatsoever requires permission. It is expressly non-sexual, while even the issue of, “What if something suddenly pops up?” is addressed and the best ways to appropriately deal with any “rising” concerns.

I certainly cannot speak for everyone, yet for me, these events are very strange and highly unusual –kinda like me.

I left the event relatively unscathed and realized that I am certainly cementing myself as the “older guy” at many gatherings in my life. I suppose that being the older gent does have its perks…such as really not giving a shit about saving face and caring what others might think. TOFTS (Too Old For This Shit).

However, what did not strike me that day hit me like a sledge hammer later that same evening.

We had a small gathering of people over to watch my son’s film, “Going To Nepal With A Camera On My Forehead.” In this moving documentary about people, cultures and countries coming together in love, in times of both peace and crisis, the film struck me in a way it has never struck me in the half a dozen or so times I have viewed it. My son just happened to be in Nepal and filming when the April 2015, 7.9 earthquake hit the country, and is all documented in this film.

Perhaps it was the intimacy of touch and human connection I experienced that day on the beach that put me in a connected place of insight and vulnerability that evening. I literally reached out and touched others as we expressed our lives, frailties and general bullshit we humans tend to carry with us on a daily basis.

As I watched humanity connect with each other on the screen that evening- people helping people, the healthy helping the sick, the “haves” pouring out their resources on the “have nots,” the resonance of my own day came into focus.

I was connected.

And I felt it.

I cried over the beauty of humanity reaching out and touching each other in love during a time of great need.

And it felt really good to understand the power of both literal and figurative touch.

I knew there was a reason that gnawing chip inside of me would not let me sit this one out.

We all have a surplus of touch currency and what a shame to let it go to waste.

And, on this day, I felt to be a richer man for it.

 

The Top Ten

Every semester I ask most of my classes to reflect on the past term and identify the Top Ten things they learned for the semester. I ask them to select a concept or idea learned, who was responsible for it, a short definition and why they selected it.

I would like to share with you a few of the comments I recently received from a couple of classes. Why do I share these?

First off, I do NOT share these with you to in any way make myself look good or be at all self-congratulatory. In fact, I am not naïve enough to believe that my manner of conducting a class works for all students…it most definitely does not. Therefore, for as many who take to my style while bringing out the best in them, I am certain there are a number of students whom I hinder in equal proportion…albeit unintentionally with a constant earnestness to continually minimize this, perhaps inevitable, number.

I do share these with you as a result of our current political climate and the great need for sane, productive, reasoned and open minded dialogue. All college classrooms should be providing such a place–a place, by the way, where it should be happening–not through the safety of social media where it is easy to muster up courage to espouse an idea, an idea that largely goes unchallenged, or a bullhorn, which produces not a collection of reasoning individuals, rather a meandering mob.

So I was delighted when a student responded with the following:

Discussion can be civil and not get nasty. This class was so diverse in culture and politics, that I thought it was going to be a tough class to be in. It was nice to be able to have civil conversations even though we disagreed on a lot of stuff. I think having our comfort level pushed has really made me a more understanding person

Ahhhhh, such music to my ears.  Others produced similar sentiments:

That we can all get along. I learned that there are others like me who can disagree but get along. The whole class showed this to me. It was important to me because at times I feel kinda hopeless because it seems that people cannot coincide with so many different views, in current times.

So true.

The next response comes from student who, earlier in the semester, was visibly upset over a very conservative student’s remarks in the classroom. When I asked her if she spoke with him about it she essentially said it would be a waste of her time as he does not listen.

“Do you listen to him? I mean REALLY listen?” I asked her.

She confessed she does not. Therefore, it was no surprise that one of her Top Ten final responses was the following:

Hearing people out.  It’s important to listen to others even if their view is different from our own. Be open minded. If you expect others to listen to you, you need to do the same. Otherwise people just butt heads.

My students know full well that argument is a wonderful, welcomed and anticipated activity in my classroom –as arguing does not mean fighting, rather it means sharing with others with an anticipation of finding some common ground while proactively practicing some good, old fashioned give-and-take.

It’s okay to argue. This class revolved around arguing that was mature and mostly meaningful. Give reasons or cite evidence in support of an idea, action, or theory, typically with the aim of persuading others to share ones view. Argument can be used a good way as long as it has supporting experience, or evidence and is meaningful.

They get it! I love it.

This final comment comes from an older woman (yet still younger than myself!) who confessed her mind and world had been blown open by this course. Thus, I was pleased when she wrote:

The whole class is infinitely different in age, social class, stage of life and what they intended to get out of the class.  Through a series of exercises and much communication we really became a community of people trying to increase our communication skills.  Every person came from a different beginning and progressed to new levels of personal growth because of the relaxed and engaging atmosphere in the room. Any teacher can teach, some teachers can coach and few can create the perfect learning environment to have the students want to grow and change for personal gain.

Like I said, my style does obviously work for some and if we can create this environment in the classroom, is it too much to believe we can foster these environments elsewhere?

Perhaps I am blessed to have a flexible point of view, or that I love cognitive dissonance, or that I am more about process than I am result…but I can’t be the only one. Whatever your lot in life, I challenge each of you to be the spokesperson for sanity and reason while understanding that those who disagree with you are not demons; they are, well, others with a different understanding…and that is OK.

You might even make someone’s Top Ten one day.

 

 

“Please Call Me Jimmy, Or Not” or “5 Observations About Language” or “Please Chill The Hell Out Word Police”

Many of my students claim that they find it difficult to argue with a good number of my blogs, in spite of the fact I strongly encourage them to do so. I would like to believe one reason it may be difficult to argue is due to my practice of anticipating objections and addressing those antithetical arguments first and foremost…while making it very clear what I am NOT saying.

This blog will continue with that strategy and quite intentional tradition.

So today I argue that we live in an age of absurd politically correct language—that is reaching near ridiculous levels—and that I most definitely do NOT serve on the politically correct language committee. I also believe our (the universal “our”) collective linguistic sensibilities are far too easily offended.

It is therefore now imperative to make it clear what I am NOT saying when I suggest you all just need to relax when it comes to the use of, for some, emotionally charged words.

I am not suggesting that we use intentional hurtful language toward anyone or any group. I am not suggesting that if we know a word or label to be hurtful to someone to use it. I am not suggesting that all words are appropriate for all occasions. I AM suggesting that we should use words, labels and phrases that a person or group prefers to be addressed.

And should we screw that up? Chill out…we actually have real problems in the world. Like REAL problems.

Take the issue of one’s name. When I was a child most referred to me as “Jimmy.” When I started to get older, I transitioned for a few years to James, then, circa high school, I was officially Jim. Upon reaching mid-life crisis circa mid-forties, in a futile effort to reconnect with anything youth, I elected to go back to my roots…and requested to be called, once again, Jimmy. You may think it silly that I now prefer this moniker, yet who the hell cares what you think? Just call me what I prefer regardless of the reason I prefer. And guess what? I will call you whatever it is you prefer as well…no verbal skin off Jimmy’s back.

If your name is Norman yet you prefer to be called Bubba, I am so down.

This is called common courtesy and makes the village a slightly better place.

Now, that said, should you opt to call me something other than Jimmy…I really do not give a shit.

I realize it is only a damn word and in the grand scheme of things, means relatively nothing.

At the more macro level, the problem is our acceptable phrases and monikers are changing at light speed and we cannot always keep up with the right term at the right time—so put your word guns down language police, not everyone checks in with PC committee when they wake up each morning.

What I am arguing is that we (once again, the universal “we”) place WAY too much emphasis on the role of language, as if words are some sort of sacred cows and possess an inherent meaning all their own that are worthy of respect…not.

Here are five basic observations about words:

  1. Words are arbitrary, subjective and constantly subject to change. According to Linguist and one time US Senator, now dead, SI Hayakawa, the term broadcast used to be an agricultural term referring to a farmer planting the fields, “broadly casting” the seed in the ground. Ready? Nice used to mean foolish, silly used to mean worthy and blessed, awful used to mean “in awe of,” naughty used to mean having nothing, clue used to mean a ball of yarn, guy used to mean a frightful figure (ok…maybe a bad example), egregious used to mean distinguished, flirt used to mean flicking something away, while sick used to mean being ill and some of us old farts still might use it this way. How can we trust the meaning of a word when it can change meaning at any time and we can never be absolutely certain of the intended meaning behind it?
  1. The only meaning a word has is the meaning we assign to it. There are some words that are so elastic we can stretch them to mean whatever it is we want them to mean. My British friends love the word “brilliant.” When I use this word I refer to something completely extraordinary or smart and amazing. They could use it to describe their most recent bowel movement. To many Brits, nearly every underwhelming feat is overwhelmingly brilliant which is, uh, well, not so brilliant—if you ask me. Comedian Louis CK has a spot-on bit about our incorrect use of the words “starving” and “hilarious” which IS absolutely hilarious…sorry Louis.
  1. No two people share the identical meaning for the identical word. Like the words described above, each of us share a sometimes ever-so-slightly nuanced version of the same word. If I tell you I have a big dog, this could mean a large canine but that could mean St. Bernard big or German Shepherd big. Or it could mean eating a big, fat frankfurter with mustard. Or, hell, according to my students it could mean a horny guy….but then it would be dawg or Dogg, I guess. Concepts such as rich, poor, hungry and ill, for example, are so vague as to mean nothing on their own accord. My rich could be another man’s poor.
  1. Meaning is found in people, not in words. For a fascinating speech on the use of the cursed “N-Word” you must check out Marlita Hill’s 1999 award- winning presentation. As she observes, it is the meaning behind the word that matters, not the word itself. In regards to the popular 1970’s series Roots, she observes the overuse of the word nigger, yet contends, given the context of the movie, the script demands it must remain that way. She says, “Does the slave master have to keep using that word – over and over again – I mean, couldn’t he just had said: “I’m gonna rape your wife and kill you – you god damn n-word. I hate n-words.” Get it? The meaning was hateful and any attempt toward a euphemism would have been greatly misguided and ineffective. The opposite can be true as well. I could utter a politically correct word with vitriol and hate in my voice. Meanings matter, not words.
  1. Words are ultimately incapable of conveying the precise message of our meaning. I can hear it now, “But wait Jimmy, you are using words right now. You are a hypocrite.” Yes, I am using words at this very moment because it is the best tool we have for expressing meaning –and I would drink water off my front lawn or out of my toilet bowl if that were my only choice for hydration. Of course I would launch into my belief expressing the importance of nonverbal communication as a means to determine meaning, yet that is a different blog for a different day.

I personally have been reprimanded more than once for using a term I believed was both sensitive and appropriate only to be shamed regardless of my loving and supportive intention. So I could not give Bill Maher a more boisterous “AMEN” when, on his recent HBO Real Time show, he criticized actor Michael Keaton for profusely apologizing when gave the wrong title for a movie he was discussing.

“Cue the outrage, cue the retraction,” Maher said, then quoted part of Keaton’s apology—with crocodile tears added: “I screwed up. It makes me feel so badly that people feel badly and if someone feels badly that’s all that matters.”

“No,” said Maher returning to his own voice. “That’s not all that matters. In fact, things like this don’t matter at all. What matters is that while you self-involved fools were policing the language at the kids’ choice awards, a madman talked his way into the White House. What matters is that while liberals were in a contest to see who could be the first to call out fat-shaming, the Tea Party has been busy taking over schools boards.”

Maher then advised Hollywood liberals to “stop protecting your virgin ears” and pay more attention to what was happening (in so many words) behind them.

Regardless of one’s politics or love/hate of Trump or conservative school boards, if any of you know me AT ALL, you know I absolutely love it when a person is able to criticize his/her own side when something is believed to be wrong or misguided. The world would be a much saner place if we all could practice such objective and critical impartiality.

The point is clear…when it comes to language and politics in general, it is a good idea to not major on the minors and minor on the majors.

So people, can we please take our language with a grain of salt? I will not be offended if you call me Jim, James or that crazy Hungarian for that matter.

So have at it word police, whatcha got for me?

I know you all could argue with me on this one. Brilliantly, I’m sure. 🙂

 

 

Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.

Why You Always Hatin? Confessions Of A Hip Hop Listener

On a lovely drive home from a dinner with my Uncle, my partner Rene’ and I enjoyed some conversation while being serenaded by my Sirius XM radio in the background. However, when one of my favorite Hip Hop songs came on, “Why You Always Hatin,” by YG, I just had to turn it up and send out a quick Snapchat (yes, I know I am not 14 but we shall get back to that issue in the conclusion).

These few brief moments did not go over too well with Rene’ who immediately launched into a diatribe concerning “real music,” as in, Hip Hop slash rap is not real music. I, for perhaps the first time in my entire life, became the defender of all things Hip Hop…not really knowing fully why.

Please understand the context of our conversation; Rene’ is a very well respected voice teacher who really knows not only the inner workings of the voice, but she knows music in general. If she were to offer her opinion upon, say, sports or cars or even a sports car, I would not really care too much for it and would only feign attention. However, she does know music—really knows music—to the point that her opinion matters greatly to me and I want to know, not only what she thinks, but why she thinks it.

And so the conversation ensued.

So let me summarize the basis of both our positions. Hip Hop, in her informed opinion, is essentially not “real” music for five reasons:

  1. It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity.
  2. It, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.”
  3. There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading.
  4. The loops are repetitious.
  5. It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women.

The basis of my counter argument essentially rested on the understanding that every generation in the last 100 plus years has uttered similar complaints about the music “the kids are listening to these days” since the invention of the phonograph in the late 1800’s.

Of course, this in and of itself does not counter her arguments, specifically. I suppose this really could be the generation in which the above observation is actually correct—yet I would counter this: Every generation has made this same claim. So let us take each reason and break it down.

It is void of any inkling of artistic integrity and it, essentially, does not take any talent to be a Hip Hop “artist.” This really begs the question, what, then, is art and what makes one art form any more or less valid than another? Of course volumes could be, and have been, written on these questions alone, so, in order to expedite this process, I asked God (google) what is art?

“…it is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.”

Would Hip Hop music fit this definition? Well, whether it is degenerate in nature or not, it does take a certain amount of creative skill and imagination (just deriving the word, “ho” from “whore” does take somewhat of a creative knowing of English lexicon, yes?) and it definitely is appreciated by millions while evoking an emotional response in some way, shape or form, even if the reaction is in the form of disgust. Therefore I like to apply the, “can I do it?” test. Like any art form that is unappreciated, quite often the “haters” believe it is very simple and easy to do. As in, “hey, I could easily do what Jackson Pollock does…he just splashes paint around.”

So what about an “artist” like Pollock who is known for simple splashes of paint on a canvas? I believe such an artist is analogous to the “Hip Hop as art” debate as his critics sound very much like Drake’s, or, hey, even YG.

Rob Woodard writes: One of the things I find most interesting about Pollock’s art is how it continues to be controversial. When his work is discussed many of the old complaints quickly surface – “It’s just the flinging of paint!” and “Hell, anyone could do that!” – while others will passionately defend Pollock with extravagant claims regarding his talent and value. This leads me to believe that Pollock’s detractors, be they of his time or ours, are largely wrong – for it’s hard to see people getting so worked up over an artist, more than 40 years after his death, unless there’s something in his work that truly matters.

Not sure anyone will be debating the merits of “Hotline Bling” in 40 years, but you get the point.

I would contend that such controversies concerning the nature of art will never cease and the “art” of Hip Hop music is no exception. I would argue that, regardless of one’s view on the matter, it is FAR more difficult to create than most would think -and that any good artist makes an artistic creation seem easy and effortless. The fact of the matter is that excellence—in any endeavor in life—is always the product of very hard work and dedication.

I believe to create a song, any song, that millions of people enjoy and pay money for—for whatever reason—is not at all easy and takes a particular skill set. Otherwise, as they say, everyone would be doing it.

There are no melodies…it is more like cheerleading. The loops are repetitious. I cannot find any source that would suggest that something is art based on melodic composition, or lack thereof, and repetition. As I think about it, are not most of the great songs throughout history somewhat repetitious? I have never heard any songs, in any genre, more repetitious then say, Hey Jude or Let It Be, by the Beatles while they are considered one of the greatest bands in the history of music.

So, alas, we tackle her last, and I believe most valid, critique: It is lewd, crude and derogatory towards women. I will not even attempt to defend certain Hip Hop slash rap lyrics…the key word being “certain,” not ALL. However, just like any art form—be it painting, film, sculpture…you name it—there are obscene versions of it. That said, I will concede that unlike these other art forms, obscenity is much more prevalent in the Hip Hop world.

I would go back to my, “can you believe what the kids are listening to these days?” argument. Cutting edge music and youth culture in general has always been about pushing boundaries. It just so happens that pushing boundaries in 2017 takes a whole different strategy than in 1997 (did Madonna really kiss Britney?); 77 (Fonzie could not wear leather on Happy Days); 57 (Elvis shook dem hips); or 27 (face it, flappers are hot). Simply, it takes more and more to be walking that fine line of really pushing the “socially acceptable” envelope.

So, in conclusion, I do listen to Hip Hop music and I do have a the aforementioned Snapchat…mostly for professional reasons while keeping up on the communication channels the younger generation engages with today. I do find it interesting that whether it concerns social media or music, the younger generation is the first to discover it while the older generations eventually do come around and appreciate these things as well. Just ask my kids when I was the oldest dude on Facebook circa 2006…now my parents are the primary generation using this “cutting edge” social media.

Hip Hop music is certainly not for everybody, yet neither is country, jazz, blues or classical. Perhaps one day we can live in world where Hip Hop lovers (say Fetty Wap) and, for example, musical theater lovers (Jason Robert Brown), can drive in the same car in peace and harmony…as long as they listen to talk radio.

But that is an entirely different controversy.

Peace Out.

Facts And Other Fallacies

A former student of mine, who does read this blog and offers wonderful feedback at times, recently declared in my class that he is basically always right -as he bases all his ideas on the facts.

Ugh.

In my lifetime I have had countless arguments (a term I use with endearment and not with hostility, btw) with countless people when myself or the other will pull out the “fact” card, as in, “that’s a fact, man, look it up,” as if King Fact has just entered the room and has pronounced all further argumentative proceedings to be halted at once: The facts have arrived. I, admittedly, have been guilty of worshiping at the throne of King Fact…no more.facts-not-fiction

Truth be told, as I age, I most definitely am not a fact man. I believe the word is both misleading and dangerous while tending to derail arguments as if the final proclamation has been declared -deeming all further inquiry and conversation unnecessary.

Today I write about the idea of facts. What are they? Are they really true? And, perhaps most importantly, why are they potentially dangerous when used without nuance and discretion?

Regardless of how one may define a fact, it is nearly always inextricably tied with the notion of “true,” and therein rests the fundamental problematic root of the fact façade. The dictionary has over 25 different definitions for the word true that I will not bore you with…suffice it to say that nearly all these definitions are generally interwoven with the notion of “certainty” and, yet again, another fundamental problem with the idea of a “fact.”

If indeed facts existed as we commonly use the term, as in the truthfulness of a statement, why would, or better yet, how could, we ever have any disagreement or conflict in society? If life were as simple as adhering to a series of facts that no one could dispute, why do we have a divided nation? Factions? Ingroups and outgroups? Do we have two sets of people in society: Dumb people, or those who disagree with our facts and, smart people, those who agree with our facts?

Such thinking is not only intellectually dishonest, it is childish; if only the world were that easy.

I am fully cognizant that philosophers have grappled with the idea of facts and its accompanying sister subjects of truth and certainty for centuries while exhaustive works have been written on the subject, so today I discuss the idea of facts in terms of its use in contemporary communication practices, sans the deeper philosophical implications (Occam’s razor, ontological concerns, etc…), and how the term is used in erroneous ways that defeat effective communication practices.

What are the two biggest problems when we use the “Fact” card to discuss issues?

Facts change and can often not be trusted. When the idea of a fact is translated as true and certain, we have problems. How much in life is absolutely true and certain? Most definitely nothing in the social sciences yet what about the hard sciences? Is it certain the sun will rise tomorrow? Just because it always has does not mean with absolute certainty it will tomorrow. That E=MC2? A quick internet search will reveal many science geeks (of which I am not one) believe this to be false, or at least not altogether true. If something were absolutely true, would not there be universal acceptance of its truthfulness? Or is it just those dumb people again?

Consider how many “facts” are no longer true.  Was the existence of the planet Pluto once a fact? Yes, though no longer. Hell, it was a fact the world was once flat or that sun revolved around the earth.

“That’s not fair Jimmy, we now have progressed through scientific discoveries and those are basically beliefs from the Bronze age through the Middle ages.”

Agreed. And imagine in another century or so what science will be laughing at when discussing the ignorance of science in the year 2016? My hunch is we will have a whole new set of facts and we may very well be referred to as the Amusement Age, an era in which beliefs were guided first and foremost by influences that best met the prurient needs of the masses. But I digress…

I even learned this morning that the NCAA is taking away all the wins from the Notre Dame football team in the years 2012-13 due to an academic scandal.  Goodness, just yesterday it was a fact that this football team had recorded many victories in those seasons.

Facts change, therefore I would not hang too much of my intellectual hat on them. “Facts” may offer us probablity though most definitely not certainty.

Facts are often used to make a larger point that, in reality, it does not accurately substantiate. In other words, we use many “facts” to make a claim, or even an opinion, that something is true. For example, I can make the truth claim that people in the United States are becoming less violent and more law abiding. To back this up I may point to the “fact” that violent crime rates have been continually decreasing since the year 1990.  According to FBI statistics this could be verified and factually accurate. However, this does not address concerns such as, perhaps, a change in the definition by the FBI of what constitutes a violent crime, the accuracy of reporting violent crimes, a growing ineffective judicial system failing to convict violent criminals, and so on. The “fact” may or may not be influenced by some or all of these things, yet, due to their possibility, the “fact” must be used with great discretion and caution. Therefore your “fact” to support a truth claim may very well not be at all true, insofar as it goes in proving your opinion.

It is also a fact that drunk driving arrests among women have increased since around MADD’s (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) inception in 1980, from about 9% then to about 25% today. I guess then we could imply that more women are are drinking and driving today than in 1980 -not necessarily. The government, with such influences of groups such as MADD, have successfully redefined what “drunk” actually means…for many years it was undefined, then .15 blood alcohol content, lowered to .10 and now .08, and soon, perhaps to be .04 or lower. Yes, there may be more drunk driving arrests today yet the reason is we are constantly changing the definition of what it means to be drunk. This “fact” does not mean women have necessarily changed their drinking and driving habits, it means was have changed the definition, making the “fact” essentially meaning something entirely different, and in the sense it is comparing apples to oranges. Still want more “drunk” drivers? Move the legal BAC to .00 and voila! Drunk we shall be after the communion wine.

The idea of using the notion of “probability” is far more conducive to healthy dialogue over “fact.” The act of using facts in argument is an efficient heuristic that does not really deal with details of any given issue. Often times our facts are informed by a fundamental value system that directly filters our understanding of data.

When you think about it, this multitude of differing perceptions, understandings, and interpretations of facts, data and information in general, is what makes the world a much more interesting place. When one believes they are right because the “facts” are on their side, this is a red flag warning of dogmatic and closed-minded thinking that critical thinkers should not practice.

Whether it be political, social, or personal, most are driven by an internal need to massage their deeper emotional and intellectual needs then to arrive at an objective conclusion.

Perhaps taking an example from the micro in life may help put this “fact kerfuffle” into perspective. If we were to live our lives by the facts, none of us would be overweight, smoke, drink, or engage in any behaviors that may potentially act as a detriment to our health. The “probability” of such behaviors resulting in negative consequences is certainly substantial, yet most of us would confess to engaging in such behaviors at various times in our lives.

If we cannot allow these “facts” to inform and direct our personal lives, how could they possibly inform our public and social life? Would not the same pattern follow?

If I were to argue the fact that eating a jelly donut may be physically bad for you, you should never eat jelly donuts, right? The problem with this “fact” is that it does not take into account the complexity of the human psyche or context. Perhaps eating that donut will quell emotional angst (read: comfort food) and MAY play an overall health benefit for you in general, provided you do not eat the entire dozen…which is typically my problem. Or what about the person who is in starvation mode and their only choice of nutrition would be a jelly donut…or die.  A jelly donut would be the recommended dietary choice in such a situation.

Facts can get really fuzzy really fast.

If only life were as easy as adhering to a set of factual propositions that we can all uniformly adhere to and live happily ever after. We then could kneel at the throne of King Fact and bask in our delusions.

How boring.

 

Duke Lacrosse, The McMartin Preschool And The Transgendered: 5 Reasons Why Most People Believe Lies, Misinformation And Fake Stories

I teach critical thinking. Yes, I teach people how to think critically regarding all the various aspects of their lives. Yet, I do not just teach it, I try to live it and breathe it. I love it. Of course I am human and do not always practice it, but I sure try. In fact, I would go as far as to say that spreading the gospel of critical thinking is my life’s mission and passion.

It is armed with this understanding that I relate to you the following incident that is now experiencing its 10 year anniversary. I realize many of you are familiar with the story though may not know all the details.48459

In the end, this is not a blog about the Duke lacrosse incident, rather it is about critical thinking. Yet, an understanding of the basics of this story are in order to get to my point.

In 2006 the Duke lacrosse team threw a raging party in which they hired a stripper and consumed plenty of alcohol. The stripper, Crystal Mangum, later reported to the police that she had been raped by 3 members of the team, around midnight or so, the evening of this party.

Within just a few days, word got out about this alleged rape and pandemonium ensued. Students, administration, faculty, community members, and local politicians all began a witch-hunt style attack on this team, directed towards both its coaches and players. They were labeled “privileged white racists” and were accused of rape and blatant, overt racism.  Bands of protestors called for the dismantling and elimination of this team from competition and the firing of its head coach.

Leading the rush-to-judgment crowd at Duke was Houston A. Baker Jr., a professor of English and African-American Studies. He showed his intent in a March 29 public letter to Duke administrators that boiled with malice against “this white male athletic team” —a team whose whiteness Baker’s fifteen-paragraph letter stressed no fewer than ten times. He demanded the “immediate dismissals” of all lacrosse players and coaches.

In fact, 88 Duke professors signed a document condemning the Duke lacrosse team shortly after this alleged incident happened.

The beloved head coach, who led his team to the National Championship the year previous, was fired.

Professors, journalists, and politicians all banded together in this horrifying frenzy of groupthink.  There was not a single shred of evidence to suggest these young men did anything wrong at all, except if you call getting shit faced and watching a stripper for a few minutes, “wrong” -which you may- yet it is certainly not illegal.

Now, I promised I would make a long story short, so here goes:

The evidence finally came out. DNA tests, phone records, eyewitness accounts, etc.

So, what happened that evening?

Nothing…nothing illegal and certainly not a rape.

The three young men charged with rape were all found innocent.

So was this just another case of white privilege using their power and riches to overcome the system?

Hardly, read on.

The truth? Stripper Crystal Mangum arrived at the party, drunk and on the muscle relaxant Flexoral, as well as several anti-depressants, danced for a few minutes and then promptly blacked out on the back porch.

That’s it.

Not only were the young men innocent, it was found that District Attorney Mike Nifong (white, btw) hid evidence that would have exonerated the Duke athletes as proceeding with this high profile case would boost his chances of being re-elected to the position…as he was trailing in the polls prior to this incident.  He was later disbarred and spent a short time in prison for his actions. The lead investigator, Michael Gottlieb (white btw), manipulated all the evidence in an attempt to frame these young men. He was also removed from his position and committed suicide in 2014.

These young men were not only innocent, they themselves were the victims of a corrupt system, reverse racism and out-of-control media that is primarily interested in stories, not truth. Crystal Mangum later confessed that she made the entire story up and has been institutionalized for depression, mental disorders and addiction. The sad part is the DA had this information…and pursued the case anyway for the sake of his own personal and professional best interest.

Once the evidence was presented and the truth was discovered, how did all those who led the witch-hunt, prior to ANY evidence being presented, react?

Many apologized to the team. For example, ESPN journalist, Jemille Hill, stated in a letter to the team:

My being a black woman, my knowing too many athletes who treat women like items to be purchased in a vending machine, and my witnessing enough athlete rape trials where accusers are overwhelmed by their fame and fortune — it all tainted my perception and made me doubt your innocence.

I feel stupid now…

So to Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, the three Duke lacrosse players whose lives were mangled by an unsupported rape accusation, I say two of the hardest words in the English language:

I’m sorry.

Still many have not apologized, including lead witch-hunter, Professor Houston A. Baker, who has since left the school to teach at Vanderbilt.

Professors, supposedly leaders in teaching our nation’s youth how to critically think, were the most heinous violators of reasonable and logical thought.

Critical thinkers are at the very least able to acknowledge they do not know something or that they were wrong. Sad. Our educational system is in trouble.

So, I told you this was not a blog concerning the Duke lacrosse incident and it is not. I could have told the story of Peggy McMartin and Raymond Buckey -whose lives were ruined after they were accused of pedophilia and running the satanically inspired McMartin preschool back in 1984- in the longest and most expensive trial in American history at the time. And what did they do wrong?

Nothing. Nothing at all…after 6 years of a living hell and public witch-hunt.

I could tell countless stories of African Americans wrongly accused and railroaded into public disgrace and guilt before any actual evidence was presented. There is no shortage of these shameful examples of the human mind’s lack of critical thinking skills.

Why do we human beings tend to make judgments about people and situations, then react hysterically, when we have zero to little reliable information? Why do we believe shit that we have no business even having an opinion on? Why the lack of critical thought and analysis? I believe there are 5 primary reasons we believe lies and misinformation, aka, “bullshit.”

We tend to believe stories that fit nicely into our own personal life narrative. If we believe this or that about a certain ethnicity, gender, religious group, etc… as in, ”I know that group and they are all______________(fill in the blank)” and we hear a story that fits this narrative and confirms this preconceived bias, we go with it. If you were sexually abused as a child, you may tend to believe the McMartin case allegations were true. If you were ever the victim of suppression and hatred on behalf of the privileged white man, you would likely believe the accusations against the Duke players were true, truth be damned of course. Critical thinking through every story we come across can be a real bitch…while it may result in having to change our preconceived biases, which can be scary, as we have so much invested in creating our comfortable and cozy little narrative about life…and now must suck up every morsel of evidence -true or false- that backs this story up.

We tend to believe stories that will provide a form of therapeutic release for our own hurts and dysfunction. In the above-mentioned sexual abuse or racial hatred examples, by channeling our anger at those who have been accused of such things, this provides a form of release and inner revengeful satisfaction that one’s own personal hurts are finally being vindicated and, in a sense, healed. Truthfulness and voracity mean very little to the injured and wounded soul that seeks comfort and refuge. Raymond Buckey can now act as the projected lightning rod and become the pedophile pervert that sexually abused you as a child -and his loss is your emotional gain. Of course this makes no sense on a rational, critical level yet the landscape of the psyche can be a strange and unstable emotional place.

We tend to believe stories because we are too lazy to think otherwise and do a little research. I am a firm believer in not only questioning authority, rather questioning everything -all the time. Question every bullshit meme you run across, every bullshit story in your Facebook thread, every Reddit post, EVERYTHING. Remember, all news media has only one intention and that is to make a profit. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, news anchors of yore who possessed a startling sense of morality concerning the truthfulness of stories, are long gone. We live in the age of intense bullshit and it has never been more important to practice cynicism regarding all the information we run across in our lives. Get off your ass and THINK. If we do not…

We believe stories because we believe false information. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a student believe staunchly in some type of philosophy or ideology and then request the student to do some research into a reliable pool of information so they can base this strong opinion on some evidence. Most come back with a revised, or in some cases diametrically opposed, position after the facts are discovered.  I am not sure as to why…perhaps it is due to my age, my lot in life, or the progression of information overload in our culture, yet it seems to me that people, on the whole, are far more gullible than ever.

We dismiss credible stories that contradict our current belief system. Recently I brought a speaker to our school, Georgia Lee McGowen, who is a transgendered woman for the purpose of educating the ignorant, promoting understanding and to begin a dialogue. She came to speak to my diversity class yet I encouraged my other classes to sit in and hear her lecture as well. She has had a very interesting and difficult life.  Imagine my dismay as some students said they would not attend the lecture because they did not believe in being transgendered and that it went against their belief system.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! (read: primal scream of frustration and heart sinking).

Don’t get me wrong, I get it. I realize listening to someone this different can make some very uncomfortable, I know. She made me uncomfortable when I first met her years ago….because I was ignorant of the transgender community. However, for those who want to cocoon themselves in this tidy little fictitious world of they way they want the world to be-as opposed to exposing themselves to what it really is- there are very dangerous implications. When we close ourselves off to new information and simply choose to believe whatever it is we choose to believe, for whatever reason, we are closing ourselves off to growth, development and open-mindedness- all characteristics central to critical thinking. I am quite certain most historical dangerous dictatorships were not big fans of opposing ideas, new modes of thinking or critical analysis.

There are many other reasons we believe bullshit, such as impishly delighting in the misfortune of others, being entertained by it all or the story just makes us feel better about ourselves.

That said, in the age of a culture dangerously close to amusing itself to death, critical thinking and exposing ourselves to new ideas is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity.

Our world has lived through witch hunts, holocausts and genocides…and these all began with a lack of critical thought from the masses who refused to open themselves up to different ways of thinking and living: Blindly believing the bullshit and propaganda of its leaders.

Yeah, I teach critical thinking…and I am concerned. Is another holocaust right around the corner? Probably not. Yet a case of public hysteria over a situation in which we do not have all the facts, certainly is -and it does not take a critical thinking genius to figure that out.

Just…think. Critically. After all, you might just be the next victim of the media witch-hunt.