I Hit Submit. What Just Happened?

Well, today is the day. I just hit the “submit” button to turn in the final grades for my class, “Critical Thinking through Argumentation and Debate.” To my surprise, I was absolutely overwhelmed with one of the strangest feelings I have ever felt. I am not even sure how to describe it cause I am not really sure what it is. I have never felt this before in 57 years, 3 months, 19 days and change. Whatever it is, I am feeling it as I write these words.

Sadness?

Deep connection?

Overwhelming happiness?

Love?

Desperation?

All of the above?

I have never bonded with a group of students in the manner I have bonded with them this semester. And I have been at this a very long time.

As we looked into each other’s eyes through the distortion of both varying degrees of resolution and obfuscated pixelation, we really saw each other with more clarity than ever, fueled by the deep desire to connect. To be there for each other. I looked into my student’s eyes and observed a quiet desperation, cloaked in the veil of social and conversational appropriateness. I am certain they likely saw the same desperation staring back at them, albeit a desperation emanating from me, their leader, a positive minded leader, attempting to lead by example.

We can do this!

We got this!

This will all be over before you know it!

Hang in there!

I am so proud of each you!

You all toughed it out!

As I know, and as they likely full well know, I was floating in the same sea of desperation and weirdness. We could all see through everything. Just weirdness. Damn weirdness. Fucking weirdness.

We were no longer in the realm of teacher-student. We were fellow survivors wading in the same rickety and rocky vessel in the sea of weird. When I hit submit, I submitted the final declaration of this strange time. I submitted to saying goodbye to them. I submitted that this leg of our journey is now over. I submitted to the idea that many of these students will be forever etched in memory. I submitted to my connection with them. I submitted to my love and care for them. I submitted to the idea that I will never look at life the same way.

Damn did I try to be the most accommodating professor I could possibly be these past eight weeks. Still, some failed the course, as my attempts at accommodation can only go so far as to not stray too far from the great importance of academic integrity. Pandemic or not, the degree has to mean something.

Many years ago, Communication Theorist Marshall Mcluhan came up with the notion of “hot and cool” mediums of communication, also coined rich and lean. The hottest or richest form of communication humans can engage in is in-person, face-to-face engagement as we can closely read facial expressions, take note of body cues, reach out to touch if necessary and detect the presence of olfaction. In other words, all those things you cannot effectively do in a “cool or lean” electronic classroom. Yet, in a very strange way, that perhaps you really have to experience to understand, what we lacked in limited communication channels, we gained in virtual geography. These students spent the last eight weeks with me at my kitchen table, at my home, my sacred and safe place where I am most me. And I with them in their sacred places.

Weird. Just weird.

I feel privileged to be their educator. Their leader. Their “safe space.” My Zoom students never wanted to leave the class. In some cases, we went over our three hour scheduled class session. Every time I had to press the “End Meeting” button, it felt a little bit like I was letting go of the hand clinging to dear life off the cliff.

These were my quarantine buddies, my friends, my lifelines, my fellow pandemic travelers. How exhilarating it was to have a few hours of time away from the weirdness around us to talk all things critical thinking: love and relationships, social policies, ethics, free speech, debate protocol, how to argue, how to win, when and how to lose, when to quit and when to stay the course and what it means to be a person of character. You name it, we spent several glorious hours talking about it. We transported from our weird reality of social distancing to the land of theories and concepts…ironically drawing us closer and closer together, distancing be damned.

Sure, some classes bonded far more than others largely due to the nature of the course itself. For some courses I did not even have remote meetings. Yet for even those students in which a pandemic bond was never really formed, I long to see them, in person, one day and just hug. Connect. Be humans together.

I instruct all my classes that if you ever have ANY doubt whatsoever about pressing the submit button after writing something that may be, well, potentially unwise, don’t. Just don’t. Bad idea. You can always submit it later though you can never, under any circumstances, unsubmit a message.

So today I paused before I pressed the Webadvisor final grade submission form. I did not want to do it.

But I did.

Moving on.

I love them all.

I will never forget this semester.

 

 

 

 

 

Attraction

Perhaps you know the feeling of walking into a room full of pleasant faces, and although each person appears friendly, only one face stands out. Even despite the fact that there may be a lot of physically attractive people in the room, you cannot seem to take your eyes off of one particular person. You can’t put your finger on the reasons why you are experiencing this, but you know there’s something that feels like a biological imperative driving you toward a specific person.

Today I write because I am fascinated with the concept of attraction: both initial attraction (instant) and derived attraction (over time). I find the idea of attraction deeply interesting. One might say I am attracted to the process of attraction.

Why do we occasionally feel it? Is it wrong to be attracted to someone even though you are “taken?” Who are we often attracted to? Do opposites attract or do “birds of a feather flock together?” Does initial attraction even matter or does the attraction you gain over time the only attraction that really means something? What does attraction even mean?

Attraction Defined

A definition would be a good place to start. According to god (aka google) attraction is defined as, “the action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something.”

As I instruct all my classes, textbook (or google) definitions are great though how might we define it in our own words?

Here is my offering: “That compelling positive connection one feels toward something or someone that results in desiring a deeper level of engagement with him/her/it. This feeling may or may not be reciprocated.

At its core, attraction remains somewhat of a mystery, even for those who study it for a living. We have all heard various theories about attraction. One such popular theory is that we are subconsciously romantically attracted to someone who resembles our parent of the opposite sex (perhaps same sex parent if gay?). Or the idea of complimentarity, meaning that we are attracted to someone whose strengths are our weaknesses and vice-versa, meaning we then “complete” each other. But, of course, this does not entirely explain that initial compelling interest we may have towards a particular someone.

I suppose these theories are all partly wrong and partly right as attraction is vastly complex.

And let’s face it, sometimes we just find some other person really hot. The proverbial smokeshow.

Underlying Attraction Assumptions

Let’s continue with several general observations.

First off, the act of being attracted to someone else is not a volitional choice in most circumstances. I recall an experience when I observed a jealous boyfriend sensing his girlfriend being attracted to someone else right before his very eyes, however subtle those clues may have been. Upon hearing of this jealousy, I remarked that attraction is often unavoidable; of course what you do with that attraction is a different conversation. When two people connect there is not a damn thing you can do about it and we cannot hold someone accountable for being a human and vibing with another human. It just happens. It’s a beautiful thing.

Secondly, attraction is certainly not relegated to the realm of romantic attraction. People of all genders, ages, ethnicity, etc., can be attracted to one another on a purely human level for any variety of reasons. As a straight male, I am attracted to certain other males and desire to hang with them. Thus when I use the word attraction, it can apply in a very general sense. There are people I am attracted to, of all aforementioned genders, ages and ethnicity. Rene’ and I call this the “click” factor.

For the purpose of this writing, I refer primarily to romantic attraction.

Finally, I believe attraction to be a great gift and a wonderful human experience. Perhaps because I am attracted to so few, when I do feel an attraction to someone it is a super good feeling. I know when my partner Rene’ experiences attraction I see a spark light up in her eyes and I am genuinely happy for her.  Simply, attraction can be fun and exciting.  It is one of life’s special perks.

How Important is Attraction?

Now here’s the point: Attraction must be taken for what it is, attraction. Attraction does NOT determine future compatibility nor provide an indicator of future relational satisfaction. We can be attracted to someone for a wide variety of extremely dysfunctional (read: fucked up) reasons, ranging from one’s own personal abusive experiences as a child to our love of well-sculpted jaw lines. In either case it does not inform us if the person is in our best interest as a friend or lover, as there exists both healthy and unhealthy attractions.

In terms of long-term relational satisfaction, initial attraction may draw us toward someone yet does not necessarily keep us with them. I am certain we have all had the experience of feeling some initial attraction toward someone and after five minutes of conversation the attraction turns to a mild or deep form of disgust. Or vice-versa. Or somewhere in-between. A person we may not have been attracted to at all can magically become quite appealing after engaging in some dialogue. In the biz we call this Interpersonal Attraction Theory. By having positive and warm encounters with each other we can literally become more mutually attractive to each other.

Now is when I will go all pragmatic on your ass and rip away all the magic of attraction. Any two people in a particular time, place and circumstance have the potential to be attracted to each other. Put me in the right room at the right time under the right situation, and, voila! attraction.

As mentioned, attraction is a fun experience but please let us take it for what it is worth: A tingly fun feeling that draws us towards someone. Perhaps an analogy is in order here. If I drive past a burger joint, say an In ‘n Out Burger, who famously pump out delicious scents of tasty burgers in the air for passerbys, I may be attracted into the restaurant by the lovely aroma. However, if the food is actually horrible and sickens me, the lovely scents mean absolutely nothing. I will never eat there again.

Attraction may draw us in though is no indicator if we will stay or if the food is in our best interest. We have a rational left brain for those decisions.

Yes, when I was 16 years of age I was attracted to a beautiful young girl named Rene’. Now, 41 years later, we have stayed together for over four decades not because she is a young beautiful brunette with a killer bod who can sing the lights out of any song. I am with her because I love her. Yes, our scents attracted us to each other, though it is hard work and perseverance that has pulled us through every challenge and difficulty.

The Triangular Theory of Love

Finally, I would like to discuss a related theory deemed the Triangular Theory of Love. It is a rather straightforward theory that suggests any successful romantic relationship must possess three basic “love” components: Intimacy, passion and commitment.

The creator of this theory, Robert J. Sternberg states, ” The three components of love interact with each other: For example, greater intimacy may lead to greater passion or commitment, just as greater commitment may lead to greater intimacy, or with lesser likelihood, greater passion. In general, then, the components are separable, but interactive with each other. Although all three components are important parts of loving relationships, their importance may differ from one relationship to another, or over time within a given relationship. Indeed, different kinds of love can be generated by limiting cases of different combinations of the components.”

I would argue (and its creator may disagree with me) that of these three, commitment stands out as the most necessary for a satisfying relationship. Why? Attraction, which I would place as a subset of passion as well as intimacy, will absolutely come and go, ebb and flow, be up and down, in any long term relationship. We may have long extended periods of little to no intimacy or passion, yet if we abandon commitment, it is a near guaranteed certainty that passion or intimacy will never be reignited.

There you have it. So the next time you are swept off your feet by that person across the room and feel all warm and tingly inside, enjoy! Attraction is a gift. Just realize that all that has happened is a successful exchange of “scents.” Now the hard work of determining whether to stay and eat or leave and vomit comes to play.

Good luck. Attraction is the fun part. Though if you think you may be in it for the long haul, commitment is the important part.

The New Childhood

Reviews.

Having written just a few, I rarely write blogs concerning the specific content of various media.

I prefer attempting to come up with my own ideas rather than spending a lot of time critiquing others’ ideas. If I am a critic at all it is of culture-at-large.

However, regarding the current book I have just completed, The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World, by Temple University Professor Jordan Shapiro, I cannot help myself. Shapiro has an amazing ability to view the world through an informed lens of human history as opposed to confining his understanding of the world through our current cultural context alone.

When one views the world historically, and I do mean from the beginning of human history as we know it, it becomes apparent our species practices a very consistent behavioral pattern concerning, well, just about everything.

This book is a history, parenting, philosophy, technology, sociology and psychology book rolled up into one cohesive outlook, critically analyzing our current relationship with technology from multiple points of access.

I have typically understood our culture’s relationship with technology through the lens of the dystopian/utopian continuum: that is, there are those who either believe the internet, and technology in general, are leading us onto a path of great dystopian destruction or to a wonderful utopian place of enlightenment and progress…with every view in between these two extremes.

No more.

Shapiro has challenged my thinking in this regard. Yes, both dystopian and utopian views exist, yet I would create a new category for him, perhaps called, a “realist-ian” or better yet, a “justdealwithit-ian.” He has convinced me that this dichotomy is misguided and unhelpful in 2019.

Shapiro looks at human history and examines the invention of the child’s playground sandbox, family dinners, the family hearth, television, clockwork mechanics, the Dewey Decimal system, even penmanship, among other overlooked cultural phenomenon, to assist us in better understanding the human condition and the monumental change technology is having upon contemporary global culture.

Just as with every innovation in human history having its fair share of naysayers, it is not long before the “back in my day” crowd slowly dies off and humanity progresses forward without the irritation of the OFD sufferers (not to be confused with prophet-like critics whose warnings are a needed and necessary aspect of moving forward with discretion).

Engaging in the dystopian/utopian discussion is akin to still giving those who refuse to get a car (“my horse works just fine, thank you very much, the world is too damn fast anyway”), or a computer (“nothing wrong with my Royal typewriter”) or even a phone (“if someone wants to talk to me they can put forward the effort to get on their damn horse and knock on my door”) some credence and validity, as if they possess reasonable objections to these contemporary conveniences.

In other words, “Dystopians, (in my richest Italian accent) get over it already! It’s called progress.”

Shapiro examines historical human innovations and details the strangely similar human reactions have been toward such innovations.

“What is it with these mechanical clocks? Was something wrong with the sun dial?”

He has convinced me that blaming the ills of society on a technology is simply misguided. Rather, any negative outcomes we believe a technology may result in, rests in our incorrect and misguided use and application of it.

“Air bags, shmare bags. I would prefer the old fashioned way of enduring accidents. Death.”

Speaking of which, imagine when the automobile became mass produced and we were driving for the first time as a society en masse: it was some time after that when we figured out stop signs would be a really good idea (1915 to be exact), that speed limits needed to be imposed while a universal lighting system consisting of green, yellow and red would really help us apply this new technology most safely and effectively. It took a while for us to figure out that, say, crosswalks and limit lines would be nice…but that took some trial and error as well, perhaps an accident or two, before we got there. These better ways to apply this new technology did not happen overnight.

Like in the application of most technologies, there is a learning curve. (As an aside, whoever thought of the left turn, red light arrow was just a flat-out mad man who should have been kicked out of the traffic meeting).

Therefore, we need to best figure out this internet technology thing as we are still in the infancy stages of its use.

How do we best apply new technologies? What new “stop signs” do we need to employ? How do we invent digital versions of crosswalks and limit lines? Shapiro asks these questions and more.

So, for a good read, I would highly recommend The New Childhood. Like myself, you may find yourself at odds with some of his extreme progressive positions on certain applications of technologies (for example his strong encouragement for his young boys to engage in, what I would deem, excessive video game play), yet his points are very well taken and his message very much needed in an age when there is no turning back.

But be warned, Shapiro can either be viewed as a utopian on steroids, or simply a person who recognizes that there is no putting the cat back in the bag nor the toothpaste back in the tube. Technologically, it is what it is and this is what it shall be until our next great innovation, at which time we will have to figure it out best practices all over again.

Now, enough reviews. I need to come up with some of my own ideas.

In the meantime, you can find the book here, among other places.

 

 

 

Walking On Eggshells

Recently, I was in New York City attending a conference concerning the preservation of open inquiry, constructive disagreement and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses through an organization called Heterodox Academy (HxA).

In terms of rhetoric, we are in the age of walking on eggshells, i.e. a constant worry and concern about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time regardless of intention, however honorable that intention may be. HxA is therefore a welcomed and much needed reprieve for those who like to critically examine issues and are concerned with the free expression of both actual ideas while not assuming ill intention behind opposing ones.

It would seem, from my experience, that HxA exists in part to preserve the right to risk cracking some fragile eggs.

If one is into constructive disagreement, this conference is the mecca of all meccas. If you are not, then names like hard-hitting-shell-crackers Jonathon Haidt (“The Coddling of the American Mind”), Bret Weinstein (former Evergreen State biology professor famously forced to resign for not joining a campus activity), Lenore Skenazy (“Free Range Parenting” and famously noteworthy for allowing her then 9-year-old son to ride the subway to work), and Nick Gillespie (Editor-at-large, “Reason” magazine who Robert Draper in The New York Times Magazine writes, “Nick Gillespie is to libertarianism what Lou Reed is to rock ‘n’ roll, the quintessence of its outlaw spirit.”), among others, will mean nothing to you…much like if you were to read me a list of superstar European soccer players. (Forgive me, I am writing this from London so the futbol analogy at this moment –during the women’s world cup- seems apropos).

As for me? Just a little slice of heaven as I am not just listening to these people, I am having lunch and conversing with them, in some cases, over adult beverages. I am learning that really smart egg crackers can be super friendly egg crackers.

And speaking of smart…I like smart. I love experts in their field. In fact, I like people who are a whole lot more informed than I. As a professor, I am in the continual practice of teaching and lecture, while attempting to reach students at their level. So, to be perfectly understood–and simultaneously stretch to understand in conversation–is very appealing and a position I do not frequently encounter.

It is not only the conference attendees’ intelligence that is so extremely appealing, it is the notion that we are on the same page, a page that attempts to understand and improve our cultural dialogue and examine how to become both more engaged in civil argument. All the while, with a commitment not to finding what is “right,” rather, discussing why something may be right, or wrong, or neither, or both, today, yet may not be so tomorrow

However, to journal about my experience at this conference is not the foundation for this blog entry. Rather, it is to contrast this experience with its interplay on the culture at large.

Let’s get cracking.

When I joined this organization and subsequently attended the conference, I had a notion that such a place may be an unintended enclave of somewhat frustrated conservatives; frustrated due to both the growing presence of the hyper ever-increasing forced censorship of the progressive far left as well as the perceived intellectual shortcomings of the current powerful far right. Surely there must be room for reasonable people with a somewhat conservative leaning to find solace? Enter Heterodox Academy.

In conversations with some at the conference, I found that an impetus to many of the sentiments expressed were in direct opposing response to contemporary progressive ideas such as virtue signaling, call out culture, and “microaggressions.” I am not suggesting that HxA takes an official position on any of these matters, in fact I believe they must not since some of these notions were spoken of in a positive light by panelists. HxA clearly states that they are a non-partisan collaborative.

What I am suggesting is that in spite of what any official position may be, HxA attracts a right leaning audience, disgusted with what they perceive to be a progressive left that is spiraling out of control, leading culture into an anesthetized state of silence for fear of offending…anyone at any time over nearly anything.  

I sense that a good amount of these members may have voted for Trump, if they voted at all (in conversation, I found many that sat out the 2016 election) not for his snarky style, his bombastic personality, his hurtful rhetoric, or seemingly lack of thoughtfulness; rather they voted philosophically conservative for fear that the left has gotten so out of control they pose a far greater threat to our country’s welfare than a one-man-crazy-show could possibly pose.

Of course, I realize I am projecting my personal perceptions in attempting to make sense of a newfound organization and its direction, yet I had no trouble finding simpatico voices in my frustration of the growing amount of self-censorship I must apply in the contemporary college classroom due to a growing eggshell-like sensitivity: a sensitivity I have not experienced in my thirty plus years of teaching, until now.

Perhaps I am guilty of prioritizing the values of free expression and free speech over many others in the world of important ethical principles. Though in a world where a plethora of needed humanitarian values are needed to thrive, such as justice, fairness, and authority just to name a few, we all must decide for ourselves which take priority in the moral execution of our lives.Still I find Jimmy in tension. Nearly all cultural evolution has been met with resistance from the “back in our day” crowd. If things are indeed evolving into a heightened sense of profound accommodation for all, I want to be a part of it. However, from where I sit, it seems things have just simply gone too far, beyond the point of reason. Yet, have not nearly all trends seemed unreasonable when first practiced? My 85-year-old father still refuses to wear his seat belt stating, “I’ll be damned if the government tells me how I should drive!”

That said, my partner Rene’ writes for a local publication. As she was writing about the notion of celebrating the fourth of July, she sadly lamented to me that she had to stop writing as she was afraid that a couple of her favorable opinions about the US would be met with resistance from not only her clientele, but her own friends.

Is this really what we want?

I truly want to understand and embrace sensibilities when justified and warranted. I really, really do. Yet until I hear reasonable arguments, that I hope to hear from organizations like the Heterodox Academy, I must embrace a line of logic that does not threaten a free expressing democracy.

We are in the season of hypersensitivity and walking on eggshells. Ironically, all eggshells are designed to eventually be cracked, either to give birth to new life or sustain existing life.  An eggshell not cracked is, well, a completely worthless egg.

Perhaps such conferences will inspire the cultural dialogue to focus not on the cracking of the eggshell, rather the new life that emerges once the breaking of it is complete. Good ideas are typically the result of the trial and error of some bad ones in order to evolve to better cultural practices. We must preserve the right for a diverse marketplace of ideas, as the evolution of our humanity depends on it.

And some eggs may be cracked along the way. We have no choice.

 

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. 🙂