Christmas 2017: Not Much Has Changed

The following is a blog entry I wrote in December of 2014. Each December I like to revisit and repost this Christmas blog that explains my thoughts on the holiday.

How have my thoughts and opinions changed since this writing? Not much. I still pretty much agree with everything I wrote in 2014, when then a young and spry 51 year-old. I suppose the only difference is that today I am far more apathetic toward the whole holiday. Today I would not waste the time writing the blog as there are a host of other issues that concern me (up next: #metoo). All the Christmas bullshit used to really bother me…not so much anymore. I choose not to give the holiday any salience in my life.

Enjoy and…MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Now that Christmas is over I feel free to write the blog I have felt compelled to write the entire month of December –though did not do so because I did not want to rain on anyone’s Christmas parade and harp on the negative– and then subsequently be called what I have been labeled for many years, “Scrooge,” followed with an insulting, “bah humbug.”

Our family does not celebrate Christmas–nor Chanukah, Kwanza nor any other kind of December holiday. No lights, no tree, no manger scene, no Santa, no presents, and, above all, no stress –and I love it. So what is the point in writing this blog? I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could. Yet, since I get the question all the time by perplexed and surprised people as to why we do not acknowledge this holiday, I will now put my sentiments in written form and when asked the question in the future, I can simply point to my blog.

In my last entry, I explained how we are like seeds in the fields of culture and it becomes very difficult to objectively be critical of that which is literally a part of us. For many, there is no cultural practice more ingrained into our personal and collective psyche than Christmas –to question it is ludicrous and so iconoclastic as to be completely off the critical thinking table. Christmas is the untouchable sacred cow of the masses, I realize this. So, that said, I encourage you to hear my 5 reasons for not celebrating Christmas with an open mind. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, rather, at the very least, promote understanding that there are legitimate and beneficial reasons for not observing the holiday –and perhaps take it easy on those of us who choose the Christmas avoidance route and understand we are not awful people, ie. Scrooge.

1. Christmas is great for the economy though very dangerous for the soul.

I believe we all would agree that for the great majority Christmas is about gift giving. At its face, gift giving is a wonderful and edifying practice that nourishes the soul. Yet when we culturally mandate compulsory gift giving, it sucks the spirit and heart right out of the practice; frenzied, tit-for-tat gift exchanges zap any genuine life right out of the otherwise healthy custom.  Our shopping malls turn into crowded, soulless bastions of bargain shoppers robotically hunting for the best deals after they have fought tirelessly for a parking spot –only to typically purchase crap that no one really needs. But, hey, this comes from a guy who believes a part of his soul dies every time he waits in line at a Wal-Mart. I love meaningful and relevant gift giving, yet it means so much more when it comes at unexpected times, motivated by none other than love. I realize not every activity in life will feed the soul, though it is important to avoid activities that will drain it.

2. It goes against the goal of living an emotionally balanced and healthy life.

Things are never as good, or bad, as we think they are.  Perhaps I am only speaking from personal experience, though I have found that whenever we get too emotionally high we can expect a crash landing into the emotional lows of life shortly thereafter.  If we were to compare holidays to drugs, Christmas would be the crystal meth…on steroids. “The most wonderful time of the year” is frequently the emotional peak time of the year for many.  I do not blame Christmas and the holidays for depression (contrary to popular belief, depression and suicide rates are not higher during the holiday season; they are highest in Spring time) rather I am suggesting it certainly does not help those of us in the quest of living a life void of major high/low swings. Observing the Christmas holiday contributes to a ‘bipolaresque’ type of up-and-down existence as it embodies the manic stage -at least it did for me.

3. It sends the wrong message to children.

I believe we all know this and acknowledge it -we even make movies about this phenomenon, I am thinking “Jingle All They Way” among others. Like the insane person who never learns from her mistake, we continue to engage in creating spoiled, entitled and materialistic children, instructing them to write letters explaining everything they want to a fictional figure. Can I be blunt? That is just plain fucked up. Why are we messing with our children’s minds in such a way? Is this not a mild form of abuse? I realize culture is so ingrained in us that it is often difficult to be critical of it, yet if one can stand back and objectively observe this practice, just for a moment, it is just wrong; I, for one, do not want to perpetuate this practice. The practice of Christmas teaches children that, above all, we are soulless consumers first and foremost.  When will the consumerist madness stop? We buy things we do not need for the things we do not need. Christmas teaches children we should strive for what we want –not what we need. Christmas has become much more a venture capitalist holiday than a spiritual one.

4. The entire Christmas narrative of Santa, elves, the North Pole, etc…is a lie.

no-christmas-yetMost theological scholars would even agree that December 25 is not the birth date of Jesus. Please understand that I am all for cultural myth and ritual. Totally. Myth plays an important part in the process of understanding ourselves and the human condition…but call it for what it is, MYTH. Can anyone explain why we take a perfectly healthy tree, cut it down and bring it into our house?  I didn’t think so. What is the lesson from myth we can learn from this practice? In the case of Christmas, we blatantly lie about the whole thing. I told our children from the moment they could understand my words that Santa is a lie…that simple. People can go to jail for lying yet we encourage it toward our most vulnerable and gullible of society…and for what reason? I am all down for lies that might protect someone from hurt, yet we perpetually, albeit innocently and with good intentions, lie with the outcome of creating false expectations as we set children up for disappointment at some level.

5. It trivializes and demeans Christian-based religious faiths.

When I used to be a pastor many moons ago, I despised Christmas (which may explain, in part, why I was such a shitty pastor) much more than I do now –presently, I essentially just forget about it altogether.  I could never speak for, or on behalf of God, Jesus, Tom Cruise, Mohammed, or any other deity-like figure, yet, something inside me believes even Jesus himself would condemn the practice of Christmas –for all the ethical reasons I have mentioned.

I collect Jesus junk. Thus far I have Jesus duct tape, a Jesus action figure, Jesus T-shirts, socks, etc… I do this as a reminder how our culture has taken that which is to be sacred, revered and honored and morphed these entities into unholy and profane trivial commodities. Christmas, as we practice it today, trivializes the holiness and reverence of a religion’s most sacred event.  I used to find this disturbing yet today I find this more amusing -as these things act as a constant reminder of the culture I am dealing with on a daily basis.

So these are the five reasons why I choose not to celebrate Christmas. Agree with me or not, I have arrived at these conclusions through analysis and reasoned observation. In fact, I am quite certain many of you agree with me –at least in part on some things. Then, why is it when someone asks me about Christmas and I explain these things, I am then insulted for my calculated decision? Scrooge was not calculated, he was just an asshole. Contrary to some people’s opinion, I am not an asshole. I choose not to partake in the, what I respectfully believe to be, irrational, materialistic, unspiritual endeavor and I get questioned? Our culture has done a really good job of creating this illusion –to the point that the free thinking ones, not taken in by the smoke and mirrors of the holiday, get criticized for their sane and logical conclusions. Again, I am not out to change anyone’s mind, even if I could, but please do not disparage those of us who do not see this holiday as you might see it.

I am very proud to proclaim we have raised four very strong, independent, passionate and free thinking children who all have a very different take on Christmas today. They not only survived an, essentially, Christmas-less upbringing, they have thrived. We all live life to the very fullest.

I guess I just rained on the Christmas parade. Not to worry. You have nearly an entire year to recover.

Everything Happens

About a month ago I started to write a blog concerning my strong dislike of the philosophical worldview that, “everything happens for a reason.” Included in my dislike are other such implications of some grand master plan imposed by a mysterious being who orchestrates both wonderful acts of love and horrid atrocities; in other words, providence. I stopped writing the blog because it was drawing out such anger and angst within me that I realized such an emotional reaction was much more indicative of something far deeper within me that needed to be addressed in my own psyche.

Perhaps it was stirring my own self-loathing that I once used to subscribe to this belief as taught to me by those who I thought knew better than I on such matters. I realize I still hold resentment toward those who would be bestow such providential propaganda, as well as toward myself for actually buying it. In classic argumentation, claiming providence is both a fallacy of an “appeal to ignorance” (as one cannot prove it did not happen for a reason therefore it supposedly did) as well as “argumentum ad verecundiam,” aka, an “appeal to authority,” as one can never challenge the authoritative source (read: god) behind the one who makes everything happen for a reason. It is a fallacial argument one cannot win.

To be clear, in writing that still unpublished blog, I realized that I have no issue with one who subscribes to such a belief system, that is their business, rather it is when that belief is imposed without discretion on others, particularly in times of grief, that troubles me so greatly. I find it both incredibly insulting and arrogant beyond explanation; it is like telling a Jew or Muslim not to worry because their deceased loved one is now in the arms of the baby Jesus. It is the flippant public spouting of a personal worldview without regard for the enormous troubling implications it holds.

As I will address a bit later, even if everything does happen for a reason, we could never possibly know what that reason is in the grand scheme of things, so what is the point?

This is hubris to the fullest extent of the law.

So fast forward just a few days later when my 84 year-old, seemingly quite healthy, mom suddenly passes away. It has now been about 26 days since her passing and I have been inundated with cards, gifts and condolences of all varieties, for which I am extremely grateful. More now than ever I can certainly understand why we humans have a propensity for creating belief systems that help us deal with the pain of a loved one passing, as it hurts like nothing else; yet I hold firmly that whatever it is we choose to believe –be it Heaven, Hell, Nothing, White Lights, Spirit Beings, Purgatory or Pittsburgh, it will never change what is.

Yes, the power of belief can be quite strong as illusions can provide the human mind great emotional comfort and solace, yet one cannot believe something into being. Whether one chooses to believe in a god or not, does not change the fact if there is a god or not. Heaven, hell, nothingness…same thing.

Back in the days of yore when I was a pastor and provided spiritual guidance for a living, I held very similar views. Even in the days of my strongest adherence to particular theological belief systems, I realized what I believed was of very little value to what really is. It was this theological and belief flexibility (and not taking myself too seriously) that was the primary root of my ultimate abandoning of the ministry and finding much deeper and greater satisfaction in spreading the gospel of communication and instructing people how to question…everything.

Praise Socrates and pass the plate of uncertainty.

Do I believe my mom’s passing happened for a reason? Do I believe I will see her again one day in some spiritual way, shape or form? The answer is very straightforward: How would I know? How could I know? If it did happen “for a reason” I have no way of knowing what that reason might be so why would I waste my time trying to figure out the un-figureoutable? (I think you can begin to see why I was such a shitty pastor.)

Does this mean I do not have faith? No, it does not. My faith is my business and what my faith is or is not should have no bearing whatsoever on what another’s faith is or is not.

I actually find great peace and comfort in uncertainty. A belief in uncertainty holds out for the possibility and hope that things could be far greater than my faith would have me believe…or worse, I guess. Life is a perpetual anticipation of finding out what is behind doors 1, 2, or 3. Sure, we may get zonked, but we could also get a brand new caaaaaaar.

Perhaps my anger toward the “everything happens for a reason” blowhards was a rhythmic foreshadowing from the universe in emotional preparation for the impending death to come….or not. How could I know? I cannot know, so I can never make such a claim, for then that would have happened for a reason. And in the 26 days since her passing, not one person of the dozens upon dozens of well-wishers has even remotely implied she passed “for a reason.”

Thank you.

So I conclude with the message I have been “preaching” for decades. In the last few weeks one of the very few things I DO know is the power of love, namely loving relationships. I have felt a new license in life to freely and unabashedly love as well as to receive the love of those around me; to tell those around me that I love them; to share tears and hugs; to express thoughts and feelings that typically go unstated when things are “normal.” It has been a tremendously freeing experience. The naked emotional vulnerability brought about by the sting of death serves to let my egotistical guard down and lean on the loving connections I have with family and friends.

I preach the gospel of love. Whether you are a Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile, we can KNOW love. We can be sure of it. To be the most loving Muslim, Christian, Atheist, Jew or Gentile is the certain path towards true contentment. Love destroys the need to determine whether or not “everything happens for a reason.”

Let’s just say things happen…and love makes them bearable.

My Mother Passed Away The Day Before Yesterday

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. I knew I would eventually experience this day, and well, as I think about it, I am glad I have. If I had not, her son would have went before her and that is a pain no parent should ever have to bear. My surviving dad, in whose living room I now sit and write these words, is repeating the mantra through anguish and tears, “I always wanted to go first, dammit.” He now has to bear the pain of losing a spouse of nearly 60 years. I don’t think he means those words as then it would have been his spouse, lover and life partner now bearing this unparalleled pain. Yet guttural pain is not known for its reasoning skills, nor should it.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. My dad does not want to be left alone -for even one second- therefore I am now performing my role in the rotating schedule of figure person of strength, courage, support and above all, love. He wants to simultaneously cry, reflect, cry, take care of business, cry, sleep, cry and cry some more. The thought has crossed his children’s minds that he may now want to take his own life to go be with her. He will not be left alone at this time –for even one second.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. How am I you ask? I was already fearful of my mental and emotional health when one, or both, of my parents passed. Just a few years ago when my mother had a terrible health scare I was paralyzed with anxiety for days. However, I feel very little anxiety at this time. Death is such a powerful force–there is no arguing with it, compromising with it, negotiating with it…death wins. I believe the peace I am currently feeling is due to the absolute fact that death is the ultimate, there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-so-what’s-the-point? feeling. The strongest emotion is “missing”….meaning dealing with the reality that I now will always miss her.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. The most beautiful, and quite unexpected, reality of this situation is the powerful presence of love: The love that is holding us all together at this time. The intense love of my life partner, whose inner beauty is only matched by one other person, and she passed away the day before yesterday. The love I see in my children’s eyes for their grandparents, parents, cousins and family members. The love that has been hibernating now for decades has now awoken…the love I have for my siblings. And the love for the man who, along with the woman who passed away the day before yesterday, brought me into this world.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, so what is next? In many ways, I have no idea. No clue. No hint. And don’t care. Yet I do know I am going to love on my father in a way I have never loved before. I do know love is going to get us through. I do know this rogue, independent man of reason, is not so rogue, independent, or even reasonable. I need the love of family. I need to emotionally vent. I need my children as much as they currently need their father.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, and I am seeing the love, support and encouragement of both close friends and acquaintances, colleagues and gym buddies and my beloved and precious students both past and present. All of these groups, in particular my students, have no idea of the depth and extreme importance of what their support, love and encouragement means to me. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday and I now sit on her couch, in her room, in her house. I look at her things, embrace her unique touch and style and steep in the thankfulness of the many precious treasures that woman has brought into my life. One of my fondest memories is a letter she wrote me when I was 14 years-old, at the height of my teen “shit show” powers. The woman who passed away the day before yesterday was not a terribly expressive or tactile person when I was growing up. This letter was I all I needed and went it something like this:

“Dear Jim, I know I do not tell you I love you a lot or give you a lot of hugs, but you must know that every day that I make your breakfast, lunch and dinner; do your laundry or drive you to practice; clean your room or make your bed, is me telling you how much I love you. Please never forget that. I love you.”

 That is all this 14 year-old needed to hear.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday.

Damn.

Temporalcentrism or Temporocentrism: Either Way, It’s “Time” To Stop

Ethnocentrism:

  1. Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own ethnic group or culture.
  2. A tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own.

Temporalcentrism:

  1. Sociology: The belief in the inherent superiority of one’s own period of history as the most enlightened and all previous cultures are judged through its lens;
  2. A tendency to view alien and historical groups or cultures from the prejudicial perspective of one’s own time period.

Most people are familiar with the concept of ethnocentrism and understand it to be a negative and unwanted social practice.

In 2017 I find a much more troubling phenomena taking place that causes me concern -which is a close cousin to ethnocentrism. I call this growing practice “temporalcentrism,” in which we believe in the inherent superiority of our time in history, over all others, while believing all of history must be evaluated through the lens of contemporary prejudices and practices.

Well, so much for thinking I had an original thought. I have never formally heard this term so I did a quick online search only to find that:

“Temporocentrism” is the temporal equivalent of ethnocentrism…Applying the context of ethnocentrism to a chronological vantage point, then, temporocentrism is the belief, whether consciously held or unconsciously, that one’s own time is more important than the past or future. Individuals with a temporocentric perspective judge historical events on the basis of contemporary standards rather than in their own context, often resulting in fallacy.

It is akin to harshly criticizing a washboard and clothesline because they are not yet a washer and dryer or an abacus because it had not yet evolved into a computer.

Bad idea kids.

I am not suggesting that those who practice temporalcentrism (not to be confused with “tempuracentrism,” the belief that all foods should be deep fried…sorry) find contemporary society a utopia with no problems…they do. What I am suggesting is the notion that the “enlightened” norms and ethics of the day far surpass those of yesterday, is, well, temporalcentric (I like my spelling better).

Why is temporalcentrism a dangerous idea?

  • It unnecessarily belittles and shames periods of history and historical figures in an unfair and uncritical light without context.
  • It gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.
  • It breeds both ignorance and arrogance resulting in fallacial thinking.

Temporalcentrism unnecessarily belittles and shames historical figures and periods of history.

Let us look at temporalcentrism through the lens of slavery and American history. Please understand what I am saying here. I believe the concept of slavery is humanity at its worst. It is evil, disgusting, sad, horrid, atrocious and shameful. Which is why this temporalcentric 2017 blogger has a very difficult time understanding how it has been a practice of humanity since prehistoric times. Yet historians inform us that, “Slavery dates back to prehistoric times and was apparently modeled on the domestication of animals. From the earliest periods of recorded history, slavery was found in the world’s most “advanced” regions. The earliest civilizations–along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, the Nile in Egypt, the Indus Valley of India, and China’s Yangtze River Valley–had slavery. The earliest known system of laws, the Hammurabi Code, recognized slavery.”

To believe slavery commenced as a human practice in America circa 1619 is misguided as that began a new period in slavery, the western slave trade. Slavery was not a uniquely American practice as American forefathers were following a generally accepted human practice since recorded world history.

I am in no way, shape or form suggesting American forefathers were entirely blameless in regards to perpetuating slave practices; what I am suggesting is, in attempt to rid myself of temporalcentrism, to consider that the strong and ever-present global practice of slavery at the very least provides some explanation and context as to why otherwise noble men of character could own slaves.

I would rather attempt to reach understanding before the application of shaming. That said, perhaps we could tone down our idolatrous praise of our forefathers (when visiting Washington DC some years back I was sickened to learn that the mural painted in the rotunda of the nation’s capital depicts the “Deification of George Washington,” ugh) and simply understand them for who these very human men were and we cannot discount them as products of their cultural contexts in that assessment.

When certain norms and ethics are woven so deeply into the fabric of society not only are such decisions to abide by them both unconscious and automatic, they are expected as it is the norm many were birthed into. In the case of women’s suffrage, for a women to vote and usurp a man’s authority was generally as horrid and wrong in 1800 as much as they are championed and embraced in 2017. As the wise fictitious filmmaker Christof stated in one of my favorite films, “The Truman Show,” we simply accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented.

Norms, ethics, and social practices change over time and to completely and entirely judge one’s moral character in a completely different era, through different time periods, is like saying the model T was a shitty car because it lacked seat belts and air bags.

If one does not bother to closely examine the overall social, political, religious, technological, sociological, psychological contexts of any given point in history, one will never understand it. Perhaps it is just convenient and, well, lazy, to throw all of history under the bus because it does not align with our contemporary thought forms and practices.

Temporalcentrism gives us an unrealistic sense of the superiority of current day values and attitudes.

Let me put it this way: If we are now an enlightened and evolved culture, we must now be doing everything “right,” right? Wrong. How do I know this? Look back in history and we see practices that we cannot remotely fathom today…what would make us think our contemporary society is any different?

In a hundred years, what will society look back at us and wonder what in they hell were they thinking? Could it be factory farming? GMO’s? Gasoline powered cars? The consumption of mass amounts of fast food? Eating animals? Our current media practice of guilty until proven innocent? Trump? Traditional marriage? Gender? Separate bathrooms for men and women? Heteronormativity? Political correctness run amok? Our addiction to entertainment? Hell, I could not tell you what they will look back at and scratch their heads; or else I would stop or start doing whatever it may be, yet, I can tell you with relative certainty that they will look back at us and scratch their heads, or worse, shame our vile and ignorant generation over such matters that we currently barely take note.

Temporalcentrism breeds both ignorance and arrogance.

Ignorance because temporalcentrism turns a blind eye to contemporary practices that are so pervasive they are invisible to the mainstream of society, and, arrogant to think that current thought trends and practices are the end all, be all of progress…that we have somehow arrived.

Temporalcentrists can be so smug.

Enter the idea of anachronisms, which is something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time, especially a thing or person that belongs to an earlier time. Can we judge the entirety of human history through the lens of 2017? We could, yet then we would be missing out on the process of human evolution and thought, how and why people behave or believe the way they do and what one’s beliefs informs us of certain periods of time in history.

Would I have preferred misogyny and slavery, among other atrocities, never existed? Of course, but they did. And since they did, it only behooves us to study such phenomena and ask what were the confluences of social factors that resulted in these horrors? What was the justification? How could such tragic institutions exist at such a widespread and acceptable level that some contend still strongly exists? What was the recipe for its demise? How do we commit as a society to ensuring such things never happen again?

Perhaps the greatest temporalcentric queston of all time is Hitler’s Germany: How the hell did god-fearing, family loving men and women turn into mass murders? We must escape contemporary thought patterns and social constructs to even begin to answer that question and attempt to recreate the basic contextual historical understanding to ensure it never happens again.

I, for one, want to watch and learn from the evolution of change. If we continue to evaluate history through the norms and assumptions of contemporary culture, we will be blinded by these contemporary norms and we will lose our ability to be self-reflective and critical. We ought to be in the state of continually challenging and questioning our contemporary norms and practices, not judging the entirety of human history through them.

Twin Sirens hide in the sea of history, tempting those seeking to understand and appreciate the past onto the reefs of misunderstanding and misinterpretation. These twin dangers are temporocentrism and ethnocentrism. Temporocentrism is the belief that your times are the best of all possible times. All other times are thus inferior. Ethnocentrism is the belief that your culture is the best of all possible cultures. All other cultures are thus inferior. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism unite to cause individuals and cultures to judge all other individuals and cultures by the “superior” standards of their current culture. This leads to a total lack of perspective when dealing with past and / or foreign cultures and a resultant misunderstanding and misappreciation of them. Temporocentrism and ethnocentrism tempt moderns into unjustified criticisms of the peoples of the past.”

 

I could not have said it better myself.

 

 

Is Higher Education A Thing Of The Past?

I am a community college Associate Professor of Communication Studies. I absolutely love teaching as much as any human being can love their vocation. This is not to say there are aspects to my job I do not particularly care for (use your imagination….yet it begins with “admin” and ends with “inistrative,” with the word “bullshit” at the end). Yet when it comes to the act of pure teaching itself, I am the proverbial pig in slop; I absolutely love to instruct…it is my sanity and, for lack of a better term, my safe and comfy space in an existential world.

However, not everyone in 2017 is down with the notion of “higher education,” be it in the form of community college or the four-year university. I hear arguments that we now have the world wide web with all the information in the universe available to us with the click of a mouse. Why go to a classroom to hear information that we can easily and readily retrieve from our home computer? You cannot seriously suggest that college is for everybody, right? Wrong.

Perhaps Winston Churchill had the answer many decades ago. “I love to learn,” he stated, “but I’m not always willing to be taught.”

Enter Higher Education.

Many of us need the formal accountability a higher educational institution provides to receive instruction in an effective manner. For those highly motivated self-starters who need only their own engine to get motivated, good for you. Yet I would contend that learning in community is nearly always superior to the autodidact approach even if you are one who prefers to be self-taught.

Yes, I am a college instructor and somewhat biased in my perception of the the need for higher education in contemporary society. However I would contend it is my belief in the system that drives my desire to teach rather than my desire to teach drives my belief in the system. After all, I am a product of the community college system as it literally provided me with all the tools and skills necessary to lead a functional and productive life –at a time in my life that I did not know the definition of the words tools and skills.

Therefore I offer you my five most compelling reasons to believe, support and engage in higher education, primarily at the community college level, in 2017.

Community College provides hope of direction for the directionally challenged. I am absolutely convinced that a college degree is not the right path for everybody; yet I am also concurrently convinced that some college courses are wholly beneficial to nearly everybody. Who would not benefit from a public speaking or interpersonal communication course in which you learn how to communicate more effectively in all your life endeavors? Who would not benefit from a basic skills English or Math course as all of us will practice these skills consistently throughout our life? If you are vocationally minded, how about a radiology or a welding course? Community College allows one to take courses to enhance their life skills while figuring out what direction life needs to take them.

Community College and the University are sacred learning spaces committed to the ideals of seeking answers, critiquing information while wholly committed to developing cultural literacy. Cultures need single-minded institutions to foster and preserve important social values. We need places committed to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We need institutions committed to constantly asking the question, “Why?” If we did not have these bastions of intellectual pursuits, who would carry this much needed torch in society? We need institutions committed to carrying on the best interests of society: Academic institutions committed to behavioral and hard sciences; elected bodies committed to political governance; agricultural industries committed to food sourcing; medical institutions committed to warding off disease; civil liberties groups to ensure power does not go rogue, and the list goes on. We need single-minded institutions wholly committed to uphold the integrity of fundamental social necessities.

Community College is a place accepting all individuals who are now ready to learn…and even those who not quite sure. I recently instructed one of my public speaking classes that there should be no safer place on the planet to admit not knowing something or being wrong more than a college classroom. After I made this proclamation, a new college student, Samuel, mentioned that this is a far different cry from high school.  “If we confessed to know knowing something in class,” said Samuel, “We would be berated and yelled at because it was likely something we should already have known as it was probably taught to us the previous year.”

I mentioned to Samuel that if one did not learn it the previous year it was because they were not yet ready, for any endless variety of reasons. The universe knows I was not ready for much in terms of learning my senior year in high school.

The Buddhist saying comes to mind, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Readiness. Are all my community college students ready? No. And some may never be ready. Yet in my experience community college has been both the fertile ground for those seeking if they are now ready and for those who are indeed ready. And I always prefer to be the teacher who simply appears when the wonderful confluence of readiness meets educational opportunity. It is a feeling like no other.

College graduates simply earn more money over a lifetime. One of my favorite economists, Steve Levitt from the University of Chicago and of Freakonomics fame:

The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is he or she tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear: The market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that the economists currently have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

If you are indeed one of the few with no college education and a fantastic salary in a profession you love, good for you! Yet have the astute wherewithal to realize you and others like you are outliers, that you are not part of the norm. Most of us need the traditional route of formal higher education.

If you are a college graduate in a less than desireable job with a less than desireable salary, take heed, the day is young. A college degree is a stark contrast from the Wonka golden ticket, it is more the ace-in-the-hole when the opportunity you create, arises.

A college degree, like other challenging endeavors, develops character and says much more about you than it does about your knowledge base. I often explain to my classes that the single greatest predictor if one will stay in a marriage or get divorced is a college education. From Albert Mohler:

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%.

And why? What are the skills and characteristics needed to survive a marriage? Hmmmm…how about all the same skills needed to obtain a college degree? Patience, perseverance, self-motivation, determination, both deference when needed and assertiveness if called for, compromise, and, of course, what we have been hearing since kindergarten, the need to play well with others even when you really do not want to.

Yes a college degree will likely earn one more money over a lifetime, yet, more importantly, it will make one’s lifetime all the more worth living. Perhaps the single greatest gift higher education offers its students is humility; as higher education should shed light and reveal all in the world that we do not know over the little we do know.

Let me reiterate, a college degree is not for everyone. Yet certainly college courses can be helpful to everyone at some level.

So whether you are former community college attendees Walt Disney, Ross Perot, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah or even Tom Hanks who stated that, “Community College made me who I am today,” you are in good company as a current community college student or future student.

It is 2017 and we need higher education opportunities as much as ever. And let this pig in slop continue to do his thing.

 

Joel Osteen: Wealth, Ethics And Personal Responsibility

I realize the following numbers are suspect and not to be entirely trusted, so when I read that Houston’s Lakewood Church Pastor Joel Osteen’s books and tours take in about 55 million dollars annually, he possesses a personal net worth of over 40 million dollars, and lives in a 17,000 square foot mansion worth over 10 million, I realize those numbers may not be true. However, even if these numbers are cut in half, I think we can all agree they are very high and he is a wealthy man by nearly anyone’s standard.

Joel Osteen is rich by means of providing support and inspiration to thousands of people through his interpretation of a religious text. So when he was recently accused of not opening his humongous church to victims of Hurricane Harvey quickly enough, he became an easy and desirable punching bag, facts be damned.

My simple question is this: Why would a very smart, public relations expert not want to capitalize on this golden “opportunity?” If he turned away victims he would certainly be turning away potential future customers. Say what you will about his message, though his marketing skills are unparalleled and second to none.

I believe we are attacking the man for entirely different reasons.

Joel and his posh wife, Victoria, are no strangers to controversy. No need to get into the nature of these controversies here, just go ahead and google away. As you search, realize the great majority of people are not interested in the details of the Hurricane Harvey incident or other Osteen controversies -we are far more interested in expressing our displeasure towards those who become filthy rich through the manipulation of religion and will seek out any opportunity to lash out and take down one who does.

Any chance to take a good hard swing at one who becomes wealthy through preaching about the benefits of giving -to them- in the name of Jesus Christ- will be thrown down. Thus, whatever your thoughts on Joel Osteen, realize he is just the latest poster child for what most people perceive is wrong about the roles of money and religion in society. It is not him specifically with whom most have an issue, rather it is what he represents.

Yet has Joel Osteen done anything illegal? Is he legally bound to open his church to flood victims at first raindrop? Is he breaking the law by becoming rich? Does he have the legal right to be a two-faced asshole should he choose to do so? No (as far as we know as of this writing), no, no and yes.

I personally am not a fan of Joel Osteen. I do not care for him as he comes across as excessively phony and insincere to me. I do not buy into his religion, his style, his message or anything else about him.

So what? Does it matter what I think of him? I am clearly not within his demographic.

If we have a problem with Joel Osteen for whatever reason- personal distaste, perceived moral bankruptcy, philosophical differences, insincerity, etc. that is not on him. Look no further than those who support him and contribute to his lavish empire. No one is putting a gun to his follower’s heads to demand they give their hard earned money to him or buy his latest book.

If his supporters truly believe he was guilty of turning a blind eye towards those in need, he and his empire will feel the repercussions of that neglect. The market will bear itself out as it were. My, or any other outsider’s criticism is unnecessary and serves no purpose.

And just what gives us the right to play moral authority for another’s life? Why should we demand someone else be more charitable and kind with their personal assets or assets of which they have control? If you believe Osteen to be a self-centered narcissist who does not reach out to those in need, don’t buy his latest book, don’t send him money, don’t watch his television shows. And while you are at it, go ahead and practice what you believe Osteen to not be practicing, kindness and charity. Have you sent money to Hurricane Harvey relief? Have you donated your time and efforts?

If so, good for you! If not, shut up.

It is so much easier to criticize others for lacking kindness than to actually practice it for our self.

If one wants to argue that churches are tax exempt therefore subject to certain expectations of philanthropic duty, I would argue it would be this tax exempt status that should be challenged and changed.

Yes, Joel Osteen is very rich through the preaching of a type of feel good philosophy extracted from bits and pieces of the bible. And if that ain’t your thang, then don’t preach a type of feel good philosophy extracted from bits and pieces of the bible or listen to those who do.

He most certainly is guilty of successfully reaching an obvious market for what he is selling.

If I am going to be critical of anyone, it will be directed towards those that cause harm, oppression and cruelty toward others. Like it or not, disagree with it or not, it is fact that Osteen provides hope and happiness to thousands of people on a daily basis. Not exactly the type of person that will be the object of my personal ire.

So as I read story after story of the lying hypocrite named Joel Osteen, I realize this only represents a much more fundamental issue stemming from a basic widespread belief that the act of receiving money in the name of religion to become rich is morally wrong.

To which I would respond that should you subscribe to this belief, as I do, then do not receive money in the name of religion to be become rich nor give to those who are tying.

I am not.

Yet I support the rights of those imperfect individuals who do.

The Preferred President Reactionary Principle: Or How I Knew Trump Would Win The Election

I have held a political theory of rhetoric for many years and up until this point have never put it in print –as I was hoping before the last election my theory would be proven wrong.

It was not.

I believe human beings, at least the westernized version of which I am most familiar, are generally reactionary and not proactive creatures. Typically our actions are in response to something perceived as negative as opposed to being in anticipation of creating something positive. So, for example, human beings wait for a child to be kidnapped and murdered before they institute some new stricter legislation that may have curtailed this tragedy.

I find this reactionary principle at work when it comes to selecting the President of the United States, or the POTUS, as some of the kids are calling the office today. In my lifetime of political cognition, I have seen eight presidents come and go; yet if you count my political pre-cognition days, this number would be ten as I was about six months old when President Kennedy was shot.

Since Gerald Ford replaced the impeached Richard Nixon over the Watergate fiasco in 1974, I have found my Preferred President Reactionary Principle (PPRP) consistently at work over the last forty-three years. It seems the American public prefers a particular rhetorical style –and that style would be the most diametrically opposed to whoever the incumbent president to be at any given time.

Let us put PPRP to the test in my lifetime, shall we?

Gerald Ford replaced Richard Nixon in 1974 and ran for election in 1976. One might describe Ford’s rhetorical style as excessively boring, conventional and lacking wit or any hint of charisma. Remember WIN buttons? (Whip Inflation Now)…Ford is probably best known for this cheesy acronym. So who did the American public elect in reaction to the drab Ford that year? A somewhat charismatic -in a charming, innocent, “undrab” kind of way- unconventional outsider, a peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia named Jimmy Carter. One would argue the exact rhetorical and political opposite of Ford.

Whereas Ford could put you to sleep within a few words of a sentence, Carter raised eyebrows with his southern drawl while at one time admitting to Playboy magazine that he has lusted after women in his heart.

TMI. PPRP.

Arguably Carter turned out to be one of the worst presidents in US history, yet that is not the point. We needed a good, down to earth Southern simpleton to save us from the big city corruption of insiders Nixon and the Ford who pardoned him of his crimes. However, voters did decide that southern charm was one thing though incompetent southern charm was quite another. After four years and a failed Iranian hostage crisis rescue later, we longed for some much needed eloquence and guidance as the whole southern boy thing wore out real fast: Welcome former actor and silver-tongued, Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was the complete opposite of Carter in nearly every way –stylistically, politically and most important to PPRP, rhetorically. Eloquent and charismatic, Reagan was the wise grandpa we all wish we had in our lives and was deemed, “The Great Communicator” by some of his contemporaries. Love him or hate him politically, he was certainly an excellent statesman. Of course I will never forgive him for burying his head in the sand ostrich-style for many years during the AIDS crisis, yet one cannot deny the rhetorical dignity he brought to POTUS office, which waned a bit during a his last couple years in office when small hints of his Alzheimer’s became somewhat apparent.

After the Reagan years were completed, was it just coincidence that voters elected none other than the rhetorically challenged, quite uncharismatic, “naht gonna da it” George Bush Sr.? PPRP thinks not.

Are we beginning to see the pattern here? Bush Sr. was so rhetorically challenged that his incompetently uttered phrase, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” sealed his POTUS demise after only one term.

Now kids, can you tell me the rhetorical style of the next incoming president when applying the PPRP? Of course you can –someone charismatic, slick, eloquent and one who you might say was so smooth he could charm the dress off…well, he was charming indeed. Enter stage left, Bill Clinton, better known as Slick Willie by his adversaries.

This guy was good. He could sell snow balls to Eskimo’s (or is it “Inuit’s” now?) and any used clunker car on the lot. Of course his eloquence with the ladies was his biggest downfall and, as one of my students recently observed, he was the first president to be impeached over a blow job and a very poor blowie at that (Whoops…did that just hit your dress?).

Years later my very own daughter testified to his undeniable charm as she sat and listened to him speak at an engagement in Orange County, only to immediately come down after the address and hint at joining him to his next stop at UCLA. Apparently this suave man spits game to all and without prejudice.

So, what next? Enough with the charm already! We needed someone a bit more down-to-earth, rhetorically rough around the edges, while longing for the days of simplicity and southern comfort, so to speak: Enter George W. Bush.

During Bush’s first campaign in 2000, the consensus among many liberals was that he was an idiot, a barely literate simpleton in the vein of Chauncey Gardiner (look it up kids). Many of the greatest Bushisms date from those early days. “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?” Bush noted during a campaign stop in South Carolina, a couple of weeks before inviting a New Hampshire audience to imagine themselves in the shoes of a single mother “working hard to put food on your family.”

Perhaps my favorite is, “There’s an old saying in Tennessee—I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you. Fool me—you can’t get fooled again.”

Nothing like pulling out The Who lyric card amidst a brain fart. Oh how we misunderestimated the level of Bush’s rhetorical incompetence.

Yet for all his rhetorical snafus, unlike previous southern boy Jimmy Carter, Bush did have a simple enduring charm about him. And as PPRP would predict, after eight years of super smooth (Bill Clinton), we needed another eight of super rough to get us back to even, and so we did.

So what next? How about the smoothest, most articulate, sweet sounding, beautiful music to the ears rhetoric of any POTUS in history? Yes, enter Barack Obama. I remember shortly after he was elected listening to him give a speech and thought to myself just how inept W was in comparison. If Clinton was considered the smoothest, Obama just set the bar that much higher as he was smooth with a conscience and could keep things where they belong, so to speak, at least to the best of our knowledge.

And, now, this is why I knew circa August, 2016 who our next president was going to be. My original PPRP was going with overweight ruffian and overall school yard bully Chris Christie up until that point he was officially “Trumped” by the single biggest rhetorical blithering bully in US history. PPRP informs us that the stronger the rhetorical trait, the more extreme we must go in the opposite direction as a corrective measure in response -and extreme we did. Perhaps the biggest problem with Obama was he was just that good that it warranted a follow up rhetorical style that was just that bad in equal measure.

If you are a Trump supporter this is welcome news. If not, the good news is PPRP boldly predicts a reactionary vote in 2020 and it will likely not be the bombastic divisive rhetoric of Donald Trump. However the one aspect of PPRP must take into account is the influential factor of incumbency. Since 1976 our only presidents who have only served one term were either in the rhetorically challenged (Bush Sr.) or politically inept (Carter) categories, which are both the case with our current POTUS, IMHO; therefore my theory predicts one term and our current president will be replaced with a Clinton/Obama-like mixture of charm and sweetness, in the same way Carter was replaced in one term by Reagan and Bush Sr. replaced in one term by Slick Willie.

The question is, who is it that will be the smooth and inclusive rhetorician that will attract our strong desire to vote against the volatile rhetorical temperament of the current POTUS?

I can’t tell you that though this I can tell you, I can’t wait.

And I hope now my theory once again proves right.

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.