Sunday, May 16, 2021

"Please Sir, Forgive the Birds!" - A Look at American Values

 With the long lock down of Covid-19 behind us for now, it was a welcome addition to a retired woman's routine to go to the local greenhouse to get seed for the garden and plants for the front porch. The trip was long overdue but the cool Spring weather had delayed it by a week or so. I had no idea that this trip would be such an eye-opening experience.

As patrons milled around the stands of herb, vegetable and flowering varieties, two men jabbered like old hens without any concern for who overheard them. There were comments about not being able to find the "right" variety and objections about how cool the weather had been. Jabs about the government and gas prices ramped up the rhetoric.  One half of the duo seemed uncomfortable with the conversation's direction and asked questions in what seemed to be an attempt to steer the dialogue into safer territory.  The louder, more animated man would have none of it.  

By now it was just my husband and I and the two men weaving through the racks. That was when I realized that America's brush with death had not been quite as earthshaking as it perhaps had needed to be. America's values were still a bit off. 

"If that was my car, I wouldn't be able to drive it until I had washed it!" came a clearly upset male voice from behind the rack of plants. "Why don't people take care of their cars? That's just a terrible way to treat a car."

Too busy to really pay much attention to the object of  the man's disgust, it was not until I returned to our car and my husband directed my attention to the bird poop, covered front hood that I made the connection. 

The target of the man's disdain had been an otherwise well-maintained, practical, twelve year old SUV that had been a recent purchase as a "retirement" upgrade.  The tires were good. The paint was in warm brown that hid most dirt. The windshield was clear and the tags up-to-date.  A half dozen large white blobs that washed off in the next rain shower, had caused someone to judge me harshly.  Nothing more. 

On our way home, my husband and I lightened the mood by creating sharp comebacks that could have been lobbed at the critic. 

"Please Sir, forgive the birds. I'll have a talk with them when I get home!" was my husband's favorite. 

As someone who uses a cane for both mobility and sight issues, my comments were a little less jovial. 

"Oh, I apologize. I will be sure to park it away from the store so customers like yourself will not have to see it. It won't take me that much longer to walk to the store."


"I just can't wash the car like I use to. My doctor is afraid I will fall. I guess I will just need to stay home until I can get it washed."

Sadly, this isn't an isolated incident. Nearly every recent venture into a public place has included some type of interaction that made me wonder if returning to society was worth it.  

Recently, a fast-food outdoor dining experience had a custodian start up conversations about politics and religion based on one simple question, "Where are your from?"  Then there have been the awkward phone calls from dental and medical offices trying to get us "back on the schedule" even during the peak of Covid-19 deaths. Were they concerned for my health or their practice? Strangest of all is the assumptions people make based on appearance or a single comment.  America is still a country of strong opinions and little room for compromise. My way or the highway seems to remain the unwritten motto of American culture.

Do any of us REALLY want to go back to NORMAL?  I will readily admit that I have a strong value system and am not afraid to express my opinion. It would be difficult to be a writer without clear insights, no one has to read what I write.  But, after years of experiencing a sense of loathing from people for minor infractions such as my voting preference or seeing a different path than the same one traveled for generations, it's time to say enough is enough. The idea that everyone except us live without some level of disrespect and prejudice is a fallacy promoted by those who benefit by dividing communities. 

Diversity does not mean being friends with everyone or giving up personal values to adopt others.  It means common civility and respect, while adopting a sense of decorum that does not put total strangers on the defensive with every spoken word.  

With mask mandates and social distancing guidelines being dropped across the country, it will be interesting to see if Americans value their neighbors more now then they did eighteen months ago.  Unfortunately, ss long as bird poop on a car is considered a character flaw capable of strong emotional disgust, this country will never be what it claims to be. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

If Humans Were Ships: A Lesson in Positive Thinking

****Yet another post that has been waiting its turn in my draft folder.  
For several years--to be honest since the late 1960s--the US has had this mindset that if you think something will turn out in a positive way, then it will do so. Some may pray for it. Others wish on a star or do good work so karma smiles on them. Even others write in journals about all the things they want to accomplish. But, is it as simple as thinking positively? Can mankind simply float above the bad and not let it inside? More importantly, should mankind ignore and resist the bad in this world but feel comfortable allowing it to  support society as they #StayUp?
My first experience with the topic of Positive Thinking came in my teen years through a Presbyterian minister by the name of Norman Vincent Peale.  His message, written in his book: The Power of Positive Thinking, was so uplifting that, from the very conservative viewpoint of the Presbyterian Church, he was considered a "cult".  And yet, what I remember was a message of  of self-improvement and action, not blind optimism, marketed guilt or self-recrimination.
The image posted above came from Facebook and is NOT a Peale quote. It was shared by one of the few people I have accepted as a Facebook "friend". I care a great deal about this person and consider her a true friend. But what alarmed me about this quote and her use of it was the air of isolation and separation that came with it. Too often, those who regularly share such quotes miss how off-putting they can be to others who are looking for a real human connection.  Could it be that Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have replaced quality human interactions and created a population that would rather rise above injustice instead of developing relationships that remove it from the world?  
Looking at what would happen if humans were ships might be eye-opening.
Like people, each ship is unique - canoes look nothing like clippers and aircraft carriers greatly overshadow the lowly rowboat.  In the same way, each vessel has a different purpose.  The canoe is not effective on larger bodies of water and the aircraft carrier would serve little practical purpose if taken for a lazy afternoon of fishing. Maybe a bit more tongue-in-cheek of a description than called for but, people who toss out "positivity" may not always look past the emotional impact of their statements to see the flaws in them. Like boats, people come in all shapes and sizes. They also have different needs in order to be functional. 
Water is not the only thing that allows a boat to float. Before a boat can float, it has to be built. In this regard, shipbuilding and becoming an adult have many similarities.  
For thousands of years, shipbuilding with wood was an art that included attention to detail, a wise choice of materials and life-long maintenance. Positive outcomes came from hard work and concentration not positive thinking alone.  Like parents, teachers, coaches and the media who support children with little more than dreams and good feelings, boats that are built with poor materials and a lack of attention fail to perform well.  Positive thinking is not enough to keep a poorly constructed boat from taking on water. But, social media and popular culture continue to put undo pressure on the young by giving them platitudes rather than skills and strong relationships.  As any shipbuilder knows, a good design requires a vessel to have the strength to handle the pressure put upon it.  It also requires an observant captain and a supportive crew to steer it through a storm.  Does modern culture provide such support for individuals or does society opt to #stayup from what is happening while tossing out emojis, tap-n-go comments and virtual hugs as if they were life preservers?
Today, public impression dictates that news outlets, politicians and celebrities publish socially conscientious podcasts and charitable messages for those in need. In this way, those who make the news appear in-tune with those who financial support them without need for action or commitment. More often than not, their messages promote one race over another, one career as being more valuable then another, children as heroes one minute and victims the next, and mental health as something tragic but left to medication and therapy. Who really benefits from these messages?  Such a question is appropriate particularly when these news makers alienate so many in the process.

ironically, this post will end with three quotes from Normal Vincent Peale. Like so much of what is available on the Internet, many of his quotes have been abridged or handpicked to fit public discourse.  However, if one looks long enough, or has a fifty-year of hard copy of his work, it is possible to see that Peale was not into self-recrimination but advocated a pro-active lifestyle that was not based on rhetoric, protest or legislation. 


The first quote was picked to remind us that government cannot legislate positive race relations. The second is a reminder that social awareness initiatives may be sending a message of hopelessness and the last is a reminder that only in Disneyland does "Wishing on a Star" have a happy ending.  

“Getting people to like you is merely the other side of liking them.”
– Norman Vincent Peale

“Any fact facing us is not as important as our attitude toward it, for that determines our success or failure. The way you think about a fact may defeat you before you ever do anything about it. You are overcome by the fact because you think you are.”
– Norman Vincent Peale

“Action is a great restorer and builder of confidence. Inaction is not only the result, but the cause, of fear. Perhaps the action you take will be successful; perhaps different action or adjustments will have to follow. But any action is better than no action at all.”
– Norman Vincent Peale