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Enduring the Crucible of Self-Creation

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“If you had offered me a pill to make me straight, I would have swallowed it before I could get a sip of water.”


– Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Life is full of troubling questions. What is life? When does life start and does it ever truly end? What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be?

Philosophers have batted these questions around for centuries and just about the time there seems to be something resembling a consensus someone comes up with another question or another situation that doesn’t fit the previous answer and off we go again, asking the same questions and coming up with different answers. There are times when it can feel as though life is simply nothing more than the endless search for answers to questions that only generate more questions.

Members of the United States Marine Corp go through something called The Crucible. While artists and metal workers think of a crucible as a porcelain vessel used to melt metals, the Marines go with something closer to what Merriam-Webster defines as a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development. The Crucible occurs at the end of boot camp, a 72-hour test of one’s endurance and training, the culmination of everything they’ve done up to that point, that defines who they are. Those who finish are awarded the Marine Corp’s Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. They are now officially Marines.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/55/Officer_EGA.png

The Crucible is a Marine recruit’s most defining moment. Rarely, throughout their term of service, does a Marine encounter conditions more harsh, more demanding, more trying, than those 72 hours. In the end, though, they know who they are. They are United States Marines.

Rarely does life give us such a high-intensity period of time to define who we are, though. We’re sent through at least twelve years of school where we are expected to learn a lot of things but at the end of that education, most of us still don’t have a clue as to who we truly are. Even college fails to provide specific instruction to help one with this quest. We learn about society and sociology and psychology and the history of civilization but any work done to learn specifically about ourselves must be done on our own. There is no classroom instruction, no tutor, and no guidance counselor assigned to help us complete what may be the most critical task of our lives.

For the greater part of human existence, the question of who we are was left to philosophers, most of whom also happened to be theologians. This left us with an ingrained notion that we are, first and foremost, “children of god” and that our primary purpose is to serve him, or her, or it, depending on the specifics of the deity’s identity. Since no one wanted to incur the wrath of an angry god, they went along with what they were told and did their best to adapt to that definition. Men were protective and war-like while women stayed home, raised children, and did all the menial labor. While far from what we would consider fair in a modern environment, few ever questioned their role and their place because to do so meant challenging the deity and that was not likely to end with a positive and uplifting experience.

Yet, even within that religiously-induced definition, we have struggled to find who we are as individuals. This search has arguably been the inspiration for libraries full of poetry, every conceivable form of a midlife crisis, numerous divorces and other relationship issues, changing careers, changing political alignments, and changing our gender identities. As we struggle through this self-examination that ultimately influences change and development, we not only disrupt our own lives but those of everyone close to us as well. When an entire generation goes through such a period of definition, all of society is disrupted and change is inevitable.

Destroying The Threat Of Stereotypes

Destroying the Threat of Stereotypes - old man talking

From the very outset of life, the path toward self-identification is thwarted by the imposition of stereotypes. Just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, I’m defining stereotypes as a set of a largely agreed-upon set of characteristics regarding a specific group or set of people. Some people might prefer to use the term “generalizations” and I’ve occasionally seen the phrase “unifying character traits” but neither of those conveys the negative aspects of exclusion and ignorance that are inferred in the word stereotype.

At birth, the delivering attendant, whether it’s a doctor or a midwife or a doula, gives us our first stereotype when they declare, “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” From that moment forward, we are saddled with a set of expectations not only regarding our general behavior but expectations for how we will proceed through life. For the first several years of our lives, most of us acquiesce to those expectations. We dress like other little boys and little girls dress. We play with the same toys and other little boys and little girls. We watch our peers and mimic their activities and language. We learn how to fit in with the group.

Psychologists and other researchers have argued whether it is possible to avoid stereotypes. Our brain does this thing where it groups like things together and just as it might group various shades of the magenta pigment together and call them all “red,” it does the same thing with people, looking for similarities and then grouping people together under assigned levels so as to make processing easier.

Fighting our brains to keep them from creating these groupings is difficult at best and, some argue, impossible. Even if we can’t stop our brains from creating stereotypes, though, we are not obligated to follow them. Every time we become aware of an unfair or biased categorization, we can challenge that and eventually train our brains to make more accurate judgments. Be aware, though, that the mind is so overworked that it’s going to take any shortcut it can to ease processing.

Once we give into a stereotype as basic as gender, breaking away from those assumptions proves difficult because every other system we encounter is designed to reinforce the stereotypes. For example, for many years there was no baby changing stations in most public men’s restrooms. As a dad who enjoyed taking my eldest son everywhere with me, that proved to be extremely frustrating. While women could take their children and change their inevitably messy diapers on presumptively clean-ish surfaces, I was left attempting to change my constantly wiggling bundle of joy on whatever surface I could prep with wet wipes. Protecting my child’s modesty wasn’t an option because the stereotype deemed that men don’t change baby’s diapers. Only when both men and women began challenging that portion of the male stereotype did the situation begin to change.

The threat of stereotypes occurs when we begin to think that they might actually be credible and change our actions accordingly. Perhaps the most well-known study of the stereotype threat was done in 1995 by Psychologists Claude Steele, Ph.D., Joshua Aronson, Ph.D., and Steven Spencer, Ph.D. What they discovered is that “ … even passing reminders that someone belongs to one group or another, such as a group stereotyped as inferior in academics, can wreak havoc ….”

In their study, researchers gave basic GRE verbal questions to two groups of people. Those in the null group were given no indications regarding stereotypes. Those in the test group, however, were told that the test determined intellectual capability. Within the null group, black students performed equally well as white students. Within the test group, however, black students performed worse, subconsciously giving into the stereotype that black students are somehow slower or less intelligent. Note, the students taking the test didn’t have to believe the stereotype or even be actively aware of it to respond negatively.

Similar findings were the result when researchers told women that a math test showed gender differences. Women who were told that gender difference was a factor of the test performed more poorly than did women who were not told about the inferred judgment. Such subtle inferences, the kind often made by teachers who meant no direct ill will toward their students, likely indicates why women and people of color so often struggle with standardized tests. Stereotypes, even when we reject them, can completely destroy our lives!

Breaking stereotypes, especially gender and racial stereotypes, can be extremely difficult but it can be done and the earlier in life we begin attacking them the better. While most scholarly exercises I’ve found focus on helping children break stereotypes, there are some aspects that can work for us even as adults struggling to pull free of all we’ve been told throughout our lives.

  1. Mentally challenge any stereotype one hears, regardless of its source. Okay, maybe you don’t directly challenge the pastor in the middle of their sermon or a politician giving a speech (though, arguably, that may be the only way to get them to listen), one can still recognize hurtful phrases like, “They’re all murderers and thieves,” or “Smart people don’t do that.” The more we become aware of bias stereotypes in our speech and the language of others the more quickly and efficiently we can counter them.
  2. Talk about stereotypes with friends. By making stereotypes a frequent topic of conversation among friends, one spreads the awareness of the damage they do and we all have the opportunity to grow from the exercise. Hearing the perspective of other people also helps us to recognize stereotype threats we might not have caught before.
  3. Avoid labeling activities/actions by gender or culture. While this particular step is extremely important when working with children, it is also important that we do the same thing with ourselves. Even phrases that are seemingly as innocent as “wearing the pants in the family” reinforce a stereotype that men are the ones in charge. A hairstyle is simply a hairstyle regardless of who is wearing it. A song is merely a song no matter who is singing it. Such stereotypes are deeply ingrained in our society but when we don’t use their labels they lose their power.
  4. Use inclusive language wherever possible. This one can be tough. Using non-gender-specific language is one thing but stripping our vocabularies of racial references requires some serious examination of the etymology of our vocabulary. For example, several years ago, I developed this bad habit of calling any male person younger than me “son.” That was offensive on two fronts. Not only was it gender-presumptive but it was also racially insensitive, a lesson I learned quickly once I was in a more metropolitan environment. Much of our language is designed to reinforce stereotypes of one kind or another. We need to think before we speak.
  5. Value difference. Step outside your comfort zone not only in terms of language but in terms of the people with whom one associates. Get to know non-cisgendered people. Make an effort to know and understand people from different cultures. Put some work into dismantling both the subtle and blatant stereotypes that permeate our culture.

We may not be able to stop biased stereotypes from occurring, but we don’t have to accept them and we don’t have to let them become part of our self-definition. One has every right to be exactly who they want to be, without any presumptions as to how that definition might affect our behavior, habits, or public presentation.

Understanding The Dynamic Nature of Identity

Understanding the Dynamic Nature of Identity - old man talking

Even as late as the mid-1980s, many psychological studies looked at identity as a fixed and stable factor. Having a consistent and steady identity was not only presumed to be the norm, but any deviation from that stability was also largely considered a symptom of psychosis. The basis for this perspective came from how “identity” is used in non-human definitions. A flower identified as a rose is always and consistently a rose; it does not wake up one morning to the realization that it is actually a daisy.

However, a litany of studies building upon research from the 1950s shows that our identity is inherently fluid, starting with the fact that one does not identify as a five-year-old for any longer than twelve months. The list of things that affect our identity is lengthy and not only includes our age but also our education, our careers, our hobbies, and aspects of all our relationships. Our identity is wholly fluid, always changing, and in reality, anything but stable.

Such a fundamental difference in the way we think about identity is, of course, upsetting to some and confusing to others. For many people, the concept that an identity change demands that there be an event causing that change. One example would be the strong, athletic young person who joins the military and returns from war missing a limb. That event would, naturally enough, be sufficient to change how a veteran identifies. Short of a trauma-inducing event, however, these people would expect an identity to remain static.

What we’re increasingly learning, however, is that there are many factors involved in our identity that we don’t immediately recognize. One study done in 1991 looked at married graduate students who, over a period of time, tended to identify with decisions their spouse had made as to their own, merging the two separate identities into one. The couples did not realize what was happening until the change was mentioned to them. Most couples in a long-term relationship likely never realize the degree to which they adopt portions of the other’s identity.

Awareness of identity is not necessary, however, for the identity to be present. Actions and activities can often be demonstrative of identity even when one is actively denying that explicit identity. We see this most often, perhaps, in those who serially abuse young children. Few ever view their identity as that of a child molester, yet their patterned behavior defines them as such.

What this means is that one’s identity is like the contents of a river, composed of the basic ingredients that label us as human but with various elements coming and going throughout our journey, influencing our identity for a portion of the journey but not always staying for the entirety of the trip.

No longer do we believe that changes to our identity are necessarily symptomatic of psychosis or the result of great trauma. Changes to our identity can occur simply because we finally become aware of and embrace aspects and characteristic we had previously attempted to ignore. This also gives us room to admit that we may not have correctly labeled a portion of our identity, giving us space to adjust our self-creation.

If such instability feels troubling, know that you’re not alone. Shifting sands makes walking difficult. Much of our society is built upon the concept of stable identities that never change. We find this especially true in our criminal justice system where once a person is branded as a felon, few states ever return to those persons specific rights such as the ability to vote regardless of any level of reform they might demonstrate. Capitalistic economic policies assume that identities stay consistent and predictable based on previous performance. Allowing change on any level, whether small or drastic, provides room for outcomes not previously considered and consequences for which society is not prepared.

There is more to this process once we understand that one isn’t “stuck” with an identity that fails to hold true. With commercial DNA tests letting people know more about their ancestry than ever before, people are discovering they have cultural roots they had not previously anticipated. Some inevitably choose to pursue those ancestral cultures, leaving behind that with which they are raised. This has led to events like people raised in Brooklyn deciding to learn and speak only Mandarin Chinese, women in the Midwest having their hair braided to “embrace the 3% North African heritage” the test said was present (note: everyone has 3-4% North African heritage because that is the region from which homo sapiens originally migrated), and a few people of color deciding to embrace the Viking lifestyle of some unknown ancestor.

Constraints still remain, however. One cannot simply decide that they want to be something they are not capable of being. I would dearly love to be an astrophysicist. I enjoy reading about all the different theories and quantum explanations. Yet, despite all my enthusiasm, when it comes to learning the math necessary to actually explain astrophysics my brain refuses to cooperate. All the desire in the world is not enough to make me an astrophysicist; that will never be part of my identity. Other people are unable to learn a musical instrument; even basic drumming eludes them. A severe lack of eye-hand coordination might prevent one from becoming a carpenter or sculptor. Wanting to do something and having the ability to do it is not always in line and there are times when all the effort one can muster is insufficient to change that.

Where this leaves us is with the knowledge that while one’s identity is fluid and capable of change, that change is not and cannot be arbitrary—it must come from somewhere within us, utilizing elements that are already present though perhaps dormant. We are born with transitory powers to be more than a collection of stereotypes but not everyone is born Chinese, not everyone is born a musical genius, not everyone is born gay, and not everyone is born coordinated. One has wiggle room in creating their identity but we cannot be something we were not born to be.

Knowing Who We Are

Knowing Who We Are

Not everyone on the planet has an identity crisis. There are plenty of people in the world who know and accept who they are, what their identity is, without having any reason or desire to question that. I have found, anecdotally, that musicians often fall into this category. Many know at a very early age, pretty much from the first conscious awareness of self, that their purpose in life is to create music and they have an inherent ability to do so. They could never imagine themselves doing anything else. Similar situations occur across a variety of identities. Mathematicians, farmers, inventors, artists, and many others know who they are from the earliest moments of their lives.

Sometimes, tragically, one knows who they are and also knows that being who they are is not acceptable to the environment in which they currently reside. I am saddened and often frustrated that there are still far too many places in the world where women know they have these incredible skills and talents but to even ask for education to develop those abilities might result in them being abused, beaten, or even killed. Plenty of others know early on that they are not the gender which they were assigned at birth but the very act of exploring a different identity results in ridicule, separation, and too often, death. Their society and their religion establish their identities for them and they are not allowed to question or challenge what those authorities tell them without fearing for their lives.

Still, for millions if not billions of people, there are more than seven billion of us after all, identity is something that eludes us. What we sense we are battles with many external influences and even our own desires, leaving one with uncertainty as to which way to go, what to do, who to be. Our educational system in the United States and across much of Europe is designed to push us toward a specific identity by the time we graduate from high school or turn 18 years old, but do we truly know enough about ourselves and our options to cobble together an identity that works for us Some people struggle their entire lives, never feeling comfortable with any combination of labels, never finding an identity that truly fits. Knowing who we are is not always a given nor is it always something that reveals itself to us.

Psychologists refer to the process of learning who we are as self-awareness. I bring that term up with some trepidation and a careful warning: not all self-awareness methods are based on actual scientific research and there are plenty of feel-good scams that happily take one’s money while producing nothing of value. I’m also not a proponent of anything program that offers to help one “find” themselves. You are not lost. Your identity is not lost. We don’t search for an identity, we create our identity based upon the following factors:

  1. The culmination of our experiences
  2. The development of our skills and talents
  3. The awareness of our own realities

Of those, it is the last one that tends to trip us up the most because it is at that point we often have to face truths about ourselves that might either make us uncomfortable or make everyone around us uncomfortable. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. Let’s look first at the culmination of our experiences.

Experience lies at the very foundation of human identity. Many psychologists and researchers are fond of saying that we are the sum of our parts, with “our parts” being comprised of the various experiences we have. From our earliest moments of existence, the experiences we have shaped our identity. Were we raised by our birth parents or adopted? Were we bottle fed or breastfed? Were we an only child or in the middle of a large family with multiple siblings both older and younger? All of those factors along with many others form our basic identity and to a large extent, we get no say in those earliest experiences. We don’t have any control over where we were born, the social and political climates in which we first live, No one asks us into what culture we wish to be born, the pigmentation of our skin, or in what language we first learn to communicate. Yet, all these factors influence our identity.

Other experiences we do choose and those factor into our identity as well. For example, if one chooses to ask a person out on a date and everything about it goes horribly wrong, that experience does not determine our identity but it certainly influences it. Failure and our response to it has a tremendous impact on the creation of who we are. A trip that immerses us in a different culture, an education course that challenges our thinking, and even breaking down on the side of a road in the middle of the night while it is raining and having to change a flat tire on our own are all experiences that help form our identity.

Now, listen carefully: because we never stop having experiences, our identity is never done developing. One may go through the majority of their life thinking their identity is one thing and a single experience at age 59 changes everything. Seniors who are inherently trusting, giving souls may completely reverse course after becoming the victim of a targeted scam that deprives them of their savings. Tragically losing a child is an experience I would wish on no one but unquestionably changes one’s identity. There are experiences throughout our lives that dramatically alter the course of who we are.

At the same time as we are gathering all those experiences, we are developing the skills and talents inherent to our nature and perhaps adding some that are not especially native to our being. Language is one of our first experiences in communication but the addition of multiple languages changes our ability to communicate more broadly and thereby becomes influential in our identity. People who are naturally gifted in the understanding of numbers and their place in the world see their identities taking a firmer shape as they develop the ability to apply their skills to solving real-world and theoretical problems.

Even here, though, as natural as this process might be for some, there are others who struggle. Skills and talents don’t always manifest themselves early in childhood. Many people reach the age of adulthood still asking the question: what am I good at doing? Frequently, adults asking that question have tried all sorts of things across a broad spectrum and are frustrated at coming up empty. Parents and teachers and therapists have all tried to reassure us that everyone is good at something but there is no empirical evidence to back up that claim. For some, the best they can hope for is to be mediocre at something they find somewhat interesting. Still, even in those less-than-desirable conditions, one’s identity is formed. Every attempt at trying something new and different shapes one in some fashion.

Where this ultimately leads us, however, is toward a kind of identity work that helps us to assemble the information necessary for self-creation. Exactly how this happens is up for some debate. There is a set of psychologists who believe identity is spoken into existence. They believe that the music we prefer and play repeatedly, the fashion choices we make, and the keywords and phrases used most often are what establishes our identity. At the same time, there are others who believe that our identity is wrapped up in biological markers such as race, biological heritage, DNA peculiarities, and our ability to adapt to various environments. Still, others attempt to make a case that community identity, the group(s) of which we are a part, come first and that our personal identity is an amalgamation of one’s communal identity.

Regardless of the path one takes to get there, we have to be ready to do some serious reflection and deep examination of who we really are, not just who we prefer to be. We have to consider not only the positive aspects but the negatives as well and allow ourselves to accept what’s there and what isn’t. Here are a few steps that might help one get to that point.

  1. Journalize. This doesn’t have to be anything especially formal, nor public, but writing down what we experience and how we respond to different experiences, what we think and how we feel about those experiences, all work together to help paint a picture of who we are or were in any given moment. Even as events and circumstances change who we are, a journal gives us the ability to track those changes so we understand and appreciate how we got to where we are.
  2. Pay attention. It is easy for us to go through life as though we’re on autopilot. Start paying attention to what exactly it is you do, to whom you speak, and what you say. How many times in the past week have you eaten the same lunch, for example? If the answer is three or more, ask yourself why. We establish routines for a reason but quickly forget what that reason was. Do you find yourself speaking to the same people during your day, and saying exactly the same things? Consider why that happens and why you don’t speak to others or change up the conversation. Often, we have difficulty creating our identities simply because we don’t pay attention to who we are.
  3. Get input from others. You may think you’re not good at anything, or you might perceive that your strengths and weaknesses follow a given path, but those closest to you, and even those not all that close, might be aware of different characteristics and traits that had not made themselves clear to you. They may also reaffirm matters on which one was not certain. Listen carefully to what other people tell you and don’t be afraid to read between the lines a little bit. Friends have already made up their mind who you are from their own data and like you anyway. That makes for a pretty good place to start.
  4. Focus on yourself. We spend so much time thinking of who we are in relation to other people and other things that we lose sight of who we are. Stop, separate yourself from everything and everyone, at least mentally, and engage in serious introspection. Consider what it is you give to the universe as well as what you take. Pay attention to what you need and compare that to things you no longer use. Take stock of what feels right, what your body tells you is correct, where your emotions are most stable. Consider who you would be if all you had was yourself.

DO NOT expect this process to be something that happens in the course of a day, a week or even a month. Neither should one expect that once they’ve gone through this exercise and determined who they are that they never need to repeat the process again. Remember, identity is fluid, changing, evolving. Anytime one begins to feel that their out of place or disconnected it would probably be beneficial to go through this rigor again.

Don’t Look For Yourself, Create Yourself

Create yourself - old man talking

British philosopher Julian Baggini gave an interesting talk at [email protected] in which he asks the question: Is there a real you? If time allows, I strongly recommend watching it. Not to give away any spoilers or anything of the sort, but where he ends up is with the interesting idea that we cannot find ourselves, we must create ourselves.

What Dr. Baggini is suggesting is the polar opposite of what popular culture has embraced the past 50 or so years. Young people especially have been told to go out and find themselves. Those with the means for doing so have embarked upon year-long adventures in an effort to make those decisions about who they are and who they want to be. An entire industry has been built around guiding people who are searching for their lost identity.

The problem with that approach, and the reason it has largely been unsuccessful and the object of scorn and ridicule is that it doesn’t work. We can’t find ourselves because we don’t exist somewhere apart from where and what we already are. We can shape our identities, we can influence our identities, but we don’t find our identities. We alone decide who and what we are and no one else is remotely qualified to make that determination for us.

Here, too, however, one has to watch for differences of opinion and a certain level of bullshit that ends up misdirecting us. Adam Cash wrote a “dummies” book called Psychology: How to Build Your Personal Identity. He differentiates between one’s public self and one’s private self and there is some merit to that approach in general. Others might use the term corporate self or communal self compared to the individual self. There’s a reasonably sized community within the field of psychology that makes this separation.

However, what we must realize is that our identity is more than establishing self-confidence or deciding that we want to take on a given personality. Our identity stems from the biological components with which our bodies are constructed and expands through our experiences and our education and our mental, intellection, emotional, and physical development. We are not just one thing, we are the sum of many things.

Dr. Baggini uses the example of a wrist watch. His was digital but I prefer to reference my analog timepiece because it’s perhaps more true to the analogy. If I were to disassemble my watch, I would have a table full of pieces, some of which would be quite small and, to the untrained observer, of questionable value. Put together correctly, though, they become a precision timepiece and that is exactly how we refer to them: as a watch. We don’t say, “I have a cool collection of gears and springs and itsy bitsy screws on my arm,” do we? No, that thing on my wrist getting caught on the cuffs of my shirt sleeves is a watch—that is its identity.

You are exactly the same. There are all these myriad pieces and parts from experience and biology and personality and emotions and preferences and dislikes and inheritance that come together with incredible and amazing precision to form you. There is no external you and internal you because the face of the watch is just as much a part of the watch as the timing mechanism that no one ever sees. We may choose to not reveal our full identity to everyone we meet (probably a good idea in the majority of cases) but the portion we keep to ourselves still holds influence over the parts we allow to be seen publicly.

What’s more, if we continue the watch analogy, we have the ability to change the face, adjust the timing mechanism, swap from gold to stainless steel parts, blend digital with analog components, and create our watch in any form we wish. Okay, so there are some memories in one’s past that are overwhelmingly dominating our identity and we don’t like that. While it’s possibly not the smartest idea to completely remove that memory (totally different book on that subject) its influence on your identity can be minimized. Perhaps the biology with which you were born doesn’t match the rest of your identity. Maybe your sexual identity doesn’t fit within the analog confines of social or religious expectations. None of those things keep one from assembling a top-of-the-line identity.

What’s critical is that we commit to the assembly and since most of us don’t come into life with an expertise in identity making we have to expect the process to be every bit as grueling and a thorough test of our fortitude as is the Marine Corp crucible. Fortunately, one is not limited to 72 hours to complete their identity, but like that event it takes a level of mastery and understanding of every piece and where it fits to complete this task.

The whole concept of “finding yourself” has lured us into thinking that identity work is easy, something we can treat as a vacation. While some identities come rather naturally and never need much of a tune up, for many people the process is extremely involved and can involve a tremendous amount of therapy to grapple with the intensity of some of our experiences while attempting to resolve a host of conflicting emotions and desires. When one reaches the point of realizing that they need to create their own identity, the answer is seldom found in taking a year-long backpacking trip across Europe.

Instead, creating our identity takes time, study, and consideration. We may find that to be the person we want to be that we must first remove some things and possibly even some people from our lives. One might also find that we need to understand more about certain aspects of ourselves before deciding whether we embrace or discard those qualities. To be happy with our identity, we have to work with precision and not be afraid to discard what doesn’t work.

Continue to part two ->

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Enduring the Crucible of Self-Creation

This is the second part of a two-part article. If you’ve not read the first section, you’ll want to do that before proceeding. Return to part 1 <-

Putting Your Identity Together

Here is where things start getting complicated and intense. Talking about creating our own identity is one thing. The general concept that we control who and what we are makes us feel good. Sure, who doesn’t want to feel as though they’re in control of themselves? Beyond all the talk comes action, however, and there’s a lot of action to consider. For ease of organization, I’m dividing the process into three areas: The Biologicals, The Externals, and The Internals. Please note that these are not solid containers of mutually exclusive pieces of one’s self. They blend, they mix and can work with or against each other. What follows is not a rigid, set-in-stone recipe for self-creation. Rather, it is a guide to help you decide what should be a part of who you are.

Putting Your Identity Together

The Biologicals

The biology of who we are is largely determined by our DNA and the physical components of our physical construction. While there may be biological aspects that we can and possibly should change if given the opportunity, we’ve no control over the basic parts with which we start life and no, not everyone starts off equally. There are many people who start life with serious physical and mental challenges. Some of those challenges affect not only the quality but the quantity of one’s life. Others are born with skin pigmentation that does not directly affect their physical identity but influences their external identity. Here are some of the biological components that one needs to consider when constructing their identity:

  • Gender. There are two distinct aspects here: that with which one is assigned at birth and that which is true to one’s self. Sometimes these are the same, sometimes they are not. Discovering one’s true gender identity is a journey unto itself that can be fluid and require frequent recalibration of one’s identity. While gender can be changed surgically the mental and emotional components can be more challenging to balance as hormonal influences are sometimes difficult to control.
  • Physical composition. More than merely an inventory of the pieces and parts included in one’s body, this includes how well those pieces and parts actually work. When one starts life, everything may work quite well but a broken arm at age ten may lead to arthritis pain when one is 30. Perhaps not everything in one’s body works correctly and fails to produce sufficient insulin, causing one to spend their life avoiding sugar. While medical science establishes a standard for what should be present and how things should work, not all bodies cooperate with that standard.
  • Mental composition. The presence of a brain falls under physical composition and we’re going to assume that if you’re reading this the brain is at least present in some form. How well that particular portion of our body works falls under mental composition, though, because it is its own complicated world of synapses and connections and chemical balances. When things don’t work as designed here, we often need professional assistance to overcome the challenge. Sometimes that assistance is in the form of pharmaceuticals while other conditions might require surgery. Either way, this is part of one’s identity.
  • Emotional composition. Emotions may be the most fluid piece of our biological identity and as such is the portion that can be the most difficult to control. While there is still a lot about emotions that science doesn’t understand, we know the general tendencies for emotions are biologically driven, often influenced by both genetics and one’s physical and mental condition at any given moment. Professional assistance is often necessary here as well.
  • Genetics. Not only are we the sum of all our various parts, but we are also the sum of the parts of others, the ancestors of both our parents who contribute to the unique construction of our DNA. Here is where we find some answers, such as sexuality, hair and eye color, weight, hormones, enzyme production, reproduction capabilities, and possibly even dietary limitations (jury’s still out on that one). Everyone in our family tree going back for centuries contributes in some way to our DNA but how that DNA is assembled is uniquely you. For the moment, there’s no changing our genetic identity but that could eventually change. Gene editing is a controversial science but its ability to “fix” challenges such as gene-based disease has the potential to change millions of lives.

What’s important to realize about our biological identity is that some changes are predictable and some are out of our control. How one’s body responds to aging is largely determined by genetics but can also be influenced by external aspects such as injury, diet, and exercise. We grow tall then we grow wide and despite our best efforts, there is much over which we have little say.

The Externals

In short, the external influences on our identities are anything outside of ourselves that shape us. There are two important aspects of the externals that require important consideration. One is that they can and do change, which can result in an adjustment to our identity. The second is that as much as something might influence us, we have the ability to influence it and affect its identity as well. Let’s consider some of the broad categories.

  • Culture. For our purposes, we’re defining culture as the customs, social institutions, arts, and humanities of a particular group of people. From the aspect of defining one’s identity, the culture into which one is born is the default but as one re-locates and/or becomes aware of and interested in a particular culture, certain aspects of that culture are adopted, sometimes intentionally, sometimes subconsciously. Many people, especially those who travel a great deal, have a multi-cultural identity. However, one has to beware of cultural appropriation, which is is the adoption of a culture to which one has no relationship.
  • Belief systems. Religion plays a strong role in the identity of many people as it shapes one’s fundamental belief systems. However, as one develops independently, one may find that the precepts of the belief system to which they are introduced as a child no longer matches with their reasoning and critical thinking as an adult. Even apart from religion, one still has a belief system of some sort that influences who they are. Science and mathematics can become a belief system as can aspects of literature and media. If one is unsure of their belief system, this is a good point at which to take it under serious consideration.
  • Political systems. Superficially, governments and the political systems that control them seem to be the most external of influences upon one’s identity. Once a government establishes rules for living within their jurisdiction, one’s political identity takes the shape of either agreeing or disagreeing with those rules. However, within the influence of these political systems is the inherent ability to shape those systems either through voting or through revolution. Many prefer to not participate and let the system control their identity. Others, however, find resistance a core part of who they are.
  • Education. Many of us take for granted the basic ability to read and write even on a modest basis. We don’t immediately realize that the most fundamental education creates for us an identity separate from many in under-developed countries. The extent, proficiency, effectiveness, and direction of one’s education influences their identity as well, even down to the titles one may hold. Terms like Doctor and Professor are specific identifiers or academic achievement. However, one possesses the ability to determine for themselves the degree to which that education shapes their language and interaction with others.
  • Language.  How one communicates with others is perhaps the most fundamental external factor of one’s identity. We learn first the language of those who care for us. As we develop, we might add additional forms of communication-based on our social settings and geographic environment. The broader one expands their language capabilities the more effectively and efficiently one might understand and communicate with a larger group of people. As much as language influences us, we also contribute back to it by spreading words and terms not widely known and creating new words and phrases that might become associated with our identity. The classic example would be from the 1970s television comedy, “Happy Days,” when the character of The Fonz coins the word, “Ayyyyyyy.” His use of that phrase becomes part of his identity.
  • Geography.  Yes, where one exists affects one’s identity. First, where we are born gives us a national identity whether we like that or not. Sure, we have the ability to change that aspect as we grow older but on some level, we retain at least a minor influence from the origin point. Beyond that, the place where we exist provides all manner of influences from weather to the availability of food. For most people born in an industrialized country, we have the ability or option of changing our geography, finding a place that best suits who we want to be.
  • Family. Oh, is this a tremendous factor in shaping our identity, sometimes in the ways in which we choose to escape their influence rather than embracing it. The family gives us our name and biological contributions to our DNA. The ways in which we are raised and nurtured, whether positive or negative, influences who we are and continues to influence us throughout adulthood. Naturally, we influence the whole family dynamic as well through the manner of our participation or lack thereof. While one might argue that the nuclear family is inherently dysfunctional, we have the ability to address that dysfunction and replace it as we create ourselves.
  • Employment. Given the tremendous amount of time one spends engaged in work it would be impossible for that experience to not become part of our identity. At its best, our employment is in a career field we’ve chosen and enjoy. At its worst, employment is simply a means of economic sustenance at the hands of a cruel overlord. While yes, one might change an employment situation they don’t like, even negative influences sometimes become comfortable to the point we fear engaging an alternative. However, in a positive situation, we have the ability to make the work environment better not only for ourselves but for everyone around us. We hold more control over this aspect of our identity than we might realize.
  • Social engagement. Whether one’s best friend is a cat that shows up at the back door every other Thursday or a troupe of comrades who regularly invade one’s fridge, the amount and quality of our social engagements becomes part of our identity. Every social interaction, from the barista who hands us our morning coffee to the ticket taker at the cinema, has the ability to influence us in some way. However, social engagement is where we hold the greatest influence as well. We determine with whom we associate and the basis of that association. We have the ability to control the when and the where as well as adding and removing engagements as they suit us. While not everyone is a social creature, everyone has a social aspect to their identity.

Several other external influences can exist and these can be broken down into endless subsections if needed. What’s important in creating one’s identity is that we carefully consider the role each of these plays in who we are rather than letting them passively shape us. If one is to be in full control of our identity, we have to also be in control of all our externals to the extent that doing so is reasonable and appropriate.

Putting together our identity - old man talking

The Internals

If the work toward self-creation hasn’t been grueling enough at this point, it’s about to get intense.  The Biologicals and The Externals are factors over which we have limited control. While we can change many of those aspects, some of those changes are difficult, take considerable amounts of time, and may have unintended consequences. The Internals? That’s all you, baby. The good news is that there are only four categories here to consider. The challenge is that each one is a separate journey into ourselves. This is like the five-mile, full-pack run at the end of the Marine’s crucible. Don’t stop now.

How we see ourselves

If you’ve ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, this is largely what is being measured. This portion of our identity is often referred to as our personality and that is not wholly incorrect, but how we see ourselves, our self-identification is more than just a collection of traits. Included here are the things that encourage us and allow us to encourage ourselves. How we define hope and how we measure our personal levels of success are included here are well. Our interpretive context, how we translate things we do as well as things that happen to us, is a critical part of this aspect.

At the same time, our fears, things that threaten us, the way in which we handle emotional pain, and disappointment fall here as well. Not every aspect of our self-identity is positive, nor should it be. Things we choose to hold in secret, memories we refuse to let slip away, and our historic responses to critical life events are part of this influence.

There is a forward-looking aspect of how we see ourselves, also. Who we hope to become, what we want to do in the future, what we are afraid of becoming, what we fear might happen, also affect our identity. The person who stockpiles dried food against a coming holocaust, for example, or the individual who saves their entire life to return to college after retirement are both examples of this futuristic aspect of how we see ourselves.

So very much goes into this self-awareness that listing all the possible influences would be impossible. Instances of restraint, any form of repression, the manner in which we respond to threats on our character, our defense against society’s labels, all factor into how we see ourselves. Do we push back against stereotypes or give in to them? Do you conceive of yourself as not disadvantaged by your race, gender or anything else? When considering your life, do you see opportunities or a series of roadblocks?

For all the other aspects and influences on our identity, how we see ourselves may be the most critical because it is wholly of our own construct. No one can tell us we’re doing it wrong. We see in ourselves things no one else knows exists and elements we would never reveal publicly inevitably play into who we are. Without the ability to act upon and re-shape this self-conception, we are little more than slaves to the world around us.

The boundaries we create

I am always amused when someone tells me they live life without any rules. That statement alone is, in fact, a rule. For every “I am … “ statement we create for ourselves, there is an implied boundary, “I am not …” For example, if one states they are an ally for LGBTQ+ people they are by default creating a boundary against bigotry and all forms of homophobia and creating an internal alert to guard against such.

Boundaries are necessary to protect us against attacks on our identity and our character, things that would attempt to dismantle our perception of ourselves and what we allow others to see. The manner of behavior we are willing to accept from both ourselves and from others is a boundary. The decision of whether to accept or reject an external influence is a boundary. We may not always be aware of these walls that we’ve created around ourselves, but they are absolutely necessary and we should at no point allow someone to shame us for having created them.

For example, if one has a family member that constantly and persistently berates and belittles them regardless of facts and achievements, one may establish a boundary that either limits or completely eliminates any time spent around that person. Such boundaries are healthy and an important part of protecting our identity.

What becomes difficult, however, is maintaining those boundaries and making sure they are sufficient to protect us. Many people have huge gaps in their personal boundaries that leave their identity open to attacks. One of the most frequent and basic boundary-breakers is the inability to say or hear the word “no.” Without that boundary firmly in place, external influences become overwhelming and take over large portions of our identity.

There are also times when our boundaries are too soft or porous. Let’s say, for example, that one claims to be an ally for LGBTQ+ people but yet they are constantly seen in the company of, and agreement to a well-known homophobe who routinely makes fun of and belittles gay and lesbian people or refers to trans people as “unnatural.” Such an action calls into question one’s commitment to their identity as an ally. For a boundary to be firm, one has to maintain consistency between public and private actions.

Having clear, solid boundaries prevents other people and external influences from manipulating who you are and what you do. No one can guilt you into doing things that violate your principles or causes you unnecessary discomfort. People may “press your buttons” in a variety of ways but it is the strength of one’s boundaries that allows them to not become stressed or give into someone out of frustration. What good does it do to carefully construct one’s identity if we subsequently allow external influences to dismantle our work?

Of course, setting and stating boundaries is one thing. Keeping our personal rules and maintaining those boundaries is quite another. The maxim that “rules were made to be broken” might be a convenient excuse for breaching someone else’s rules but when we do that to ourselves we undermine who we are and water down our identity. When someone repeatedly makes sexually aggressive comments toward you, do you always shut them down, or do you let it slide if the aggressor is cute? If someone asks you for money because they’re “desperate and have no one else to turn to,” do you give in or do you apply the same scrutiny and requirements that you would for any other requests?

When one is inconsistent with their boundaries, the public perception of one’s identity becomes inconsistent as well. Are you someone who appears wishy-washy on issues or are you firm and reliable? Being inconsistent with our boundaries opens one up to ways in which others might take advantage of us, allowing us to be harmed in various ways. When we fill in any gaps and eliminate any inconsistencies, our identity remains strong.

How we see the world

Each of us processes trillions of pieces of information over the course of our lifetime but each of us processes that information differently based on our perspective of how the world works and operates, especially in relation to the things that directly affect our own lives. Like other parts of our identity, this global perspective is constantly changing, morphing our identity sometimes suddenly in response to a specific event and other times gradually as a perception develops.

What shapes our perspective is a mix of education, experience, one’s personal morality, and our valuation of what is important. Every piece of information is run through this extremely individualized filter and we then respond accordingly. If something happens somewhere we have never been and about which our knowledge is limited we are more likely to respond apathetically than if the same thing were to happen someplace we enjoy being.

One’s global perspective, also known as one’s world view, shapes critical pieces of our personal identity. Whether one is conservative or liberal, religious in any manner or not, accepting of others different from one’s self or not. To some degree, our biases are heavily influenced by one’s global perspective as are our acceptance or rejection of stereotypes.

Not surprisingly, the more we know, the broader our global perspective tends to be and we tend to be more compassionate and accepting of people and events outside our immediate geography. People who have traveled extensively have a demonstrably different way of filtering events than do those who are born, live and die within a 50-mile radius. Please note that one is not better than the other but as one is based on a greater amount of first-hand information it is more likely to be more accurate in its assessment.

One also needs to realize that this perspective of the world can be wrong and misguided. When we accept as fact information that is false, we skew our perspective away from reality. This may result in an identity that appears ignorant or foolish. When one repeatedly responds according to misinformation, all other valuations of one’s identity are called into question. Even more disconcerting is that one may not realize they are the victim of misinformation. When one’s belief system leads them to trust sources that are ultimately untrustworthy, one is less likely to scrutinize the value of the information coming from that source.

On the plus side, however, we always have the ability to radically change one’s global perspective. For many people, the events of and immediately following September 11, 2001, dramatically shifted their global perspective and every piece of information they have received since then has been disseminated through that filter in one way or another. For some within that group, however, they have moved away from their initial assessment following that event. Where the shock of the attacks caused many to be more withdrawn and protective in their view, as a greater understanding of what happened and the long-term effects of the political consequences has come to bear, many people have shifted their view in yet different directions from that initial response. Again, the more we know, the greater one’s depth of understanding, the more accurate our perspective becomes.

A valuation of ourselves

Separate from how we see ourselves, our valuation, our self-esteem if you will, is a strong and fundamental aspect of our identity. Here is where we answer one of the basic questions: Am I a good person? How we answer that question colors all other aspects of our identity no matter how positive or negative they might be.

For some people, self-esteem is pretty much a constant. Some people are sure of their worth and their place in the world. They are confident they are doing good, that they’re achieving sufficient success according to their personal expectations, and that they’re reasonably happy with the path their life is taking. Other people are consistently the opposite of that, never satisfied with the quality of who they are, lacking any confidence to do better, and perpetually disappointed with every aspect of their lives.

Most people, however, are on a self-esteem roller coaster that is frequently, sometimes daily or perhaps hourly buffeted by a mix of blows and encouragement that sway one’s emotions one direction or the other. If one falls into this category, life is frequently more stressful as one’s emotions likely dominate their self-esteem valuation. A snide remark from an employer might send some spiraling downward while a compliment or word of encouragement from a complete stranger can elevate one’s self-esteem skyward and the effect lasts for days.

Also impactful here is the presence of diseases such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. When any one of those is present, one’s self-esteem is inherently colored by that condition and can make positive-leaning self-esteem difficult if not impossible to maintain. Such a distortion of our self-esteem is critical and not only affects one’s identity but how one views their entire life. Professional help is strongly encouraged for anyone who might be experiencing any such life-altering disease.

Ultimately, one’s self-esteem takes everything we’ve placed into our identity and gives it the equivalent of stock valuation. One’s initial valuation might be low, but can be improved. At other times, one’s valuation might be inflated and require a level of correction in order to be tolerable to society. What’s most important, though, is that one can control their own self-esteem. One does not have to be at the mercy of external influences. We get to decide our own worth and no one has the right to argue when we set that valuation sky high.

Communicating Your Identity

Communicating Your Identity - old man talking

When a Marine finishes the Crucible, they are awarded a special pin they wear on the collar of their uniform for the remainder of their service: the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor (EGA). That symbol alone identifies them as Marines and is recognized around the world. Not everyone achieves the honor of being a United States Marine. This identity is special and holds tremendous value.

Life doesn’t always give us a special pin when we complete the crucible of self-creation, however. As we go through this process, making adjustments, doing the difficult work of determining exactly who and what we are, there is rarely a specific symbol one can use that tells this world, “This is who I am.” That means it is up to us to find ways to effectively communicate our identity.

Why is this communication so important? Because other people are going to make assumptions about us that are often incorrect. Those assumptions can impact everything from one’s self-esteem to the type of opportunities one receives. When we communicate our identity proudly and up front, others are better able to respond appropriately to who we are. This is YOUR identity, your self-creation, and no one has any right to challenge or diminish that in any way. However, there are some challenges.

Before one can sufficiently communicate their identity to others, one has to embrace it for themselves. If, after going through this crucible of self-creation, one determines they are a gay, politically moderate, exceptionally educated elf-breeder, then one has to first accept all the aspects of that identity without feeling the need to backpedal on anything. If one looks at the identity they’ve created and feels that there might be a need to apologize for any aspect of it, then the whole thing needs to be reconsidered. One isn’t ready. We must first believe in ourselves before anyone else can believe in us.

Second, we can’t allow ourselves to be distracted by naysayers, and there will be naysayers no matter how one defines themselves. Some will say you’re overreaching. Some will say you’re not reaching far enough. Others will completely deny that you are who you say you are. This is where one’s boundaries come strongly into play. Don’t take the bait and argue with them because trolls only feed on the acknowledgment that comes with your response. Stand firm, block them or remove them, limit their access to you. Don’t let anyone or anything else diminish your identity.

While I’ve been writing this (it’s taken a minute or two longer than I expected) I received the story of a Marine recruit who had just received his EGA this week after completing the Crucible at Parris Island, North Carolina. This particular recruit was different in that when he first enlisted in 2016, his physical discovered that he had undiagnosed Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Obviously, his boot camp training stopped as he underwent treatment that can at times be brutal, leaving a body weak and a spirit worn. He beat cancer, though, then came back, persevered, did what some told him was impossible, and finished his training. The epitome of a Marine, he had made a commitment and nothing, not even cancer, was going to prevent him from fulfilling that.

Similarly, we have to be as equally determined in our commitment to our own identity. Yes, it can and will change, but as it changes we remain committed to who we are right now in this moment. Just as a Marine would never apologize for the qualities that make them Marines, neither should you apologize for the qualities that are part of your identity. Never apologize for your gender. Never apologize for your race and culture history no matter how blended it might be. Never apologize for your sexuality. Never apologize for your belief system. Never apologize for your education. Never apologize for your global perspective. Never apologize for any of the things that make you the unique individual you have become. You suffered and fought and struggled to create this identity. There’s no apologizing necessary.

None of us is the same person we were two or three years ago. Self-assessment is a constant need and as we evolve one should as strongly commit to who they are now as they did to who they were in the past. I’m no longer the pianist and conductor I once was, for example. I still have those skills but I identify more strongly as a photographer and writer. Where once my relationship with my parents was central to my identity, I have moved further away from that since their passing. I’m now more likely to identify as the father of my children or Kat’s significantly-older partner. I am as firm in my assessment now as I was 20 years ago.

In Act 1, Scene III of Hamlet, William Shakespeare’s Polonius famously states:

This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day. Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

For all the myriad analysis of this phrase and its potential meanings, in the context of the period what Polonius is telling his son is to do what benefits himself the most. We must acknowledge ourselves first and foremost or else what we present to others is a lie.

Centuries have not changed the wisdom of this instruction. Our greatest freedom lies in our ability to define for ourselves who we are and our greatest strength is found in being that person, without apology, without exception. Be who you are. Embrace who you are. Enjoy who you are. Love who you are. Any other existence is compromised.

Limited Bibliography

I’ve pulled from a horde of different sources, not all of which are available for reference. For the sake of maintaining a minimal level of academic integrity, here are some of the sources we consulted or considered in the writing of this article.

Sally Davies, Resist And Be Free
Who Am I? Self Identity—How to Build Personal Character
Literary Devices: Origins of To Thine Own Self Be True
World Bank Group: World Literacy Totals
Berkeley University: DNA and Mutations
SoundVision: DNA & Behavior
BasicGrowth: How to Create Your Own Identity
Adam Cash: Psychology, How To Build Your Personal Identity
Science Direct: Identity Work
Science Direct: Gender Differences In The Self-Defining Activities
Simply Psychology: Stereotypes
Ian Goddard: Identity DefinedDominic Packer and Jay J. VanBavel: The Dynamic Nature of Identity
Aron, A., Aron, E. N., Tudor, M., & Nelson, G. (1991). Close relationships as including other in the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(2), 241-253.
Jessie Zhu: What Is Self-Awareness and Why Is It Important

Reading time: 26 min
Fatth & The Superhero

Across history, humans have always looked to an external source, someone stronger, wiser, and infinitely more powerful who could not only address their sorrowful lot in life but give them hope for something better. Scholars debate endlessly as to which deity came first, with contemporary people of faith each claiming their own deity to be the original. Superheros, however, are a little more easy for us to track. Detective Comics (DC) introduced us to Superman in 1939 and that same year Marvel gave us Namor the Sub-mariner. Both deity and superheros have filled contemporary literature and influenced lifestyles from the moment we first learned of them.

At first glance, it may not seem as though there’s a lot of comparison between the deities of faith and the superheros of comic books. When we consider the current popularity of the two, however, perhaps we do well to give the matter more consideration. Marvel Studios has a list of superhero films mapped out more than 25 years into the future. At the same time, more young people are questioning the deities of faith their parents worshiped. While no one is claiming one is a causation for the other, the parallels point to ways in which one might easily replace the other.

What We Expect From Immortals

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
image by charles i. letbetter

There have been thousands of deities across the history of humanity and almost as many superheroes if one chooses to look at ancient literature in that way. Granted, Herakles had to rely on Apollodorus and others to tell his story rather than a comic book series but to contemporary Greeks (and later, Romans who knew him as Hercules), the demigod was a real superhero. One might claim that the biblical Moses was a form of superhero, or possibly King David (that whole slaying the giant thing), but their ultimate mortality makes them outliers.

Some have claimed that superheroes are the great American mythology, that even should the United States eventually fall into the ash heap of history, as all empires eventually do, these stories will live on. While some of the ancient beliefs still persist as what we call religions, what we expect from both superhero and deity are strikingly similar. Consider the following qualifications:

  • The most powerful immortals originate somewhere other than earth. The deity of the Abrahamic religions claims to have always been, which is an interesting twist, but Superman was born on the now-extinct planet of Krypton and the many incarnations of Green Lantern have come from all over the comic universe. Our assumption is that, since they’re not of this earth, both the deities and the superheroes can be more objective.
  • Superheroes and deities provide us with morality lessons. Not that we don’t know how to behave on our own, but we seem to need constant reminders to not steal or kill people or lay waste to entire planets. One can debate whether the tales are metaphors or reality but they all serve the same purposes in reminding us that behaving inappropriately is a bad thing and negative consequences are sure to follow.
  • Deities and superheroes protect our freedoms. Okay, so superheroes may have an edge here because deities sometimes get a little fussy when it comes to the whole freedom-to-believe-whatever-you-want thing. Certain deities don’t exactly have the best record on slavery and international relations, either. Superheroes have us well covered, though, and will fight raging robots from another solar system and/or the entire Nazi army single-handedly if necessary to make sure we are all free to pursue our own happiness.
  • Both superheroes and deities support friendships and family. Deities are a little closed minded as to exactly what constitutes a family, it turns out, but they’re very serious about keeping them strong and making sure they stay together. Superheroes are a bit more openminded on the subject and know that sometimes the best families are those not created by blood ties. Superheroes also tend to be more accepting of non-traditional lifestyles. Deities can be a bit slow about modernizing.
  • Civic participation is strongly encouraged by both groups. Deities tell their followers to do things like feed the poor, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, and we frequently see superheroes setting a good example by doing those very same things. Superheroes also encourage participation in democratic governments, but deities tend to shy away from that since it creates a conflict of interests.

Story lines that help us relate

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
Image by charles i. letbetter

Matters of Faith and the mythologies of superheroes are both inherently dependent on their story lines. Without a good story, we would neither believe in deities nor find comfort in the messages of superheroes. Sure, we treat holy books with infinite respect, but then,  many people feel the same way about a superhero’s original canon. Both Marvel and DC have received no small amount of backlash for daring to re-write origin stories and suggesting alternative canons for well-loved superheroes. Just ask Marvel about a female Captain Marvel, or Captain America being black. There were plenty of bigots who were just as offended by those changes as Christians are when someone suggests that Jesus might have been gay. People get attached to those stories.

The late Joseph Campbell wrote a book, Hero With A Thousand Faces, in which he finds the best superheroes have a similar and somewhat specific story arch. Interestingly enough, it doesn’t take a lot of faith to adopt that storyline to major religions, either. Here’s a very brief outline based on Campbell’s writings.

Ordinary World

In Campbell’s terms, this is wherever a hero exists before they become a hero. Maybe it’s Krypton. Maybe they’re on Mars. Maybe it’s Egypt. Everyone has a starting point and that starting point ultimately plays a critical role in the story.

Imagine what it would be like if, for example, Superman was from New Jersey. That would totally change how he responds to the challenges he faces. He could still be strong and rescue people, but he might need a super suit made of kevlar to pull off the bullet-proof thing.

Now, imagine if the prophet Muhammea had been born in Beijing rather than Mecca. Talk about a serious change to the story! Good luck tying that one back into the lineage of Abraham. Where gods and heroes start is a rather important piece of information.

Call To Adventure

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
Image by charles i. letbetter

Just because a superhero has powers doesn’t mean they instantly start fighting off evil wherever it may be found. There’s always a pivotal moment early in the story where the hero has to decide to use their powers for good. Otherwise, Clark Kent might have stayed on the farm and done all the plowing in record time. He could have made his adopted parents rich with the advantages his presence would have given them. But no, Clark had a greater sense of duty. The country was at war. There were bad people everywhere. The world needed Superman.

Faith has its similar moments. Moses and the burning bush that talked comes to mind. Had it not been for that moment, an entire race of people might have been lost forever. For that matter, what if Abraham had not responded to the command to sacrifice his son, Issac? That was the old man’s Call to Adventure. Three of the world’s largest religions are dependent on this critical point in their shared story.

Refusal of the Call

Just because someone is called doesn’t mean they feel all that confident responding. Peter Parker’s malaise following the death of his Uncle Ben threatened to end his story before it ever began. Teenaged angst and insecurity presents problems for others such as Aquaman. The Flash hides his persistent insecurity behind a litany of sarcasm and wise cracks.

Resistance is a necessary part of the story if we are to relate to our heroes and gods on any level. There’s something off-putting about those who are too eager to take on challenges. Those are the people who try taming a lion, forgetting both whip and chair. Reasonable people don’t rush into danger like that and we need both deities and heroes to be reasonable.

Moses, again, was reluctant, claiming that  he had a speech impediment. Jesus had his 40 days in the wilderness that presents itself as a crisis of resolve. The fact that neither deity nor hero takes their place without reservation lets us trust their other decisions more readily.

Meeting The Mentor

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
image by charles i. letbetter

Superman has the messages from his parents available in his Fortress of Solitude. Batman has Alfred. The X-Men have Professor Xavier. Superheroes know, or quickly discover, that they are not infallible. They need someone from whom they can learn, someone they can trust. We find this portion of their stories very relatable and necessary because we experience the same thing. We have teachers and mentors who guide us along both formal and informal paths in life. We understand the value of having a strong mentor who helps us avoid making some of the more obvious mistakes on our path to success.

Deities get a little wishy-washing on the whole mentor thing. The gods of Olympus had Zeus, sort of, though he could be fussy about when and how he might offer advice. Greek gods had Apollo, who had some similar personality disorders. Other deities, though, often go it alone and when they do we find our faith tested a bit as their stories force us into a level of confidence that makes us uncomfortable.

Christianity gets around the whole mentor thing by giving its deity three personalities, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This allows Jesus the frequent opportunity to talk with his “father,” especially when looking at a certain and painful execution. While that’s not quite the same as Alfred carefully chiding a careless Bruce Wayne, it serves the purpose of enforcing the need for guidance.

Crossing The Threshold

This is where our deities and superheroes start getting down to business. Hercules slew the Nemean Lion then killed the Hydra before capturing the Golden Hind of Artemis, which isn’t nearly as kinky a story as it sounds. Those first feats of superpowers are exciting, thrilling, and help the hero make a name for themselves.

Of course, when talking in terms of faith, one generally refers to those feats as “miracles,” which in terms of the ancients that is easy to understand. Jesus turned water into wine. Muhammad split the moon. Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, dispensed with the multi-headed demon Ravana. Each act was, in its own way, a coming out party letting the world know they were open for business.

These starting points are where we tend to start paying attention to both superheroes and deities. Regardless of their origin stories or how they got here, it is their awesome powers on display that makes us anxious to follow and see what happens next.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

If the stories of superheroes and deities were nothing more than a litany of fantastic feats and miracles, we likely would become bored rather quickly. After all, even awesomeness becomes ordinary when it isn’t challenged every once in a while. To flesh out the stories a bit, our heroes and deities have tests, establish allies, and inevitably create enemies.

While the tests are pretty obvious within the framework of each story, allies and enemies are not always as clear. Within the superhero universe, sidekicks are a common character, someone who can either be the reason the hero saves the world, or that extra bit of help in a time of need. People of faith tend to refer to the allies of their deity as disciples, with the concept being they are followers more than plot movers. Yet, even there, we frequently see those disciples yielding to temptation or creating difficult situations which the deity then addresses with a miracle.

No good deed goes unpunished, of course, and that maxim is especially true with superheroes and deities. Superheroes always have an arch villain whom they can never quite completely vanquish. Deities have it even more challenging, though, as they must deal with powers of supreme and pure evil. The powers of darkness loom large in stories so that the faithful are encouraged to not stray.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

Image by charles i. letbetter

Campbell’s choice of verbiage here is a bit confusing. As we look at the complete arch of any story, this would be the part where matters start getting seriously tense. Bad actors have all been identified (for the most part) and their misdeeds are pointing toward one large, final misdeed with the hero/deity has to stop.  In the best stories, both religious and comic, this is where some setbacks are encountered, perhaps not everything goes quite as well as expected. 

This step is important because it not only begins setting the stage for the final showdown to come later, it also provides are hero/deity a chance to comment on the human condition. If there’s going to be an sub plot or morality tale, it likely occurs here. 

There are a number of plot mechanisms to be put into place here, but among the more common are a lengthy discourse to the sidekick/disciples, a prayer/monologue while alone, or a tense encounter with the enemy. Whatever plot tool is used, the end result is to assure the reader that, a: they are not alone in the challenges they face, and b: everything’s going to turn out okay. Our hero/deity exits this part of the story with confidence and determination.

Ordeal

The battle is on. Evil, in whatever incarnation it might appear, charges head-first at our hero/deity with the ultimate goal of unseating them and taking control of the world. Notice, it’s always taking control of the world. No one ever wants to just take control over Yonkers or a nunnery in the Alps. The stakes have to be as big as possible and while there’s always the universe at stake in some space stories, it is the fate of the world that concerns each of us more directly. We live on the earth. Few of us are anxious to be ruled by evil.

Expect a lot of buildings to fall during this battle, both in real terms and metaphorically. Stereotypes are shredded and traditional expectations are burned. At times, the two sides momentarily appear equal in power. The hero/deity thrusts, the enemy parries. While other challenges might have been met with relative ease, this one takes everything the hero/deity has.

This isn’t the final battle just yet, but it sets up the story for why the final battle is absolutely necessary. We see how dangerous the enemy is. The need for the superhero/deity to win becomes more apparent than ever.

Reward

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
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Tada! The hero/deity wins in one fashion or another. Evil is put in its place, though one likely notices that it is never completely destroyed; it must continue to exist because we continue to encounter it in our own lives. Still, for now, the bad folks are out of the way and everyone can celebrate. Sort of. Over the centuries, “winning” has taken on different definitions to fit the morality of the society at the time. If the hero/deity becomes a martyr, that still counts as a win.

We also do well to note that saving humanity, either physically or spiritually, is always the reward. Heroes and deities are defined in large part by their willingness to sacrifice themselves so that everyone else may live.  Okay, so a few buildings get knocked down here and there and the end result of any Superman adventure is billions of dollars in infrastructure repairs. What’s a few dollars compared to the lives of the entire planet?

In fact, for both heroes and deities, financial gain is something they tend to avoid. Okay, so Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark are both insanely rich when they start. That part of their lives is largely separate from their superhero personas. Everyone else takes whatever is given and is thankful. Reward is succeeding in the quest, whatever that may be.

The Road Back

One might think that once the hero/deity has won the prize that the story would be over. Not hardly. There are still some loose ends to tie up, people to thank, repairs to be made. This is a mirror of real struggles, especially war. Wars are seldom won at home. When the peace treaties are signed, troops return to the place from which they came. Often, life is different than it was before they left.

Superman, for example, frequently returns back to the farm to check on his adopted parents after a particularly difficult battle. His return is grounding, reassuring, and confirms for him the reason he fights. Spiderman removes the costume so Peter Parker can return to Aunt May, his source of emotional support and teacher of morality. 

For stories of faith, this is often a final set of instructions and even saying some goodbyes. Where martyrdom is certain, there is a need to make sure the disciples know how to continue on in the deity’s physical absence. Jesus is even seen praying for an alternative ending, which doesn’t happen. This is the point where tears start to flow. We see what the hero/deity is giving up to save humanity.

Resurrection

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Critical at this point is that the hero/deity must face their greatest challenge of all, one that puts them face to face with death. Why? Because death is and always has been the biggest and most frightening challenge for all humans. Our faith requires that our deity and heroes have the power to overcome death, or at the very least, mitigate its finality. If our hero/deity can’t conquer death, what hope do the rest of us have?

The plot element here is on that has endured through even the earliest of ancient stories. The superhero/deity appears to die, in some legends does die, and then makes a triumphant return kicking evil and death to the curb in a final (for now) victory. Humanity is saved and hope is restored.

Holy books are pretty clear on this point and telegraph the ending long before it arrives. Only the other characters in the story are worried about the deity. Those reading the story today likely knew the ending before they ever picked up the book. Comics are a bit more troublesome, though. Superman has died more than once. Same for Batman and several others. The upside is, they keep coming back and winning.

Return With The Elixer

Campbell’s choice of terminology here refers to what was a common plot point in ancient stories where the superhero, often a wizard or wise medicine man, needed to secure a specific formula that would cure a disease plaguing the populace. These stories were born of real-world problems in an age where disease could easily wipe out entire tribes.

Contemporary superheroes/deities rarely return with a life-saving antidote any more as that particular plot mechanism has played itself out. Modern medicine takes care of most potential plagues so all it good on that front. Rather, our worshiped entities emerge from the final conflict having saved our souls and our very lives. They have secured our form of government, blessed our lifestyle choices, and left us waving giant flags of allegiance to whatever it was they were saving in the first place.

Here, the stories end, fade to black more or less, with the promise that both the deities and the superheroes are likely to return. When I was a kid, comic books managed to get through all 12 steps in roughly 30 or so pages. The formats have gotten longer over time as readers desired more detail. Religious stories tend to take longer, giving the deity plenty of room to speak at length because they are all so infinitely quotable. Still, the sun sets and there’s a feeling of happiness as one closes the book.

Where Two Paths Diverge

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The similarities and parallels between the hundreds of deities and thousands of superheroes are many. Whole, giant books have dissected many of those topics for the academic credit of having done so but the average person is likely content with even less than what I’ve already written on this page. Deities and superheroes are an awful lot alike. We get that. Most reasonable people don’t have a problem with it. Warner Brothers even provided pastors with sermon hints and outlines that compare Jesus to Superman. I wish I was kidding.

Not everything is quite the same, though. Without getting into the failings of any particular deity, the two groups diverge along some fairly important paths. Let’s consider some of those for just a moment.

  • Deities are out to save your soul while superheroes rush to save your life. There’s not really any crossover between the two regardless of what the faithful might claim. One never sees Odin or Allah sweeping down at the last moment to keep one from being hit by a speeding bus. Deities will let you die in this realm to welcome you to their version of paradise.
  • Deities tend to be jealous and rarely work together, even if they have identical backstories. Superheroes form alliances all the time in order to defeat a shared enemy, even if that enemy is other superheroes (see Marvel’s Civil War series). The lack of cooperation among deities results in some pretty brutal animosities between their followers. Remember the Crusades? Yeah, that whole nonsense could have been avoided had the deities played together a bit better.
  • Superheroes rarely shy away from the spotlight even when it might be to their advantage to do so, Iron Man. Deities tend to stay invisible, preferring to let oracles, preachers, imams, rabbis, and other “chosen” representatives deliver their message. This allows deities to perpetuate the concept of being everywhere all at once.
  • Deities take individual, personal requests for their services but don’t have the best track record for responding in a timely manner. Superheroes, on the other hand, don’t so much as list a Twitter handle but still manage to show up when danger comes a-knockin’. This discrepancy creates some trust issues among those who would be faithful.
  • Deities provide answers to critical questions such as, “Where did all this come from?” and “What happens when I die?” Those are extremely important questions that have plagued humanity from the moment we started using more than two percent of our brains. Superheroes, by contrast, don’t really care how you got here and are committed to not letting you die. From the superheroes perspective, if you die, they failed. That’s some serious performance motivation.

I could probably create a longer list but I think that’s enough to make the point. Superheroes and deities are not the same despite all the similarities in their stories. Each exists for a different purpose, which opens us to the possibility that perhaps we (as a society) need them both.

Do We Need All That Help?

Faith and the Superhero - Old Man Talking
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The flip side to considering whether we need both deities and superheroes in our society is whether we need either of them at all. One can reasonably make the argument, and several people already have, that both deities and superheroes are emotional and intellectual crutches that keep us from accepting reality and looking for solutions ourselves. If a deity created the universe then do we still need to explore its depths? If we believe superheroes are going to save us, do we need to develop the ability to save ourselves? These are some pretty serious matters we need to consider before leaving the conversation. Let’s look at a handful of hot topics.

  • You can save yourself. Waiting for someone else, whether deity or superhero, to come along and scoop your ass up and deliver you to a better place is pretty much a guarantee you’re going to continue sitting right where you are now. Even faith requires some effort on your part. One has to be an active participant in their own life and living in a fantasy world of superheroes and opposing deities prevents one from doing that.
  • Good and evil are under your control. No one needs an external source to define good and evil for them. The seven “deadly sins” of lust, gluttony, greed, wrath, sloth, envy, and pride are largely universal and exist by various names in every society. How we respond to those, which ones we embrace and which we fight, is all a matter of personal choice, and one can always change their mind.
  • Strength is not always physical. I have always found it interesting the degree to which we form our images of deity to match our images of superheroes. Much more important than the ability to “leap tall buildings in a single bound” is the ability to determine the circumference of a circle, determine how much weight a bridge can hold, and how to successfully move your life forward. Best of all, there is no kryptonite to kill your brain unless you create it.
  • Being female is not a handicap. While there are exceptions among both, the list of deities and superheroes is largely dominated by patriarchal characters throwing their weight around. Women are too often relegated to support roles. Comics have done a better job of addressing this issue in recent years, and the latest incarnation of Wonder Woman is inspirational. Bottom line: women are every bit as powerful as men and only an evil character would get in their way.
  • One need not choose career over family. One just doesn’t find many moms within the deific or superhero realms.  Within the comic book realm, one is pretty much limited to Sue Storm (Fantastic Four) or Wonder Woman’s mom, Queen Hippolyta, who is pretty badass by her own right. Among the various religions, one pretty much has to go back into antiquity where the goddesses were respected and slept with both gods and demigods, which created no small amount of trouble. Both need to get with the plan and realize that anti-family attitudes are a detriment to society.

Again, the list could be a lot longer, but I think this is sufficient to make my point. We don’t need a caped crusader or a silent creator in order for our lives to be full and complete. Society fails when it cedes any level of control, spiritual, physical, or emotional, to a character whose only argument for existence lies in a story someone told a long time ago. 

Hence, faith and superheroes are two sides of a gilded coin; they can be manipulated to look good but at their core, they have no real value. Both make for good entertainment and perhaps even provide decent morality stories in some instances (though certainly not all). Building our lives around either, however, prevents us from realizing our own potential.

If the world ever needs saving it is up to us to save it. No one is going to come swooping down from the sky to rescue our pathetic asses. If we don’t do the saving, the saving won’t be done.

Faith and the Superheroe - Old Man Talking
Image by charles i. letbetter

Note #1:  This article was created using the new WordPress editor, Gutenberg. Hence, not everything laid out quite the way we wanted, especially with images. However, it is a lot easier to use than anyone around here anticipated and is likely to become more powerful as new options become available.

Note #2: The Old Man wishes to thank Rachel Notestine and Holly Hacker for playing the part of our superheroes in the images for this article. Both are parents with teenagers in their houses, making them real superheroes to their families.

Reading time: 23 min
Old Man Talking

Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) went on a Twitter rant in response to the standing ovation a Memphis megachurch pastor received after admitting he had sexually assaulted a teenager.

Let’s be very clear from the beginning that I don’t know Rachel Held Evans. I know she has authored three books: Searching For Sunday, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and Faith Unraveled. She’s married, has a baby boy, and her online presence is carefully managed by her publisher. Honestly, she strikes me as the type of overly zealous “I came back to Jesus so you should too” type of millennial who is attempting to re-work Christianity so that it fits more comfortably with the worldview common to her age group. That’s not a criticism, necessarily, but an acknowledgment that, like most millennials, she has difficulty accepting the status quo and chooses to re-fashion the existing structure rather than chucking it and starting over. People her age are doing similar things in fashion, retail, beer brewing, banking, advertising, and even politics. So be it.

Until this morning, I had no reason to be interested in Ms. Evans or her books. I seem to vaguely recall seeing a publisher’s blurb for Searching For Sunday (or maybe a reference from John Pavlovitz?) but her story is her story, not something an old apple like me is going to find inspirational. I do best just letting those things be. I’ve no reason to comment. 

Then, I open Twitter this morning (@ThOldManTalking) and find Ms. Evans has responded to a news item in the way that is now most likely to have a wide-spread affect: Twitter Rant. The rant comes in response to news reports (I’m looking at the story in the NY Times) that members of the Memphis megachurch Highpoint gave pastor Andy Savage a standing ovation after he admitted to having sexually assaulted a teenaged member of his congregation 20 years ago.  No, I’m not kidding. They actually stood an applauded his admission of sexual assault. There’s video to which I won’t like because, frankly, it’s disgusting.

Obviously, and with good reason, the Internet did its collective spit take when the news came out and every pastor worth their salt, all four of them, condemned what happened, recognizing that the action is symptomatic of a Church that is woefully out of touch with Christianity, let alone the society it purports to serve. Ms. Evans’ tweet storm, though, goes a step further in addressing one of the root causes of many of the Church’s failings: patriarchy. We mention patriarchy as one of the sources of unwarranted privilege just last week. She hones in specifically on its role in maintaining an acceptance of abuse that the rest of society sees as untenable.

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Here are Ms. Evans’ tweets, hopefully in the order they appeared:

Hold on, she’s not really done quite yet.

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Rethinking 'Merica

Rethinking ‘Merica

Wow. I fully agree with everything Ms. Evans says in that rant and more. Patriarchy is a significant part of what makes religious privilege so very dangerous to a fair and equitable society. As long as the prevailing thought is that women need to “stay in their lane and do what they’re told,” we’re not going to see any progress within that portion of society. Even evangelical women are supporting this abusive nonsense, which is symptomatic of long-term abuse.

Ms. Evans makes a couple of references in her rant that probably need some clarification for anyone not glued to multiple news feeds.

Re. James Dobson (sorry, I just threw up a little): The founder of the ultra-rightwing group “Focus on the Family,” Dobson said in a conference call, ” I’m calling for a nationwide movement to pray for him [the president]. I’m calling for a day of fasting and prayer. I hope that Christian people from coast to coast will join in that time. The date is your choosing, but we do need to be praying for our president.” Dobson is afraid that the president is impeachable which would result in a loss of power for religious-based hate groups such as his. [source: Newsweek]

Re. Roy Moore: According to the Washington Examiner, “the family home of Tina Johnson, one of the several women who recently accused the failed U.S. Senate candidate of sexual misconduct in the 1990s, was destroyed in a blaze.” The fire has prompted an arson investigation. One has to admit it looks highly suspicious.

Re. Kay Warren: The wife of Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, tweeted:

While the words are nice to the ears of some, she still bows to the patriarchy defended by her husband.

Re. Beth Moore. Ms. Moore is the founder of Living Proof Ministries, one of those organizations directed specifically toward evangelical women. Some claim the purpose of these organizations is to keep evangelical women in line, but I’m not familiar enough with this one to comment further. I’m not seeing any tweet from Ms. Moore that directly references matters of abuse and/or patriarchy but she did post this:

I’ll be honest, that tweet makes me very uncomfortable and I’m not sure it’s the one to which Ms. Evans refers. If it’s not, I apologize. Something tells me Ms.Moore and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, though.

I’m going to restrain myself from commenting further and let all this information stand on its own merit or lack thereof. Arguing belief systems with people is a pointless waste of time and misses the greater issue that both religion and patriarchy establish and maintain a level of privilege that is unjust, unfair, and unequal on a grand scale. So long as such a system of privilege exists people are going to suffer in more ways than can be enumerated.

Consider this a sidebar to the greater conversation regarding a doctrine of fairness. More on that particular issue is coming soon. I hope. Depending on the weather (quite literally).

Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

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New bill introduced, president to resign

NOTICE: THIS IS SATIRE, NOT THE NEWS

We know the headline grabbed your attention but we want to be extremely clear: what follows is satire, not the news. We want you to share the article, but please make sure everyone knows this is satire, not the news. There is enough of a problem with fake news without anyone adding to it. Nothing that follows is real, at least not when we wrote it. We do not have any control over what may or may not happen in the future. Thank you for reading and sharing.

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THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON

OFFICE OF COMMUNICATIONS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
21 NOVEMBER 2017

(WASHINGTON) The White House announced this morning that it is backing a bill introduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate known as the Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill of 2017. The bill is co-sponsored in the House by the female members of the Congressional Victim’s Rights Caucus, and the Congressional Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus. The Senate version of the bill, which contains nearly identical wording, is co-sponsored by Senator Jeanne Shaheed, representing the Senate Ethics Committee, and Senators Shelly Moore Capito and Amy Klobuchar, representing the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. The bills were introduced under special rules that allow them to be passed without the vote or participation of any male members of Congress.

The 237-page bill, initially distributed only to female members of the White House Press Corp,  details a system wherein all U.S. citizens receive and must wear at all times video cameras attached to the forehead. Cameras are inherently in the “on” position and can only be turned off in the event of the death of the citizen. Cameras would utilize a proposed national Internet wi-fi system to live stream the activities of the wearers wherever in the nation they might be. Additionally, cameras would be required of foreign guests, including visiting heads of state, for the duration of their visit to the United States. Live streams would be monitored and police would be immediately dispatched at any moment any form of sexual assault or unwanted sexual advance was detected. Perpetrators would then be detained and tried by an all-female court. Punishments established by the bill would range from fines of $500 for the first offense committed by someone under the age of 18, to life in prison for a two-time offender over the age of 25, or a three-time offender between the ages of 18-25.

“We are obviously doing our best to deal with an epidemic of sexual assault,” explained Victim’s Rights Caucus staff member Melanie Horrorwitz. “Studies by the women on these committees and caucuses have determined that one hundred percent of men over the age of 35 are sexual predators. Some have been sly enough to prevent any of their victims from actually remembering their crimes, but we are as sure that all men are guilty just as we are certain that all women are victims of male sexual assault, domination, and oppression, regardless of their age. This is the first serious step toward preventing any other women from becoming victims and re-educating the entire male gender of the population to respect women and keep their distance unless specifically beckoned.”

Senate Ethics Committee staffer, Stephanie Richmond, added, “Women across the United States have sent a very loud and clear message that they’re fed up with the continued litany of sexual harassment and the difficulty of bringing charges against those who perpetrate such crimes. The Anti-Sexual Assault Surveillance Bill provides hard evidence and allows anyone watching a live stream to serve the interest of justice by registering as a witness to the crime. The testimony of those witnesses then corroborates the victim’s account of the situation, providing for quick and certain justice. Our hope is that once this system is fully operational, courts can move quickly and achieve justice within 48 hours of the commission of a sexual assault crime.”

While none of the Members of Congress were immediately available at the White House press briefing, staff members for Senators Kamala D. Harris and Patty Murray of the Senate Budget Committee confirmed that the measure would be funded by removing funds currently earmarked for items such as 3D-printed pizza for Congressional staff birthday parties, surveillance droids still searching for former-President Obama’s real birth certificate, the remote-controlled flying pigs project, and slashing by as much as two-thirds President Trump’s self-tanning allotment. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the budget revisions could free up as much as fifteen billion dollars from the self-tanning allotment alone.

Ms. Horrorwitz denied that the bill is inherently “anti-men,” stating, “We’ve looked at the numbers and realize that there are some predatory women out there who are going to be caught in this net, and that’s as it should be. Sexually predatory activity has to end regardless of how it is being wielded or who is wielding it. We’eve existed too long on this planet being treated as objects of possession. This bill gives women the opportunity to take back their lives, to find respect as a human being.”

Ms. Richmond added, “Not all men are monsters, but men are a minefield. Not every inch has the power to devastate but devastation lies hidden everywhere. We’re willing to give up a little privacy in order to turn the tables on this long-standing ‘good ol boys’ network of power and corruption. We are fairly certain that the world is going to be a better place once this bill becomes law. No one should have to wear a mask of complicity as a survival tactic.”

White House To Lead Implementation

White House head intern Janna Mueller confirmed that the bill has the full support of the Trump administration and that the White House plans to lead by example. “Cameras have already been secured and labeled and are ready to be distributed to all White House staff members, including the White House Press Corp, just as soon as the bill is passed. We appreciate the efforts of special envoys Jessica Drake, Karena Virginia, Cathy Heller, Summer Zervos, Kristin Anderson, and Jessica Leeds, among others, who helped convince the President and his administration to participate in this vital program. The program enjoys especially strong support from the First Lady who has said that she will personally help fit the President with his camera.”

“The President was a little reluctant at first,” added Terri Scott, spokeswoman for the First Lady. “Terms like ‘witch hunt’ and ‘all Obama’s fault’ were thrown around for a while, but once the First Lady put his cell phone in a place where the President isn’t allowed to grab he came around and agreed that this really is the best thing for everyone. This bill is a giant step toward making America great. We all believe that.”

According to the terms outlined in the bill, once the White House staff has been fitted with cameras, Members of Congress and their staffs, as well as the Justices of the Supreme Court and their staffs are next. From there, implementation is based upon a hierarchy of historical abuse with Hollywood producers, musicians, fashion photographers and editors, comedians, and light-night television hosts being among the first non-elected citizen groups to receive the video cameras. 

While the majority of Americans should receive their cameras within the first six months after the bill’s signing, there is some concern that citizens in more rural areas of the United States, specifically places currently without Internet, cable news, or easy access to newspapers, may receive their cameras in the mail without understanding their purpose or how to use them. The Congressional Budget Office report estimates that as many a 1, 397 people could be affected. Ms. Richmond downplayed that number, however, stating that special agents would be dispatched to these areas to help people fit the cameras to their foreheads and teach them how to use the viral network. 

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Voyeurism Key To Program's Success

Critical to the success of the program is the assumption that Americans cannot resist the opportunity to spy on the lives of other people, especially those they don’t like or they feel have wronged them in any way. As the images are streamed live across the Internet and accessible on all Internet-capable devices, Americans whose cameras are also online and registered will have the ability to watch any feed and vote on the “C-Factor” of each particular feed. The “C” stands for “Creepiness,” a subjective level of predatory activity that causes the viewer to feel uncomfortable or that persons involved in the interaction might potentially be in danger.

“Actually, we got the idea from an episode of “The Orville” on Fox,” Ms. Mueller explained. “Since what is or isn’t creepy differs from person to person, we decided it would be best if everyone viewing a stream was allowed to weigh in as to whether the activities of the person they’re watching warrant intervention by law enforcement. The whole process is very democratic. If the majority of people viewing feel that a person’s actions are out of line, the system automatically notifies local authorities and that person is immediately picked up and their trial scheduled. We don’t want perpetrators on the street any longer than necessary, but at the same time, we want to give everyone a fair shake. Letting viewers from all over the country watch each other is probably one of the most democratic actions Americans have ever undertaken.”

Adding to the incentive of camera use is the ability for people to make money according to the number of viewers watching their live streams. “We understand that in live streaming one’s entire life that we are giving up a certain amount of privacy,” Ms. Richmond explained. “We compensate people for giving up that privacy by paying them $100 a day for every 10,000 viewers they have watching their feed. So, people whose feeds are likely to be popular, such as Katy Perry or Lady Gaga, could easily earn several thousand dollars a day from the program. At the same time, we hope that it leads people to think about engaging in more interesting activities so that other people have a reason to watch. No one is going to want to watch you eating a plate of nachos or reading a blog on how to boil water. They are much more likely to be interested in those accounts that involve some level of action, such as snow skiing, playing sports, or masturbating in front of a mirror.”

The bill immediately came under fire, however, from diverse groups such as the Catholic church, the American Psychological Association, and the American Bar Association. Robert Mugambo of the American Bar Association expressed alarm at the implications for invasion of privacy. “This absolutely strips away any hint of attorney/client privilege. No one is going to be free to talk with their attorney in an open and honest manner if they know that everything they say is being broadcast across the Internet. “

Gary Kakaramen of the American Psychological Association expressed similar concerns. “The bond between a therapist and their clients is sacred. The information shared in therapy sessions is not something to be voted on or subject to public discourse,” he said. “The last thing we need is a couple hundred thousand amateur psychologists sitting at home watching these sessions and passing judgment on people who are simply trying to put their lives back together. When someone goes to their therapist and admits they have a problem, they need compassion and understanding as they work through that issue, not a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.”

Especially vulnerable is the Rite of Confession, something considered necessary for forgiveness within the Catholic church. “I can’t imagine any priest being able to hear confession under these circumstances,” said Cardinal John Paul George Ringo of the Liverpool diocese. “The confession is sacred and must be held to the utmost secrecy. Priests are forbidden from ever revealing what is told to them in the confession. Allowing live streaming of those confessions is absolutely not possible.”

Ms. Richmond challenged those assertions, however. “Consider who it is complaining,” she said. “Lawyers, so-called therapists, and a group of clergy with a long-running record of pedophilia they’ve been trying to hide for centuries. Why would we want to allow them to continue practicing in secret when we already know that the secrecy is being used to prevent women from talking about these long-standing patterns of abuse? These are exactly the types of people this program is designed to expose.”

 Ms. Mueller added, “This is just part of tearing down the misogynistic infrastructure of power that has dominated lives and abused women for centuries. I think the key is a zero-tolerance policy and that is what this program provides. Too many people grew up thinking that the scenes in movies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, and Porky’s are the correct way to treat women. Those people need to be removed from society and re-educated, introduced to movies such as Raise the Red Lantern, The Color Purple, An Angel at My Table, and Meek’s Cutoff. People are slowly waking up to the fact that a woman’s positive demeanor is often hiding fear, confusion, disgust, or misplaced shame. The days when men in power could ride roughshod over women are no more. This bill ends the nonsense.”

President To Appoint New VP Before Resigning

In a separate statement, White House Communications Director Hope Hicks announced that President Trump, Vice President Pence, Chief of Staff John Kelly, and all male members of the President’s Cabinet will resign in the interim between the bill’s passage by Congress, making way for a new President, likely the country’s first female President, to sign the important bill on her first day in office. “Circumstances being what they are, the President and other male members of his administration see no way that they can effectively govern without the inherent misogyny that brought them to power,” she said as she read from a prepared statement. “The President has consulted his closest advisors and we think the plan being introduced today does a good job of transitioning power to more intelligent and level-headed people capable of governing from a position of compassion while maintaining the agenda set by the current administration.”

According to the agenda distributed to the White House Press Corp, Vice President Mike Pence will resign first, most likely within an hour of the passage of the bill in the Senate. At that time, President Trump will send the Senate his nomination for a new Vice President. While no one was willing to speak on the record as to who that nominee might be, speculation runs high that the President will nominate his daughter, Ivanka.

An anonymous White House source, known by the code name “first daughter,” told gathered members of the press, “I think the President would have liked to nominate his wife, Melania, so he could at least continue living in the White House but apparently, there’s some silly clause in the Constitution about having to be a natural-born citizen to be President and, at the moment, there really isn’t time to change the Constitution. So, the President’s next choice is likely to be one of his daughters and we all know that Tiffany just doesn’t have what it takes to run a country. I mean, she has trouble picking out a decent ensemble for going to the gym. Ivanka really is the President’s only other choice.”

Once Congress has approved a new Vice President, then President Trump and members of his staff and Cabinet will resign, making way for the new Vice President to become President, something that has not happened since Gerald Ford took office after the resignation of scandal-ridden Richard Nixon. According to sources close to the situation, the elder Trump would then be referred to as Trump I while Ivanka would officially take the title of President Trump 2.0. 

When asked whether she would keep the existing female members of the Cabinet, Ivanka stated that Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao was likely to be the only Cabinet member that would maintain her position. “She’s so cute and has such an infectious smile, there’s no way I could let Secretary Chao go,” Ivanka whispered through a keyhole in her White House office door. Other Cabinet members would not be so fortunate, however. “DeVos might as well pack and leave with the guys,” Ivanka said. “She reeks of old lady soap and whoever is doing her makeup needs to go back to beauty school. I might keep Elaine Duke at the Department of Homeland Security, but only if she can change the codes on the nuclear football so that my dad can’t play with them.”

Ms. Richmond said all male members of Congress were expected to resign as well, though no timetable has been established for that to happen. “There is some question as to whether we need to first wait for male Governors to be replaced so that we have reliable, compassionate people in place to appoint new Members of Congress,” she stated. “In most cases, I think the Governor’s wives are likely to take their places, ensuring that general political agendas continue and the partisan imbalance of power is maintained going into the 2018 general elections. What we don’t want to risk is another massive foul-up like that whole Roy Moore debacle in Alabama. That kind of nonsense is exactly what we’re trying to eliminate from Capitol Hill.”

Once the new Congress was in place, then male members of the Supreme Court would likely resign, though, being in place for life, they are under no obligation to do so. “I think the cameras will help determine whether further resignations are necessary,” Richmond said. “No one has really had any clue what goes on in the judges’ chambers before now and I’m sure there will be plenty of people watching those live streams to see what exactly takes place. Should any justices commit an act of sexual assault, they would, of course, be subject to the same arrest and re-education as anyone else, which would likely force them to resign. We are already concerned about Justice Thomas, given his personal history.”

Ms. Hicks stated, “I heard someone on television say that this is a moment that demands a frank and honest assessment about where we stand and more generally the safety of women. There is no excuse for the behavior that we have tolerated and are just now giving a voice. We cannot walk back from where we are. We cannot allow men to continue to dominate and ruin lives. The cameras are the only way to stop this infection. No longer is it going to be my word against his. No longer is a perpetrator going to shame his victim. Never again will any accusation be doubted or belittled. This situation is systemic and pervasive and this bill is the first step toward ending this horrible problem that men do their best to ignore.”

When asked what additional steps might be taken following the passage of the bill, Ms. Richmond said that no firm plans have been made yet. “I think we have to do something about changing some basic laws, but I don’t think there have been any firm conversations as to how to make that happen. I do know that I, as an attractive young woman, want the freedom to be able to walk stark naked down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue if I want without feeling any fear, or threatened by any catcalls, or shamed for that pudge I get after eating a whole plate of cheese fries the night before. Free the Nipple should be more than just a slogan. That’s a goal, but we’ve not really discussed how to get there from a practical perspective. And that’s really just a warm-weather activity. My skin dries out below 65 degrees. We’ll just have to see.”

Some of the statements in this article were borrowed, revised, or summarized from the Twitter accounts of @stannieholt, @ClaraJeffery, @MonicaHesse and @NorahODonnell. Under no circumstances is any endorsement implied in either direction, though we’re sure they’re all wonderful and compassionate people who are fed up with men behaving like jackasses.

Disclaimer

We again want to emphasize that THIS IS SATIRE! Nothing in the article above is real. Should you choose to share this article on social media, which we encourage, it is up to you to present it as SATIRE. Help fight against fake news by clearly labeling this material as satire, no matter how much you might wish we were being serious. 

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

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Reading time: 17 min
Does my relationship give you the creeps

“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.” –Actor Clint Eastwood to his wife, Dina

Relationships are really big in the news rights now, specifically dysfunctional and largely illegal relationships. I hadn’t wanted to comment on any of the mess in Hollywood or New York or anywhere else because anything I might say one way or the other would just be noise. When the allegations against Alabama GOP Senate nominee, Roy Moore, surfaced last week, I rolled my eyes. We already knew the former state Supreme Court judge was a piece of shit trying desperately to cling to the hem of Jesus’ legacy; this seemed to me to be merely more noise that the thick-headed Republicans in Alabama would just ignore. Those folks haven’t elected a decent politician since … uhm … ever. No need for me to wade into that useless fracas. No amount of logic is going to sway the minds of the willfully ignorant.

However,  in recent days since that story first dropped, I started noticing things popping up here and there, in a comment on a news story, in a reply to a tweet. Nothing really major, I suppose, just personal opinions regarding large age gaps in relationships. The topic gets under my skin a bit, but the people making those comments were not people of significance and are entitled to their own opinions, even if they are misinformed.

Then, this piece of garbage showed up on my Twitter feed, thanks to someone’s reply to the attempt to misdirect the conversation:

does my relationship give you the creeps

The tweet references an article in People magazine in September of this year, talking about the revelations in a book by the woman involved, Mimi Alford, who had just released a book detailing her experiences as Mrs. Kennedy’s personal assistant [source]. Presuming the allegations are true, and there’s no reason to assume they aren’t at least based on some level of fact, then sure, President Kennedy abused the power of his office for sexual favors. So did Bill Clinton, in case you slept through the 90s. 

What makes the allegations against Moore so much worse, and Coulter’s attempt at distraction more despicable is the fact that Moore’s victims were teenagers, under 18, making the act one of pedophilia which is illegal. The law sets the age of 18 as the point at which a young person can reasonably be expected to have enough information, education, and life experience to make her own decisions regarding the when, where, why, how, and with whom they want to have sex. The further removed one is from that age, the less they have sufficient maturity to make knowing and responsible decisions, putting them in the category of inherent victims regardless of what the child might have said at the time.

What angers me, though, is when people like Coulter associate all May/December relationships with the despicable acts of pedophiles like Moore. Pedophiles aren’t looking for relationships, they’re looking for control and power. Comparing the two is like trying to compare mustard with treated lumber—they’re not remotely the same thing.

Why, you might ask, does this matter upset me so much?  Because I’m in one of those May/December relationships, I’ve experienced the negative response, and quite frankly, I’m rather fed up with people patting me on the back as though I’ve won some award while looking at The Young Woman (hereafter referred to as TYW for brevity) as though she’s either lost her ever-loving mind or presuming she must be a gold digger. That response is every bit as wrong as expressing disgust with a biracial relationship or a same-gender relationship.  We are in love because we both chose to be in love and the only creepy factor is among those who think our relationship is creepy.

Part of the problem is that some seem to think that May/December relationships only happen because one was stalking the other. The dialog goes that either the older person had some latent pedophilia going on or the younger person was merely looking for someone from whom they could mooch a comfortable existence. Either of those assumptions would be wrong. While I can’t speak to every such relationship that has ever occured, I can speak to ours, so let me enlighten you.

How Our Relationship Began

Scroll back up for a second and take a look at the photograph at the top of this article. That photo was one I took the night TYW and I first met: December 6, 2012. She was 28, I was 52—25 years difference. We met at a non-holiday party thrown by a mutual friend who had the week before posed for this photo for my birthday:

Does my relationship give you the creeps

photo credit: Brian Logan, processed by charles i. letbetter

Yeah, that’s me in the center there, back when my hair was just a tad longer than it is now. Our mutual friend is down front, wrapped in brown cloth. Her intention was to throw a party for other girls who, like here, was over the whole holiday party scene. She asked me to come along and take pictures. Then, one of the girls asked to bring her fiancé. TYW asked to bring a friend as well. She brought her boss. Not kidding. He was freshly divorced and rather lacking in dating skills. She was trying to help. As it turned out, the party had almost as many guys as girls, but it was okay. I was only there to take pictures.

I didn’t presume anything from meeting TYW that night. She was friendly enough, but she seemed rather distracted by our host. The brief gallery below is a sample of the photos I took that night.

Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps
Does my relationship give you the creeps

I’m going to just assume that one can pick up on the obvious theme there. I was not the person to whom TYW was paying attention that night. We talked politely, but I left before she did and slept sufficiently not knowing that I’d ever see her or anyone else from the party again. I wasn’t looking for a relationship and neither was she.

Then, we started talking. I don’t remember exactly what prompted the conversation. Presumably, I still have the conversations but trying to dig that far back was going to take several hours of time I really don’t have to give up at the moment. Still, we talked. We met up for coffee a few times and discussed, among other things, how that neither of us thought love was real. She had been married and divorced twice already and was gunshy of relationships. She was also a U.S. Marine, tough, fit, and very independent.

Our first non-coffee date was an art gallery tour about a month later. While it went nicely enough, there was still no signs of romance. She wouldn’t even let me buy her coffee afterward. We kept talking, though. We enjoyed that and conversed about several things. As I got into the February fashion season, I’d be online at 3:00 in the morning and more often than not she’d be waiting for me. She came over a couple of times to watch me edit photos (thrilling time that is) but always left with nothing more than a hug.

 Later that month, I mentioned a need for a model for a very special art project shared with a rope artist. The art was erotic, well out of the mainstream, and not the sort of thing just anyone can do, even if they want. This was the kind of art that can trigger all manner of anxieties and psychological issues. To my surprise and pleasure, she volunteered. A few nights later we met up at the artist’s studio and took a few pictures. I managed to find one that is reasonably work safe.

Does my relationship give you the creeps

Yeah, it was pretty intense, but again, she wouldn’t let me buy her a drink or anything afterward. She took me home, gave me a hug, and left. We were making good friends.

Eventually, the romance did kick in and by March she had moved me in with her. She didn’t give me a choice. I was sick, again, and as I sat shaking on her couch she informed me that she was sending someone to pick up my stuff. I could either go with them or just tell them where everything was. End of conversation. We were a couple in a relationship who hadn’t planned on a relationship. Pleased, but surprised, we weren’t ready for what was about to happen.

The fallout begins

We knew not everyone would approve of our relationship because of the gap in our ages. We tiptoed around the issue, passing it off as TYW just helping out a friend. We pulled off that ruse until her birthday, which just happened to be when her best female friend had a baby. We were at the hospital and while I knew her friend, I didn’t know any of the other people in the room and let it slip to her friend’s sister that I was TYW’s boyfriend. Her friend didn’t find out until after we left, but her response was no positive.

Eventually, her parents figured it out and TYW went ahead and told them. Interestingly enough, her mom, who is only four months older than I am, took it better than her dad, who is 11 years older. But then, most of her dad’s reaction was just watching out for his only girl. I can appreciate that.

What was disappointing, though, was the number of people who completely ghosted. Poof. Gone without a word. Sure, it got back to me all the murmuring on the grapevine, how that some found are relationship disgusting, others thinking that I had been predatory, and still others convinced she was just wanting all the pictures to be of her. I did my best to ignore it all, but don’t think for a second that the betrayal didn’t hurt.

TYW met my boys for the first time when the middle one graduated from Marine boot camp at Parris Island, the same place TYW had gone. Not only were the boys accepting of her, she hit it off well with their mother, which I totally wasn’t expecting. If my former wife could be okay with this new relationship, which couldn’t everyone else?

Yet, what we’ve experienced in the ensuing years is that those who really care about us are accepting and those that never were run and hide.  And in some cases, they make faces.

A mere three weeks after I moved in with TYW, I twisted my ankle stepping on a tree root during an outdoor shoot. By the time I got home, the ankle was swollen, presumably sprained. The Marine wrapped it, put it up, and made me stay off it. That should have worked, but it didn’t. Three days later, I was in the ER with both legs severely swollen and in need of attention. TYW had stayed with me long enough for the doctor to notice her presence. He assumed she was my daughter. Upon correcting that information, the doctor’s response was less than positive.

We encountered the same problem with other doctors, all of whom were visibly surprised, and one of which even restricted my access to pain medication out of fear that TYW might steal them for herself. I did not continue treatment under that doctor long.

Every time we meet someone new, the stigma is there. We see it on people’s faces, even if they don’t say anything. We see the looks of surprise, the curiosity, and the disgust. Rarely do we meet someone whose response is positive. We’ve grown used to those reactions but they still hurt just a little.

And now, it’s all coming back around again, a little stronger and with more bias this time, because of a stupid fuck-up of a politician.

Relationships of our own design

May/December romances such as ours are nothing new. They go back at least as far as Classical Greece and probably further than that, though there’s little written record one way or the other. As society has changed and mating habits have changed and our understanding of human development has changed, we have altered the moment at which such relationships are justifiable and legal. There are reasonable arguments to be made whether any person between the ages of 16 and 20 have the level of understanding and emotional maturity necessary to engage in a sexual relationship with anyone of any age.  For that matter, I’ve met people my own age who still don’t have the emotional maturity necessary for a relationship. 

To take advantage of someone, regardless of the situation or their age, is wrong. We’ve not spelled that out well before, and at times our culture has even celebrated the “boys” getting drunk and rowdy. Remember the 1984 movie Porkies? Everyone laughed at the shower scene in that movie back then. Yet, that is the very type of media influence that encourages the behavior we’re now fighting against. 

When two adults agree to a relationship, though, whether it be physical or friendly, there’s no good reason for making age a factor. In fact, if one were to ask TYW, she would likely tell you that it was the relationships with people closer to her own age (one slightly younger than she was), that caused her the most trouble. When we are free, as adults, to fashion our own relationships we are far more likely to find someone with whom we are better suited for the long-term, someone who gives as equally as giving, and maybe even someone who knows how to love.

What is even more strange in this situation is that we care less when both people are older than we do when one is still what society considers young. Consider that the age gap between Clint Eastwood and his wife, Dina is exactly the same as mine and TYW: 25 years. Does the fact that Eastwood is now 87 and his wife is 62 make it any more or less acceptable, or is it simply that one has more difficulty imagining them having sex at that age so we’re not so perversely interested? Perhaps consider that Harrison Ford is 72 while his wife, Calista Flockhart, whom he married in 2010, is 53.  Does their age gap matter all that much or might it have mattered more when we still knew Calista as the character Ally McBeal? Here’s another one: comedian Jerry Seinfeld is 63. His wife, Jessica, with whom he’s had three children, is only 46. Does that 17-year difference in their ages really make any difference? I’m willing to bet that their kids would say no.

Public perception and acceptance of our relationships is important to our social well-being. When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were first married, they changed their ages so that it appeared that they were both the same age, born in 1914. The truth was that Lucy was six years older than the 23-year-old Desi and they knew that difference would be a problem for them in the fickle social circles of Hollywood. Most people don’t think of a six-year gap as being that significant when the man is older, but our prejudice is born out in how we respond when a woman chooses a spouse who is significantly younger.

Destroying Relationship Bias

One would think American society would be getting over its stupid inbred attitudes toward relationships, but we’re not nearly as accepting as we want to think. Families of mixed race still face significant amounts of hate, especially within their native cultures. Same-gender marriage has been the law long enough that it really shouldn’t be an issue but Roy Moore is actively campaigning in Alabama on a platform that includes not merely overturning the Supreme Court’s decision but putting gay people in jail. We’re not making anywhere near as much progress as we should be and the fact that we’re not is, quite plainly, disgusting. We know better. We know we know better. Yet, we continue to choose prejudice everywhere we can possibly find it.

Let me ask you a very important question and one needs to be extremely honest in answering it. What harm does it do to you if I love someone who is 25 years younger than me?  What harm does it do to you if I love someone a different race than me (technically, that is the case)? What harm does it do to you if I love someone who is the same gender as me, or someone who is gender fluid, or someone who is trans?

Here’s the honest answer to those questions: none. Zero. Zip. Nada.  The sooner we, as a society, can figure that out the sooner we can get on with really important issues such as keeping real creeps like Roy Moore not only out of the United States Senate but away from little girls in Alabama shopping malls. Apparently, we need to be much less concerned about which restroom transgender people use and more about the ones movie producers and politicians visit since there are far more cases of the latter molesting people. In fact, there are ZERO cases of trans people molesting children or committing a sex crime. Too bad our own President can’t say the same thing. I’m still waiting for us to get back to that issue.

If my relationship gives you the creeps, then YOU are the one with a problem and you are the only one who can fix that problem. The same goes for every other relationship between consenting adults.  Nothing about anyone else’s relationship is any of your business on any level for any reason. Sure, you may be jealous because we’re having more and better sex than the rest of you (on Tuesdays, at least) but again, that problem is on you, not anyone else.

America, as a country, needs to get over its relationship bias problem. Gossip columnist Liz Smith is dead. There is no breaking news here. Fix yourself or go away. Far, far away.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Reading time: 16 min
Naked Dining is the answer to gun violence

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (AP) — The gunman who killed 26 people at a small-town Texas church went aisle to aisle looking for victims and shot crying babies at point-blank range, a couple who survived the attack said. [Source]

Naked dining doesn’t sound like it has a damn thing to do with gun violence, does it? In fact, one might be inclined to think I’m setting up a satire piece or that I’m being intentionally facetious. Neither of those assumptions is true. I’m being quite serious in the discourse that follows and I hope you’ll stay with me long enough to see the point I am making. Gun violence is a serious topic. Naked dining doesn’t feel like a serious topic, though, so please give me a moment to show how the two merge.

First, though, let’s talk about First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas. Even though I’ve never been there, in some ways I know exactly the kind of town Sutherland Springs is because those are the kind of towns, population just under 700 people [source],  and those small Southern Baptist churches were exactly the kind of churches my father pastored for over 40 years. Sutherland Springs is a town where not only does everyone know everyone else, everyone is largely related to everyone else in one way or another. The community is close-knit and while they may not always get along with each other when a death occurs in a family the entire town is affected.

Sutherland Springs lost 4% of their population on Sunday morning. To some, that number may not sound all that high, but to a town like Sutherland Springs, it’s like cutting out the town’s heart with a piece of dirty, jagged glass. This is a wound that scars every person in that town and I won’t be a bit surprised if the pain and sorrow do not contribute to subsequent deaths of family members whose hearts are completely broken by the loss.

Sunday mornings in small Southern Baptist churches are nothing like the services in big city megachurches. There’s a routine, a template, that these churches have followed for more than a century. How the service flows is a tradition that no one messes with. Trust me, Poppa tried on more than one occasion and was severely chastised each time. For the sake of most who are unfamiliar with this template, let me describe it for you.

11:00 AM: The stated starting time for the morning service passes without acknowledgment because half the congregation is still milling about, making the transition from Sunday School, visiting and catching up with each other. Even though the town is small, for many people in attendance this is the only time they see each other all week and catching up on life’s little details is important to them. No pastor in their right mind forces a hard start time. Instead, the pianist quietly plays hymns until the service is ready to begin.

11:06 AM: The music director, which is typically the person in the church with the strongest voice, who was strong-armed into service, steps to the pulpit and announces the first hymn. “Good morning,” he’ll say. “Please turn to hymn number 446, Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine. Let’s all stand as we sing.”

11:11 AM: The pastor, or a delegated deacon, offers an opening prayer. This is one place a bit of variation may occur. Some read a passage of scripture before the prayer.

11:13 AM: Church announcements are made. Yes, most of them are printed in the church bulletin everyone received as they entered, but the pastor knows that half his congregation isn’t going to read the bulletin at all, and in most small churches there’s a decent number of people who can’t read the bulletin. Therefore, verbal announcements are necessary. Most pastors try to keep this portion of the service as short as possible but the reality is that it can go on for as much as fifteen minutes in some churches. Any community event is likely to be mentioned here.

11:17 AM: Welcoming visitors. Okay, so the “visitors” are actually someone’s grandchildren who are in for the weekend. Everyone knows who they are. Still, this is another excuse to stand up and say hi to each other before having to sit still during the sermon.

11:20 AM: The music director signals the end of visitation time by stepping to the pulpit and announcing the next time. “Let’s all take our seats and turn to hymn number 308. Jesus Paid It All.” Depending on how much time was lost during the announcements, the hymn may be shortened by singing only two or three of the four stanzas in some churches, though be sure someone in the church isn’t going to like that. Typically, that person was me.

11:24 AM: A second hymn, for which everyone stands. Last chance to stretch those legs, or slip the little ones out to go to the potty before the sermon. The music director announces, “Let’s stand as we sing hymn number 429, Sweet Hour of Prayer. Again, depending on the time, the song may be shortened. Be sure that in a small church like this the tempo on this song crawls which often leads to only the first and last stanzas being sung. Ushers walk forward during the final chorus in preparation for receiving the

11:27 AM: Offertory prayer, typically given by one of the ushers, some of whom look upon this honor as an opportunity to demonstrate just how pious he is. The congregation is trying to stand there with their eyes shut, gripping the back of the pew in front of them so they don’t fall over. This can be really difficult. Go ahead, try standing in the middle of the floor with your eyes shut; it’s not easy. I’ve seen these prayers go on for as much as five minutes. I’ve also known Poppa to stop asking certain people to give a public prayer unless he needed an excuse to take a nap.

11:28 AM (hopefully): Offering. Typically, the pianist plays a quiet hymn during this time. There is a sense of reverence. No one talks or moves a lot. Parents return from the restroom with their children who have been strongly warned to sit still and be quiet for the remainder of the service. Said children are likely armed with crayons or some other form of distraction.

11:30 AM: Special music. If the church has a choir, they typically sing at this point. Understand, the choir may only consist of five or six people and half of those likely have some difficulty finding the pitch. Chances are high none of them actually read music, which makes choir rehearsals a whirlwind of fun (yes, I’m being terribly sarcastic). That’s assuming there was any rehearsal at all. In many small churches, they just gather before the service and the music director tells them which hymn they’re going to sing. If there’s no choir, someone sings a solo or duet. The pastor always hopes the song has something to do with the topic of his sermon, but on nine Sundays out of ten, it doesn’t.

11:34 AM: The morning sermon begins. The pastor typically has 20 minutes to say whatever he’s going to say. This is a small Southern Baptist church. Taking a morning service past noon is the type of offense that can get a pastor fired. No, I’m not kidding. I saw this happen more than once while growing up. 12:00 noon is the deadline. Folks have things to do. In our family, Mother often had a roast in the oven (we typically lived right next door to the church). If Poppa’s sermon ran long, the roast was burned. Poppa knew better than to let the roast burn. Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) is the rule.

11:55 AM: Invitation. Some folks refer to this as an altar call. In the minds of many, you’re not Southern Baptist if you don’t give an invitation at the end of every service. Typically, the music director leads the congregation in singing a hymn such as Charlotte Elliot’s Just As I Am set to William Bradbury’s familiar tune. If you’ve ever caught the end of a Billy Graham crusade you’ve heard that song. There are five verses to this song. If the pastor is really applying the pressure he’ll wait for all five verses to be sung. He has the option to end the invitation at any moment, though. There are some Sundays the dear pastor just knows his sermon bounced off the hard heads in the pews and there’s no sense in belaboring the point.

11:59 AM: Benediction. This is likely to be the shortest prayer of the entire morning, typically offered by a deacon. Everyone’s tired and anxious to get on to more exciting things. “Thank you, God, for this sermon (that no one actually heard). Please help us to apply it to our lives (as though we actually think we need to improve). Bless us through the week ahead (because you won’t hear from us until next Sunday). Amen.”

At this point, the pianist plays another upbeat hymn to usher everyone out the door. The pastor stands at the entrance to greet everyone. “Good sermon, pastor,” is the polite greeting from congregants. “Good to see you this week, Mrs. Fester,” is the pastor’s polite reply.

Week after week, year after year, every little Southern Baptist church in every little town across the United States follows a similar pattern. They rarely waver from this tradition. In fact, if one were to take a poll they would likely find that a number of congregants likely believe that the order of worship is a hard and fast rule set down by some ecclesiastical authority. It isn’t, but woe to the newcomer who suggests changing anything. This is the way our grandparents and great-grandparents worshipped. Therefore, we must do the same.

Devin Kelly grew up in a church like the one in Sutherland Springs. He knew the routine. When he pulled up to the gas station across the street from the church, he waited. Chances are reasonable that he could hear the congregation singing. He waited until the music stopped. Everyone except the guest preacher for the day was sitting down. At 11:30 AM, he drove across the street, pointed his rifle at the clapboard building, and started shooting. Nothing that followed was routine.

We’re not to the naked dining part just yet

Hold on, we’re getting there. First, though, we need to understand just why it is alternative solutions to gun violence are necessary. One would think, logic would seem to scream, that the correct response to gun violence is to limit who has guns and regulate how they are purchased. Multiple opinion surveys have been done in recent years and they consistently show that anywhere from 88% to 92% of Americans support universal background checks [source 1, source 2, source 3]. We know what we should be done so why have we not done a damn thing about our gun violence problem? Over and over and over and over, within minutes after another shooting takes place, someone says we need to do more to limit who has access to guns. Yet, never has a mass shooting resulting in any restriction on gun sales. None. Zero. Zip.

The United States is alone in the category of gun violence. No other developed nation in the world can touch us. Americans are 20% more likely to die as a result of gun violence than are residents of any of our peers [source]. Even in Switzerland, where gun ownership is every bit has high, per capita, as it is in the US, gun violence is a mere fraction of what it is in America. In fact, to find a mass shooting of any kind in Switzerland, one has to go all the way back to 2001 [source]!

Our president, who is walking proof that the zombie apocalypse has already begun, says that the Sutherland Springs incident is not a gun problem but rather a mental health problem [source]. So, we’re to believe that the reason America has such an appallingly high rate of gun violence is that we’re all crazy? If that’s the case, then why the fuck did Congress recently decide that it’s okay for those who are diagnosed mentally ill to have guns [source]? Doesn’t that seem to be just a wee bit counter-intuitive if not outright self-destructive?

Oh, wait, Congress might have allowed that bill to pass because, you’ll love this, there’s no evidence supporting the assertion that the mentally ill commit more gun crimes. If anything, the research piles up on the exact opposite end of the equation. Approximately one in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and that’s okay because it is pretty much the same anywhere else in the world [source]. So no, we’re not crazier than everyone else in the world. Don’t go blaming the mentally ill for all the violence, either. Research shows that mental patients released to the public very rarely use any form of violence against strangers at all [source].

For all the talk about mental health in relationship to gun crimes, suicide, not mass shootings or even aggravated homicide, is still the leading cause of gun deaths in the United States [source]. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for persons between the ages of 10-25 and the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25-44 [source]. If there is an advantage to legislation that keeps the mentally and emotionally challenged from buying guns it is the possibility that doing so may save them from dying at their own hands, not that it will prevent mass shootings such as the one at Sutherland Springs or Las Vegas. We need to get it out of our minds that mass shootings are the fault of mentally deranged madmen; that assumption simply doesn’t hold true.

When we attempt to address America’s gun violence problem with gun control legislation or mental health regulation, we will inevitably reduce some levels of violence because any measure is better than the absolute nothingness we’ve done to this point. What we’re doing, though, is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Until we address the root cause of violence in America any legislation we might pass is ultimately limited in its effectiveness. We will still have more mass shootings than anyone else, still have run-away domestic violence, and still have an alarmingly high suicide rate because the reason we’re predisposed to violence in the first place has yet to be addressed.

Americans need to learn to chill—naked

Sitting at the root of the gun violence problem in America is a problem known as Violent Socialization. By broad definition, violent socialization is the culmination of all the things in our society that leads us to be more violent than anyone else. There isn’t just one thing we can eliminate and suddenly everyone be okay and the violence completely stops. Rather, there is a multitude of factors that, when combined, lead us to a greater tendency toward violence [source 1, source 2]. These factors not only include the prevalence and ease of gun ownership but other variables such as income inequality, lack of financial opportunities, insufficient education, the prevalence of aggressive sports coaching, overly-competitive attitudes in the workplace, and loss of personal time due to work demands. In all, there are over 40 factors that, when combined, lead us to be a more violent society than what is found in any other first world country.

In short, Americans have no chill.

Here, finally, is where naked dining comes in. The precedent has already been set in Paris where a restaurant opened this past Friday (1 November 2017) [source]. The restaurant, named  O’naturel, is but the latest opportunity for Parisians who enjoy running around in the buff. Paris is a city that already has a public park, a public pool, and approximately 460 other areas where people are welcome to run around naked. While all this nudity does not protect Paris from violence related to religious extremism such as Daesh, the whole generally chill attitude residents have there goes a long way in diffusing the tensions that result in some overly angry person deciding that the slaughter of innocent people is a good idea.

One of the first questions one might have regarding the opening of a naked restaurant is how it affects its local neighbors. The answer, at least in this case, is that it doesn’t.

“It doesn’t bother me at all, or my neighbours,” a man called Mehdi told Le Parisien.

“We don’t see anything from the street. We know what’s happening. It’s not a massage parlor.”

Another factor that probably makes a difference is that the restaurant only holds about 50 people at a time, max, and those people are going to pay roughly $25 US (€30) per plate. This isn’t the fast food crowd we’re talking about. Patrons don’t disrobe until they’re inside the building, where they are provided with upscale lockers and changing facilities before being shown to their seats.

Granted, there are some limitations to dining naked. The menu at O’naturel includes relatively safe food such as escargot, medley de légumes, gravelax de saumon, and braised truffles with polenta. There’s nothing here that’s likely to give one severe burns if it happens to fall onto your lap while dining. Right away, those limitations could be a factor for Americans who tend to like their food bathed in grease and too hot to handle without a utensil.

There is also the matter of public health concerns. You know those signs about “no shirt, no shoes, no service?” Those are there by choice, not a legal requirement. While health codes stipulate various requirements for employees of dining establishments, there is no such requirement of their customers [source].  Most Americans think that there is a law requiring at least minimal cover, but they seriously don’t exist. We checked. Employees (especially those preparing the food) have clothing requirements, but not the customers. That being said, Americans are notoriously lacking in the area of personal hygiene. I mean, a large number of us don’t even wash our hands after going to the bathroom [source]. Maybe handing patrons a warm rag coated with disinfectant before being seated might not be a bad idea.

Why are the French, and Europeans in general, so into running around naked? Because they are more comfortable with who they are. Nudity is not over-sexualized and most Europeans long-ago nixed the religious morality argument that still holds sway in the US. As a result, they are very relaxed about being naked. Europeans, in general, don’t mind being naked because they don’t see where it is a big deal.

Nudity leads to a more relaxed attitude about life altogether. Being relaxed in attitude results in being relaxed in practice. Less stress leads to a variety of social benefits, not the least of which is a significantly lower rate of social violence.

Using only France’s crime statistics for comparison, since they seem to have more naked options than anyone else, here’s how severe the discrepancy is [source]:

  • General crime levels: The US has 13% more than France
  • Drug (Opiate) use: The US has 43% more than France
  • Rape: The US has 69% more than France
  • Homicide: The US has 19 times more than France
  • Suicide: The US has 33% more than France

Am I beginning to make my point? There is zero evidence that these numbers are a coincidence. The same attitude that allows the French people to be comfortable with naked dining is the same attitude that keeps their rate of violent crime significantly lower than in the US.

There’s also a practical matter to toss into consideration as well. There’s no place for a naked person to hide a weapon. If we increase the amount of public nudity we decrease the ability of someone to sneak weapons into places where innocent people are vulnerable. Sure, I suppose someone could,  in theory, lube up a  small pistol sufficiently to stick it up their ass, but even if one was successful in doing so, extraction is going to be painful and not the type of thing one easily hides. Everyone in the room is going to know what you’re doing. Then, once you have it out, that thing is going to have to be cleaned before it can be fired safely.  Plus, the caliber is small so there’s no standing at the front of the room and mowing everyone down, and the clip is only going to hold six shots. Naked shooters are too impractical to be taken seriously.

Sure, I suppose that if we all start going around naked, and even if we go so far as to make it a law that everyone who is in a public park or restaurant has to be naked, then only criminals will have clothes.  Stop and think about that for a moment though. If we know that anyone wearing clothes in certain places is a bad guy, doesn’t that make it a lot easier to stop these idiots? One of the issues we have with preventing violent crimes now, especially mass shootings, is that we too often don’t know that someone’s up to no good until they start shooting. If only bad guys are clothed then they are immediately easy to spot and can be eliminated before they have a chance to cause any problem.

Yes, naked dining can absolutely reduce the amount of gun violence in the United States.

Practical Analysis

Okay, so Americans, in general, have this giant log of religiously-motivated morality stuck up their butt that makes them disinclined to support anything that includes nudity. The United States is one of the few developed countries where one is still likely to be jailed just for walking around without a shirt if one is female. Yes, it’s a double-standard. Yes, it is gender discrimination. Our attitudes regarding nudity, though, are symptomatic of just how uptight we are about everything. We are so afraid of doing something that is morally wrong, doing something that might offend someone else, doing something that causes us to make less money, that we have created an environment where it is almost impossible for us to relax, to be comfortable with ourselves and each other.

We need to do something drastic, though, to address this problem of gun violence that has reached epidemic proportions. The cost of violence in terms of real dollars is somewhere around $45 billion [source]. When we reach the point where newspapers have good reasons to publish articles on  How to protect yourself during a mass shooting we have jumped the proverbial shark to the point where no solution can be considered too silly or too ridiculous to not be considered.

Americans have been screaming, “we need to do something about gun violence” ever since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. If there is one thing we’ve consistently proven since then is that the jellyfish elected to Congress lack anything resembling a spine when it comes to gun control. I’m over ever expecting that they are going to do anything meaningful to adequately reduce the number of mass shootings in the United States. Families like yours and mine don’t have as much money to buy Members of Congress like the special interests groups can. Therefore, the interests of families are ignored. We have to act for ourselves.

What can we do? We can dine naked. We can diffuse the stresses that feed violent socialization. We’ve tried thoughts and prayers and that didn’t work, not even in a church on a Sunday morning. We’ve tried religion and that only made the problem worse. What we’ve not tried is being naked, learning to be chill, to say “fuck it” a little more often, to not become so upset if we don’t win every damn time at everything we do.

Consider starting with your own family, minus the children. Try one naked dinner a week. Sure, the first one or two may be a bit uncomfortable because very few of us are accustomed to lounging around in nothing but our own skin. Give it some time, though. Maybe after three or four months, you can invite someone to join you. Keep a lid on the whole sexual thing, mind you. Part of what makes this work for Europeans is that they don’t think that being naked means having sex every time. Just be naked, enjoy the meal, have a pleasant conversation, then everyone goes to their own home.

More than anything, we need to learn to chill, en masse. We can’t rely on anyone to solve this problem of gun violence for us. Legislation might remove the opportunity for some but it’s not going to solve the underlying problem.

Get naked. Have dinner. Stay alive. It’s a recipe worth trying.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Naked Dining might be the solution to gun violence

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 20 min
better writing

Entertain, don’t be afraid of a bit of filth, but be cautious with your XXXs – the essential guide to getting your message across while avoiding the pitfalls of communication

Source: Don’t press send … The new rules for good writing in the 21st century

Writing is an essential part of my life, the primary reason this website exists, and critical to how we all present ourselves online. While writing has always been a bit of a big deal for me, though, for many of the dudes (using that word in a non-gender-specific manner) I know are what we might call “reluctant” writers. That is, they write because they have a need to do so, not out of any desire or passion for writing. The younger the dude, in fact, the more likely they are to take shortcuts, use emojis, and pay absolutely no attention to the grammatical rules we all supposedly learned in primary school.

As a society, we’ve been writing online now for over 20 years. Yes, I realize that’s longer than some of you have been alive but for everyone, this whole online communication thing still hasn’t taken hold the way English majors would like. Shortcuts that were developed back when we were paying for every second we spent connected to a modem have made their way into the popular vernacular without everyone being educated as to what those shortcuts mean or when they should be used. Emojis, which take written communication all the way back to the days of the Egyptian Cuneiform, are so popular that a lousy animated movie was made about them [When my seven-year-old thinks it’s stupid, there’s a problem with the movie.]. We are constantly looking for ways to make our online communication shorter and in doing so we’re sacrificing comprehension. Too many people don’t have a clue what we’re talking about.

All across the Internet one can find a gazillion or so articles about better writing tips. They typically have titles that start with a number, such as, “5 tips for …” and “8 ways to improve …” Blah, blah, blah. Most of them are repeating what the author read somewhere else, far too short to actually help, and fail to actually address the problems we have with writing in the first place. I know this because I click on every such link that comes tumbling across my Twitter feed. I want to know what other writers are saying about writing. So, I read their article, then typically curse the waste of time and close the tab.

Every day, I read through my various newsfeeds and come across an argument containing the phrase, “That’s not what I meant.” That phrase sums up what is wrong with our writing. We’re saying things, some of us are saying a lot of things, but not everyone understands what we’re trying to communicate. We might have a thousand people reading but it’s irrelevant if there’s no comprehension of what we are trying to say.

Why does comprehension matter? Dude, the whole plot of The Big Lebowski hinges on a lack of comprehension. They got the wrong Lebowski, man. They beat him up and pissed on his rug because of a miscommunication and you, presumably, know what happened from there.

Back in 1988, the English band Mike + The Mechanics recorded a song by Mike Rutherford and B. A. Robertson that contains the following lyrics:

You say you just don’t see it
He says it’s perfect sense
You just can’t get agreement in this present tense
We all talk a different language, talking in defense

Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

When the song was written about the lack of communication between parent and child (specifically father and son), the Internet as we know it didn’t exist. I find it a bit eery, though, that one can take those lyrics and apply them to almost any online argument today and they fit. If you’re not familiar with the song, take a quick listen (five and a half minutes):

If we’re going to go through what remains of this life abiding in peace, if we’re going to take a “fuck it” attitude and let external matters just blow over us, we have to get better at saying things online. We have to find ways to minimize the misunderstandings, eliminate the chances for someone to misinterpret what we’re trying to say and write in a way that increases reader comprehension. Let’s talk about how we might do those things.

“This isn’t Vietnam. There are rules!”

Let’s be real, painfully honest here: most of us were not paying a lick of attention when our teachers were trying to instill upon us the wisdom found in diagraming sentences and the proper order of how words flow together. Those of us who were already adults when 1995 rolled around didn’t think we would ever actually need those written communication skills, or that they would matter at all. We were going to do great things that didn’t involve sitting behind a desk, which is where one gets stuck if they have to write a lot.

Yeah, we totally blew that one. Now, not only are we writing things more often than we anticipated, we’re doing so while on the go, from our phones, even illegally while we’re driving (which is a stupid thing to do; stop it). Since we don’t remember the rules, we end up saying things like this:

“Great dat today. Back home chilling out. My son is so funny. Bedtime”

“HARD WORK&TIMING IS EVERYTHING,TRUST IN GOD NOT IN MAN,I WILL MAKE THE HATERS BELIEVE,ITS TIME 2 INTRODUCE DIS GENERATION 2 DA ICE CREAM MAN”

” Like the turkey with extra mayo they’re gooder than mug.”

“I make smoothies son. Das jus what I do. This is a mix of strawberry and banana. A lil concoction I call Stranana.”

“every1 congratulate puff 4 bringn music bacc 2 tv !!”

We’re keeping those quotes anonymous to protect the guilty, but every one of them is from someone who is a public person and should know better. This is the point at which sane people blink twice and ask, “What the fuck is that shit?” Even if one had context for those quotes we still would raise our eyebrows because they are an outrageous example of bad writing.

Does any of this actually matter? Can we not just say, “fuck it” and let it go?

Perhaps. The follow-up questions would need to be, “Do you ever leave your house?” and  “Do you need your reputation intact?” If you answer “no” to either of both those questions then perhaps you are one of the few who can let their online word usage slide. For everyone else, though, how we say things is as important as what we’re trying to say. People fail to understand what we’re trying to communicate when the words are put together wrong.

Recently, during an off-the-record moment, while interviewing someone for PATTERN magazine, a person of some prestige and importance told me he absolutely judges people he hasn’t met based on the grammar they use on social media. He even went so far as to question how much worse people’s writing would be if there wasn’t spellcheck of some form built into almost everything. This comes from a person who makes significant hiring decisions—the kind that can dramatically improve the quality of one’s life. He’s reluctant to hire people who not only cannot write well but don’t seem to mind that they appear ignorant online.

How does one combat this problem? Short of going back to school or keeping an English major on retainer, I encourage using some form of online service to help guard against not only spelling errors but basic grammar and punctuation mistakes as well. My tool of choice is the Grammarly plugin for the Chrome browser (this is not a paid endorsement). I’ve used the free version of this plugin for at least a couple of years now and find it absolutely invaluable.  I tend to type rather fast and do not always look at the monitor while I’m typing. Mistakes happen frequently. Grammarly not only points out spelling errors the moment they happen, it picks up on basic mistakes such as when I have two spaces between words instead of one or if I’ve used the wrong version of there, they’re, or their as well as punctuation usage.  In fact, Grammarly can be a bit militant at times regarding comma usage.

While Grammarly doesn’t catch every error, it prevents most of them from reaching your delicate eyes. Once the plugin is installed, it works with just about any text field in any social media application as well as WordPress (unfortunately, it doesn’t work on Google Docs). They have a premium version that gets hardcore about correcting tense and voice and subject/verb agreement. I’ve not splurged for that extra service because I worry that taking all of Grammarly’s suggestions could leave to a very academic-sounding set of articles. Still, it’s great at what it does and has gotten better over the time I’ve used it. I strongly recommend adding the plugin to your browser even if you’re not at all serious about writing. You have one less thing to worry about once it’s in place.

Be clear about what you want to say

Twitter is the only place on social media where one has a 146 character limit forcing us to be efficient with our words. Almost everywhere else (at least, among the apps I’ve encountered so far) lets us use as many words as we want. Yes, there are times we want to be brief, especially when communicating with our phones. Still, one should never sacrifice clarity for the sake of brevity.

Here is where a number of online misunderstandings have their inception. We want to write in the same manner as we talk and more often than not that approach doesn’t work well for us. Those minor inflections in tone, those facial expressions we always make, the hand gestures we use with certain words in our vocabulary, none of that translates over into written communication. We want to think that people who know us will catch our “drift” or our meaning, but frequently even our best friends are not sure when we’re being sarcastic or kidding when we make a statement.

For example, let’s pretend I’ve written something like, “The president made a really good host for a reality game show.” Now, how are you going to interpret that statement? Whether one knows me or not factors a little bit, but I’ve given the reader very little to work with. So, one might assume any of the following possible conclusions:

  • I’m a fan of The Apprentice US version.
  • I’m not a fan of The Apprentice US version.
  • Being a good game show host qualifies one to be president of the United States
  • The president should have stuck to being a game show host and not run for president.
  • The president is using The Hunger Games as a blueprint and we’re all fucking doomed.

There’s nothing in how I originally wrote the statement that would let you know the last interpretation is the correct one. Neither sarcasm nor subtly play well in digital communication. Even in face-to-face communication, those aspects can be difficult to convey. When writing, they don’t exist at all unless one takes the time to fully explain what they mean.

We can’t take anything for granted or assume that our readers are so incredibly plugged into our communication patterns that they’re going to automatically understand everything we type. How many times have people use LOL, for example, thinking it means “lots of love” when its actual definition is “laugh out loud?” That has been a common point of misunderstanding and subsequent embarrassment. Any acronym one uses needs to be spelled out the first time. That’s the only way we’re going to know if ADA stands for the American Diabetes Association, the American Dental Association, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or a small town in Oklahoma.

A final example: You’ll notice that when I use the term “dude” for the first time in an article that I typically include a parenthetical statement explaining that the usage of that word is not gender-specific. Is that parenthetical statement really necessary? After all, many of our core audience are fans of The Big Lebowski and understand the usage of the word. I also mention on our home page that my use of the word throughout the sight is genderless and why. With both those elements in place, why would I need to bother repeating myself in every article?

Absolutely! Most of our readers do not approach an article through the home page. In fact, many never see the home page. Most of our readers click on a link on social media and go directly to the article. I have no assurance that they have any context for my usage of the word “dude” in any form. Therefore, it is up to me to explain exactly what I mean so as to avoid any confusion.

Are we clear enough on this point? If not, please leave any questions in the comment section below. Yes, we have a comment section. Not everyone knew that.

Chill a minute before pushing that “post” button

Here, the fundamental question we have to ask is this: Are you sure you said what you think you said? Many people have gotten into the habit of firing off quick one- or two-word replies and not checking to make sure they’ve said what they intended to say. The Internet is full of examples of how this careless approach to communication can go terribly wrong, especially now that we have autocorrect on most of our smartphones. If we think our phones are sending the exact words we typed, or swiped, we’re often surprised when our friends receive a very different message. This has happened so many thousands of times that there is a website devoted to autocorrect fails.  I pulled a few favorites as examples.

Have I made my point by now? No matter what software we have loaded to help prevent mistakes, they still slip through with frightening ease. We may think we know what we wrote but unless we take a moment to chill and then double-check we’re likely to be surprised when someone gets an entirely different message from what we thought we were sending.

This rule applies double if we’re writing anything about which we are passionate. If we are angry, the rule applies triple. The more emotion we have invested in what we are writing, the more likely we are to make errors while typing. Even if we don’t make any grammatical errors, the words we choose may not be the ones that best communicate what we need someone to see. We frequently create problems we didn’t want or need, or make a bad situation worse because we hit that “post” or “send” button too soon.

Trust me when I say that I know how challenging it can be to apply this rule. By the time I finish this article, I will have spent several hours here in my chair drinking coffee and trying to not fall asleep. When I finish the actual writing part, there are a number of behind-the-scenes factors that I have to check or fill out. I’m always anxious for you to read whatever I’ve written so I want to hit that “publish” button as soon as I can.  Years of experience have taught me the value of waiting, having a cup of coffee, and then going back and proof-reading the whole thing before letting it go public. Do I actually do that, though? Nope. Not even most of the time. As a result, it’s not uncommon for me to get a private message from nice people who look out for me, saying something like, “I don’t think you really meant to say “effect” did you?” or, “You know you totally misspelled Mississippi …”

Sigh. Take the time. Go back and proofread. Let your temper cool a bit. Think through what you really wanted to say and make sure you said it. Yes, it’s an effort but it beats having someone get mad at you because they think you’ve been masturbating all afternoon rather than meditating.

Concluding thoughts

No one ever thought we would do as much writing as our society demands. We certainly never thought it would be something that would keep us up until the wee hours of the morning, “chatting” away with that person we’ve never met but their profile picture looks totally hot. We only have to look as far as the Twitter account of our frequently ridiculous president to see just how chaotic things can become when we’re not careful about how we communicate. If anyone ever needed to exercise that third rule above, the president does. He may also need an advisor with access to a delete button.

As much as we want to keep a chill attitude toward all aspects of life and let matters take their natural course, we must realize that how we communicate, especially the things we write, whether in an email or a comment on social media, can upset our ability to abide peacefully. One word misinterpreted can send folks looking for the wrong Lebowski and when that happens all hell can break loose. No one is chill when hell breaks loose, not even the devil himself (assuming the devil has any chill).

Follow the rules, be as clear as possible, and then chill before hitting that button. Do that and abiding gets a lot easier, dude. We like it when life gets easier.

In fact, if you’ve got this, I’m just going to lie down here on my rug and take a nap, man.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to pass the hat.

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Reading time: 15 min
Redefining Holidays

We were shopping in our friendly neighborhood warehouse store yesterday and the Young Woman commented on the Christmas decorations that were already prevalent even before Halloween. Not that either of us was actually surprised. Holiday creep in store marketing has been a thing for decades as retailers try to extend what has traditionally been their most profitable season in hopes that profits will go up. While that tactic worked some 20 or so years ago when it first started, putting Christmas trees on sale before Thanksgiving, the gimmick has long ago lost its luster. Now, shoppers roll their eyes and proceed toward what they came to buy in the first place. There’s little sign that the extended season is helping sales at all.

On Monday of this week (October 9), the Harvard Business Review published an interesting article: “Why Retailers Should Retire Holiday Shopping Season.” The reason they give, when boiled down, is quite simple: it’s not making money. First, there’s the expense of all the additional marketing stores do for the holidays. Second, there’s the added stress as seasonal employees are added and more work is asked of everyone. Third, shopping patterns have changed and holiday sales don’t hold the luster they once did. None of those situations are going to get any better in the future, either. While it’s too late to make any change for this year, retailers would do well to begin scaling back next year and all but eliminate the holiday shopping season within the next five years. Given how many retail stores are suffering, the move makes absolute sense.

Of course, if/when retailers do start backing off the holiday sales, there are some who are going to be upset; mostly older folks of my generation and older and mostly those of a distinctly right-wing religious affiliation. By those mindsets, there are no “holidays,” only Christmas. Interfering with their holiday on any level results in accusations of waging a “war on Christmas.” Even attempts to be inclusive of other religious holidays during the month stir the wrath of those who feel that December belong only to them and their religious celebration.

All of which has me wondering if we, as a generalized society, should redefine American holidays. We have a unique definition of the word that doesn’t necessarily line up with the rest of the world, let alone the changing attitudes of people who live here. To some degree, that’s not surprising. We are the only industrialized nation that doesn’t use the metric system, for example. Americans have an ego larger than our land mass and we think we have the right to define things any way we wish.

When the rest of the world talks about “taking a holiday,” they’re referring to any general time off from work. As a result, you’ll hear them talk about their summer holiday in Iceland or their winter holiday in the South of France, and other little trips and jaunts throughout the year. Special days are only really holidays if everyone has the day off work, which doesn’t happen all that often.

Meanwhile, here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we have a plethora of holidays running around. Here’s the list of federally recognized holidays (source):

Date Official Name Percentage of Americans observing Remarks
January 1 (Fixed) New Year’s Day[1] 72%[6] Celebrates the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year. Festivities include counting down to 12:00 midnight on the preceding night, New Year’s Eve, often with fireworks display and party. The ball drop at Times Square in New York City has become a national New Year’s festivity. The traditional end of Christmas and holiday season.[7] This occurs around the end of Kwanzaa.
January 15–21 (Floating Monday) Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. 26%[8] Honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights leader, who was actually born on January 15, 1929; combined with other holidays in several states. Some cities and municipalities hold parades; and more recently, the 1994 King Holiday and Service Act, which was passed to encourage Americans to transform the King Holiday into a day of citizen action volunteer service, has gained in popularity (sometimes referred to as a National Day of Service).
February 15–21 (Floating Monday) Washington’s Birthday 52%[9] Washington’s Birthday was first declared a federal holiday by an 1879 act of Congress. The Uniform Holidays Act, 1968, shifted the date of the commemoration of Washington’s Birthday from February 22 to the third Monday in February (between February 15 and 21, meaning the observed holiday never falls on Washington’s actual birthday). Because of this, combined with the fact that President Lincoln’s birthday falls on February 12, many people now refer to this holiday as “Presidents’ Day” and consider it a day honoring all American presidents. However, neither the Uniform Holidays Act nor any subsequent law changed the name of the holiday from Washington’s Birthday to Presidents’ Day. [1]
May 25–31 (Floating Monday) Memorial Day 21%[10] Honors the nation’s war dead from the Civil War onwards; marks the unofficial beginning of the summer season. (traditionally May 30, shifted by the Uniform Holidays Act 1968). The holiday is observed on the last Monday in May.
July 4 (Fixed) Independence Day Celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence from British rule, also called the Fourth of July. Fireworks celebrations are held in many cities throughout the nation.
September 1–7 (Floating Monday) Labor Day One 2012 survey of American adults found that 52% celebrate Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer.[11] A separate nationwide survey of human resource professionals, conducted in 2015, found that 97% of U.S. employees provided a full paid holiday on labor day, but 41% of employers require at least some employees to work on the holiday.[12] The holiday is observed on the first Monday in September.
October 8–14 (Floating Monday) Columbus Day 8%[13] Honors Christopher Columbus, an explorer of the Americas. In some areas, it is also a celebration of Indigenous Peoples, or Italian culture and heritage. (traditionally October 12)
November 11 (Fixed) Veterans Day 43%[14] Honors all veterans of the United States armed forces. It is observed on November 11 to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Armistice with Germany went into effect).
November 22–28 (Floating Thursday) Thanksgiving Day 87%[15] Traditionally celebrates the giving of thanks for the autumn harvest. Traditionally includes the sharing of a turkey dinner. The holiday is observed on the fourth Thursday in November.
December 25 (Fixed) Christmas Day 90%–95%[16][17] The most widely celebrated holiday of the Christian year, Christmas is observed as a commemoration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Commonly celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike with various traditions.

Of course, only federal and state employees get all those days off work and the vast majority of Americans look at Washington’s Birthday (aka President’s Day) and Columbus Day as silly annoyances. An increasing number of people have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, but unless we start actually recognizing and protecting our indigenous people naming a day for them is rather empty.

Oh, but that’s not all the holidays, mind you. If one is religiously minded, then there are other holidays to throw into the mix.  I would list them all but doing so would take up pages of space and we both know that you’d just scroll past them all. As a reference point, though, consider some of the additional secular “holidays” we throw in. Things like Valentine’s Day on February 14, St. Patrick’s Day on March 17, Ground Hog Day on February 2, Mardi Gras on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (one of those floating holidays), Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Juneteenth, Halloween, Black Friday, and Kwanzaa. Put them all together and one can almost claim to be celebrating one holiday or another every day of the year. The problem is so bad that many states have had to adopt a legal list of holidays for which school students can be given an excused absence.

A bit much, don’t you think? If we’re theoretically celebrating something all the time, then every day is a holiday and holidays mean absolutely nothing. Everything becomes watered down and meaningless because, for the vast majority of Americans, holidays are just the days that banks are closed and the mail doesn’t run—an annoyance increasingly made moot thanks to modern technology.

No one wants to take their holiday off the calendar, of course. Organizations use declared holidays to bring attention to causes such as childhood diseases, women’s rights, marriage rights, and the martyrdom of people who died defending our rights and freedoms. All of those special days have a reasonably good cause behind them, but are they really holidays if less than one percent of the population even knows they exist? Show of hands: how many of us even care what today’s official observance is? Walter probably would. For 2017, October 12 is Shmini Atzeret, a Jewish holiday celebrating the love of God. Would I have known that if I didn’t have a religious calendar open in front of me? Nope. Do I care either way? Not a big, and I’m guessing that anyone who’s not Jewish probably doesn’t give a shit, either.

And that is my whole point: with all these holidays on the calendar, the vast and anxious masses across the United States don’t give a shit about these little holidays that take up space on the calendar. Most of us look upon them as a lame attempt to bolster a rapidly failing greeting card market (unlike the president, when I call something failing I cite my sources). Given that, why have holidays at all? Why not wipe the calendar clean and leave everyone to their own personal observances without trying to make everyone else follow along?

Why Do We Celebrate Holidays?

Tradition. For all of written history, which encompasses roughly the past 6,000+ years or so, humanity has celebrated holidays for one of the following reasons:

  1. Religious mandate or commemoration
  2. Nationalistic observance of nationalism
  3. Cultural festivals related to agriculture and/or nature

One thing all three categories have in common is that they give to those celebrating a sense of identity. We know who we are, and we better understand why we are who we are, because of the holidays we celebrate and/or observe. This sense of identity is important to the establishment and preservation of a culture. What is the first thing a new country does when it breaks away from another? It establishes its date of independence as a national holiday, helping to define that national culture around which they all might identify.

Such commemorations made perfect sense for the entire portion of our history wherein our cultural identity was connected either a belief system and a geographic sense of place. Those conditions have been a foundation of human reality right up until the Internet was released upon the world in 1991. Once we had the ability to be connected beyond our physical borders, however, everything began to change. Over time, we have become enlightened to what life and culture are like in geographies and religions other than our own. Histories that were once fed to us as the one-sided opinion of the victors are now challenged as we see the same history from the perspective of those who lost. We are more aware of struggles outside our own and judge our situation by comparing our lives to those of people we don’t know. We understand more than ever exactly how government works and many want to find ways to take a more active role. Our world, our belief system, and our cultures are all morphing into something different, something new.

While this “something new” amounts to change for old farts like me, though, for Millennials, those born in 1990 or later, this isn’t change. This constantly evolving, always discovering, mythology-busting reality is their culture. They don’t see life in the same, straight-forward way that their parents do/did. Facts must be challenged and their sources questioned. Traditions must be reconsidered and their origins analyzed. History must be re-written in context of who was hurt, what was fair, and whether the end result was positive or negative for all of society, not just those directly involved. Values are different because their perspective of the world is dramatically different. What’s more important is realizing that there’s no way society ever returns to the tunnel-visioned view of the past. This new culture of exploration, inquisitiveness, and demand for fairness is here to stay.

Another argument for all these holidays is that they provide times for families to get together, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. We, as a society, have a soft spot for families, Even sitcoms can make us tear up a bit when a tender family scene is invoked. Surely, we wouldn’t want to do anything that would keep families from getting together, would we?

Have you looked around the table at Christmas lately? Family isn’t quite so important to everyone and the younger adults in our families aren’t as worried about whether they’re present on a particular holiday or not. There’s a good reason for that. Those who are close to their extended families, particularly mom and/or dad, never move that far away and see their families on a regular basis through the year. So, if they miss a Thanksgiving dinner because they have a chance to visit friends in Norway that week, it’s not a big deal. They’ll see everyone when they get back. For those who aren’t close to their extended families, especially in situations where abuse was a part of their childhood, these “forced” times together are just painful. Adult children look for any excuse possible to avoid having to do holidays with the family.

This holiday-driven family time is a relatively short-lived tradition in the first place. Prior to the mid-20th century, people didn’t travel to be with family for holidays because they couldn’t. Few owned cars and there was no commercial air travel. When the holidays came around, people invited their neighbors, not family, to come over and share their food with them. There was a sense of warmth and community because they were with friends by choice, not a sense of familial obligation. Only after World War II, when children from the Midwest began fleeing for the coasts by the millions, did parents start asking children to come home for Christmas. The travel industry saw this as a way to make money and began marketing the “Home for Christmas” concept and it quickly caught hold.

Now, however, those who travel prefer to do so on their own timetable. When we visit relatives, we do so at times of the year when it fits our schedule and we can afford to do so easily. That means we’re more likely to visit Grandma in the summer when discount airlines offer large savings on tickets,  or early fall when gas prices historically dip (hence, the advent of a fall break in the school schedule). Millennials are more likely to take trips to see family almost any time other than holidays because visiting family is what they do when there’s not a better, more fun experience to be had. Family is who you visit between festivals and on your way home from that trip to Italy. Those with small children are more likely to stay home for gift-giving holidays especially because the cost of shipping presents back and forth is often more than the cost of the presents themselves. Parents can give their children a better holiday experience if Grandma and Grandpa come to them.

All the reasons we once had for indulging in holidays are rapidly making less and less sense as our culture morphs into an experience-based and away from religious and historical observances. Too many holidays now either don’t make a like of sense, such as Columbus Day or create social expectations we don’t want, such as Valentine’s Day. With the reasons for celebrating going away, now would be a good time for us to completely redefine the American holiday.

Time For A Sensible Approach

Doing away with holidays completely doesn’t make as much sense as doing away with holiday marketing. Yet, there are some similarities between leveling out sales in retail to reduce the emphasis on end-of-year selling and redefining holidays so that we’re not stuck in a litany of forced activities that don’t make sense. We can, and should, improve on the entire concept of holidays so that everyone is a lot happier. Of course, we know exactly how to make that happen.

1.Clear the calendar and start over. Make a clean break and make sure everyone knows about it. No more nonsense, partisan, political, or special-interest holidays. We can’t get a new start if we’re still hanging on to old ideas and concepts. This is going to be troubling for all us baby boomers because we’re emotionally attached to all those holidays.  We have memories, both good and bad, around each one and we are fearful of letting those go. We also don’t like giving up our traditions. Like every aging generation before us, we like what we know and abhor being asked to change.

What my peers need to realize is that this society is less ours and more that of our children. We’re dying off and in the next few years, the number of deaths is going to skyrocket at close to the same rate as our births did. I’ve seriously given some thought to getting back into the funeral home business because it’s about to get very lucrative.  The future belongs to our children and grandchildren and we need to help them make the societal and cultural transitions that work better for them. Standing in the way of change just because we’re comfortable with the status quo is selfish.

2.Establish two distinct holiday periods. Make the first full week of July and the third week of December national holidays. Close all government services and offices for that week and let everyone who can have the entire week off. Let’s get real: productivity during those two weeks are already at their lowest, so declaring those two weeks as holidays isn’t going to change anything. People take full weeks around July 4 and December 25, so let’s go ahead and give everyone those two weeks as a national minimum.

Yes, some individualized adjustments are necessary. Everyone taking off work at the same time isn’t practical, at least not yet. For the time being, we still need people running retail stores, convenience stores, and dining establishments. We are likely to see that change dramatically over the next 30 years as those industries completely morph with technology, but for now, the economy still needs those employees, so some will need to take their holidays either the week before or the week after, alternating the schedules so that everyone gets equal time off. What’s important, though, is that we all get that same holiday with no connection to religion, geography, relationship status, national heritage, or any other criteria that celebrates one person over another. Equal time to celebrate whatever you feel like celebrating.

3.Put an emphasis on personal holidays. Everyone gets their birthday as a holiday and their immediate family (spouse and children) get the day as well. That’s not going to be as big a financial hit for employers as one might think. First, Millennials are already taking their birthday as a vacation day or personal day already. The attitude toward birthdays is less centered on receiving gifts from other people and more around creating memorable experiences for oneself. We give ourselves the things that we want so that we’re not disappointed by the agenda someone else set for us. Second, Millennials are having smaller and smaller families often with only one or two children, or none at all. So, the overall number of people affected by one person’s birthday is rather limited.

From a retail perspective, this could be a water-raising concept. Instead of seasonal sales, which have proven to be increasingly less effective, give everyone a steep “Black Friday” type discount on their birthday. This spreads both the cost and the advantage of deep discounting evenly across the entire year rather than lumping it all toward the end of the year where things can, and have, skew horribly wrong. Millennials have already shown that they’re more likely to buy for themselves than other people, so play to that on the day when they’re thinking the most about themselves.   Remember, someone has a birthday every day of the year. This approach is more likely to create a steady stream of customers and avoids the costly end-of-year nightmares.

4.Leave religious observances to the religious and give everyone else equal time off. One area where the American calendar is horribly biased is in the emphasis on Christian observances over those from any other religion. Christians traditionally have little trouble arguing for days off around Christmas and Easter, but Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists have much fmor difficulty arguing for time off on their holiest of days. And if one isn’t religious at all, then you’re screwed altogether; either one accepts time off around a religious holiday or just keeps on working. As our society grows more diverse and less religious, this biased approach to holidays makes absolutely no sense at all.

However, that’s not to say that people of faith shouldn’t be allowed to observe their religious holidays. I tend to like the stance taken by the New Jersey Board of Education which created “The List of Religious Holidays Permitting Student Absence from School. (PDF) ” The concept is a simple one: no one is prohibited from taking a day off to observe a recognized religious holiday. The list not only includes all major Christian, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, but also includes holidays for less popular religions such as Baha’i, Scientology, and Wicca. Fairness is the goal, with no one religion superceding another. What’s missing, though, is an equal allowance for those who don’t hold any religious belief at all, or at least are not part of an organized religion. For those people, who currently number about 35 % of the population, an equal amount of time off must be alotted to use at their discrestion according to their personal belief system. Give everyone the same opportunity but force no one to observe someone else’s religious holiday.

5.Create more emphasis on personal days with a push toward mental health and volunteerism. I have always been a bit jealous of the European concept of “taking a Holiday” for anything from a vacation in the Alps to a day off to attend to car repairs. Limiting holidays to observances outside our control wreeks too much of communism, where individual choice is severely limited and sameness is applauded. Sorry, that doesn’t work for me and it certainly doesn’t work for upcoming generations that are more bent than ever on doing things their own way when they want to do them. A calendar full of holidays in which they have no say nor interest doesn’t make sense.

What does make sense is encouraging people to take time for themselves and for others. Mental health remains the top drain on corporate productivity from top to bottom. We wear out, burn out, drop out, and ruin ourselves from an environment that pushes endless work. Redefining holidays to include personal time off allows us the freedom to take a break without having to do anything beyond taking care of ourselves. Breathing. Seeing to our own needs. Addressing the external issues that create stress. At the same time, we are in danger of becoming so inwardly focused that we forget there are even greater needs outside us. One of the most attractive perks companies can offer is paid time off to volunteer. Companies as diverse as Timberland and Salesforce are already doing this, offering up to 40 pain hours a year to volunteer. This means you can actually take time for the special cause beyond just copy/pasting something on Facebook. You can be that big brother/big sister or help with a non-profit’s fundraiser without taking a chunk out of your personal revenue.

Holidays Reimagined

There are a lot of options for holidays that improves upon the current over-filled calendar of days with little national meaning and that few observe. We can keep familiy and religious traditions without forcing everyone else to play along. There are eoptions that make more sense and allow holidays to be more personal, more meaningful, and more enjoyable. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way.

Abiding comes easier for everyone when we remove the obstacles of mandatory social inclusion. If holidays do not hold meaning for us, what’s the point? If I don’t believe that a ghost impregnated a virgin then why should I be expected to buy presents and wear ugly sweaters? If I like buying presents and wearing ugly sweaters then why should I have to wait until the 25th of December to do so? Abiding is finding the flow where one best fits with the universe and going with it. Religious or not, nationalistic or not, let’s redefine holidays to be those breaks we need, not what someone else thinks we should have.

This is how we create a better world for everyone.

Abide in Peace,
The Old Man

And now …

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redfining Holidays

Photo credit: Frost Queen by charles i. letbetter. Model: Rebekkah McGrath. Makeup: Jennifer Baxter

Reading time: 21 min
protests don't always work

People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as, you know, giving freedom and justice and liberty to everybody.
-Colin Kaepernick

Much of the United States has seen one protest right after another for more than a year now. There was the protest over the contamination of tribal grounds at Standing Rock. There were protests around the presidential election. There was the Women’s March that filled the mall in Washington, D.C. and there was whatever the fuck one wants to call that mess in Charlottesville that put Fascism back in the spotlight. If there is one thing Americans don’t seem to mind doing, it’s protesting. The question is, however, whether those protests actually do any good. We like to think they are, but the historical evidence points to the contrary.

In my book, Rethinking ‘Merica, I quote from research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page indicating that all our yelling and screaming on social media, as well as our more physical means of protest, actually amount to very little in terms of getting politicians to actually do the things we want them to do. The passage I quote goes like this:

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it. 

Mind you, this isn’t rhetoric, but hard, large-scale research that examines outcomes over several years. While there are certainly exceptions, overall our protests don’t do much more than making a lot of noise.

On August 28 of 2016, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick, disturbed by a trend in the acquittal of police officers who killed unarmed black men, decided to protest what he saw as a nation-wide problem by taking a knee rather than standing during the national anthem. At the time of the protest, Kaepernick gave the following explanation:

People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable for. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for: freedom, liberty, and justice for all.

As usual, not everyone understood. White people, especially, in large masses of willful ignorance didn’t understand. All they saw was a black man who was, in their opinion, disrespecting both the flag and the national anthem. Kaepernick attempted to explain:

I’ve had times where one of my roommates was moving out of the house in college, and because we were the only black people in that neighborhood, the cops got called, and we had guns drawn on us. Came in the house, without knocking, guns drawn on my teammates and roommates. So I have experienced this.

His explanation did little good, however, and when he opted out of his contract with the 49ers this spring, he found that his reputation as a protestor was sufficient to keep anyone in the National Football League from hiring him. Kaepernick came face to face with the very situation Gilens and Page describe. He disagreed with the economic elites, in this case, the billionaire owners of NFL teams, and lost.

As the new football season started, however, other professional athletes let it be known that they would take up Kaepernick’s cause and take a knee during the national anthem. When the first Sunday in September hit, that’s exactly what happened. The protest wasn’t large, wasn’t especially visible, and hurt no one. Yet, for the easily offended members of the political right, such protests provoked outrage. So much so, that the country’s Big Lebowski-in-chief took to his favorite medium, Twitter, and condemned the action, suggesting that protestors should lose their jobs.

The result of the president’s 140-character-at-a-time diatribe was even more protests the following Sunday. This time, entire teams took to their knees during the national anthem. However, what they were protesting was in question. Were they still protesting the same injustices that Kaepernick had protested, or were they protesting the fact that the orange-colored bastard had called one of their own a son-of-a-bitch? Or were they defending his right to protest during the national anthem? There was more than a little confusion on the matter.

On the opposite side of the equation, those who saw Kaepernick’s original protest not as a matter of human rights, but as an affront to the nation’s flag and anthem, were now angry with the NFL for allowing their players to exercise their right to protest. Season tickets have been burned (who is that supposed to hurt?), hats and jerseys have been taken off and left on the ground (littering, anyone?) and a boycott has been called for November 12, the Sunday closest to Veteran’s Day, because they view the protests as an insult to those who have served in the military.

Don’t ask me to make sense of that reasoning. These people are not Vulcans. There is no logic here, Captain.

The argument has grown so far out of control that one of the memes I saw this morning listed 20 different things that are more offensive than taking a knee during the national anthem. Oddly, while the list was accurate, none of the items on that list included the atrocities that caused Kaepernick to take a knee in the first place.

We have reached a point where too many people are yelling just to be yelling, left angry with the right, right ready to take up arms against the left, and neither side with a clear vision of why they’re really upset in the first place. We’re just begging for a fight because both sides are thoroughly convinced that the opposite opinion is not merely wrong but a threat to our American way of life, whatever that is.

At the root of all this protest flip flap lies a greater issue: Americans don’t like each other. We don’t like anyone we perceive as fundamentally different. So, white people have a problem with people of color. Straight people have a problem with LGBTIQ folks. Conservatives have a problem with liberals. And the return feeling is mutual all across the board. We don’t like each other. We don’t want to like each other. Like siblings forced to take an eternally long road trip in the middle of July sitting in the back seat of a sedan whose air conditioning is broken, there is practically nothing about which we are willing to agree.

So, we protest. We protest injustice. We protest fascism. We protest liberalism. We protest open minds. We protest closed minds. We protest immigration. We protest nationalism. We march and scream and call people we don’t know by names our parents told us to never use.

And what does it get us? Not a damn thing more than sore feet and a raw throat.

Since August 28, 2016, are black men any safer from unfair and unjust persecution at the hands of law enforcement? No. Not one bit. The problem is still just as much of a problem today as when Kaepernick first took a knee. If anything, that particular situation may be worse than even Kaepernick realized. Yesterday, Republicans in Alabama elected former judge Roy Moore to be their representative in the race to fill former senator and now attorney general Jeff Session’s seat.  Moore not only advocates and has handed down harsher sentences for people of color, he has also made it abundantly clear that, if given his way, LGBTIQ people would be in jail as well. We’re already the most heavily incarcerated population in the world. Moore and those like him think that’s a good thing and want to see the numbers increase. Injustice upon injustice continues to grow.

Meanwhile, we’re protesting about protests.

I’m not the only who sees this problem, am I? Please tell me the dichotomy we’ve created is as plain as the nose on our pock-marked national face.

Mind you, I’m not saying we shouldn’t protest. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to #TakeAKnee. We need to be a lot more focused, though, and not distracted by the rhetoric if we want to have any hope of actually changing the system. Most importantly, we have to vote in numbers so large as to overwhelm the Puffy Cheese Ball himself. The only way protests get anything accomplished is when they result in a large number of people going to the polls, defying the oligarchs, and making their opinions known in numbers too great to ignore.

Protesting is good and we all have the right to do so, but if we’re too easily distracted, as we currently are, they do no one any good.

Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

#TakeAKnee

photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Reading time: 7 min
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