Old Man Talking

Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here who gives a shit about the rules? 

-Walter, arguing with Smokey

Rules. There are times when they are absolutely necessary, such as bowling, or football, or most any competitive event. They lay out the framework that allows everyone to participate in a fair and equitable manner. We benefit from having rules, most of the time.

Unfortunately, there are also times when rules are just stupid. They don’t make a damn lick of sense, they discriminate against people, and they’re only necessary because someone is wanting to exert power over someone else. Those rules are bullshit.

Now, Dudeist tradition is to take a “fuck it” attitude to just about everything, and that certainly includes stupid rules that don’t make a damn bit of sense. Walter may get bent out of shape and pull his gun over a foot fault, and in a competitive situation, I can see why he might not be pleased with Smokey thinking it’s not a big deal. Was it serious enough to warrant the gun, though? No. The Dude encouraged Walter to put the thing away, but Walter wasn’t in the mood to listen.

There is a dichotomy at work here, though, because while Walter is ranting and raving about Smokey following the rules, he is simultaneously breaking rules by pulling out his gun, firing it, and making threatening gestures toward Smokey. Walter, like many people, likes the rules when they benefit him, not so much when they get in his way. But then, if Walter had taken more of a “fuck it” attitude, it would have been a much less interesting movie and we might not be having this conversation.

Part of the problem here is that we want rules to be absolute when there are no absolutes. “Don’t kill” sounds pretty fucking absolute, doesn’t it? We have myriad laws that provide for rather severe punishment when we kill someone. But then, there’s war, in which case one may have no choice but to kill, even when one doesn’t believe in the reasons for the war in the first place. When one is in the military and given an order to kill, the severe consequences come if one disobeys the order rather than fulfilling it. That conflict messes with our heads and puts us in a position where we question whether there is any point to rules at all.

Like every other aspect of life, there is a yin and yang to rules. Where rules keep us safe and prevent people from doing stupid shit, we need and want those rules. Society would break down into anarchy without rules and few of us would survive absolute anarchy; it’s not at all how the Mad Max movies depict it. Anarchy makes it extremely difficult to abide peacefully.

The flip side is that sometimes it’s the rules keeping us from abiding. Where rules stand in the way of us being able to live our lives in a peaceful and meditative manner, there’s something wrong and we have to make a decision how we respond.

My significant other person, let’s call her the Young Woman (contrasting the Old Man), is a stylist. As she was leaving for the salon this morning, I asked if she was looking at a very busy day. Knowing what’s on her books helps me know whether it’s safe to bug her with stupid shit, as I tend to do. Her response caught me a bit off guard. One of her clients today is a young woman whose school has told her that her hair is “too blonde” and that she must remedy that condition today or face suspension from school.

Stop and think about that for a moment. What the fuck is TOO blonde? I mean, that’s just really rough for me to grasp. I let the Young Woman dye my own hair a few years ago and we went really blonde with that. Look at this picture and tell me: is this too blonde?

Old Man Talking
photo credit: charles i. letbetter

I mean, I can see where a school might consider a vivid purple or bright pink distracting. I don’t agree with that assessment, but I can give that more of a “fuck it” than I can too blonde. Blonde is a natural color for a lot of people. How the fuck can too blonde be against the rules? The rule just doesn’t make a lick of sense!

What really got my goat, though, was this thing called the Nashville Statement. This incredible piece of work comes from a religious organization who claims to have authority over pretty much everyone, even if we don’t agree with or follow their belief system. That factor in of itself is so very uncool as to make anything these people might say worthy of a giant “fuck it.”

The Nashville Statement is worth mentioning, though, because of the incredible amount of harm it can do to some really cool dudes (using the word, again, in the most nongender-specific way possible). In fairness, if you want to see the full statement, you can find it here. This statement is a direct and intentional affront to everyone is not straight, Christian and either married or celibate. That’s right, they’re insulting The Dude himself, not to mention most of the rest of us. Are we offended yet?

For example, Article 2 states: “We deny that any affections, desires, or commitments every justify sexual intercourse outside marriage ….”

To quote The Dude: “You mean coitus?”

Yeah, Dude. They have a rule against coitus with anyone to whom you’re not married. Please, tell me I’m not the only person who shudders at that thought.

Oh, but that’s still not the worst of their rules. Articles VII through X specifically and deliberately takes aim at gay, lesbian, and transgender dudes, calling their sexuality “unnatural” and a sin. Article XIII even goes so far as to infer that transgender dudes can be made “straight” because … Jesus.

A Facebook acquaintance who teaches at a fairly liberal theological seminary reminded me, “It’s the same mean people doing the same mean things – just better web design.” His response to the Nashville Statement is much like that of The Dudes: “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.” And that’s wonderful if you can get to that place of abiding.

What we must realize, however, is that for dudes who have to put up with such a constant stream of bullshit and people who don’t even know them and aren’t even playing the same game trying to push rules onto them, things like this Nashville Statement really hurt. Our LGBTQ dudes are not only being told that they’re sinners, which, whatever with that bullshit, they’re being told by this group that they’re not natural, as though being gay or transgendered makes them some kind of alien or mutant. That’s a transgression that goes beyond pissing on someone’s rug, man.

We, as Dudeists, teach being yourself. Lao Tzu wrote in Tao Te Ching:

“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength; 
mastering yourself is true power.”

As we strive to master ourselves, we struggle enough with who we think we are versus who we truly are. When someone else, especially someone taking a presumptive place of authority, tries to block us from achieving that goal the task becomes all the more challenging; so much so that many have died in trying. Can we know ourselves, acknowledge ourselves, accept ourselves when there is someone yelling “NO!” in your face, your ears, and in everything around you?

Here, Lao Tzu has some challenging words for us. First, he gives us these sage words:

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” 

Then, later, he follows with a rather serious warning:

“Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

Old Man Talking
photo credit: charles i. letbetter

Wow, that’s kind of rough, man. In many ways, his words fly directly in the face of everything contemporary society tries to demand of us. Sure, we’re fine with the condensed soup version: Believe in yourself; Be content with yourself; Accept yourself. We’ve heard those words before and no one would argue with them. Look, however, at the follow up; that’s where the challenge lies. Don’t try to convince others of who you are. You don’t need other’s approval. While it may sound good, the reality is that following that advice is very difficult, especially when we are young and really wanting to fit in with the crowd.

I know many LGBTQ people would raise an eyebrow at the words, “Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” The very fact that the Nashville Statement exists seems to defy Lao Tzu’s words. How many gay and trans people have been violently attacked because they chose to be their glorious selves in a public setting that refused to accept them?

Thus saith The Dude: “This aggression will not stand, man!”

Ancient Jewish literature instructs how to deal with such matters:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. 

Do LGBTQ people really fit under that instruction, though? We’ve seen the parades and the rallies, they seem to be reasonably adept at speaking up for themselves. Why do we need to get involved in defending them?

Because they do not have a strong voice in how laws and policy are made, and they especially don’t have a voice among religious tyrants, some of whom refuse to even recognize LGBTQ people as human. They are effectively silenced among people in power and their numbers are not yet sufficient to hold dramatic political sway without the intervention of allies.

When we stand against bad rules, even if we are not directly affected by the rules, we stand against injustice, we stand against those who would piss on someone else’s rug, we prevent them from becoming the prisoners of someone else’s opinion.

The relationship between The Dude and Walter is a good example here. Sure, The Dude was perfectly capable of standing up for himself. He went to visit the Big Lebowski on his own. Yet, not only did Dude’s visit not solve the problem, it actually ended up making things worse as the Big Lebowski tried taking advantage of The Dude.

Enter Walter. Did Walter need to insert himself into The Dude’s problem? Not really. Did Walter need to put his underwear at risk in exposing the scam? Absolutely not. The situation was such, though, that had Walter not intervened the story would have likely had a very different ending with The Dude being put in a very bad place. Only because Walter teamed with The Dude was there any level of justice served.

Sure, Walter’s methodology is very unDudelike and waving a loaded gun around, especially inside a bowling alley, is generally NOT the type of behavior one wants to emulate. Coming to the aid of a friend, however, is a trait all of us should have, no matter who we are. Remember, even Donny ran into the parking lot when shit hit the fan. That’s what friends do, even if it gets us cremated.

Tao Te Ching drops this wisdom on us:

“When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.” 

Here is the source of bad rules: the desire for all things to meet one’s definition of what is beautiful and good. Deity-based religions quite frequently make this mistake, declaring anything outside their definition of good to be a “sin.” Demanding that followers of a deity be without sin forces them to deny themselves, regardless of what form that might take. If a deity demands that people with red hair are bad, then, what hope do redheads have of pleasing the deity while also accepting who they are? If rules establish that only one lifestyle is acceptable, then how can those of alternative lifestyles abide by those rules?

Honestly, the whole situation is sometimes enough to make me think Walter was under-armed. Break out the F-15, man.

But again, Lao Tzu instructs us:

“Respond to anger with virtue. Deal with difficulties while they are still easy. Handle the great while it is still small.” 

A school’s over-restrictive dress code may lead us to anger. Going to the salon and getting one’s hair toned down in responding with virtue. An organization’s inflammatory rules create difficulty but those rules are not yet law and likely, hopefully, will never become so, making it easier for us to deal with them now before they become pervasive.  We are not powerless in standing against this aggression or others that deny anyone the ability to abide.

But first, my dear dudes, may we be sure to know ourselves. We cease to abide when we allow ourselves to leave that presence of knowing; when we try to be that which we are not. The Dude cannot become Walter and remain The Dude.

We may defend. We may defy. But first, we must abide.

Some rules are good and necessary. Some rules suck. Choose carefully the rules you break and how you break them, but do break them so that you and others can be free.

Abide in peace,
the Old Man

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The Old Man Talking
photo credit: charles i. letbetter

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