Memorial Day

Vietnam War Memorial
Vietnam War Memorial

Vive la Différence

I’ve been working on becoming a more understanding person, having more compassion and tolerance of people’s differences. I don’t know why this is so difficult. I mean, we’re all different. It’s become a cliché, but it certainly would be a mind-numbingly boring world if we were all alike, and I venture to say there would be a lot more homicides, because who could stand looking at themselves all day? We thrive on differences.

I love living in a busy city, with noise, but also convenience of nearby shops and restaurants. Yes, there is traffic and pollution and crime, but I was born in the city, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. Some people I know were born and raised in the country. They love small-town life, the slower pace, the quiet, the sound of crickets and so on. Like I said, I am working on myself. I don’t want to become comfortable living in a small town, but I want to be pleased that other people do. My goal is to be okay with people not wanting the things I want. That’s really the key to living in a pluralistic society.

We all want something different than the next person does. Sometimes, we must find a common ground, some kind of compromise, in order to get what we want, even if that means not getting everything we’re after. We learn to compromise eventually, and this can work. Sometimes you compromise to get what you want, at least some of it.

Saint Patrick's Day Parade in Washington, DC
Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Washington, DC

My compromise is that I live in the suburbs. Now, this might seem like a dream to some people, but for me, it’s a compromise. I mean that I would have it another way, but my wife hates the city. So, behind our house lie thousands of acres of farmland. Directly to our south, traffic, noise, people. The city, just not too much of it. It’s a pretty good balance. If I could have my way, we’d live in a loft above a busy street, within walking distance to a good coffee shop and sushi. I could take a train across town with my bicycle. My wife would rather live in a house on a large enough piece of land where our next neighbor can’t be heard. Her ideal is based on her desire for quiet  and solitude, while mine is based on a taste for bustle and convenience. So, we live in between.

But this doesn’t bother me too much. I like the balance. I know some people who could never live any place with more than 25,000 people. They are afraid of the “big city”. They would freak out in a place like Chicago or LA. But in my work to understand people better, I accept this. I realize it doesn’t sound like it, but none of us is perfect. I’ve lived in some small towns. My college was in a small town. Later we moved to another small town. And even though I hated living there, other people seemed to love it. And I despised them for my lack of understanding. Now I think I’m a little more accepting of these differences. I’ve learned to be in between.

Being in between is okay. But it’s good to be different. I can enjoy sushi, while someone else likes chicken-fried steak. I like opera, you might like country/western. My new self does not criticize someone for that. In a perfect world, everyone would eventually change their point of view and begin to see through others’ eyes. In reality, this only happens after certain events and after a number of years, and not for everyone. I know people who are so intolerant, so judgemental, that they will actually hate someone who sees things differently. That’s too bad. They won’t see the world in it’s truest light, and they can’t enjoy the differences we all share.

Is This Clean?

I am a guy, and guys have a different perspective on many things than women do. This goes for a lot of things that are often chalked up to men being insensitive Neanderthals. But men and women simply see things differently. It’s how we’re programmed, if you will. You no doubt will find a lot of examples of this as you love your life. You learn to cope with the chasm that lies between men and women in terms of perspective, and you will build a bridge eventually, if you work together.

This brings me to the little pile of clothes I have on the floor on my side of the bed. On any given day there might be a pair of trousers, a t-shirt, and some socks. This is not a discard pile. These are clothes that are wearable, but they’re not clean enough to go back into a drawer or be hung up and put in the closet. Now, the socks are going to be the first items I concede. They get a lot of punishment, stuffed into smelly shoes and walked around in all day. But sometimes, socks can stay. Jeans are very re-wearable. But I am not a jeans kind of guy. That said, I have a favorite pair of khakis, and they are often found in the “special” pile.

The test for determining if something can be worn again before it is washed is slightly complicated. The wearing of a garment at any time is dependent on the context. Am I going to wear these to work? Am I going to the hardware store? Dining outdoors? Another factor is the degree of wear. How long did I actually have this shirt on? All day? Just a couple of hours? Also to for consideration are the item’s appearance and, well, smell.

Yes, you want to smell it. Stick your face in there and get a good whiff. By this point, if you have any doubts, by all means throw the stuff into the hamper. I’m not condoning being a slob and parading around in dirty clothes. And naturally, I put on fresh garments for work and church. In fact, in the summer, I have been known to change clothes a couple times in a day. But that’s just me. I can’t bring myself to go to dinner wearing shorts and a t-shirt, unless we’re going to Fuzzy’s Tacos.

My wife doesn’t understand my complex algorithm for judging an item’s wearability. That’s okay. I just ask that she not disturb my pile. If she insists on washing everything in the house, I am grateful. But she doesn’t have to worry about those clothes over there. It’s okay. They’re not clean, but they’re not dirty either. It’s a guy thing, you know.

Behold, the Truth

There is a lot out there that is far from the truth. I mean truth in a more universal sense, as well as factual, accurate knowledge. Truth is not limited to information that can be verified and certified. The person making your sandwich is delivering truth. But the fast food industry is built on lies. How can there be truth in a burger? The truth, in fact, is in the delivery. You paid what you felt was fair for that sandwich. Did you pay too much? If so, did you complain? Perhaps you complain a lot. I pay for a sandwich or a package of Ramen noodles or a six-pack of beer – willingly, I add – because I accept the value. Is it worth my $8 for six bottles of beer? Not if they’re filled with Bud Lite. But if I can get Sam Adams for that price, then yes. Truth.

Economics is not a good subject on a discussion about universal truths. In fact, I don’t believe in them. Yes, gravity is a constant. But what about justice? Or freedom? Not everyone on this planet agrees on these concepts because there are cultural perspectives, unique to each group. What appears just and fair to the Maasai people may seem very different, even alien, to Canadians. When we talk about truth, we usually mean honesty and integrity. Not everyone is completely honest. In fact, no one is. I dare say that we all lie to each other, and to ourselves. Why? Maybe we are trying to spare one another’s feelings. “What do you think?” we are often asked; and are we expected to deliver an honest evaluation?

Truth is in short supply in “reality” television. I’m sure you’ve watched one of these so-called unscripted programs. The fact is that all these are only staged presentations, like everything else on TV. It’s the same with the news, although not as clever. A local TV station in my Dallas was notorious for baiting viewers with deceptive teasers. “Find out how this diet trick can send you to an early grave!” they would exclaim, “Later in this broadcast.”  Naturally, it would turn out to be based on findings from a study; but, the TV station is not interested in delivering truth. They want ratings. Advertisers pay based on ratings. Money is their truth.

Essentially, money corrupts everything eventually, whether it’s government, entertainment, mega-churches, or big business. Nothing is safe. People are greedy. That’s as much a truth as anything. We mean well, but then we let greed and envy and ambition get out of control. Watch kids playing a game, and you will understand what I mean. But what happens when adults get involved. Parents at football or hockey matches for their kids can be the worst kind of people. Their actions and words can and will have harmful effects on their kids and any child in their vicinity. It’s ugly, but it reveals our basic nature.

Money is not in and of itself evil. It is often said that money is at the root of evil, but I don’t believe this to be true. Money is a thing. Humans have assigned meaning to it. We value it. Why is gold precious? It is not practical as a metal for much other than electronics. And there are better synthetic materials now. Pure gold has a dull luster, not as shiny as when mixed with harder metals. It is soft and extremely dense, so it is not useful in making weapons or tools. And it melts at lower temperatures, so it is not practical for making pots to cook with. Yet gold is a very expensive material. It probably was not worth much in neolithic times, when humans were preoccupied with finding food and shelter.

The truth is: food is worth more than gold, or it would be if the economy collapsed. Also, clean water would be worth more than diamonds. And soap would be like pearls. Well, you see that truth is relative. A bar of soap right now is worth about $1. That’s pretty cheap. But for people in another place, it might be worth a week’s wages. I can turn on the tap and have all the water I need. But there are about 1 billion people who have no access to safe drinking water. In truth, water for them is precious.

What looks like truth to us might be far from it for someone else. I look at TV differently, having helped create programs. Someone watching might never know what happens behind the camera. As you read this, you may perceive a different truth about me as the author than one based on other facts hidden from the general public. And there are truths obscured form my view. This is why it is the goal of the philosopher to pursue truth in all its forms. Will he find it? We may never know.