Archive for April, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Friday, April 27th, 2012

One of my favorite bits of advice, one that I’ve cherished and passed on for decades, is to make your habits work for you. But a lesson that I’ve been slower to catch on to is that habits that were once good for you may not stay that way. They need to be periodically reevaluated and reexamined to see if they still meet your needs.

When I mentioned this to God, he told me that was one of the reasons we have seasons. We get used to doing the same things every day, but as summer rolls around the days get longer, so we look for more things to fill them. In the spring there’s new growth everywhere, so we remember to go to the botanical gardens, or the zoo, or the nearest National Park. When winter has us in its grip, we tend to curl up in our cocoons and pare our routines down to just what we need to get by.

Every turn of the seasons should serve to remind us that our lives go through different phases and that what works for us in one might not be best for the next. So when you’re passing by the park and see all the new growth going on, maybe you should take a moment to think what in your own life could use a little new growth.

Or you could just stop and smell the flowers. That would be nice too.

Soul Amigo

Friday, April 20th, 2012

One of the things that I spend time wondering about is how the various trappings of religion came about. I mean if you were a priest or a shaman or some such and God didn’t talk to you, and you wanted to keep control of “your flock” and get them to do the right thing, why would you come up with the various things that make up your “beliefs.”

Along that line I was asking God the other day how it is that the notion of “soul” as separate from “person” came about. Was there really a need to come up with a separate term for a part of us that continues on past the death of our bodies?

She told me that it was partially invented as a way to keep us hating people and to help depersonalize interventions. If someone was doing something bad you could say that their soul was still pure to give you a reason to still value them. Then you could go to them and say things like “Look, we want to keep you from damaging your soul.” It’s a variation on when you do something bad and someone says “Hey, you’re better than that.” There’s a trick that some people do to fool themselves into accomplishing things that they think may be beyond them, they “pretend” that they can do the thing and then just go ahead and do it. Sort of fooling themselves into not having fooled themselves, or something like that. The soul gives us a personal, anthropomorphized ideal to live up to, to aspire to.

One of the downsides of this is that it allows us to keep both our love of people and our prejudices intact, without having to do much self-examination, without having to resolve the cognitive dissonance. You see that in such statements as “love the sinner but hate the sin” which is a cheap platitude that keeps many people from having to reevaluate the values that they’ve been taught, as opposed to those that they’ve been able to derive from first principles.

After all, why walk a mile in a man’s shoes if you can just say the problem isn’t with the man but with his shoes. And then maybe you’ll see that “soul” and “sole” have something in common.

So, Um

Friday, April 13th, 2012

I’ve never been to a Toastmasters meeting, though I’ve had the opportunity. I have talked to people that have, though, which is only a slight step up from playing an attendee on TV, but enough of one for my purposes here today.

What I remember from such talks is that one of the things that the Toastmasters spend a lot of effort at is getting people to embrace the silent pause, to not fill their moments of gathering thoughts with “ums” and “uhs,” let alone the dreaded “like.” It’s easy enough to understand why we use them, we use them because we don’t want to lose our moment of attention. We’re in the middle of saying something, but we need a moment to put together the rest of the sentence, the rest of the thought; if we don’t make some sound, utter some placeholder, there’s a very real chance that someone else in the group will take their shot, will jump in and divert attention to them, will steal our audience. Even God understands how valuable it is to have someone listen. Actually, God more than anyone probably understands that; how many millions of people have found comfort in just having God listen, not respond, not interrupt, just listen. What power there may be in prayer may just be in believing that someone is listening.

But before someone else jumps in, let me get back to the point I was about to make. I was engaged in a brief instant messaging conversation the other day and God was sitting there with me; he nudged me and pointed at the screen. He told me that what I was looking at was an “um” in the cyber age. It was that little notice that pops up and says the other person is typing. I don’t know if the programmers that put that in knew that that’s what they were doing, but there it was, a little signal that it wasn’t yet my turn to speak. It’s an elegant example of how some things that we barely notice in the real world are still so essential that as we transition part of our lives to the online realm, we still need to bring them along, not in the form we’ve grown up with maybe, but nonetheless there, disguised in plain sight.

How About Freshly Ground Pepper?

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Let me just take a moment to say to all those “modern” fast food franchises out there, “stop it.”

Stop trying to make me the chef.

I don’t know about other parts of the world, but here in the U.S. one of the growing trends in fast food is to make every meal personalized. You run into this at Togo’s and Chipotle’s and at Subway, the joint with the most locations in the country. You can’t just order number 12 or the pastrami sandwich or anything so simple. You have to specify each little thing you want. “Great, you want the pastrami! Would you like lettuce on that? How about onions? What condiments do you want?” It’s the worst at Chipotle. You not only have to specify every little thing, but they pass you down an assortment of stations, so you can’t even memorize an order and rattle it off, you have to talk to three different people even though you’re only traveling five feet.

I read an article this week that says that half of people are introverts and half are extroverts. I don’t know if that split is correct or not but I’m definitely one of the introverts. It taxes me to carry on this charade of a conversation. I don’t mind if the menu lets you “build your own burger,” that’s great for those high maintenance orderers out there, but it’s a pain to me, so don’t make it the only option on the menu. Give me something that I can order in as few syllables as possible and I’ll come back more often. That’s one of the reasons I go to fast food in the first place, no waiter or waitress coming around to check up on me.

I don’t need a lot of interaction. Somedays God and I just sit around on the couch and barely more than grunt at each other. They call it parallel play when toddlers do it, for adults it’s just “comfortable companionship.” And besides, isn’t it the chef’s job to figure out what should go on what? Stop trying to make me do your job.