Mass mutations, or common prejudice?

We need research into a developing phenomenon. Mankind is developing telepathy. People are able to read one another’s thoughts. We know what is going on in other people’s heads.

Don’t believe me? Spend some time reading social-political editorials and social media. These people always seem to know what other people are thinking. And, coincidentally, it always seems to confirm the writer’s world view.

I recently saw a case of this that saddened me. Someone in a position of authority and responsibility had an opportunity to take the path of least resistance and punish someone. Instead, they chose to help the person in a way that turned the situation into a positive. In short, someone did a kind thing for someone else.

And yet someone, reading this, decided they knew the heart and mind of the person doing the kindness and just knew that person would not have acted the same way if the recipient had been a member of a different group. Good deed erased, just like that.

I find that amazing. The person commenting has never met the person in the article, never even knew they existed until reading that article. And yet somehow they can read this person’s mind. They know, dammit, know this person would not have been nice to everyone equally.

It got better! Several more people waded in, insisting they knew the mind of the first person to comment. It was a mass-mind-meld, and I swear they’re growing increasingly common.

Similarly, we know exactly what politicians were thinking, what motivated their decisions, when they vote on legislation we likely have never read and are relying on gross simplifications from the media to understand. We just know the deep, dark motivations of their crippled souls.

It’s incredible! This amazing new mental power is gathering surprisingly little attention from the scientific community! Mankind is gaining telepathic powers of apparently limitless range, and no one seems to be concerned!

That, or we need to stop assuming we know people. We need to stop judging others with no evidence beyond our own prejudices. Perhaps if we start assuming the best of others instead of the worst we might actually start getting the behavior we we hope for.

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One moment of perfect beauty*

Worth your captain’s bar for *…

Okay, how about another, on me:

* Quote from Babylon 5: “There, All Honor Lies”

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Most excellent of kitties

Before we even had kids, there was Max. He joined us only a few months after Terhi and I were married, and lived seventeen of his eighteen years with us. Two weeks ago it was time to let him go.

I didn’t want a cat. We didn’t have cats growing up, and I was allergic to them. I had nothing against them, mind you. I just considered myself a dog person. I still am.

But Terhi wanted a cat, and so I agreed to let her get one for a birthday present. She came home with Max. I didn’t realize at the time she’d found the Senior Statesman of Felinedom. Nor did I guess that, because of Max, we’d go on to get two more cats and a dog. I am a dog person. But thanks to Max, I’m also a cat person.

Max seemed to know I liked dogs, and he used that angle. He would come when called. He’d play games. His favorite was to chase my wife’s sewing measuring tape. He loved to try to catch the end of it and play tug of war with you. If we let go of the tape he would drag it around the house as if taking a victory lap–even after we later tied the other end to a stick to allow us longer reach.

He wasn’t demanding. He would just quietly make eye contact and use guilt to get what he wanted. From me that was usually petting. He’d wait until I was kneeling next to the bed to pray and then come chew on my hair. He liked to lay in the bathroom sink, at least until we moved to a house where the sink wasn’t as comfortable. He enjoyed licking the water from the sink and would often ask us to add more water for him.

He would find unusual places to sleep; in the large mixing bowl atop the cupboards, atop the china hutch, on the plant shelf in the window. He liked to get into places that he sometimes couldn’t get out of. Once he somehow got into a drawer in the bathroom and it shut with him in it. He didn’t seem to mind when he got into such spots; once he decided he’d been there long enough (sometimes for hours) he’d start calling out until we finally figured out where he was.

He was calm and unassuming. Even after the other cats came to live with us he would patiently wait for “Max time,” which usually involved finding Terhi at the end of the day when she’d settle in to read. He loved to sleep next to her at night; sometimes with me, but not as often.

Max had a truly gentle soul, and though we love our other two cats, he was always my favorite. He was always there, somewhere in the house, ready to show affection, but seldom demanding it. He was the one who would tell when you were upset and quietly present himself to provide “furry, purry therapy.” Oh, and his purr–always clear, easily heard, and quickly evoked. He liked to knead, too, though very gently and without claws (would that Benny would learn that).

As he started getting up there in years we started speculating that he was surviving on love. He’d had so few health problems. This summer, however, even love proved insufficient to overcome the effects of advancing age. He started declining, and the vet began speaking in terms of quality of life. By the end of September we suspected it wouldn’t be much longer. And then we knew it was time.

Seventeen years is a long time. Nearly everything we’ve been through as a couple or as a family, Max has been there too. For such a little, quiet cat he had an enormous presence in our lives. He’s beyond pain now, for which we’re grateful. But we miss him.

Until we meet again, Max, you splendid kitty. I hope wherever you are there’s a nice, sunny spot with a pillow with your name on it. There’s certainly one in my soul.


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License to shrill

I was involved in discussion on social media recently in which someone made a post that was somewhat questionable but well-intentioned. The first commenters were somewhat surprised and questioned the poster’s sincerity, but things escalated from there, getting increasingly heated and insulting.

At that point I weighed in, suggesting that the commenters weren’t really interested in explaining and advancing their cause, but punishing dissenting opinions. Understandably, someone took exception to that, and explained that they were all on the poster’s friend list for a reason and that as friends they were giving a little tough love.

I countered that considering how that commenter had taken offense at a particular word I’d used, did he really expect the original poster to be any more willing to listen after some of the insulting words he had used. To his credit, this young man recognized he was wrong and apologized (I suspect this was as much to someone else encouraging moderation as anything I said). Some other, calmer heads then waded in and the thread became more positive from that point.

But something stuck out in that exchange. Do we really believe that claiming friendship with someone gives us permission to insult them, even verbally abuse them, so long as we convince ourselves we’re doing it for their own good? Do we really think that claiming friendship will somehow obligate that friend to objectively weigh our criticism, however harsh, looking for truth and wisdom?

That doesn’t seem right to me.

I would think our friends deserve our patience and kindness, not to be treated as an enemy and raked over the coals. These days our discourse seems increasingly indistinguishable from our profanity: no one will recognize the depth of our passion unless we use harsh language.

But passion alone is insufficient to truly inspire someone to consider their thoughts and actions, let alone implement actual change. I’m reminded of the maxim; “they won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We don’t demonstrate caring by treating people harshly.

I know I’m guilty of this, though I’ve been trying to improve. But if any of us are to have any hope of truly changing hearts and minds we really should consider gentler methods–especially with those we claim as friends. I’m trying to remember a time when someone helped me to truly change through insults and open attacks, and I can’t think of any. Heavens, I’m stubborn enough I have a hard time changing even when people are using kindness.

But I do know that those people who have had the most success in getting me to change my mind are those whose friendship and intentions I do not question because their words reflect genuine care and concern. Your mileage may vary, I suppose, but I suspect I’m not so weird as to be a unique case. At least in this.

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Peace and comfort

“Courage is grace under pressure” – Ernest Hemingway

My oldest sister lost her three-year fight with cancer, but not before demonstrating courage and grace to rival any Hemingway protagonist, and not before wrapping her life up in as neat a bow as anyone could hope for.

Her legacy was perhaps clearest during her funeral when all eight of her children and their spouses performed Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of the folk hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”. They, rightfully, had the most reason to weep, but they, too, showed grace under pressure and instead had all of us in tears.

All through the weekend the love they had for their mother and mother-in-law, and for each other, was on full display. They were determined to honor their mother no matter what it took, and I suspect the full loss won’t be realized until afterward when they try to get back to the normal routine.

I last saw my sister a few weeks ago during a brief visit. She had already gone downhill considerably, and it was difficult to know how coherent she was. But as I sat next to her I’m certain she sensed my awkwardness. She took my hand, and through that touch I believe we were both able to communicate what we couldn’t have put into words.

My sister leaves a very large hole. She was not perfect, as many stories fondly related over the weekend attested. She was not famous or successful by any commonly accepted definition. But if there is a God and a judgment day–and I believe fully that there is–there are few shoes I would rather be in at that time than hers.  She did not live large, but she lived well, and her loving influence continues to spread across two generations and growing.

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Coolness that looks cool

Even cooler than the gun itself is the visual component. But the whole thing is cool from a engineering POV.

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On leadership and dissent

Benjamin Runkle has penned a fascinating article detailing the first meeting of General John J. Pershing and Major George C. Marshall 100 years ago today during the early days of the AEF involvement in World War I. Pershing, upset with the lack of progress of the Ist Infantry Division, dressed down the division commander. Marshall stood up for his CO and detailed a lengthy list of complaints for Pershing.

Rather than be offended by Marshall’s forwardness, Pershing decided Marshall was one of the few officers he could count on to tell him how things really were. Eventually Marshall was promoted to Pershing’s staff and became his aide after the war ended. That single relationship, Runkle posits, made it possible for the U.S. to win World War II over twenty years later.

It’s an interesting article, well worth reading if for no more than what it says about leadership.

Runkle, however, dropped–perhaps inadvertently–another gem into the article that’s worth considering: “After World War I, Pershing sought to lay the foundation for fighting a future war by establishing boards to evaluate the lessons offered by the AEF’s experience.”

In business and project management we often talk about “lessons learned.” What we’re far too often talking about is what Runkle instead calls “lessons offered.” Every project, successful or otherwise, offers lessons. How often do we really learn them? Does anything change in the next project or the corporate culture that proves we really learned anything.

Just a little food for thought.

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Do we really know?

These days it’s commonplace to judge someone based on a single post, a single statement, a single act. People have been condemned for a brief moment in time, in complete ignorance of everything else that has come before it. Who are we to think we know anyone well enough to condemn them? Who are we to criticize someone simply because they don’t behave the way we think they should behave, don’t back the causes we think they should back, in a way we think they should?

Consider the following:

We brush up against thousands of lives during our own. It’s easy to think we know all we need to know based on those brief interactions. We think we know the truth–or at least all the truth we need to know.

The other day I got two posts back to back on social media about the same person. One was an article accusing this person of some pretty reprehensible behavior toward people who had already suffered tremendously. The other claimed this same person took time to reach out to someone involved in facilitating his visit somewhere and who was injured doing their job.

Two different articles showing two very different sides of the same person. So I did some checking. Only one of those stories was true. Care to guess which one?

The article claiming the reprehensible behavior was false. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the people who posted those two articles are very open about their feelings toward this person. What’s interesting is how the person who posted the false accusation responded to the falsehood being revealed. He didn’t even bat an eye, let alone apologize for perpetuating a lie. In fact, his attitude was one of “well, keep watching, he’ll do plenty more things that are horrible.”

As I’ve said before, no one is as wonderful as their fans make them out to be, nor as horrible as their enemies claim. The truth of all of us lays somewhere in between. The world as a whole would benefit from each of us not acting as though we know so many things that just aren’t so, as though our small glimpse of a person is the correct view.

I know it would kill mainstream news and most social network interaction, but perhaps we should all go a little easier on one another.

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Carillons are cool!

Martin from Wintergatan continues his tour of the amazing instruments in (and near) the Spielklok Museum in Utrecht, Netherlands, and discovers what must be one of the coolest jobs around: city carillon player.

I’d LOVE to get the tour he got for this:

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Bibbi Babkhas!

I was trying to explain to my kids where I got a certain quote and turned to YouTube to save me. Some of you may remember the catch-phrase “Well of course not, don’t be ridiculous!” So while I was introducing them to “Perfect Strangers” I ran across this little ditty, which I also use frequently.

Yeah, the series was short on distinct plots (there were basically only two, Balki gets carried away and Larry has to rescue him, or Larry gets carried away and Balki has to bring him back down), but they were funny. This clip reminds me that we used to be able to laugh without getting crude or crass. I kinda miss the sweet simplicity of “Perfect Strangers”.

I also came across an interview the two actors did twenty-five years later. I had just been thinking that shows back then were more “kind and gentle” compared with shows today. Around the mid-point of the interview they discuss how the director aimed purposefully for “heart moments” in each episode, and then end the show, whereas now-days, if they have that moment at all, they then undercut it with more digging humor before they cut away. It’s a telling observation.

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