This evening at twilight, I had a few moments to go write in my hammock during the intermission between rainstorms. I typed away happily in my beloved hammock under soft, slate-gray skies, with a cool breeze. The real stars of the night were the birds who serenaded me. This is the happiest of happy places for me. I don't know if you can hear them in the video I shot, but I wanted to share the tranquility. I'm not sure why it's sideways. And I can't fix it. But hopefully the birds are still nice.
I've been disturbed for a long time by the growing anger and ugliness in our public discourse. I'm especially troubled by how ugly things can get online. There are modern mobs who abandon all ideas of "innocent until proven guilty," or other basic aspects of civilization.
I find this so troubling because it seems to me that we are using advanced technologies to rush headlong back to the Dark Ages. Back to Witch Hunts, back to tribalism, and back to a nasty, brutish jungle law where we hunt in packs and savage our ideological foes.
I've been thinking a lot about this because very year at school we show students a clip from To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch is a lawyer defending a young black man, Tom Robinson, who was accused of raping a white woman. Knowing a lynch mob will form, Atticus goes to the jail. He brings a reading lamp and a chair and sits there reading a book.
When the mob comes, as he knew they would, Atticus calmly stands there and explains that he won't allow a lynching. His client is entitled to a trial, and Atticus aims to see that he gets a fair hearing.
One man against the mob, who are rushing to judgment. One man standing up for the idea that we ought to have fair trials, that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and that mobs don't execute justice very well.
Atticus can't change his society, even though he sees how wrong it can be. So he does what he can. He stands up and says, "No. This is wrong."
People read or see this scene and think of how wonderful Atticus is. I suspect we also imagine ourselves standing up and facing down bigots just like Atticus. That's nice, but those are cheap thrills and cost us nothing.
In the meantime, mobs run wild all over the internet and, without a thought, savage people's reputations, destroy careers, and lead to terrible suffering.
And I wonder, how can I keep showing this clip to my students and telling them to stand up and stop bullies and be brave and strong and so on when I am quiet.
So I want to try something. It is hopelessly idealistic, extremely impractical, and probably impossible. But I still want to do it. I'm thinking of something called the Atticus Society. A Facebook group of people who find ways to stand up and say, "No. This is wrong."
A group of people who call for calm when feelings are inflamed. A group of people who suggest patience when the mob rushes to judgement. A group of people who send out Tweets and messages of support when people are being savaged. A group of people committed to the ideas of due process, of dispassionate justice, and of civil, reasoned, calm discourse in the body politic. A group of people who interpose themselves between the mob and the victim and who really believe that Free Speech is worth defending.
Such a group can't fix everything, can't be everywhere. But it might be a few places. It might help a few people, soothe a few situations. Imagine what an organized cadre of people calling for calm and civility might do?
It could be quite fun, actually. Quixotic, but fun.
Who's in? If you are maybe willing to join, or simply intrigued, send me an email here. Let's talk and see what we can do.
Or, does it make more sense to wring our hands, lament loudly, and hope things change, or at least, hope the mob will never hurt someone we love?
I suppose I might make a lot of people mad with this, but I feel like it needs to be said.
One of the greatest things about my life is that I have friends of pretty much every ideological and philosophical stripe. Some are just shy of socialists, some think Margaret Thatcher was a little wobbly, and many fall in between. Some are deeply religious, others are deeply irreligious. Some of those religious friends are liberal, and some of the non-believing friends are conservative. My Facebook feed is a fascinating mash-up that might include Rachel Maddow, The Huffington Post, Breitbart, and The Blaze, with the Washington Post and New York Times thrown in for good measure.
Consequently, I hear a lot of different viewpoints. I like that because it gives me a lot to think about. The thing is, though, that all my friends are absolutely sure they are right. Positive. I rarely hear anything like, "In my opinion...", or "I could be wrong but...." Rather, differing viewpoints are presented as fact. But obviously, they can't all be right. Right?
Because of this vast divergence in opinions, I am not sure how well legal means can really solve deep-seated cultural problems. Yes, a court can rule, or laws can be passed. But with so many differing opinions, so many people believing so many different things, that might not have great outcomes. Consider the abortion debate, it's legal, but has been fought over bitterly for years, with no end in sight. Perhaps one side will muster the political power to simply smash all resistance and impose their will. That's probably not great for long-term stability. Or, maybe we'll self-segregate into red and blue states and boycott each other until we are two countries. None of these sound wonderful.
The only real, long-term answer I see is the easiest and the hardest. It's empathy. Basic, human empathy. The ability to look at a complex situation and say, "If that were me, I would like to be treated thus." That is the only hope I have for us, honestly. People acting without malice, without anger, and trying to understand how the other person feels.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and asking some questions. I'd love for everyone to ask these questions in the quiet of their own conscience and answer honestly.
First let me set this up.
I'm a Mormon. I'm many other things, but I suppose that being a Mormon is one of the most fundamental aspects of my identity. It hits me at my core.
Many years ago, a story made the rounds after one of the big hurricanes. A small town in the South had been devastated and many people lost their roofs.
The roofers finally came and started working. One of the people in the neighborhood was a Mormon. The owner of the roofing company came into the house and noticed that there was a copy of The Book of Mormon. Because he was an Evangelical Christian, he felt he could not repair the Mormon guy's roof. He apologized and left.
I have no way of knowing if this story is true, but it doesn't really matter. It made the rounds through Mormon circles, where it was met with anything from head-shaking disbelief to shock and indignation.
Let me use another example. I applied years ago for a job. Objectively speaking, I was qualified for the job, but didn't even get a call. I heard later through people-who-knew-people that it was because my resume indicated I had attended Brigham Young University and was therefore a Mormon. This happened one other time as well, when I was being considered for an award.
Beyond any damages in potential earnings and that sort of thing, there is something gut-wrenching about having some part of your core identity singled out like that. There is a visceral response when your group, your tribe, the people with whom you identify are singled out.
As I read about the most recent dust-up in the culture wars, I keep wondering what the reaction would be if a business hypothetically refused to serve a Mormon missionary's homecoming party. Or Christian wedding, or an Orthodox Jewish Bar Mitzvah. Insert whatever other group you want to insert.
Try a thought experiment. Insert the group label with which you most identify and imagine someone saying, "I'm sorry, but I don't believe I can participate in a (Insert your own group's special function)."
When it's your group, how do you react? And, with what level of refusal of service do you find comfortable? Are you okay with a restaurant saying they'll serve you, but not cater your event? Think about that for a minute and be honest. How do you feel? And if you are okay with it, where do you draw the lines?
I can't get that question out of my mind. What if it was my group?
When it's my group in question, it makes me think there ought to be a pretty high bar to clear to refuse service to someone. I suspect most of us are the same and can quickly cite reasons why our group shouldn't be treated differently, etc.
Aside from the basic morality of the situation, this seems to me the way for civil society to quickly degenerate into factions, and we all have a stake in keeping a stable social order.
But now, that raises some other questions. Who enforces this? The Federal Government? Local police? Social media vigilantes? Is it just and fair that the pizza parlor owners have basically lost their livelihood because they answered a hypothetical question?
Say you have objections to something. Real, deep-seated objections. Maybe they are principled, maybe they are prejudiced, maybe they are any number of things. But they are your views and you live in a free society where you are guaranteed freedoms to live your life as you see fit.
In this case, your views genuinely bring you to the belief that you can't do something. It's not a matter of serving someone in your restaurant, or roofing a home. It's catering an event for a group with whom you disagree. Or building a church that actively teaches things you take issue with. Something that requires more active participation on your part than simply serving a customer.
Should you be forced to participate?
If so, what should be the consequences of your refusal?
The loss of income?
None of those sound good to me.
I toss these questions out there in the hope that we might all think through things and calm down a bit and see things on a human level. Humans--like us. With hopes and fears and dreams. That gay couple has feelings. They may carry baggage and deep wounds from growing up and feeling bullied and persecuted. That Christian couple who owns the business, they have feelings too. Fears and concerns for this life and the next. We reduce each other to objects so quickly and so easily.
And so, I come back to empathy. Basic, human empathy. The ability to look at a complex situation and say, "If that were me, I would like to be treated thus." That is the only hope I have for us, honestly. People acting without malice, without anger, and trying to understand how the other person feels.
It's so simple--and so difficult.
If you want to comment, please be respectful and civil. I can't control the world, but I can control my blog and want it to be a polite place.
Tonight was opening night and I'm on Cloud 9. However, on Monday, our first dress rehearsal, I was at whatever place is the polar opposite of Cloud 9. I was utterly despondent and ready to start applying to Kroger.
The thing is that dress rehearsals, at least at my middle school, are almost always bad. I started keeping notes a few years ago, and I've documented something. First dress rehearsals are almost always bad. Like, awful.
However, I've documented something else. Those really bad rehearsals seem to yield really good plays. It's not just in my little corner where that happens--it's an old theatrical cliche that a bad dress rehearsal means a good opening.
Why is that? It is counter-intuitive, no? One could make a logical case that the way you practice is the way you will perform.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but I have a theory about this. Humans learn by making mistakes. We grow through trial and error. That is true individually and collectively. In my experience, we really don't learn--can't learn--without making mistakes.
A dress rehearsal is the first time that all the elements are combined--costumes, lights, sound, scenery, props, make-up, hair, and so on. No matter how well you have rehearsed, throwing all those variables into the mix increases the chances to make mistakes. And that is good.
When I was a young director, I expended a lot of energy trying to make us have good dress rehearsals. It was exhausting. Then, I realized that they students needed to make those mistakes. Each mistake meant they figured out a way NOT to do something--which put us closer to figuring out what SHOULD be done. But it only happened with trial and error.
My efforts to prevent mistakes were counter-productive. For example, if I went backstage to make sure the stage crew was ready for a complex set change, then I could make that particular change work well. That once. But they didn't learn how to do it--or how to not do it--and so I set them up for failure as soon as I was gone.
Here's where I am going with this. Middle school is a dress rehearsal. It's a time for kids to start making mistakes. Mistakes in a dress rehearsal don't matter. No one is there to see it. It's safe.
Middle school mistakes aren't permanent. They will go away. There's no audience, as it were. And the kids need the chance to make those mistakes. They have to figure out how NOT to do life before they can figure out how they should do it. Not just in relation to academics, but in terms of social relationships, getting to know their strengths and weaknesses.
The parents of successful children know or intuit that their child needs to make mistakes. Sadly, many parents do what I used to do and expend a great deal of energy trying to create a perfect performance and not allowing mistakes. This is, of course, a huge mistake.
Kids need to fail. They need to struggle and make mistakes. There's no other way to learn. And intervening to prevent a child from making mistakes does not prevent mistakes. It only postpones them, which ensures that the stake will be higher and the audience much more critical. Do you want your child to mess up in middle school or the workplace?
It's tough to do this. It's really tough. I sit through dress rehearsals in agony, and I die a thousand deaths inside that week. I go through intense self-doubt, and question every decision I've made along the way. But then on opening night, I realize the struggle was not incidental to, but rather integral to, to the process and the success.
So, to parents everywhere, including the parents of my own children, I say, "Let them fail! Let them mess up!" This is a dress rehearsal--it is not the final performance. But the final performance is coming--and the audience will be much more demanding.
I don't generally post a lot of home improvement or Do-It-Yourself or crafty Pinterest sort of stuff. Well, that changes tonight! You see, I've been doing a lot of work around our house lately and I can never find a screwdriver. Ever. I have roughly 800 of the little buggers, but the one I need--no matter which one I need--is always buried somewhere deep in my toolbox or has been left elsewhere.
Tonight, after hunting for a very specific screwdriver and not finding it and trying various objects as substitutes (with no success whatsoever) I decided to figure out a way to organize them.
My criteria were:
1) I didn't want to spend any money.
2) I wanted to use something I had on hand.
3) I wanted to see all the options, different sizes, etc.
4) I wanted to make it easy so when I'm in the middle of something and tell my kids, "Go get me a Phillips screwdriver," they can find it easily.
5) I also wanted it neat and orderly and confined to one space.
So, after a little thinking here's what I did.
I got three plastic cups (left over from a Christmas party, so they are bright red) and stacked them on each other.
Step 1: Heat the tips of the screwdrivers, one at a time. I kept my regular and Phillips in different piles. Start with the biggest one. Depending on the size, it took between 20-50 seconds. Note: Heat the whole blade, not just the tip. If it is a wedge-shape, make sure to heat the edges where it flares out.
As a bonus, all the heating means I have the most germ-free screwdrivers in Tennessee.
Step 2: While the metal is hot, push it down through the plastic. Important: Pull it out quickly, wait a second or two, then push it back in again. Otherwise, the melted plastic will congeal around the metal shank, forming a surprisingly strong bond.
Step 3: Repeat in descending size order. Put the bigger ones in the middle for ballast, then move outward, keeping it as symmetrical as possible to create balance.
I used clear for Phillips head and red for regular.
I'm very happy with the way this turned out. I have them sitting on a shelf in our utility room. They are out of the way, but within easy reach. I spent no money, got to play with fire, and they are neat and organized--and very simple for my kids to find!
A little gift to you from me. Absolutely beautiful.
Note: I have posted this for a year or two in various forms. I worry about it a bit because I don't want to seem self serving since I am a teacher. But I have now been asked multiple times by friends about ideas for teacher gifts. So, I am going to post it.
First of all, you are certainly not obligated to give a gift. If you want to--I think that's really great. If you don't want to, or can't, that's fine, too.
Personally, I always make sure we give our children's teachers something. It's always very modest, but I think it's important, and here's why: I can't overstate how demanding and exhausting teaching is. Wonderful and rewarding, yes--but also exhausting. It's very much like being a parent--a constant flow of giving, giving, giving. You give emotionally and mentally and you risk emptying the well sometimes.
Having someone give back using the same currency (eg emotional and mental) really helps fill the well back up.
Do not feel obligated to spend a lot of money. In fact, you can spend no money and give an incredibly memorable gift (see below).
Remember that, while your child's teacher gets paid, a good teacher is simply not compensated anywhere near the amount of time he or she invests and is not paid for any of the emotional energy given.
One of the most valued gifts I know of is a sincere note written by a child that is detailed and specific in expressing gratitude. I personally feel that way, and I think a lot of other teachers do as well.
Most teachers teach because they wanted to make a difference and most worry, I think, that they aren't doing enough, or well enough or could do more or need to do better. Knowing you are achieving that objective and feeling like you touched a life is powerful motivational medicine. This is the gift I yearn for every year and appreciate so much when I get one! In fact, I have a folder in which I keep these sort of notes and in a fire, it's one of the first things I would grab.
If your child has multiple teachers, be careful about giving a gift to one teacher and not another. Someone does this every year and it can really hurt people's feelings. Remember that teachers are human with feelings. If you must do this, and I can see why there would be occasions to do it, at least give the gift discretely so no one else will see.
Remember, too, that every school has a few popular teachers that everyone loves and remembers. But the less charismatic teachers work hard, too. It's not their fault they are not as fun or popular, etc. Be thoughtful.
You might also consider the custodial staff, etc. A plate of cookies for them would be very thoughtful. I know that not every parent can get every member of the staff something. But when you are in a position, it's nice. There is a parent at our school who remembers the lunch ladies and custodians every year. Every year. I think that shows a lot about her.
Don't feel pressure to be creative or clever. It truly is the thought that counts for most teachers--and if it's not, then it's not worth worrying about them. A list of my favorite gifts over the years would reveal no pattern beyond thoughtfulness.
If you are super busy and want a quick idea, go for a gift card. Teachers don't often have vast amounts of of disposable income and having a gift card to Amazon or Target or a restaurant allows them go get something fun without having to worry about budgetary impact. You can get gift cards so easily now--Visa cards which are like cash, and just about every other possible thing you can imagine: Starbucks, iTunes, the list goes on and on.
If you want to do something more personal, you might find out about their favorite restaurant, spa, etc. is also a good idea. Do they have a charity they support? There might also be instructional or classroom supplies your teacher would love that are not in his or her budget. Talking to the room parents or the teacher is a good idea there.
A few random examples:
One year, one student got some movie passes for us since there was a movie they knew we wanted to watch and knew it would be expensive for our big family. The kindness and thoughtfulness in that gesture still warm my heart beyond the value of the gift.
Another family gave me some really amazing, high-end toffee and candy one year and some homemade treats the next year. Some families have special recipes for hot cocoa or cookie mixes--the list goes on and on, but all of this warms my heart to equal degrees because I know they spend time and effort--which is what I've tried to do for their children.
Another idea is a Christmas tree ornament. Over the years I have received several of these. I always write the student's name and year on it, and each year, as we decorate our tree, I have warm and happy memories of that family. These are really treasured keepsakes.
You might also consider group gifts as an easy way to stretch a few dollars. One year, the parents in my son's class all contributed a few dollars and got her a gift card to the mall. Then, everyone had their child draw a picture and write what they loved about the teacher. We laminated these and made them into a book. I know she really loved that gift.
It truly is the thought that counts. I know some people are worried about giving something the teacher won't like, or that is too modest. Here's the thing: that is their problem! If they are not going to be grateful and appreciative, then they are robbing themselves of joy, and they are not worth the trouble of thinking about. That is their problem not yours.
One last idea:
May I suggest that, along with the gift, you tell them explicitly that you do not want them to write you a thank you note? This is one of the most thoughtful things I've experienced from parents. I am, of course, happy to write thank you notes, but when someone tells me not to worry about it, it is a true gift, saving time and some money. I know a lot of teachers who spend a fair amount of time over the break writing thank you notes and then spend a bit of money mailing the notes (you don't always want to trust the child to deliver these).
Two years ago, I did this with my own children's teachers and some of them literally burst into tears out of gratitude because they felt so much pressure. So, I feel like I'm really on to something here. Some teachers choose to write a note anyway and feel that this is important modeling for the student to see. I totally understand that point of view. My own thought, for what it's worth, is that things revolve around the student all year long. The point of giving a gift is to say thank you to the teacher--not to teach the student something else. But, this is just a thought/suggestion.
Note: All of my current students and parents who I know read this blog do a great job at this! I wouldn't have posted this otherwise.
The Book of Mormon Musical is coming to Nashville. Since I live in Nashville, make my living directing plays, mostly musicals, and since I am a Mormon*, I've had several people ask me what I think about this.
It goes a bit deeper than this for me because I currently have children out serving two-year stints as missionaries, and I have dear friends who also have children out--and dear friends who are themselves working as missionaries.
I have a couple of thoughts. First of all, I really like the way the Church has responded to this. I think it's fair to say that the musical is not terribly flattering to Mormons and what they believe. But the Church hasn't called for boycotts or made threats or tried to shut things down, gone after the sponsors, etc. In fact, the Church bought an add in the playbill (the photo above). Well played, in my opinion. I'm a bit tired of the constant outrage in which our society seems to live these days, so I find this refreshing.
At any rate, here's my take. To me, The Book of Mormon is a sacred book. We read and believe in the Bible, but the The Book of Mormon (BOM, hereafter) is an additional book of scripture. It tells the story of a group of people who left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. and travelled to the New World. Like the Bible, it records prophecies and religious teachings. The culminating part of the book is when a resurrected Jesus appears to the believers in this part of the world, who have long been expecting him.
I love this because the message is that God is a personal God. He knows and loves his children everywhere, and that he actively and regularly intervenes in the lives of those who love and seek to follow him.
I love the idea that he knows everyone, that he speaks to all nations through their own prophets, and that his dealings with humanity wasn't limited to one region of the world.
I love that the account of Christ's visit shows him personally healing and caring for and loving a huge multitude. One by one, he heals and blesses them.
I could go on and on, but if the Bible is peanut butter, the BOM is chocolate. Or ice cream and hot fudge. You get the idea.
I do wonder a bit at the drive to make fun of something that people hold sacred. I've never quite understood that. But, I'm an absolutist about the First Amendment and free speech. The same freedom that allows me to worship according to my beliefs gives others the freedom to poke fun of them. You can't have one without the other. I had a high school teacher who drummed into me the idea that, "I may not like what you say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." I really believe that.
As a musical theatre lover, I do feel a bit wistful that Jews got Fiddler on the Roof and Catholics got The Sound of Music while Mormons got this musical. Those first two respect the religious traditions instead of poking fun at them**. As someone who loves musicals, I think it would be cool to have an iconic show that treated Mormon faith and culture serious. But, that's life, and some Mormon needs to write one.
Finally, I'm concerned about our culture. I think it is coarse and getting coarser, and I don't think that's a good thing. So all the profanity in this show concerns me on those grounds.
For those reasons, I won't personally be going to see it. But I don't begrudge those who do go see it. So, go see the musical--but let me know if you want a copy of the book. And let's talk.
*The official name of the Church is: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Mormon" is a nickname and most of us have sort of embraced it. It's a lot shorter than saying, "A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint."
** I understand that there are other satirical musicals about these faiths. My point is that there are no warm-fuzzy analog to those plays for Mormons.
There has been a big flap about the rocket scientist's shirt. In fact, it may have eclipsed the actual event that brought that guy into the public eye in the first place.
The response seems to mostly be in two camps. Camp A is outraged and says that this shirt is an affront to women in general, and demonstrates why more women don't go into science.
Camp B says that Camp A is overreacting and being bullies. In a diverse world, they say, we all have to basically relax a bit and don't get to impose our views on others. They also point out that in many feminist circles, there is a strong tendency towards defending a woman's right to wear anything at all and insist on respect.
Frankly, I think both sides are engaging in a lot of hypocrisy that really bothers me, but there is something else I want to point out.
For starters, the shirt was totally inappropriate. It just was. When I think of my female students seeing that and processing what it means, I feel literally sick inside. But, leaving the merits (or demerits) of that shirt aside, it was most certainly not appropriate for the workplace, and not appropriate for a worldwide media broadcast. It just wasn't. In what world is that professional attire? Had the guy just worn a shirt and tie, or even business casual, none of this would have happened.
We used to be governed by good manners and common decency. Our dress reflected that. Professional dress shows respect to those around and also to ourselves. Yes, formality can be taken too far--but I think we're a safe distance away from that right now.
In my theatre work, I've noticed that there is magic that happens when actors first put on their costumes. Wearing that costume has a profound impact on how they act in a multitude of ways, small and large. The way we dress influences how we act. It just does.
So, out of respect to those around us, and out of respect to ourselves, we ought to dress appropriately for the venue. That used to be a matter of common decency and basic civilized behavior. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy. But I do think a little more self-restraint, a little more formality and dignity would not hurt us. And many of those on Team B normally agree with this proposition--thus their hypocrisy.
The second point is closely related. We live in a world where traditional mores, standards, and cultural agreements are either decaying or being thrown out. As a result, our culture is coarser and uglier in every way. Many of the people on Team A have either helped drive this or have welcomed it.
Those of us who don't think it is good to live in a coarse, violent, and in this case, sex-drenched culture are often called prudish or censorious. But standards are like guard rails or speed limits. They keep us all going relatively safely in the same direction, even in different cars and going different directions. They provide necessary social cohesion, and that seems more important than ever in a world of growing diversity.
If you want to start throwing out traditional standards of behavior, if you accept (and encourage) the relaxing and coarsening of the culture, then you can't be shocked or outraged when the culture is coarse. You can't get indignant when someone is coarser than your sensibilities allow.
You can't laugh at comedians or musicians dropping F-bombs, and you can't breathlessly ogle the shirtless Twilight guys, or the Victoria's Secret models, or carry around porny Abercrombie and Fitch bags and then complain because the culture is too sexualized and coarse--or that one guy's shirt is inappropriate because it has sexualized images on it.
Likewise, you can't accept and defend bad behavior simply because your political opponents are upset, or argue that lower standards apply only to you and your allies, not no one else.
Culture is formed by the decisions of millions of people--what we think, do, and especially, what we support with our money. If you watch crass, coarse movies or TV shows, you are helping creating a culture that allows coarseness. You have that right, of course. But you don't then get to define when and how others will be crass.
This scientist guy simply did what millions of other people did: he did whatever he wanted with no regard for others and no regard for what used to define good manners. His shirt was coarse and ugly in a coarse and ugly world. No more. No less. He is part of a culture that we have collectively made.
If you don't like what he did, and I don't, then you need to help start unmaking that culture pretty fast. But it can't be selective. If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, then you really can't be offended when others exercise their right to be as unrestrained as you.
Note: I've been thinking about this for several days and drafting this in my mind. I just now saw that Jonah Goldberg had written some similar things. So, it seems like the decent thing to provide a link to his column.
Contrarians* unite! Over the years, I've realized that I am a contrarian by nature. I've been trying to organize what this means. Here's my first crack at a Contrarian's Creed**:
I am not a contrarian because I'm grumpy, or because I think I'm smarter than everyone. Rather, I am keenly aware of my own human folly and frailty. Therefore, it worries me when other people and new ideas charge blithely ahead, undaunted and untroubled by any apparent awareness that human nature makes folly, error, and vice our common default setting.
A contrarian doesn't think he or she is smarter than anyone else. However, contrarians are alarmed and annoyed when other people, especially those in power, refuse to return that compliment. One is not a contrarian because they are grumpy. Rather, a contrarian is grumpy because so many influential people do such stupid things with neither self-awareness nor meaningful opposition.
Consequently, contrarians mistrust trends, bandwagons, and crusades. This is true regardless of which ideological camp originates the crusade, whether the bandwagon is social, political, cultural, or personal, or whether the trend is serious or light-hearted. Contrarians think that the emperor will almost always have no clothes, and feel that someone has to state that fact, even if it makes others uncomfortable or angry.
Contrarians are not reflexively anti-everything. They can be convinced of a leader's goodness or an idea's utility. They are skeptical, but not necessarily cynical and can cherish deeply-held beliefs and ideals. But the burden of proof is both heavy and likely perpetual. A contrarian must have evidence, probably on a continuing basis, before going along with something--and what he or she accepts as proof will likely vary from person to person.
While they may seem cranky, contrarians are not necessarily harsh or mean on a personal level. Rather, awareness of human nature leads contrarians to a generally sympathetic stance towards human weakness, inclining them to tolerance and compassion in personal dealings. Contrarians are perfectly happy to live and let live, allowing others to navigate by whatever stars they choose to follow. However, the moment someone attempts to mandate or legislate compliance with their own path or philosophy, or the moment a fad or trend grows, contrarians react with vehemence.
Thus, a pardox: contrarians respond to would-be leaders and shiny, new ideas with an unflinching, vocal skepticism matched only by the kindness and charity they feel they owe all humans.
As with all human beings, individual contrarians are prone to be inconsistent on occasion and are likely to exhibit some traits in greater degree than others.
*How do you know if you are a contrarian? I suggest that you cannot be a contrarian if you use jargon and buzz-words with a straight face, or if you sit through a political speech regardless of party affiliation and find yourself agreeing (or disagreeing) with everything. Total agreement or disagreement makes you a partisan and that is totally contrary to a contrarian. A lot of wannabe contrarians are only contrarian about opposing ideologies. That doesn't count. You have to quibble with all ideologies.
You are not a contrarian if you can easily accept decisions from authority figures of any ideological stripe, or if you hold a majority opinion on any issue without feeling severe discomfort. If you go to a meeting where management presents sweeping new changes and you walk out motivated and cheering, you are not a contrarian. Also, if you love TED talks, you are probably not a contrarian, although there is some latitude on this and context matters a great deal. For example, if you find a TED talk on your own, that would be permissible. But if you have to watch one at work or you see one go viral, most contrarians would be annoyed.
**I do recognize the irony in having a creed for contrarians. I need to find a better term. But the term "creed" gave some nice alliteration.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
Genre: YA Fantasy/Romance
Status: First Draft
Current Word Count: 36,000
Target Word Count: 85,000
Title: THE SOULSTEALER'S CHILD
Genre: YA Paranormal
Status: Working on first draft
Current Word Count: 72,466
Target Word Count: 90,000
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