Inktober

Fall

Fall is in the air. I love this time of year, when you need to wear a jacket in the morning but want to roll up your sleeves by lunchtime. And fall means two things, the start of the education year in September and Inktober the following month.

My artist friends will mostly be familiar with Inktober, but for the rest of you it was started by Jake Parker in 2009 as a personal challenge and has since become an internet phenomenon. The idea is to do one ink drawing each day in the month of October. Look for the hashtag #Inktober on Twitter and Facebook. It isn’t a contest; there are no winners and no prizes. It’s just a discipline. Do a drawing every day. Originally it had to be in ink, but now it seems anything will do. My goal, as usual, is to take up the challenge and see if I have the discipline to draw every day.

By the end of the month, I hope to have thirty-one drawings; but more important, I hope to have drawn for a solid month. Because for me, the point of the exercise is… well, to exercise. To have the experience, not the pictures.

This is something that over time most artists come to understand. You don’t draw to make pictures, you draw to draw. It truly is art for art’s sake. Of course, you have pictures at the end. Some are good; some are crap. But the more you draw, the more good pictures you have, and the greater the percentage of your pictures will be not crap. Practice does not, in fact, make perfect. However, It does make better. That’s another thing you learn if you draw a lot – you are never going to reach perfection. But you will get better.

And that is why you draw.

When I was chair of a college fine art department, I would read the applications from students who wanted to study art. Because we taught art for game designers, many of the applicants said that they wanted to come to the course to get jobs in the gaming industry. Depending on how good their portfolio was, I would suggest offering these students a place, but I knew that if they came, one of two things would happen. They would either change their reasons for being there, or they would flunk out. Because no one will ever get good at anything if they do it just to get a job. They will only get good if they do it to get good. Then they may stand a chance of getting a job.

I have found the same thing applies in the martial arts. If people do karate because they want to beat people up, they don’t last long in their training. And if they do stick it out, it is because they fall in love with the training. With the discipline. With the practice.

I hope to make first grade (shodan/black belt) in my Iaido school. It would be nice to think I might make second grade (nidan) as well. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter, because I will keep training for as long as I can. Not to grade, not to become a second dan, but to improve. And as I get older, and I’m fighting just to stay in the same place, I will keep on training, not because I ever think I will be attacked by ninjas and will have to defend myself, but because I really, really like the training, the discipline, the practice. I like trying to improve, even if I’m not making much progress.

I loved playing soccer for the same reason. It was a blast to be part of the team. And yes, I was insanely proud when I scored! What I was too young to recognize was that what I liked best was playing. Winning was cool, but being good enough to play for forty-five minutes without a break was awesome.

I remember two things from playing soccer. One was scoring the tying goal in an important match. The other was watching the winning goal roll past my feet and into the net, without kicking it in myself. After all, it was already going in. Why not let the other guy get the credit? He was playing for the love of it, too.

Play to play. Train to train. Draw to draw.

The participation is the prize. Yes, I like being paid for my artwork, but I also realize I am a better art minister than I am an artist. I got paid for teaching, and that was cool. But my students come back to me to ask questions or just to say hello. Even cooler.

There is a Sufi expression, “Pray without hope of heaven or fear of hell.” I think life should be like that. Especially if you don’t believe in either heaven or hell. Live, without hope of success or fear of failure. Draw without hope of art or fear of crap. You’ll probably do both from time to time.

So, for October, pick something you like to do, or wish you were better at, or wish you could do but never really tried. And then make time every day, to do that thing. It doesn’t matter if you suck at it. It is the nature of humans, that if we try to do things, we get better at them. So just do it.

You artists out there who make a living from your art, this counts for you, too. Do art just for its own sake – something not related to your job. Make art like you used to when you were a student. Or before then. Art for the hell of it. Art for the fun of it. Art for the art of it.

Do a drawing a day.

Write a letter a day.

Take a walk a day

Do some push-ups a day.

Read a chapter a day.

Play a song a day.

Be grateful for one small thing a day.

Meditate for ten minutes a day.

Practice being un-dickish, just so there is one less dick a day.

Happy Inktober.

 

Think the Unthinkable

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I’ve had a hard time writing this sermon because what has been on my mind this past week is really hard to explain. It’s about thinking things that make us uncomfortable – things that never occur to us, because they don’t fit our worldview. Thinking the unthinkable. As a long-time teacher, I know that we never learn anything new if we only stick to things we already know. Understanding that our own way of seeing the world is not the only way is hard. It is hard to understand that people who disagree with you are not your enemies, they are just people who see things differently

Not wrong; just different.

And, yes, sometimes wrong but that does not have to make them your enemy.

I’ve written in the past about the mythos: the underlying stories about ourselves that we never question. The mythos includes a whole lot of things that we take for granted. Our country is the best. People who break laws should be punished. Children should always obey their parents. God exists and loves us, or god doesn’t exist, and the whole thing is pointless.

The whole good versus evil thing.

Some things that used to seem rock solid are being questioned; things like gender, and with it, marriage. This upsets the people who are so determined to protect their mythos that they want to imprison or even kill people who don’t fit their worldview. That leads to thinking in black or white without any room for shades of gray. If you don’t like it here, leave! Back when I was a hippie, I heard that a lot. Where was I supposed to go?

The thing that really got me upset was something on Facebook. (I really should just stop going there.) It was a video clip about some idiot wearing a Nazi armband in Seattle. Well, this guy was clearly foolish for two reasons, the second was wearing the armband in Seattle, of all places. That really is just asking for trouble. Anyway, in the video, the Nazi got in an altercation with a guy who punched him in the jaw – knocked him right out.

I could easily sympathize with the puncher. Possibly he felt threatened or provoked. And although I don’t like violence, I can understand protecting yourself, even if the threat is not immediate. If you are black, or Hispanic, or, well, just about anybody, Nazis are a threat. But that isn’t what upset me. What upset me was how many people applauded the puncher and posted to say what a good thing the punch was.

Encouraging violence. Applauding violence. Getting turned on a little by violence.

Here is where I want you to think the unthinkable.

What if the guy was wearing a Bernie armband, instead of a Nazi one. What would your response be then?

I’m betting that if you tend toward the liberal, you would criticize the hitter, and you would not be alone.

What if neither of them was wearing any kind of political badge? What if it was just two guys having a fight about, I don’t know, say, soccer. Would you still praise the guy who knocked out the other team’s supporter?

What if they were arguing about Star Wars vs. Star Trek? Is that worth throwing a punch? How about which end of an egg to open – the big end or the little end? Should we go to war over that?

What if they are both wrong?

What if neither view is worth fighting for?

What if violence is never the answer. Ever?

What if patriotism is not the capstone of all virtue?

What if god really wants you to stop believing in her?

What if we really do have the power to change?

What if we don’t find violence a turn on?

What if insulting someone you disagree with is the last thing you think of?

What if you forgive people who hurt you?

What if we all give up our guns, including the police?

What if one person makes a difference?

What if it really is up to you to make things better?

What if we could tell the difference between what is “right” and what is needed?

What if punching someone in the face is not seen as legitimate political discourse?

What if we talk about things we have in common, instead of fighting about things that separate us?

What if we see that doing what we want might not get us what we need?

What if love really is the answer?

What if we think the unthinkable?

What if for just one day, no one anywhere acts like a dick?

What then?

 

Man in a Hat

 

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I wear hats. I have ten at last count and six caps, not counting baseball caps, which I almost never wear. I grew up wearing hats. I am the fourth son of a member of the last generation of men who always wore hats.

Growing up I learned the following things about hats: you take them off when you go inside; you either touch the brim or take them off when you meet a woman you don’t know or a friend; you never, ever wear them inside. My wife thinks I’m nuts because I carry my hat to the door, put it on, and then promptly take it off again when I get into the car. But I just feel uncomfortable wearing a hat indoors. As to taking my hat off when I meet a woman, I’ve kind of given that up, because it seems just kind of – outdated. Most women under the sixty look at me like I’m nuts if I take my hat off anyway.

Now the reason I’m thinking about hats, is not so much the hats, but the little rituals that go with – or at least, went with – wearing hats. When to wear one. Who to take it off to. When not to wear it. These little ceremonies, if you like, had to do with good manners. Like holding the door open for someone. Or pushing their chair in when they sit down. Calling a man “sir” and a woman “ma’am,” especially if you don’t know their name. All of these things are marks of respect.

Manners, it has been said, are the grease that makes the wheels of society run smoothly. Showing respect isn’t kowtowing to power, it’s showing that you are willing to treat people politely. Polite comes from the Latin, politus: polished; made smooth. Like well greased.  A synonym of polite is civil. Also from the Latin, civis, a citizen. In other words, polite means how people in society get along. Basically it means, treating everyone the same. Treating everyone the way you expect to be treated. The way you want to be treated.

In other words, not being a dick.

Manners, however, are out of fashion. I’m not sure why this is so, but frankly I blame myself and members of my generation. Back in the sixties, there was the idea that “letting it all hang out” and “being true to yourself” was all important. As I recall, there was also a lot of talk about loving everybody, too. Somehow that got forgotten in the “be yourself” culture. Then, in the seventies and eighties, there was this idea that society didn’t exist; that we were a multitude of individuals, each out for himself. Greed, it was said, was good. Success was the goal, and if being polite got in the way, throw it out. All that stuff just gets in the way of being true to yourself.

Besides, if we’re all equal, only the strong survive. Fight for the right to be… whatever the hell you want.

This idea was right up there with the “alpha wolf” concept, which I have written about before. And it works, too. If what you want is hell.

What it doesn’t work for is any kind of functioning society. You know, where people aren’t fighting each other for enough to eat? For the kind of society where we get to something like civilization, we have to rub along together, and in order to keep the friction of rubbing along to a minimum, we need manners.

Now the point is, I suppose, you have to learn manners. I was not born knowing to take my hat off indoors. Likewise, as any child minder will tell you, there is a stage of child development where teaching kids to share is necessary, and that learning the basic “Do as you would be done by” has to begin. In other words, people tend to become dicks unless they are not taught not to be. Psychologists call this “socialization.” I call it “learning to behave yourself.” And the single most important part of this is learning that the world does not revolve around you. The world does not revolve around any one of us. We’re just along for the ride, and we are all in this together. Making that ride stress free, healthy, fun, and full of love is our business. Fortunately, life is not a zero-sum game. If you get more; I don’t have to get less. Not if we treat each other with respect.

Not if we are civil to each other.

Good manners isn’t looking down your nose at people who don’t know which fork to use. It’s making sure they have enough to eat.

Good manners isn’t holding the door open for someone. It’s just not letting the door slam on the person behind you.

Good manners isn’t just letting someone speak. It’s listening long enough to hear what they have to say.

Good manners isn’t just saying please and thank you. It’s being genuinely grateful and not expecting things to be done for you.

Good manners isn’t even taking your hat off indoors. It’s learning to not subject others to your thoughtlessness, your greed, your dickishness.

And, no, good manners won’t change the world. But they can change the way we think about and treat each other. Good manners reminds us that life isn’t just about ourselves.

And that is the first step to not being a dick.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

The image is from @GirlsOwn a wonderful source of amusement on twitter.

Binary

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One of my favorite books is Alice in Wonderland, and its sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass. Like so many children, I grew up with the stories and could recite “You Are Old, Father William” by heart by the age of six. And even at that young age I realized that although so much of the story was called nonsense, there was a special kind of sense that hid behind the silly things that were said and done. I still like to browse through it from time to time, to see what new nuance I can pick up.

One of my favorite characters in Through the Looking Glass is the White Knight and not just because I look rather like him. Personally, I think I’m more like the Mad Hatter. In any case, I have always thought the foolish old White Knight with the song he sang for Alice was one of the nicer characters she ran into. But it is not the song I want to talk about, but rather what the White Knight said about it.

“It’s long,” said the Knight, “but it’s very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it – either it brings tears to their eyes or else –“

            “Or else what?” said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

            “Or else it doesn’t, you know.”  

And that is the wisdom of the White Knight. It isn’t either or. It isn’t black or white. If they don’t cry, it doesn’t mean that they laugh. It just means that they don’t cry. They could smile. They could yawn. They could hum a little of the tune. They could do anything.

As an artist I know that you can make an image using just black and white, but though it might be recognizable, it will lack fullness, it will not have depth. Because it is only by the careful use of grey that you get anything like an image that shows the fall of light, the subtlety of shadow, the truth of form. So thinking that the opposite of white is black is not something I do. If it’s not white, it’s any of five shades of gray. Because I find five grays and black and white are about the minimum to show the full picture.It’s even more obvious if you think about color. Though the complement of green is red, no one would say “her hair is either red or green.” That would just be stupid. Yes, green and red are located opposite each other on a traditional color wheel. And added together they make a kind of greyish brown if you are using paint. But they are not opposites. They aren’t even alternatives. They are part of a continuum.

In fact, although for artistic purposes it is useful to divide the colors of the spectrum into six primaries and secondaries like the rainbow flag, in reality there are thousands of hues between red and violet on the spectrum. They blend into each other, in fine gradients that your eye can’t actually distinguish.

And speaking of the rainbow flag, that is inaccurate at best; far too simple. As a cis male I have been accused of being gay. My wife is a woman from Mars. My friends are whatever they chose to be, and any good biologists will tell you that male and female are not clearly defined, and certainly aren’t the only alternatives.

Either you are male….. or you’re not. And just how male is up to you. Because I for one don’t have the knowhow to lay down the law on what you are. Only you know that – maybe. People simply aren’t limited to binary distinctions.

At some point after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, then President George W. Bush made a statement that “If you aren’t with us, you are against us.” But that doesn’t follow at all. I can be with you about looking for the perpetrators and bringing them to justice, and against invading Iraq for no reason connected with the attack. I can agree with you about invading Iraq, but think banning every member of the previous government from holding office is a stupid, counterproductive move that will cause chaos and leave the country in ruins. There are all kinds of ways in which I can agree with you while still withholding complete support. That’s what is meant by being an ally. Allies work with you, not for you.

Can I be anti-Nazi and still think it is necessary to talk to people who might be naive enough to agree with some pretty far out things? Do I think it’s right for a Nazi to punch you? No. Will I protect you, if I can, from such violence? Yes. Do I think you should punch every Nazi? No. And this does not make me a Nazi, because anyone who punches someone is a dick. And two dicks are just twice as many dicks as one.

Because it isn’t either / or.

It isn’t this or that.And it never was.

You can’t rewrite history to suit your views. The soldiers of the Southern Confederacy were not all heros nor were they all despicable bastards. They were people, as we all are, who do things for the best of all reasons and for the worst of all reasons. People who were brave and foolish and easily led and greedy and generous and alive, and now they are dead. There were members of the Wehrmacht who were fighting for justice by their way of thinking.  I am sure there were soldiers on the Persian side of Thermopylae who thought the Greeks were real sods. And their families back home on the banks of the Euphrates thought they were the heros. But people are neither this nor that. They never are.

Politics isn’t binary.

Gender isn’t binary.

Race isn’t anything like binary.

People aren’t binary.

Unless you want to say that there are two types of people in the world. Those that think there are two types of people in the world……. and everybody else. And just possibly, those who are dicks. And all the rest.

 

Do unto others part 4

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At various points over the past eight months I have written about why people act like dicks. In three previous sermons, I have talked about forgetfulness, anger and selfishness as causes of dickish behavior. This time I want to talk about the fourth reason people act like dicks: because they want to.

When I was about fourteen years old, I came across a book by the British humorist and broadcaster, Stephen Potter. It was called The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanshp, or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. It was very British, very dry, very funny, and I loved it. It was all about how you could put people off, make them feel ill at ease and confused, and thus unable to play – whatever you were playing – at their best. It was a handbook on practical psychology of annoying people. In short, it was a manual on how to be a dick.

I read it with enthusiasm and bought the two sequels, One-upmanship and Lifemanship. Of course, I knew the books were humorous. Why, the very way Potter wrote them was off-putting, as if he, and every other reader but you, were in on some kind of private joke. What a perfect ploy! What a perfect example of being one up. The joke on me was that he was showing up the awful kind of games people play when they are playing games and holding them up to ridicule. I took it seriously. I thought it was a great idea.

So I proceeded to follow his advice and annoyed the crap out of people. But as I said, I was only fourteen. The best possible age to be a fourteen-karat dick.

Because at fourteen you don’t know anything. And even if you do know things, chances are no one is going to be interested. If you are into sports, there is a fair chance that someone will be better. If you are musical, it only helps if you have brought along your instrument, and even then someone has to ask you to play. In fact, the only way you can make yourself look good is by making someone else look bad. Or weak. Or stupid.

In short, by doing the exact kind of things that you would hate to have done to you.

One of the techniques Potter presents is ‘plonking.’ Plonking someone involves interrupting a speaker in order to make some kind of point. It usually takes the form of showing off that you know more about the subject than the speaker.

“Look at that gargoyle! I love that kind of…”

“Actually, that’s not a gargoyle, it’s a grotesque. It’s only a gargoyle if it’s a waterspout…”

Nowadays we might call that mansplaining, though I think the older term, plonking, is better, because it’s gender neutral. And trust me, anyone can do it to anyone.

Another example is to insert some useless detail into someone else’s story.

“We got back on Tuesday night…..”

“Actually, it was Wednesday. I remember because the papers hadn’t been delivered.”

Who cares? The listener? The teller? No one. Just the plonker who has to show he knows more. And, who, most importantly, has now taken over the story, whether it’s his story or not. And absolutely no one cares about the detail about the papers and they never will.

The reason for plonking is to steal the limelight from someone. To rain on their parade. To ‘one-up’ them. Incidentally, it was Stephen Potter who invented the term one-up.

In the case of the Gamesman, it’s someone who can’t win on their own merits and isn’t good enough (or brave enough) to cheat. Besides, cheating involves the risk of getting caught. The point of putting your opponent off is to not cheat, but win anyway.

There is a certain amount of Gamesmanship in professional soccer, where if you are tripped up, or even just fall over, you writhe around on the ground as if you were at death’s door or have a broken leg at the very least. This is often used as a way of getting a penalty or in any case stopping the flow of the game.

Golf is also a great sport for the Gamesman. Just as your opponent is lining up his shot, you clear your throat, and ask, “I’m not bothering you here, am I?”

Well, you weren’t, but now you are.

I’m sure you can think of many examples of this kind of thing.

Why would anyone do this shit?

I believe it’s because it’s the only way they can see themselves as winners – by making someone else look like a loser. It is the alpha male mentality I wrote about last week. But the thing is, life is not a contest with winners and losers. We all lose in the end – each and every one of us. So it really isn’t a matter of winning or losing, but of how you are playing the game, right now, this minute.

You will not get the job by pretending to know more than the interviewer.

You will not make friends by putting them down.

You will not get the girl/boy/other person by acting like an asshole to everyone around you.

You will never earn the respect and love of the people around you by being a jerk.

The prize you want is in front of you today: your life, lived well.

 

Alpha Male

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I came across a review the other day, for a famous Pulitzer-Prize winning play, Glenngarry Glenn Ross.

It’s not a play I have seen, but one I know of, because it has become part of the American psyche since the 1992 film adaptation starring, among others, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin.  Alec Baldwin is remembered for his performance as Blake, a character not in the original stage play, but added especially for the film.

It’s the character of Blake that interests me especially, because, although he is listed in the credits by name, in the film, when asked what his name is, answers “Fuck You.” And that is almost all you need to know about Blake.

Blake is the kind of man who presents himself as an “alpha male.” The idea comes from the belief that in a wolf pack, there is a hierarchy among the wolves based on aggression, violence, and fighting. The leader of the pack is the alpha male, who has first place at the food, first choice of the females, and lords it over the rest of the pack. In the real estate agency where he works, Blake is the alpha male. Or wants to be, anyway.

He insults all the other salesmen and disparages their weaker, less successful, attempts to sell worthless properties to gullible clients. In other words, he is not just a dick, he’s a crook. But then, all of the salesmen are more or less crooks. Some are just better than others. Or dirtier. Or meaner. Or less scrupulous. Or bigger dicks.

Perhaps the most famous piece of dialogue in the film is from Blake:

“‘Cause we’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired….(If) you can’t close the leads you’re given, you can’t close shit. You ARE shit!”

Nice guy.

But here’s the thing. This point of view, the idea that to be best you have to be the most violent, most aggressive, most insulting to others, that in order to succeed and be alpha male; this idea is part of American culture. It’s part of corporate culture, which is almost the same thing. And when people talk about toxic masculinity, I think this is what they are talking about. To be a success, you have to be alpha male, and to be alpha male you have to be a dick.

But what’s really tragic is that the whole alpha male thing is a myth. It isn’t true, neither about human beings nor wolves.

The idea of the alpha male was started by a biological researcher, L. David Mech, who wrote a book, “The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species,” in 1968. As a result of the research he did after the book became popular, he’s been trying to get his publishers to stop printing it ever since. Because one of the ideas he wanted to change was the concept of the alpha wolf. The reason why the wolves he studied fought for leadership was because they were all caged wolves from different packs. They had no natural hierarchy, so they had to form one. In the wild the pack leading wolf achieved that position by mating and producing pups. In other words, the real names for the alpha male and alpha female are “Papa” and “Mama.”

In the wild, the alpha pair look after the younger wolves, most of whom are male. The young females go off to find mates to start new packs. In fact, it isn’t clear whether the male or the female is the leader. It might well be that there are no alpha male wolves, just alpha “mama” wolves.

But because of this bit of mistaken research, we have, in our society, the idea that you have to be tougher to survive. Meaner. More vicious.

But we aren’t a pack of wolves anyway. We are co-operative primates who from our earliest days as hunter gatherers have had to work together to survive. The more complicated our culture, the more we have had to co-operate. The guy who wants to be alpha male just screws things up by causing people to compete when they ought to be working together and by making us think that aggressiveness is the only way to measure masculinity or worth.

Now, as I have mentioned before, our society is based on myths. The mythos, the underlying beliefs that we use as our basis. But they are all just that: myths. Made up stories. And because of that, we get to choose which myths we believe in.

And the myth of the alpha male is one we just don’t need. Because it is the myth of the King Dick as leader.

We don’t need alpha male politicians. We don’t need alpha female feminists. We don’t need alpha policemen. And we certainly don’t need alpha male racists, who just stack one kind of myth on top of another.  That’s what makes them super-dicks.

What we need is to value each other for who we are. Not even for what we can do. Just who we are.

 

Hush!

Hush

From time to time I just have to disconnect from online media. For me this usually means not looking at Facebook. That happened earlier this month when I just couldn’t stand the aggression, anger, foul language, and general verbal violence any more. Even people I like and get on with face to face were acting like dicks. Enough was enough, I signed off for the rest of the month.

It was interesting how many positive responses I got for that. People agreed with me, told me to have a nice Facebook-free break. One even commented that driving me away should act as a reminder to my friends just how distasteful things had become.

I really rather liked that one.

Tomorrow is the first of August, and so I shall officially return to posting on Facebook.

Here are a few observations, and one confession in connection with my return.

First of all, I really didn’t miss it all that much. The people I have the most contact with, family, close friends, my two doggies; I don’t need Facebook to keep track of them.  Secondly, there was much less aggravation in my life. I’ve noticed the same thing out in my car, when I turn off NPR and listen to the classical music station. Things are just…. Quieter.

And thirdly, because I was off Facebook, I kept my mouth shut. And that’s where the confession comes in. I still looked at Facebook.

You see, my phone kept telling me when people had posted things. And sometimes these posts were from people I don’t otherwise hear from; friends back in the UK, family on the other side of the country, people whose ideas I really want to hear.

So every now and then, I peeked.

Two or three times over the past month I was glad I had peeked. Mostly it was just as bad as ever. So, to my well-wisher who hoped people might get more civil in my absence, it didn’t work. But one thing did happen that I want to talk about.

Because I was “off line” for this month, I didn’t comment on anything. I didn’t post. I couldn’t. Otherwise people would know I was peeking.  So I kept my mouth shut.

I just read, looked, thought, and didn’t say a thing. I was present, but disengaged. And that was almost as good as not being there at all.

The Buddha teaches “detachment.” Christians speak about being “In the world but not of the world.” I call it, “Keeping your trap shut.”

It takes two to tango, as they say, and you can’t have an argument with someone who doesn’t answer back. And you can’t get involved in an argument if you don’t say anything in the first place. What’s more, if you aren’t talking, you just might be listening.

And here is what I learned, by listening on Facebook.

People have very strong feelings. They often have strong arguments in favor of one thing or another. The two are not the same thing. Just because your feelings are heartfelt, doesn’t make your argument strong. Actually, the stronger your emotions, the less likely you are to be rational.

Furthermore, you can’t argue someone out a position they arrived at through emotions. Because emotions are illogical, Jim. Illogic does not respond to logic. So arguing with someone who is emotionally involved in a point of view is a waste of time. Especially when your strong emotional attachment to your viewpoint leads you to attack the individual, call them names, and swear a lot.

Trust me, calling people names is never, ever, going to sway them over to your side. Just not gonna happen.

Now, stopping and listening to someone you disagree with might be frustrating. But if you do, you might just find the person behind the opposing point of view. And since you will never be able to change the point of view, you might, over time be able to reach the person and change them.

And besides, wouldn’t you want them to listen to you, instead of shouting? In other words, stop being a dick? Like you are?

I admit, it’s a long shot. But until one of you starts listening, and that means keeping your trap shut, nothing is going to change.

And you know the coolest bit of all this? The person who benefits most from keeping quiet is you. Because not talking requires you to be detached. In the argument, but not of the argument. You can listen, and study what is said, and understand. “This is just invective, this is ad holmium attack, this argument is based on false premises…” And if there is a valid point, you might just be able to dig it out of the paragraphs of screed.

It’s hard, sometimes, not to put in your two cents worth. Hold fast! Stay strong. Bite your lip. Shut the eff up. Just listen. After a while all the noise just seems to blend together, and becomes a kind of background drone, like a hive of bees or white noise. Something you can ignore.

Guess what? You feel better. The problems that cause rage don’t upset you anymore. And because they aren’t upsetting you, you might just be able to do something about them, instead of arguing about what should be done.

There were a lot of people on Facebook this past month, people I like, friends, who were talking a lot of nonsense.  What’s more, they were being insulting and verbally violent towards each other. And I didn’t have to hear it. And if they all just followed my example and didn’t post their reactions?

Silence.

Kittens! Look a puppy!

Oh, lord, do I have to see your lunch? Oh well, alright.

If you shut up long enough, you might hear another voice, one deep inside you reminding you:

Shut the eff up. Don’t be a dick. Listen.