Antidote

Weinachtsmarkt

Today is the first of December, and although it isn’t officially Advent for Western Churches until Sunday, it’s the day the first little door on the calendar is opened, so as far as I’m concerned, the run-up to Christmas has started.

Let me begin by making it clear that I use the word Christmas as a kind of generic name for midwinter celebrations. It was the word used when I was little, and although my family opens the presents on the 21st in celebration of the Solstice, I’m happy to call the whole thing Christmas and to call the run up season of parties, shopping, cards, presents, wrapping, etc., Advent.

So I was taken by the idea suggested by @RevRachelMann on Twitter. First of all because I think Rachel Mann rocks. She’s a trans vicar of the Church of England and a whole lot of other cool stuff besides. Her suggested “Modest Proposal”* for Advent is one of her cool ideas.

Basically it’s this: Tweet only nice things for Advent. Don’t point out that somebody’s tweet shows that they are an idiot who knows nothing about history/language/economics/art. Maybe say that although they might need to do some research, they have raised an interesting issue.  Instead of complaining that you hate Daylight Savings Time because it gets so damned dark so damned early, remark on how pretty the lights on the trees look.

Think and, more importantly, speak positively.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, simply not posting the critical response to that idiot is a good step toward not being a dick. What Rev. Rachel is suggesting is being being an anti-dick. The Antidote to Dickishness.  

Because, let’s face it, being not a dick is good. It cuts down on the world’s burden of dickish behaviour. And there is a lot of it around these days. Obnoxious, entitled, privileged, self-satisfied, selfish, harassing dicks. Mostly male. Mostly in positions of power. Mostly not called to account. Every time you are not one of those people, that’s an improvement.

But now, maybe just for the next twenty-five days, I’m going to ask you to go one step further. By all means, refrain from being a dick. But if you can, once a day on your digital medium of choice, say something positive. Give a shout out to everyone serving away from their families – not because they are service men and women, but because being away from your family sucks, and it’s nice to be recognized. Put up the puppy picture that makes you happy. Say thank you online to your friends who have been cool recently.

In short, be kind.

Now, if you have been following along with what I have been saying all these past months, you will realize that this is just another way of treating people the way you would like them to treat you. In other words, not being a dick. But don’t you like it then somebody thanks you? Don’t you like it when people say you look nice, not in a creepy, manipulative way, but just an honest compliment? Don’t you like it when somebody holds the door open for you, especially if your hands are full of all that shopping?

Well, do the same thing. Be nice. Smile, not because some asshole tells you to, but because you might just feel happy at this minute. Say hello to your neighbor in the lift.

Because for every jerk who harassed someone at work, we need someone to say, “Back off, dick. She doesn’t want you leering at her.” For every nit-picking administrator, we need a co-worker to say, “I think you’re doing a fine job. is there anything I can do to help?” For every greedy pig who steals someone’s lunch from the fridge we need someone to say, “Would you like some of my chicken? I’ve got lots.” For every boy racer who cuts someone off at the lights, we need someone to give way and let the bus go first.

Now the world would be a better place if we just had fewer dicks. And by remembering not to do something stupid yourself, you do really make a difference. But simple acts of kindness, even if it is just a word or two, cost nothing, and make everyone’s life better.

So I hope that Krampus comes on December 5th and leaves nothing but hoof-prints, and that Father Christmas/Santa/SantNiklaas is good to you. I hope that your Solstice celebrations are good, and that your Yule Log burns bright. May your Festivus pole be shiny. May you have your family near for Kwanzaa. May your Hanukkah be happy and your Diwali be bright. And if I have missed out your personal celebration, may you not be a dick, and cut me some slack.

Inktober Part 2

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Last time I talked about #Inktober and the idea of taking some time out of every day to engage in some activity that you might not ordinarily do. Of course, my first choice would always be drawing, but it could be anything. I think November I might have to make it Banjomber or Musikember or something.

I’m working on my #Inktober, #InkOnPaper drawings and have noticed, as I always do, that no matter what is going on in my life, drawing calms me down. It focuses me; it centers me. All of the problems and stresses of my life are waiting when I put my pen down, but I am better able to deal with them. And, curiously enough, I seem to come up with answers, when I have been drawing. Please understand me, I haven’t been thinking of whatever it was I was trying to sort out. I really haven’t been thinking at all. If I were to put into words what goes on in my head it would be something like, “Line, line, line… Darker? Darker. Lumpy blob is slightly triangular…. And darker there. Line line line…Higher?”

If I am drawing a figure, I don’t think about the figure. If I am drawing a box, I don’t think about the box. I don’t believe I think at all. I’m too busy observing to think. And still, as I focus on the drawing, my mind calms, and I disappear into the process. The centeredness I feel when I finish is my reward for doing the process. The drawing, good or crap, is merely a by-product.

If this were all that happened, it would be reason enough for events like #Inktober, but I believe there is more to be gained by drawing, or dancing, or carving wood, or playing soccer… or doing anything like this. It comes from the process of focusing. It comes from the satisfaction of trying. It comes from the peace that you find in complete engagement. What #Inktober does is build discipline.

Drawing is a discipline, in the sense that it is a field of study. What is more, it requires discipline; you have to make time for it, you have to practice, you have to commit to getting better. I have always said I can teach anyone to draw, if they have three things: one working eye, something they can hold a pencil with, and the desire to draw. I’m not sure if the first two are necessary, but the last one is. If the desire does not produce discipline, it won’t work.

Discipline, unless it is self-discipline is useless. I can’t make you draw. I can’t make you play scales. But if you want to do the thing, the disciple comes naturally. You will do ten push-ups a day. Until it becomes twenty. Until it becomes thirty. And along with stronger arms and a tight core, you get the satisfaction of having done something you set out to do. And practice, the process of doing a drawing, leads to discipline. Because you are doing it, you keep on doing it. Because the goal is to do it, not to finish it. And so you get better.

If you are good at something, or if you are only working towards getting good at something, you have something to be proud of. The process of doing gives structure, gives a base, a foundation for your life. Even if only for a few minutes – for half an hour. And that foundation is the start of inner peace. And that peace, that contentment, feeds back into our lives, and into the lives of everyone around us. I don’t have to be one up over the other guys at the office; I know my own worth. Why be a dick, if you can polish your car instead?

We are, I believe, a species that likes to DO. We take pleasure in cooking a meal, or hanging a shelf, or painting a miniature. It is instinctive to have something to show for our effort at the end of the day. A field plowed and planted. A deer chased down and killed. A kiln full of pots. But too often, our work does not give us that kind of satisfaction. Sure, I’ve sold three used cars, and made a big fat commission, but what have I created?

No wonder some people just go through the motions of doing their jobs. Because somehow, just getting the job done is seen as the goal. If all we are meant to do is get to the end, let’s just dig our graves and climb in. What we do, not how we do it, is seen as the measure of success these days.

Something like #Inktober is the antidote to that. Practicing music, jogging, meditating, drawing – all of these are about the process, not the result. The doing, not the thing done. But you know the real kicker? All of that ink, all of that process, that discipline, it’s turning out beautiful art. Because there is no other way to get there but by doing it.

We need more art in our society; not just for itself, but for what it does for the people who make it. We need more musicians, and more potters, and more marathon runners, and more model airplane builders, and more fishermen, and more car-waxers.

Because goodness knows we need more discipline. Because, let’s face it, who doesn’t have discipline and self-control?

A dick.

 

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.

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

Binary

2Johns

 

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.