Archive for August, 2014

Dehumanizing those who dehumanize

August 30, 2014

I don’t like the current metaphor in vogue for characterizing the militant jihadist extremist group called ISIS or ISIL as a cancer.  Medical treatments for cancer include poisoning the body with chemicals to which the cancerous cells are slightly more vulnerable.  Do we want to encourage more of the sort of approach (to addressing the violence) that also harms society at large?  The use of the word cancer also, it seems to me, reflects fear and hostility on the part of its users.  I don’t think that helps us develop a constructive response to the actual problem.  And, finally, I think the metaphor of cancer dehumanizes the people we wish to defeat, and despite their terribly harmful behavior, I don’t see doing that  —  I don’t think it helps and I do think it hurts, including hurting us.

My preference, at least for now, is to think of the problem as a wave;  how do you push back a destructive wave?  Secretary John Kerry’s approach outlined in his NYTimes op-ed piece I thought showed how such a counter-wave might be formed through the work of many countries on many facets of the problem.



August 26, 2014

My building contractor is back from Washington, D.C. and helping his lacrosse-playing daughter get situated at college.  Today he was continuing his digging under the other end of the back piece of my house  —  a piece that may have originally been a porch and smaller than it is now, and in any event has sustained water damage beneath it.  He needs to excavate enough so that he can get underneath it to replace deteriorated wood he has removed.  He did that beneath the other end, under the half bath, and I ended up with a lovely floor re-tiled with tiles Willy and I had bought years ago.

The end Joe’s working on now is beneath a windowed mudroom, and I don’t expect the interior will get spruced up.  That flooring is slate.

But I did get a lovely benefit today:  Joe found an inkwell, Bixby brand, intact, tinted glass, kind of iridescent in places, where he was digging.  Very nice, I am quite tickled with the discovery and find.

The half saucer Joe found a few weeks ago in pieces is nice, too, and I have a small collection of old nails found during such work over the years, but this inkwell is really the first piece found in the vicinity of the house that gives me a sense that this house really was inhabited during much different times.



August 24, 2014

While I was visiting my mother, I had to decide what day to leave.  I had come down a day later than planned, an idea that originated with my mother, due mostly to the weather, and I needed to decide whether to go back home on my originally planned day of departure or to extend the trip one day.

We had accomplished much of what we had planned — banking business; open house; sorting, shredding or keeping files that had been in the basement, sorting, folding, donating or keeping the contents of the linen closet …

I couldn’t tell whether we were done for this trip.  So I took a walk late one afternoon.  And what percolated up for me was to call my son to see how he was faring at home and to pack my car, to the extent possible at that point, with what I thought I needed to bring back with me, to see if it would fit (I drive a Ford Focus sedan).

And once I did those two things, it became clear to me to stay the extra day.  And when I did that, I found myself doing some work that hadn’t before occurred to me, including getting things off closet shelves, sorting them for donation, trash, or keeping — because I wasn’t sure who else would be able to get them down, given the limitations of the help my mother engages.  This project had not been apparent to me, but by clearing away the clutter in my mind about my decision (about when to leave), I was able to make that decision, and, subsequently, to see the next right thing I was being called to do.  Again, as in my previous post, this occurred in a mundane context, but I am here to say that my process works, at least for me.

I will add as a note here that my mother received three wonderful letters from the university that collected and received her donation of CDs, records, and books.  My mother read them to me over the phone last night.  Not only were we amazed by the number of CDs (over 4,000) and records and books (over 600 and 800, respectively), but we found it heartwarming that the writers were so appreciative of the collections.  I was also especially happy to hear that the writers mentioned that the CDs would be quite helpful in the teaching and preparation of music students.  That’s the sort of thing I had been hoping for — that the collections would go where they were appreciated for what they were and would be used in a way that allows them to reach their potential to help others.


August 22, 2014

I came back from visiting my mother, with a lot of family belongings.  My mother is downsizing in preparation for her move to Massachusetts, to a one-bedroom apartment.  My sister apparently had a negative response to taking any of the belongings, except for a napkin ring I helped my mother mail her.

So I was not sure where in my house to put the items I brought back.  I threw the problem out there to the universe, turned it over and asked for help.  And I got help, found I could remove without difficulty a few objects from my china cabinet in my front room, for example, rearrange a few more, and have a beautiful space for the family items.

What I removed is basically a collection I can pack up into a box as a set, maybe to give to someone else.

And for the other group of family belongings I brought back, I opened the trunk in my dining room and realized there were also items there I was fine with packing up and possibly de-accessioning, and that doing so would produce adequate room for these things I had brought back with me from New Jersey.

It may be a trivial problem, finding a suitable place to put family belongings, but that feeling of going from “I have no idea what to do” to “Oh, this works” is priceless nonetheless.


It’s the babysitter!

August 18, 2014

So my mother is in the processing of selling her house, which I grew up in, and she’s got a (local) real estate agent, and the agent and I have talked on the phone, texted, emailed, and faxed.

The agent and I have even discussed who we know in common in town from our school days, including the family who used to own the house she now owns.  And we’ve determined she’s about six years younger than I am  —  she was a classmate of the younger children in the family whose house she now owns, I had been friends and classmates with the eldest of the siblings.

We finally met face to face yesterday, during my current visit with my mom.  And the agent interrupts the flow of the conversation and suddenly says to me, “You look so familiar.  Did you babysit for me?”

I asked if her current surname is her original one, and no, it’s her married name.  She tells me her maiden name, and then I recognized who she was.

It’s interesting, too, because I never changed my name and she didn’t recognize me from that.

It was probably the hair.

Anyway, it was funny to be recognized after all these years as the babysitter.


August 11, 2014

I was having this conversation last night with someone, about some arrangements we have for a trip which includes a bunch of business and logistical tasks I will help them with.  They told me that maybe the arrangements would be different from what we had planned together.  Some of the differences arise out of circumstances beyond their control, some not.  In neither case was I asked for my views or response to the impact on me of the changes, and they did not even acknowledge that there would be a negative impact in both cases.

So I took issue with the lack of acknowledgment.  I observed that they did not seem to take into account what it was like to be in my shoes.  They did not deny it at all.  They went on about how they do what they want and just “express [themselves] as the spirit moves them.”  I suggested as politely as possible that adults are expected to edit themselves, and especially their behavior.  And they said that they don’t because their mother made them feel like a puppet.

I knew their mother.  She never made me feel like a puppet, but then again I wasn’t her child.

The detail behind “feeling like a puppet” was something about be expected to feel about a thing the way the mother felt about it.

So I actually got interested in the explanation in a way that distracted me from my irritation with the behavior that had sparked the discussion;  I was fascinated by the explanation that not putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is the response to feeling forced to see things and feel things the way another does.

My interlocutor sees cause and effect, and maybe it’s there, but I can see simple repetition of the same pattern:  the “I” does not take others into account as full-fledged human beings.

In some ways, if there is cause and effect, my interlocutor is claiming, in a sense, that their mother turned them into Pinocchio, a wooden puppet.  I find that fascinating, because I had previously thought of that story as showing the need for passing through developmental stages in a positive direction, starting from a difficult spot.  I had not thought about Pinocchio as representing a phase arrived at through regression, which is what my interlocutor seemed to be claiming:  they could take others into account but they did not, in order to demonstrate (I think to themselves) that they had their own feelings.

This may be common knowledge in psychological circles, but it was an eye-opener to me, experiencing the not taking of others into account as a way of making the self more visible, or as even a protest.

As I said, maybe it’s objectively true, that the person got squelched as a child by their mother.  I experienced this person’s mother as much warmer than this person themselves, but I’m not sure what that means.   I also didn’t know this person when they were a child  —  perhaps they really were different back then, before they began to feel like somebody else’s puppet.  I think I am somewhat suspicious of the narrative this person uses to explain how they got to be the way they are.  But I would very much regret claiming it wasn’t so, since for all I know it could actually be an accurate description of what happened.

When I feel as though my voice is not being heard and I am not being taken into account, I don’t feel the urge to not take others into account and not to listen to them  —  I think, rather, when it comes up, “Let me listen, because I know how it feels not to be heard, let me think about how things are for the other person, it’s so painful to be treated as if one were of no account.”

Why do some people seem to turn to wood and some people seem to have a different reaction?

I think about Apollo and Daphne and I think about people feeling they have lost their voice and become immured, turned to wood.  I have wondered what all that represents.  I have wondered about the different survival mechanisms different people develop when they intuit in situations that trying to insist on being heard is not safe.  I know I have my own.  I guess where I come out on all this is that recognizing a survival skill for what it is may help us move beyond that behavioral response in new situations in which our survival is not at stake.


The Wailin’ Jennys

August 8, 2014

I finally got around to listening to this group when I noticed they had a cover of “By Way of Sorrow.”  (Here it is live.)  I had already been taken by their name (a pun on Waylon Jennings).  And their music, in my opinion, lives up to the (high) expectations I had for a group with such a clever name.