Archive for the 'words' Category

Word choice

March 8, 2015

I’ll be reading along and happily agreeing with finding some exposition that clarifies my own understanding, and then I read the word “evil,” or, even worse, from my point of view, “Evil.”  I feel as if I am being stopped short, as if I have hit a wall.

I think a concept of abstract “evil” reifies something that is best kept in a looser state, that ought to be kept like molecules of water in their arrangement in steam rather than as molecules of water in their arrangement in ice.

I wish someone would begin a tradition of substituting a conceptualization that doesn’t lead us into the dead-end that I think “evil” leads us into, complete with a new label.

I think some people say, “We’re all in the light.”

I don’t say that we ignore what people label as “evil,” I just am saying that we should find a way of naming what it is without giving it power it doesn’t inherently possess.


September 28, 2014

I mentioned Dis a couple of posts ago, working from memory of what I learned ages ago as a Classicist.

I then went to see what people would find if they Googled the word, and what they would find is not what I remember being taught.

I asked my mother, also a former Classicist, and she agreed there’s some text or texts, author or authors, we read that talk about Dis in terms we might understand as referring to “godhead.”  She couldn’t remember the text(s) or author(s) either, and The Oxford Classical Dictionary I have didn’t have an entry.  The Liddell & Scott Ancient Greek dictionaries I pulled out only referred to Zeus under Dis, but my Lewis and Short Latin dictionary gave the godhead meaning as the first meaning.  My Oxford Latin Dictionary gave the meaning I found when I Googled something like “Dis religion,” a reference to Pluto and the god of the underworld, which Lewis & Short gave as a secondary meaning used later.

The perils of internet learning, the perils of aging memories.

I leave it for real live Classicists with a good and current feel for the concepts that lurk behind the words (and better working memories of where to find what) to sort this out.

In any event, in my use of the term, I meant godhead.


January 5, 2014

For me, keeping my bearings is about remembering who I am and not getting sucked into being someone else, including someone another person thinks I should be.  How do I get some idea about who I am?  Through opening myself up to the universe and being in touch with my insides, going all the way down as deep as I can go inside myself.  And easy beginning exercise can be, “What do I feel like wearing today?”  or, “What do I feel like eating?”  It’s about “What am I in the mood for?” not in a superficial hedonistic way (although the answer may be that I am in the mood to indulge myself hedonistically), but in terms of discerning my true mood.

Eventually the answer in the case of clothing becomes, “Whatever is easiest and simple,” and so, too, with food, but in between beginners’ steps and getting beyond ego needs comes a lot of ups and downs, a lot of frustrations and a lot of choices that lead to difficulties we didn’t want, but from which we learn, including learn about who we are.  We don’t leap frog to wanting to put away these issues in the sense that they are no longer the focus of our lives and we want to put our energy elsewhere, we get there step by step.

I think a key is being open to listening to what a situation has to teach us.

For example, suppose we meet a person we want to make a good impression on, and our idea of what will make a good impression is being articulate.  The other person may actually not give a hoot about whether we are articulate or not, so, for starters, our sense that articulateness is key is not about some objective truth.  But if we are left with a sense of disappointment in ourselves when we have not been articulate, what can we learn from that?  Articulateness may be our way of navigating the world and using our muscle to achieve our goals.  Perhaps not being able to engage in it is a way of letting a person know that such tools are not always what is called for.  Trying to befriend a stray dog in order to get it to safety will not involve articulateness, it will involve making clear a friendly invitation.  Comforting a distraught child is likewise not about being articulate.

Even meeting a fellow grown-up may not be about being articulate.  It may be about being open to the moment, unforeseen, and that moment may be about something else, even if that moment occurs in the context of a heated conversation.  It may just be about getting to know the other person — or deciding that one does not wish to get to know them.  It could be about choosing to take a risk and make a change in one’s usual modus operandi, and do something not so obviously helpful to one’s career, instead of doing the same old, same old and chatting up the more powerful and higher status people in the room in the pursuit of material benefit.

It makes a difference what one is ready for on the inside.  If one has devoted oneself to articulateness, there may be little developed in terms of risk-taking or comfort with the less conventional.  And in the moment when articulateness fails, one probably can only decline the opportunity to take the risk or pursue a less-trodden path because one is just not ready.

So the moment passes, for both people.  Although one may process it as having been unfortunately inarticulate, it probably wasn’t the case that one should have been more articulate, the moment was probably more about experiencing the limits of the skill of being articulate, that it will only get you so far and may not be available or apt in some situations, and what do you have then, what will take its place?  Indeed, one may actually have been extremely articulate in communicating, although not with spoken words, “No thank you, I really don’t want to take this opportunity, I am here for something else, and you make me very uncomfortable.”  If one remains caught up in the articulateness issue, one is then not taking yet another opportunity presented, the opportunity to integrate the inner self with the self one presents to the world — and to one’s self.  Maybe one is just not ready to do what that would take, either.

The other person may not process the passed moment as having been about articulateness, they may have processed it as having been about readiness.  They may be just kind of surprised, and disappointed, by the reality of the other person’s state of readiness revealed in the moment and its contrast with other indicators of what it would be.

I didn’t want to take the time to write this post this morning.  I have a lot on my plate, I have a lot of stuff with deadlines that I need to take care of, I generally feel better about that kind of stuff when I am actually working on it — knowing it’s there and needs to be done, being aware of it and not working on it, have a negative impact on me.  But I wrote this anyway (even did some light editing, which I most surely did not want to take the time to do), because I had the sense that that was what this moment called for.


December 21, 2013

I was writing about confabulation in response to Charles Blow’s column about the Duck Dynasty controversy, and one of my replies came too late to be posted, and I closed my browser tab, so it’s lost and I can’t even post it here.

So I thought I’d write a few words on a related issue.

I do think we often have trouble distinguishing between (1) bad intent, (2) ignorance, and (3) distortions in processing and other aspects of communication.  And I think sometimes the explanation for a situation is not malice or even ignorance but that the person is saying something not to communicate any truth but for some other purpose in the course of trying to engage in social relations.

What I thought I’d mention is that I think that just as school administrators often misunderstand student behavior, liberals often misunderstand why people who disagree with them are saying what they are saying.  I think some of the things people who wind up being politically conservative say, they say not out of malice or even ignorance, but just because it seems like the thing to say to fit the situation in terms of social expectations.  As a friend of mine would say, they are “just talking.”

Now, “just talking” can create all kinds of damage, depending on content, but to get a person to stop doing it, browbeating them with reason or morals is not terribly effective.

I suspect the habit of confabulation arises out of a number of different scenarios, including avoidance of childhood abuse and a discovery it gets positive results of some sort.  I think that to dismantle the habit, whatever is the underlying cause must be addressed.

So when liberals rail at conservatives in a way that assumes bad faith or ignorance or difficulty thinking, sometimes I think they miss the mark.  The person is damaged, limited, and doing the best they can.  But I don’t think we ignore any damage they create, I think we have to show them the impact of their use of this mode of communication while we supply them with alternative and support them in overcoming the underlying causes for engaging in confabulation.

And failing that approach at resolution, we can just not take at face value what they say and avoid situations in which we might need to.

Of course, liberals have their own patterns of thought and talk, arising out of their damage and limitations, and enabling seems to figure prominently among people who end up being politically liberal.  That kind of posture and behavior causes damage in its own way, too.

Unfortunately, the combination of the conservative and liberal profiles seems to be one of those “deadly embraces.”  How we break our civic polity out of this merry-go-round probably involves everyone trying to address their own damage.  Come the millennium.

We may be social animals, spiritual creatures, and instinctive organisms, but we are also damaged goods, most of us, and we don’t tend to function at peak operational performance.


September 15, 2013

My son told me on the way home from grocery shopping that the cashier had called me a swear word under her breath.  I had asked about an item on sale in two different ways, and how to qualify for the second discount.  When I learned I could qualify for it, I ran off to get the item while the rest of our order was being scanned and bagged.  I estimated how much time I had, and would have aborted my attempt if I had thought it was taking too long.  One of the requirements for the second discount was having an order of at least $25.00, so I couldn’t finish my first order and get the item as a separate order and get the second discount — and with both discounts, it was $9.00 off an $18.99 item, so I thought it was worth a try.

I admit that running off to get the item could be annoying to a cashier.  Sometimes they’ve actually encouraged me to do it, though (“Honey, don’t you realize there’s a ‘buy one, get one free’ special going on?  Go get yourself another one.”), or the item has gotten damaged, maybe even during the check-out process, and I’ve had to get another one (like a leaking milk container).

The item the other day was near the check-out counters, and yes, I got back in time — our order was still being processed, there was no loss in time.

So I was surprised by what Jordan told me.  I didn’t think someone would curse me out for doing what I did.

It’s kind of like the opposite of paranoia — I had no idea that the person thought that ill of me.

I’ve had this before, sometimes on behalf of my children, especially when they were quite young and they had done nothing that could be reacted to negatively.  I had no idea someone thought so ill of them, but I discover that the person does.  I’ve also experienced it when I’ve tried to follow through with someone who was quite friendly to me from a distance, for example, online.  I meet them, and I encounter behavior that seems to communicate, “I don’t really like you, I am only willing to interact with you enough to derive a benefit to me from a distance.”  And I’ve experienced a third variety of this, when I’ve heard gossip repeated back to me that was hurtful, or intended to be hurtful, even if it was inaccurate, in the context of a community I am a part of.

I feel hurt when this kind of stuff happens, hurt in a bewildered kind of way.  I can find a way to look at the situation with some detachment, and move on.  It’s harder when circumstances are such that I have to continue to interact with the person.  I suspect politicians are good at this, but it’s a skill I don’t have.  I usually try to deal with the situation by seeing the other person as someone who is damaged themselves doing the best they can.  But it usually alters the way I interact with them.  And if I think they actually can do better than they are, I have to look at that, too, as a product of their damage.

In some ways, I would rather not know.  I would also prefer the person not to think ill of me or of my children if, in turn, their doing so causes us harm, harm beyond hurt feelings.  But I’ve learned that there’s not much I can do about changing what other people think and do, that people can be impervious and deflect feedback.   All I can do is to try to keep them in focus and to see them as they are — which may include their being a person who judges me ill.

I can’t think of a word specific to the phenomenon of thinking people aren’t feeling negatively about one when they are.


September 5, 2013

I began noticing commenters in the NYTimes comments sections referring to the pieces they were commenting on as articles.  This startled me when the piece in question was an opinion piece, what I think we used to call a column, a blog post, or an opinion piece — and I’m sure there are other designations as well.

I started off thinking it was one person’s usage, then when I saw it multiple times and from a number of different people, I thought, “It must be a new usage that got taught after I finished school.”  Then I noticed that the Times itself does it, too.  As in “Readers shared their thoughts on this article.”  I checked my recollection of this just now on a Paul Krugman column.  That’s what the notations says after the comments section has been closed.

I would not call an op-ed column an article.  I am not trying to be pedantic.  What concerns me is that this other usage blurs the distinction between news and opinion, and unnecessarily, it seems to me.  If the Times is unwilling to sort their pieces into specific categories and wants to use a catch-all term instead, I wouldn’t choose “article.”  I associate “article” with factual news story.  If “piece” is too vague, then I’m sure somebody can come up with a better term than that, too.

Ferris wheel

July 21, 2013

I was on a ferris wheel many years ago with my mother.  It was a small ferris wheel and had very sturdy seats, in cars in which occupants sat across from each other. (I suspect you could get two people on per seat, for a total of four people per car.)

I remember saying to her as were about halfway up circle of the ride, “Isn’t this fun?!”

I hadn’t been looking at her as I spoke, I think I was looking down at the people below.  When I didn’t hear much in the way of a response, I turned to look, and there she was, eyes scrunched close and looking pretty tense.

So, no, my mother didn’t find it fun to ride on the ferris wheel, although she went along with it.

I could tell she didn’t enjoy it, but no, I can’t say I empathized with her — I did not feel her feeling.  I felt bad about her obvious discomfort with the ride, too.  But none of my response could I call empathy.

Empathy is when I feel as if I actually feel what the other person is feeling, as if I’m an actor inhabiting a role, or inhabiting the other person.  I would say it goes beyond imagination, beyond my imagining what they may be feeling — it feels to me as if I really am feeling what they are feeling.  And I do have that experience from time to time.

I mention this because I get tired of the use of the term empathize to refer to processes which do not, in my opinion,  involve empathizing — the term has become, in my opinion, somewhat meaningless through its use to cover all sorts of mental processes and situations.  I sometimes think this happens especially when the person using the term has never actually really experienced the phenomenon of empathizing — analogous to a person using the word orgasm to refer to something else because they’ve never actually experienced one.  Two of life’s great mysteries, empathy and orgasms.

Goals and cups

June 14, 2013

I was writing a post this morning about goals.  I saved it as a draft and then moved away from it — abandoned it — as it was getting too heavy.  (It had to do with goals as ideals for guidance and goals as things actually to accomplish.)

But I couldn’t help think about goals as ice hockey scores, too, living as I do in the Boston area.  (The Boston Bruins are playing the Chicago Blackhawks for the championship.)

While I was out taking care of business, I came across a tee shirt being sold in a local store that says, “We want the Cup.”  $9.99.  Even I, not a rabid hockey fan or Boston sports groupie, couldn’t resist.

Henri Nouwen asked us, “Can you drink the cup?”  I like this shirt as a reflection of a positive response to that:  Yes!  In fact, we affirmatively want it!  Bring it on!

It’s also got a picture of a bear on it, a Boston Bruin.  The Environmental Police shot a Black Bear above the Mass Pike in Newton Corner recently.  He was a youngster and literally up a tree.  I’ve had difficult dreams about bears.  So bear as hockey team mascot is a great way for me to see bears differently, as being part of a benign and friendly context.

I am happy to drink the cup and wear the bear (as a nightshirt, that is).

Not words

March 15, 2013

This is in response to a response I had to my previous post:  how can I say guidance comes to me not in words?  What is my basis for that claim?

When I receive guidance I often have the experience of trying to figure out how to put it into words — for instance, of trying to figure out the English vocabulary available to express the idea:  “How do you say that in English?”  I’m often wondering (and that’s not because I’m bilingual or that English is not my first language or that I happen to be thinking in a language I learned in school).

The ideas come as ideas, not thoughts in words.

Hearing or knowing

March 14, 2013

I think adults are counseled not to confuse children by using the analogy of going to sleep for dying — makes some kids scared to go to sleep.  I’m thinking that using “hearing” for how we pick up internal guidance may be a similarly counterproductive misnomer.

If I’m getting guidance from somewhere significant, it comes to me as “knowing” — I don’t actually “hear” something internally.  The thing may make little sense to me — as in, bringing my checkbook with me on that errand, and then while I’m running the errand, something unpredicted presents itself for which having the checkbook is really handy — but I understand I should do it.  (I could also refuse, of course.)  Hearing my own thoughts, or even someone else’s, sounds different.  (Yes, I know, we’re not supposed to be able to hear other people’s thoughts, but here’s an example, maybe I’ve used it before.  I was at a concert, sitting in the way back, and the opening act was on stage.  And while I did notice it was going on for longer than opening acts usually do in such a venue, I started hearing this thought, “Who does she think she is?  She ‘s acting like she’s the main event, in her stage manner as well as the length of her set …  I guess you can sing like that but why would you want to? She’s so young …  What is it she’s wearing?  I guess that’s a look …”  It went on.  It really wasn’t in accord with what I was feeling — which was more like, “She playing a lot of songs and I really did come to hear the main act” — more simple, succinct, and superficial. Then I turned my head, and standing against the back wall a few feet away from me was the main act herself.  And I thought, “Well, if those are her thoughts, she’s hides her negativity well in her performance persona.”)  Once I was in a health foods store and I heard “selenium,” so I asked the clerk about selenium, and it actually seemed suitable for me at the time.  I’m not sure I even knew what selenium was before that.  So thoughts I would say I “hear” as words;  guidance wells up as an idea or concept, an “understanding” or perception.  At least, that’s how I would describe the two different phenomena.

Guidance wells up when I’m quiet inside.  If I’m rushing around or thinking constantly about to-do lists, I’m not in a frame of mind to notice a perception.  They tend to well up when I’m walking, when I’m showering, when I wake up briefly in the middle of the night, when I go up to my study in the attic (which is not visited by many people other than myself).  And when I pray.  But I also get what some people call spam, apparently because I take in stuff at lots of levels and through lots of apertures.  I’ve been advised that a well-trained person doesn’t do that, they focus on their inner core and take in information, and only information (not the emotional window dressing), and through a high aperture.

I ask for guidance, but I also just am pretty open to it much of the time.  But if I’m angry, I am also not in a frame of mind to notice a perception.  A discreet and passing eruption of anger isn’t a problem, but if I’m feeling constantly irritated, that gets in the way.  Intermingling with irritated people can be an impediment here.  I do try to clear myself of that sort of thing, but I have developed a healthy respect for hermits — it’s sometimes a lot easier just to be alone.

So maybe the concept of “hearing guidance” needs to be put into less confusing language, so people realize I’m talking about concepts and ideas that may then be put into words (or not), not sentences of words, or individual words, to be parsed.  And that I don’t “hear” them, they well up and I discover that now I know something I wasn’t aware of before.

Let me just close by saying that I am thinking I need an equivalent to Paul Krugman’s warning on his blog that a post may be “wonkish” (or slightly wonkish) — because I suspect some of my posts on subjects like this one are received by some with skepticism, an eye-roll, or worse, and I’d like to have a way of acknowledging that such posts may not be for everybody.  But I also feel a responsibility to put them out there nonetheless, even if they put some people off.  I think we need to broaden our sense of what’s “normal,” kind of like Our Bodies, Ourselves did for female health and related issues years ago.