January 31, 2016

I’ve been to a number of antique stores over the years, and I am aware that in some, the policy is “You break it, you bought it.”  Some high-end dealers don’t use that policy, some low-end dealers don’t — I haven’t noticed a pattern with regard to the financial part of the issue about who insists on compensation and who doesn’t.  (And no antique dealer I have ever known supported themselves from selling antiques, there has always been another source of income for every one.)

So what goes into the decision of how to handle breakage?  I don’t know.  Personality of the dealer?  As I said, I don’t know.

But I think the fact that there are different approaches to this issue in the context of something so tangible and concrete is interesting:  who bears the burden of the cost of damage?

Well, first issue is agreeing there is damage.  That’s why I started with the title “Convincing”: some people will try to convince you the antique was always cracked, that they did nothing to cause it or even contribute to its creation.  I suspect they convince themselves, but the usual Achilles heel of their argument is that their perspective is the only point of view.  In some cases, it is an assumption that everybody agrees that the norm is whatever it is they are claiming, say, that it’s okay to pull what you see as weeds out of stranger’s garden.  Never seems to occur to them that a gardener might prefer to have their space invaded by weeds rather than by other people, or that they might actually want that plant in there where it is.  This is why looking for internal guidance that does not come from the ego is so helpful — the content of such guidance provides neutral space for our behaviors to intersect with each other with less friction and damage.  With a cracked antique, this assumption might be expressed by saying it’s a cost of doing business that “stuff happens.”

Once there is damage — uprooted plant, cracked antique, bills unpaid when the income check bounced — who absorbs it?  I am wondering about how people decide this as a social matter, not as a matter of law.

I think it was in Maureen Dowd’s column this weekend about Donald Trump that suggested to me that rich and powerful people may feel they can get away with never having to absorb the damage at their end:  “’I’m really rich and successful,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have to make up with everyone.’”

On the other hand, some rich and successful people will want to buy that cracked antique, not just as a gesture to the dealer or in acknowledgement that the value of the item has been diminished by the damage, but because they will feel better about themselves in the long run, they feel the mishap brought the item to their attention and are curious to see how it might enhance their life, they feel that’s what is called for, perhaps through their internal guidance,etc.

An antiques dealer may just write the expense off like the expense of having paid too much for a piece that won’t sell in their area.  A browser may apologize profusely and buy a lesser item they can afford if they can’t afford what they damaged.  A dealer may not care about the money at all or may eventually close their business.

What I think is actually most important in determining the bearing of the cost of damage is the process of working it out to a mutually acceptable arrangement.  I suspect there are no “one size fits all” remedies.  But I think the problem is made worse by a unilateral attempt to leave the other person with the onus of absorbing the costs.  And I can see in this context too the lesson of the blind men needing to pool their respective experiences of the different parts of the elephant — the lesson may be about communication, not about the underlying damage.



Poor choices, damage, and choosers

January 27, 2016

I have been trying to decide how to explain, including to myself, what I meant in what I posted yesterday about characterizing behavior not meeting a moral standard as a poor choice.

What I realized is that for me, the action, the damage, and the actor are three separate strands that come together in the problematic situation.  Rather than dismissing the whole package and moralizing against it, I prefer to think separately about what to do about the damage, how to respond to the behavior, and how to relate to the person engaged in the behavior.

I wanted to jot that down because it’s not the case that I don’t see the damage that some behaviors cause others, or that a response may be required to address the behavior and a response may be required to address the damage.  I think I just am in favor of a more emotionally neutral way of dealing with the situation than the moralizing approach uses, and one that does not counterproductively create new damage in the person who has chosen the behavior.

I probably gleaned this approach from observing how special education handles behavior that does not meet a required standard and has also caused damage.

Moralizing and contempt

January 26, 2016

I was reading the new iteration of the feature in the NYTimes called “The Conversation.”  It used to be between Gail Collins and David Brooks, now it’s come back with Gail Collins and Arthur Brooks.

Part of the dialogue discussed the role of contempt in shaping current politics and what’s going on in the presidential race.  In a comment I wrote, I voiced my agreement that contempt is divisive and widespread.  I also mentioned that my hope that David Brooks was interested in bringing people together by bridging the gap opened up by contempt between, say, liberals and conservatives, had been disappointed.  I think I thought he was interested in seeing how conservatives have strengths in political and social relations that may not be present among liberals, and vice versa.  I had this idea that he was going to observe what each group can bring to the table that’s positive and how the members of each group might learn to relate to the positives and put aside the contempt.  Something like that.

Then later I read an article about David Brooks by Danny Funt in Columbia Journalism Review from last October that discussed Brooks’s moralizing.  I have often had a problem reading this moralizing, for my own reasons, but in light of the point raised by Arthur Brooks about the divisiveness of contempt, I started thinking about what separates moralizing from the expression of contempt.  And I decided that often, not much.

I think that doing what some people happen to deem to be morally correct is enjoyable to do because doing the thing in that way makes it go better — more easily — and less detritus is formed from doing it in that way than would be formed from engaging in behavior that tried to accomplish the same thing through things like deceit, fraud, coercion, etc.  I don’t generally think about it as being what one does because it’s a superior thing to do, I think of it more in terms of friction and fallout and how it makes one feel in the long run.  It’s kind of like picking the comfortable shoes for the hike instead of the fashionable ones.

So behaving morally doesn’t have to involve moralizing, I don’t think.  I don’t think it has to involve the part of moralizing where a person might feel contempt for people or their behavior that doesn’t measure up to a particular moral standard.  Instead such people and their behavior can seem more like something involving making a poor choice.

So why do people go in for promoting moral behavior in a way that involves moralizing and something that borders on contempt?

I don’t know if I know the answer to that, but I am aware that some people feel a need to feel special, but don’t admit that to themselves, much less consider if that’s a good idea or what its impact on others might be.  I have no idea if that’s what goes on with moralizing in general or with David Brooks’s moralizing in particular, but that’s probably the avenue I would explore first — once I was able to put aside my reaction from feeling held in contempt.

“Spiritual beings having a human experience”

January 20, 2016

I heard that this morning and I really liked it:  “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The person I heard saying it was quoting it from someone else, and they thought it was a fairly old summation, not original to their source, either.

The person I heard it from had had a very negative experience of religion growing up, and found the distinction between spirituality and religion a welcome surprise when they discovered it later in life.  I think what’s reflected in this quotation was part of the spiritual outlook they came to as an adult.

It makes plenty of sense to me, and I think its formulation helps put the biological underpinnings of our material life experiences in a better perspective.

Hearing these words this morning I started wondering why I don’t spend more time with people who see things this way and less time trying to explain such a perspective to those who are dismissive of it — which often feels to me like trying to get someone to see the other picture in one of those specially-drawn sketches that include two entirely different depictions visible as alternatives.

With my younger son’s color blindness, he’s aware he’s missing something and has work-arounds to distinguish many purples from blues or reds from browns or greens from grays, depending on other clues and cues.  People who dismiss the spiritual tend to not discern any of what they are missing, in my experience, although I have known some atheist rationalists of a scientific bent who will admit to having intimations of something when they stare up at a starry night sky, to take one example.


January 11, 2016

The Boston Globe attempted to change its delivery service vendor at the end on December, and managed to throw a monkey wrench into not only the delivery of its newspaper but the delivery of other newspapers to homes in the region.

I think many of us thought that the disruption to The Globe delivery would be something like a couple of days of non-delivery (we were given 2 coupons to obtain a paper for free at a store) and then some late deliveries.  But the new company hadn’t hired enough drivers and their software for planning routes was unable to handle the idiosyncratic layout of New England roads, and so the disruption was more like no papers for days stretching beyond a week.

And at the beginning of January, my delivery of The New York Times was also disrupted.

Now delivery has been restored, not quite to the level it was before the disruptions (papers have been arriving later in the day and not where they’re supposed to be left), but they seem to be coming again regularly.

What’s interesting, in this day and age of concern about carbon footprints, is that the two newspapers I subscribe to are now delivered by two separate drivers.  This is clear from when and where the respective papers arrive.

The Globe is apparently going to save some money from the new arrangements.

While cap-and-trade has always struck me as some kind of a kluge, this newspaper delivery situation makes it clear that the good of the environment is not always lined up with corporate profits.  One would think that it should be more profitable for everyone involved to have one driver deliver two papers to the same house, but apparently it isn’t.  That arrangement would also reduce the amount of gasoline consumed and exhaust vented.  But since profits lie elsewhere, two delivery services we have.

To paraphrase Tacitus, they make a less environmentally-friendly arrangement and call it progress.

Changing words

December 25, 2015

I hadn’t heard of Eva Cassidy until fairly recently, and I’ve been listening to the singing she left behind ever since.  Many of the recordings are covers, and sometimes I prefer her rendition, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes it seems she has changed the lyrics or left some out, and I liked the original version better.  Other times I am waiting for a particular vocal flourish that doesn’t come, or I find I am just too used to the original recording I heard.

While I’ve bought a couple of CDs of Eva Cassidy’s music, and tried to buy another (as yet without success), I’ve been listening to some of her work on YouTube, and there, the people posting a song aren’t always clear about who actually wrote it.

So eventually I looked into who wrote “I Know You By Heart.”  Diane Scanlon wrote the lyrics, Eve Nelson the music.

And I also learned that Eva Cassidy changed the lyric in the first verse from “I see your profile” to “I see your sweet smile.”  I learned that from the interviews on :

I love Eva Cassidy’s singing of the song “I Know You By Part.”  As Diane Scanlon says in those interview answers, Eva Cassidy “understood what I [Diane Scanlon] was trying to say.”  That comes through.  But the “profile” version of the lyrics resonates even better for me.

It’s clear to me that our guidance for others is limited because of our inability to see things exactly from where that other person actually is.  We look up, or down, from where we are and try to discern what they should do, but that’s not the same as actually being in their skin and hearing the guidance for them.

I guess I see the substitution of “sweet smile” for “profile” as a revelation of this Achilles’ heel from even such a consummate singer of songs.

It strikes me because I struggle with the issue of collaboration, of putting together the development of material with its dissemination.  I think there are trade-offs in terms of the skill sets needed for each, so a collaboration would seem to be optimal in a sense.  But maybe it’s the case that something is too often lost in the process, whatever the gains.  Maybe that’s okay, maybe the creator’s version and the covers all have their place.  But my sense stubbornly persists that changes in transmission of the original, as in the children’s game of Telephone, can make a difference and that we may end up “on a frolic and a detour” if we are unaware of the original.  I relate this hazard to the need for communication between human beings (I will forego yet another reference to the story of the blind men and the elephant), and that the resolution of the issue of collaboration lies somewhere in improving communication between creator and disseminator.

“‘TO ALL AND SUNDRY — NEAR AND FAR …'”: Burgundy pullover

December 22, 2015

The weather here has been unseasonably warm, but some days the wind has been chilly and brisk and I have found warmer layers to be welcome when I go out walking.  So choosing what to wear has been a little more of a challenge for me this season.  Compounding this is my discovery recently that it now costs $5.20 to dry clean a heavy sweater at my local dry cleaners.

Anyway, I was trying to figure out layer #2 this morning, the one that comes after the cotton shirt, and I got stuck.  Do I want to get back out clothing I thought I had put away until next year?  Do I want to risk having to take another sweater to the dry cleaners after only minimal wear?  I had a number of specs and was having trouble figuring out what garment I owned would satisfy all of them.

So I did what I usually do when I get stuck and I threw it out to the universe for some guidance, and from that, I opened my closet, went straight to moving a couple of shoe boxes aside, and immediately discovered the perfect layer on a low shelf — an old burgundy pullover, washable, seasonally colorful, warm.

I remembered the article of clothing once I saw it, but I don’t think I could have actively named it as something I owned.

I think I had put it away somewhere obscure because I thought it was beginning to look a little down at the mouth.

This time of year I think about A.A. Milne’s “King John’s Christmas.”  My mother read it to us with great passion and fervor when we were young, and with especially great enthusiasm at the part near the end when the india-rubber ball makes its dramatic appearance.

Well, it’s not yet Christmas (then again, I’m not King John, nor even a Christian), and a pullover isn’t a ball, nor is burgundy really red, but I enjoyed seeing a faint parallel and thinking about what comes to us as a surprise from the outside may actually be something within us that we had merely lost sight of.

Don’t know what to say

September 16, 2015

My copy of last week’s New Yorker magazine did not arrive in the mail until Saturday.  And I didn’t get to page 61 until last night.  Which I would usually not bother to write a blog post to report, except that page 61 includes a quotation from Pope Francis about Communion being “‘not a reward for the perfect but a medicine for the sick.'”  Which I probably also would not have written a blog post about, except that I wrote in a news comment (to a Ross Douthat column) on Saturday, “Maybe receiving communion has nothing to do with those things, but I am hoping it is a means towards spiritual growth and not in the nature of a some kind of prize for already having accomplished that growth.”

When I got to the quote in the New Yorker article (called “Holy Orders,” by Alexander Stille) last night, my mind went, “Bingo!” in a sense of recognition, and dismay, that that’s where I got the idea — but I hadn’t read it yet at the time I wrote the comment, so I didn’t — couldn’t — cite the article.  (And no, I hadn’t read the article online earlier in the week.)  I had the strong sense when I read the quotation that the idea had not been an idea original to me.  Which I can’t say was a huge surprise to me —  when I wrote what I wrote in my comment, I thought it was an interesting idea and a good point, but I was a little surprised that I had come to it and wondered what a Catholic person might think of it (I worry about inadvertently offending).

So I just thought I would put these facts out there.  People can interpret them as they will.  For me it’s less about how to interpret them and more about what I do going forward as a consequence of experiencing this kind of thing.


August 27, 2015

I wanted to pick up on something I said in my last post.  I mentioned that by reducing (through the “people as puppies” framing) my getting caught up in emotional reaction, I am freer to pursue problem-solving in the situation.  And I did (I am referring to the internet/phone service failure situation we recently had).

I am not sure what phone/internet service providers are required by law or regulation to do in the situation I had, but they are refunding me for 5 days of service and sending me a new back-up battery at no charge.  They also said there is no charge for the service call, as it was their equipment that was the problem.

What I couldn’t get them to do was to come out sooner, because, as I indicated in the previous post, they don’t see such repairs as urgent anymore, they seem to assume the customer will make do with a smartphone.

When I shared this experience with others, I was told that it’s a political problem — the state government handed the company a fair amount of carte blanche, which has left customers/citizens without adequate landline protections when equipment failures occur.  The back-up batteries were supposed to bridge that gap, but they don’t.

People as puppies

August 26, 2015

I was watching the PBS NewsHour last night on TV.  I couldn’t stream, because the box in the basement from the internet/phone service provider did not survive a neighborhood power outage and recovery, so I was watching the NewsHour on a TV screen (cum antenna) and it looked different.

(Side note:  apparently there is no longer a feeling of urgency to restore landline telephone connections, I guess because we are all presumed to have fully charged cell phones with sufficient minutes to use instead.  I was less surprised they would be pokey about restoring internet capability, but nowadays the two services are often bound together in the hardware, I think, through the same cable — no more copper wire for phones.  I see this is as a big vulnerability in the system.  They treated it as a routine service call in scheduling the appointment, did not seem concerned that I had no landline to access 911 if necessary from Saturday through Wednesday.)

At one point in the NewsHour opening there’s a horse, and I am thinking, “Boy, I am glad to see that horse among all those pictures of people!”  And I thought about why, and what came to me is that I love animals, and while I can and do love people, it’s easier for me to connect with the essence of the animal because there is much less nonsense to distract me from that essence and I don’t find myself tempted towards resentment and such with animals in the way I do with humans (on account of their behavior).  I accept a puppy’s limitations far more easily than a person’s, and while those limitations, to be sure, are different, I realized that there’s no real reason I can’t say to myself, “Oh, that person is just reflecting the limitations I know full well they have, expecting them to behave otherwise is on me, they are just being their usual ‘puppy’ self.”  Then I am free to problem-solve, if necessary, but I don’t get so bogged down with emotional reaction.

So I was glad to see an animal on screen, it made me relax and remember how easy it is to relate to an animal’s core and how at our cores we are actually not the petty difficult selves we may dress ourselves up as.  It gave me a sense of a way out from feeling I have no good way of relating to people behaving in ways I find difficult.

I made someone laugh as I was trying to explain this way of thinking about people as puppies earlier this evening, when I used customer service stonewalling as an example:  “Oh, that customer service rep is just being their usual [company name]-animal self, that’s just what they do, that’s how they behave.”  I repeated the sentence using the names of the other companies I have been struggling with lately.  As I said, the person I was telling this to laughed, I think at the phrasing that turned the companies into animal species.

I suspect I have written something in this vein before, so re-discovering it last night as if it’s something new indicates to me that I haven’t yet incorporated this point of view into my usual way of interacting.  I am sure I will have ample future opportunities to try implementing this approach again.

I am serious, though, about trying to use how I relate to animals as a template for how I might relate to human beings whose behavior I find difficult.  I think it’s a major challenge in my life to figure out ways of dealing with my disappointment and frustration (and sometimes hurt) with how many of my fellow human beings behave.  I am glad to have the template from how I relate to animals, just as I am glad to have a connection to the spiritual world to help me dilute the intensity of my human reactions — when I get a sense of how some people don’t seem to have these “escapes” from the emotional storminess, I wonder how they live with such an internally tumultuous environment.