#11

“The wise prudent man will draw a useful lesson even from poison itself, whilst the precepts of the wisest man mean nothing to the thoughtless.” Lokman

I came across this quote in an excerpt from Yusef Komunyakaa’s journal in a book called “The Poet’s Notebook” (1995). I’ll claim ignorance on the Lokman-Aesop history, but reading about who they were has been interesting, enlightening, and entertaining. Learning is everywhere and the quote suggests that there are lessons to be learned if only we remain open to the opportunity to learn.

Given the present state of affairs in the United States (and I suspect the rest of the world…throughout all of history), I would hope the people are wise and prudent in the acceptance of the messages sent by:

Republicans-Democrats…
Politicians-Activists…
Special Interest Groups-Religions…
Foreign Governments-Our Government…

Unless we seek to understand the motivations and messages of those who control everything, they will continue to rule us in the hyperkinetic way that does nothing more than confuse us. That is their poison, know that and deny personal and collective thoughtlessness. Only through thoughtful action can the present turmoils be alleviated.

#6

“All that tread, the globe are but a handful to the tribes, that slumber in its bosom.”
William Cullen Bryant

Where do people draw the line? What is the boundary for which people exist? Earlier this week, I confided in an old student and now friend that I had given up on my lifelong love of the Dallas Cowboys. His shock, being a Cowboys fan also, was apparent and he demanded to know why.

I spelled it out for him:

  • I don’t like the ownership, never really have.
  • I don’t like the ownership’s position on the anthem protests, their support of the current administration, and the way they often take sides against the other owners.
  • I’m not a fan of the behavior of some of the key players, a trend that has been growing in me as I have gotten older and become less tolerant of behavior that is either illegal or lacks basic moral respect.

My friend responded by saying, “But Jerry is such a good businessman.”

Right there, I checked out because I could see where this conversation was going. My friend is a very good businessman. He put it out there that his loyalty to the Cowboys was about the status and power of the Cowboys more than it was about anything else. I was disappointed in my friend at first, but then I realized he probably felt the same about me and my “liberal views” about the relationship of sports to social and moral issues.

As I reflected more about the conversation, I got a little more bothered at the theme we had been discussing. We are too tribal, me in my disdain for the Cowboys and the sociopolitical reasons for my abandonment of a lifelong loyal follower and he with his blinded business is king viewpoint. We exist in worlds where all we want to do is surround ourselves with people who think they same as us, who worship the same as us, who vote the same as us, and who never question the fundamental ways that we see the world.

Boring.

Blah.

Bad.

I wish that people were not so quick to blame the ills of society on those who do not think the way they do. My friend is my friend, we just don’t think about the Dallas Cowboys the same way anymore. He can like them for a completely different reason than I ever did, and I can listen to his views about the ways in which business “trumps” moral obligations without finding him to be an enemy or worthy of deportation.

The way that our societies are shrinking is scary. The goal of a great society is fading under the bright lights of blame, righteousness, power monguering, and a refusal to think about the possibilities of limited thinking. Sports are only one way that tribalism is taking away our acceptance of everyone and everything, yet it is sports that preaches the benefits of participation as a teacher of lifelessons to promote noble goals of sportsmanship, diversity, and hardwork.

It’s too bad that so much of that is lost in the excusal of bad behavior, false prophet patriotism, and the general disregard for goodness that fanaticism is promoting across sports, politics, and religion.

#4

“To him who in the love of Nature holds Communion with her visible forms, she speaks a various language.” William Cullen Bryant

“America has always been a country of beautiful ideas and horrible behaviors.” Steven Almond

This post is the culmination of many influences. It started several days ago with a walk on a hot summer day. It’s been assaulted with intellectual thoughts brought by podcasts and YouTube videos. The words were given their genesis in my upbringing and that specific part that has allowed me love music without being able to play a note. And finally, my commentary represents a minor bit of writing suffering to get them written.

David Goggins is a man who has served in the toughest branches of the military. He also is a badass when it comes to fitness. I’ve only recently been introduced to his particular philosophies regarding exercise, but I think his ideas about getting in shape are less about the physical and more about an emotional/mental fitness. Goggins suggests that we experience “suffering” to understand what we are capable of. The suffering is a sign that we are strong, that we have the ability to persevere, and if we are able to survive those moments of dread, fear, or dropping confidence, we can achieve our personal greatness.

I share that because I am writing this post under those ideas. I am using Flowstate a program that forces the writer to keep going for if I take too long of a break between words, I will lose everything. I set the time for thirty-minutes, a time that I have never attempted. I will be suffering, I’m sure, but hopefully, the post reflects a true accounting of my walk the other day. My suffering due to the whims of forgetful software is hyperbole, but real enough that I am hoping to capture the emotion I felt this week as these social influences conspired to stoke the fires of my stagnant and all too settled moral convictions.

About the walk. I’ve been involved with sports and fitness my entire life, as an athlete, recreationally, and professionally within the sports and fitness industry spectrum. Lately, and I am guessing over the last ten years, I have been less committed to working out and it shows. I’m taking on a middle-aged paunch and feeling the effects of a lack of exercise when I walk up the stairs around my office. I have fought the exercise laze from time to time, but I’ve never been able to commit to keeping things regular.

The walk was day one.

I left my neighborhood with a goal of three to five miles of a comfortable pace. I plugged into a podcast featuring Jamelle Hill, an ESPN writer/commentator and hit the road. Ms. Hill is an exceptional writer. She is also a person who is unafraid to call things as she sees them. With her candor, she has been caught in some controversies that have not necessarily worked out in her favor, but each revolved around important issues, so she is at peace with the consequences.

My walk took me through my modest middle-class condo neighborhood, up a hill into a higher middle-class single-family home neighborhood, through a fifty-five and older community that is spotted with plenty of Mercedes of various classes, and ultimately onto the main drag the leads from my small, socially confused town.

Standing at the intersection of the roads leading into and out of town, had me thinking about the path through affluence I had taken. It had me thinking about the marginal path of comfort I had lived. It got me thinking that not everyone had the same opportunities that I have been afforded simply due to the color of our skin at birth.

With that, I made a hard left onto Ways Lane to see if I could work my way up to five miles. The podcast was over and one of my favorite singers came on, Bruce Hornsby, The Way it Is, and as you are reading this you’re thinking, “no way,” but rest assured that’s how it went. I’ll add that this song has been with me from vinyl to cassette twice, CD, and now digital. The message of social intolerance and how it does not have to be the way is one that has been burned into my soul through the hundreds of times I’ve heard this song and a lifetime of appreciating the gifts that all people have to offer. I believe, “good people are good, bad is bad.” Skin color does not define either.

With the sweat flowing, I took in what was before me. There are two buildings at the top of the long hill that is Ways Lane. On the right side is a Boy’s Scout’s hall. It looks like an old school or church. There are three large windows on each side, a sagging roof over the addition in the back, and one of the most industrial doors I had seen in some time. It’s a place for people to come together, to learn service, and at times an example of intolerance and exclusionary practices.

On the left is the stone Italian American Social Club. There is a spacious parking lot and a fine picnic space behind the main building with its covered porch and a cabana separated by nearly twenty-five picnic tables. I’m not Italian and I’ve never been to such a social club, so the inside of the building is foreign to me, but I bet it does not reflect the important contributions of the Latino community to the prosperity that allowed the Italian settlers of this community to move up the agri-business pecking order and erect such a permanent structure to their community.

Curiously, I noticed that through a thin line of trees behind the cabana, there is a financial management company that is full of cash. I’ve heard of this firm and I know that it often contributes to causes it deems worthy, but the parking lot, with its high-end cars, was hidden very well behind a wall of trees. As I passed the first two buildings, the scenery began to change.

Next on the tour was a barely functioning tractor trailer repair shop. On this day, all of the bays were closed and all of the junker tractors in the lot where open and rusting. Next, was a hovel of old houses packed onto a clean lot. Some of the houses were repurposed mushroom houses and the biggest house was in the greatest disrepair. Its glassed-in front porch sported cracks and missing panes, while the front door had cardboard taped over its window.

Again, curiously, directly across the street was a new mushroom growing facility. The clean cinder block, shiny HVAC units, and giant electrical converters showed that this farm was state of the art and it seemed to be an insult to the people living in the ramshackle that was across the street. At this point, the asphalt of the road began to crumble and degenerated into nothing more than a dirt road located just a half mile or so from million dollar homes in one direction and the center of town in the other.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of the hill and saw where all of the old mattresses and couches go when the sanitation companies won’t pick them up. They next to the railroad tracks that once brought people to town. Now, it’s just freight trains passing through.

I turned and made the walk back home. I talked to my voice memo app with anger as I became more aware of the differences in the classes on this particular walk. I got angry thinking that this one street is marginalized because of the people who live there, because of the work they do, because of the location of their homes. My angst didn’t pass as I passed through the affluence back to my house. It has carried with me for many days and today was the first day that I could put capture my thoughts in what has hopefully been a meaningful way.

The walk was an exercise of suffering, a suffering of realizing that “me” is the prevailing attitude everywhere, yet, there are so many who don’t really have a chance for no reason on than they are not able to have communion with the rest of nature. It’s shameful that in an area with such abundance, there can be such different life opportunities for people.

We can do better.