Short Story: A Meeting of the Minds

My mind has been invaded, was his first thought upon waking up from slumber. His heart pounded and he clutched his chest. “What’s going on?” he said, voice raspy with night phlegm. He coughed and turned to see that Jane still slept. His head throbbed; a deep pounding sensation. Panic set in and he clenched his eyes shut, trying to ignore the words ringing in his head. He rushed to the bathroom and splashed cold water onto his face. Brief flashes of words still came, unbidden, into his brain.

A vision of flowers appeared in his mind and try as he might he couldn’t remove it. Snippets of a voice sounded and his own thoughts turned to diagnosing himself with insanity. With a sudden clarity he realized who’s voice it was that he heard and who’s dreams he felt. He rushed back to the bedroom and found Jane still sleeping. She hadn’t moved. He got close and listened to her breathing.

An evocation of smell and a feeling of distaste filled his mind, but it was not his thought, nor his feeling. No, Jane’s voice said in his mind.

He sat back and listened a few moments to her and wondered what to do. Finally, he reached over and gently pushed on her shoulders. She mumbled something and the voice in his head changed. He pushed her again, a little more forcefully this time. Her voice came back into his head, What the hell does he want? She turned and looked up at him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. He said nothing and felt her annoyance in his head. Again panic set in and it was difficult to reconcile her impatience and his worry. “Why are you looking at me like that Tom?” While she spoke his mind relaxed. He watched as she frowned and reached for her head. “Are you…” she paused. “Are you afraid?” He nodded. “You’re thinking of your mother?” He nodded. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes. “How do I feel your fear?”

“I don’t know,” Tom said. “You were just dreaming of stinky flowers.”

“Yes,” Jane said and she sat up abruptly.

“I don’t know how,” Tom said again. “But, I can feel your emotions and hear your thoughts.” He looked at her. “I’m scared to… Something weird happened last night, but…”

“You don’t remember,” she said, finishing his statement. She got up out of bed and put on her robe. “What happened to us in the night?”

“I don’t know,” Tom said. He looked at her robe. “Sorry about the stain.”

“That’s ok,” Jane replied looking up from the coffee stain on her robe. Abruptly she folded her arms. “You drank 6 beers last night?” It wasn’t a question. She had heard his thoughts. She thought it was 4 and he shook his head in response. She frowned. “What are you thinking? What girl? At the bar?”

“My mind wanders and I just look,” Tom said quickly, hoping to stall any more thoughts he didn’t want to share with Jane. He looked at his pillow and focused on it.

“Really, you’re thinking of your pillow?” Jane said. He felt her anger deep in his brain, but then it seeped away slowly when she asked, “What the hell happened to us?”

“Do you remember any other of your dreams from last night?” Tom asked quickly.

“Something about a car accident,” Jane replied and instantly knew the dream was familiar to Tom. She thought about the details of her dream and wondered why they were using the taxi. Tom mind nudged her about the beers. “Where is our car?”

“Likely where we parked it,” Tom replied smiling. He brought a picture of it to his mind and nodded to Jane.

“Why does the car look green?” Jane asked, frowning. “It’s red….” Her voice trailed off and she flushed as his thought about colour blindness came to her mind. Sorry.

“It’s ok,” Tom said smiling at her thought-apology. “This is weird.”

“It’s certainly different having your thoughts in my head,” Jane nodded. “You think, but it has a different…”

“Flavour?” He felt her agreement. Tom pulled on some pants and shivered as memories of his mother came into his mind.

“You’re not schizophrenic,” Jane said aloud. She walked over to him and he could feel and see the determination in her movements. She looked into his eyes and thought in clear words, You know whose voice you hear and it’s real. Out loud she continued, “You’re 34. If you have schizophrenia it likely would have developed by now.” She hugged him as his worry continued to throb in her head. “I know there’s still a possibility,” Jane replied. “But, it’s unlikely.”

“What are we going to do?” Tom asked.

Jane nodded as Tom’s thoughts of their new found connection came flooding into her mind. She sighed and looked up at him, he stepped back from her, feeling her dread. “We will either grow stronger together or it will rip us apart and drive us crazy.” She suddenly sighed and felt stupid for her comment.

“It’s a phrase, I know,” Tom said, her upset feelings washing over him. “Do you remember what the cab driver looked like?”

She thought for a moment bringing up the picture of the back of the driver’s head. Tom followed her thoughts. He added a scarf to the picture and saw Jane nod. He found her memory changed slightly, showing the scarf. How easily memories can change, he thought distractedly. Anger hit.

“Are you saying I remember what I want to remember?” Jane said sternly. She placed her hands on her hips and shifted her weight to one leg. What’s wrong with my eyebrow? She thought, responding to his looking at and thinking about her raised eyebrow.

“Nothing, I just know that’s your visual cue that you’re angry or perturbed at me,” Tom said defensively backing away. “But I was thinking of memory in general, not yours specifically.”

Oh, Jane thought.

Tom continued, “Now that we have our minds linked we may find our visual cues are no longer necessary.”

Jane laughed. Without visual cues people will think we’re robots, she thought. “This will take some time getting used to,” she said. I need a shower, she thought. Tom laughed, nodding emphatically. Shut the fuck up, she thought as she directed a glare at Tom.

“We should see how far we can go apart and still be connected,” Tom said. With that he finished getting dressed and raced down stairs to the kitchen. He breathlessly, waited a moment and then smiled. We don’t have to yell at each other when coffee is ready. He grabbed his coat and pulled on his shoes. The bright morning sun hurt his eyes a little and he felt disoriented.

“What happened? Are you ok?” Jane yelled and raced down the stairs to where Tom was standing.

“The bright sun just made me pause a moment,” Tom said. It’s nothing.

She hugged him again and he winked at her. It was hard not getting caught up in his excitement. She smiled and closed the door and walked back up the stairs. She turned the shower on and disrobed, throwing her housecoat onto the floor. She turned back to the mirror and looked at herself with a critical eye. She touched her hips and twisted back and forth to see both sides. Fat pig.

You are not! Tom thought yelled at her. The forcefulness of his interjection made her jump. I know what you’re doing, Tom continued. You’re looking in the mirror in the bathroom.

Jane smiled and then a sudden feeling of nausea come over her and she rushed to the toilet. But, it was a weird sensation. She felt the nausea in her head, but not her stomach. Are you ok?

I’m the fat pig, Tom replied. I just ran down the street and I feel like throwing up.

Take it easy, she thought. She walked across the room and turned on the shower. She stood there a few moments and touched the water. It was perfect. She got into the shower and let the warm water run down her head. It felt wonderful.

You’re in the shower now, Tom thought. No wonder your showers are so long, you enjoy the feeling of the water.

Is that so wrong? Jane asked. She felt something odd, and frowned. What are you doing? When she felt his thinking of her naked in the shower.

Touch yourself, Tom suggested. She could feel his excitement grow.

I will not, Jane thought. Where are you now?

At the corner of Lewis and Benton and I can feel your arousal. You can’t deny it.

Keep walking pervert, Jane ordered. She could feel his sexual libido increasing and she bit her lip. She was about to touch herself when the connection with Tom ended. The change was abrupt and left a void in her mind. She felt empty and exposed at the same time. It was an odd sensation and she wondered why she felt this way after so short a time connected to Tom’s mind. She finished showering and quickly got dressed. And a terrible thought entered her mind. Is Tom dead? She raced down the stairs and then suddenly she felt his presence in her mind.

I guess 5 or 6 hundred yards is the limit to our connection, Tom thought, felt her worry and thought I’m fine.

Come home. We need to talk, Jane thought. She could feel his exasperation at her words and felt her own frustration rise. Tom’s resignation came through and she turned to stomp away, but then stopped. Where would she go in the house to be away from him?

Good question, Tom thought. I think we’ll need some coffee. What do you want?

The usual, Jane replied. She busied herself by emptying the dishwasher of clean dishes and put them away, trying not to think about anything really. She got lost in the monotony of her chore. Tom came home before she was done and handed her her coffee.

“What do we do now?” Tom asked and he took a sip of coffee.

“Live.” Jane replied. “And understand that there will be things we each think of that were never meant to be voiced.” Like how I hate that blue shirt you always wear.

“I already know you hate that shirt,” Tom smiled. Why do you think I wear it. His smile disappeared and worry caused him to frown.

“I know,” Jane murmured. “We have to be careful about who, if anyone we tell. And how we use it in public.”

“I don’t want people to think I’m crazy,” Tom blurted. “People always looked at me weirdly when they heard my mother was cra…”

“She wasn’t crazy,” Jane interrupted. I will not let you go down that path.

“What the hell happened to us last night?” Tom asked. They felt each other’s fear.

Photo by Oliver Gruener from FreeImages

A Poem: A Spring Like No Other

Unseen haze, ever present, infects every thought
A world wide worry settles deep within the mind
A weight of infinite dimensions we have wrought
Ripples amplified, it propagates out in kind

The days are longer, yet shadows appear darker
The world is made sick with panic, anger and fear
Distances are kept wide, we wear it like armour
It won’t shield us from the lies and rumours we hear

A paradox awaits as spring’s life is renewed
And we believe nature targets us with her wrath
While the days are warmer, brighter we are subdued
Sadly, we’ve learned first hand of exponential math

Photo by melodi2 from FreeImages

Listening is Half of Good Communicating

It’s no secret that there is a lot of anger in the world right now. There are many causes of anger: lack of education, hunger, not enough sleep, misinformation designed to elicit hate, lack of opportunity, and others. I’m specifically going to write about one possible cause of today’s societal anger; no one is listening anymore.

Perhaps that’s too hyperbolic, yet when a person does not believe they’ve been heard they will feel frustrated. If the situation persists they will likely begin to feel angry. I know I do. And when groups of people feel their concerns are not being heard we get societal level issues; global issues. Angry people make angry choices. That’s how wars start.

We are a communicative species. The acquisition of language had a huge impact on human brain development. But, to be communicative one also needs to listen. It’s a small thing, but if we listen more I think the world’s anger may be reduced. I’m not saying that the mere act of listening will solve every problem. However, without listening you can’t even start work on any solution. The only way we’ll understand the position of the other is by actually hearing their side of the issue. But listening isn’t just about hearing what others are saying. It’s also about being in the moment. Being aware of your surroundings.

I recently went to one of my daughters’ end of school year talent show. As I sat there, listening to the performers, some of which were talented and some of which were not, I started to get embarrassed for those performers who struggled. I felt uncomfortable. I started to tune out. I came to an understanding, an epiphany, if you will. These kids had worked hard for this moment, the very least I could do was listen; to be there. I didn’t necessarily have to like or enjoy it. I didn’t have to agree with it. I just had to listen; validate their efforts with my ears. That change in mindset made the show better because I appreciated their hard work and effort. Isn’t that what anyone would want? Their hard work recognized.

My New Year’s Resolution is to try and listen more. Sometimes that’s difficult, especially if my attention is elsewhere, or I’m tired, or I’m a little bored with the conversation. I’m going to try to listen intently, actively, and engage with the speaker. I’m going to try to listen, knowing that what the other person is saying is important to them.

Now sometimes people do say ridiculous things with no other purpose other than to be funny or weird. I say this because, I am one of those people. Just look at my Wallis and Willard stories (more to come for them BTW).

My idiotic utterances are well known to those who know me well. About 4 months into dating my girlfriend my mother picked me up from university to bring me home. On the drive she got quiet and eventually asked, “Does your girlfriend know that what comes out of here is garbage?” She pointed to her mouth.

“Yes,” I replied. I was in 3rd year university. My girlfriend and I have since been married for almost 19 years. And she’ll be the first to attest that I still need to work on listening.

Listening is actually more than half of good communicating, because by listening you not only hear what the other person is saying, you are also reinforcing a connection with them as well. It’s the human connection that feels lost in today’s shuffle.

Here’s to listening, and connecting, more in 2020.

Photo by J. Henning Buchholz from FreeImages

Short Story: It’s All In My Head

I am not lucky. If one were to be specific, I am rather unlucky.

I have come to this conclusion simply because there is no other way to account for my misfortune. I am single and out of work. I have few people I consider friends and fewer still that would consider me a friend. My contribution to society is, at best, a zero sum. I exist and yet I don’t. My universe, of late, has been reduced to my apartment. I have not ventured outside in I don’t know how long. I am safe here. Though my universe is about to collapse in one sudden contraction; rent has not been paid and eviction is imminent.

As I sit here, looking out the window onto a dreary and gray winter day, I wonder what other people do in my situation. I wonder and then quickly stop, because to assume there are others with my exact problem would take away from my uniqueness. My unluck is me and I, it. It has come to define who I am and how I operate in this world. I grasp hold of my unluck. It is a guide-dog that leads me through this existence, tripping and falling along as I do.

I walk over to the fridge and open it only to close it immediately; no food. That fact hasn’t changed for several days and I know this. I move on automatic at times and my mind’s ability to veto pointless motion has atrophied considerably. I walk to the cupboard and open the door. On an near empty shelf a near empty life looks upon a full can of corn. This is what I subsist on. That and water. How I hate the colour yellow. It represents so many things to me; cowardice, survival, reminder. When people get mad they see red. I see yellow.

I don’t fight for myself, because my unluck ensures that I have no chance; a blanket and a crutch. I am warm and hobbled at the same time. I realize this and feel trapped in a web of my design. I dare not look at the spider that crawls in my mind, moving toward my quivering mass. The black beast lurks in the recesses of my thoughts. The spider has grown large. It continues to grow. I race to the window and look out. I sigh remembering that at one time I was unrestrained. Employed and relatively free from my unluck.

The last job I held where I could safely say that I contributed was a mail clerk for a large engineering firm. I knew that system like the back of my hand, though I scarce examined the back of my hand. An announcement was made that everything would be paperless, all documents scanned and originals placed in storage. Computers, computers and computers. One of the partners had found nature, becoming a ‘born-again human of the world’ as he put it. I looked upon this change as a challenge to help the transition, unknowingly aiding my eventual replacement with a computer server.

No pink slip greeted me, merely a box with my personal effects on the floor in front of a security guard. A simple letter said my services were no longer required and it was signed, rather printed, with an electronic signature. Not so human now. Unluck.

My stomach rumbles and I clutch my gut. The very thought of the yellow corn sends my innards whirling. What day is it? I ask myself. They are a blur that only an abstract artist could appreciate. What have I been doing? There is no accountability for time when it is ignored. My stomach speaks to me, yells, and forces action. It’s Saturday. At least on the weekend I can venture forth into the larger world outside and pretend that this day, this part of the weekend, means the same thing to me that it does to most everyone else; a day off work. I cannot say the same about Tuesday. I stay in. But now I grab my coat and my useless wallet and leave the building. The air is cold. It shocks me to stillness. Breath drifts out of my mouth and disappears, obliterated by the wind.

I take several steps and look back at where I stood. The memory of my presence there is gone, was I really there? Did I exist in that spot? There is no proof to the human eye that I was ever there. Nothing. I changed nothing. If a person affects no change does he live? I’ve done nothing over the past two weeks. Made no difference to anyone.

I am hungry for more. More than food, more than mere existence. But to exist means to eat. As I walk I think back to the last best meal I had. A former girlfriend made a mouth watering Thai dish that sent my taste buds into orgasm. I did not affect enough change for her. I was going nowhere and taking her with me. Unluck.

I walk with no clear direction or destination in mind. Just walking. My thinking brings a blank unseeing gaze. Why do I think back on my unluck? It only serves to reinforce my mental anguish. Like a scab that one picks at, my unluck never heals to reveal luck. It is hard to move away from these thoughts. My mind is addicted to them and constantly seeks out the pain. Is that the spider’s bite? Is it poison? Will I become dead and totally useless as opposed to the undead and virtually uselessness of my current being?

“Watch out!” Someone yells and I feel my coat collar being yanked back. A car races by, splashing cold slush all over me. I turn around and see a man looking at me with a frown on his face. “Jeeze buddy,” he says. “Watch what you’re doing.”

I thank him and shiver. I feel the cold water drip into my boots, freezing my feet. I consider returning home, but the can of corn is less appealing than freezing. I soldier onward. ‘Why am I here?’ I wonder. I feel like curling up in a ball and squeezing my eyes shut. Treason of the mind challenges my resolve. Each step takes me one step further away from my universe. My stomach rumbles again, angry and insistent. A mom and pop grocery shop is where my feet have dragged my body. I step inside and as the cold lingers about my body I assess the store; clean, bright, and full of colours.

My mouth waters and builds culinary expectation. I reach for my wallet and open it. $10. I then proceed to wander the aisles looking for the best deals that contain no yellow. So much to look at, so much of the same. What defines one brand of pasta sauce from another? Names mean nothing, content is king. Row after row of ketchup. Suddenly, I bump into an employee stacking a cereal I’ve never heard of before. He turns and says excuse me… Recognition strikes instantly. Bob, an engineer from my former employer. The one who would look at me and joke, saying ‘Your bitch face would make a perfect match for my bitch slap.’ The one who laughed at my job. Here he was before me, with stained shirt and lowered eyes.

“Hey,” he says.

“You work here?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Have a change in your ideal career?”

“The firm was sued to oblivion. Something to do with bribes, tax evasion and other such things.” He turns to his stacking.

“Surely you could find other engineering work.”

“Not when every person was named in the suit. I’m wiped out.”

I open my mouth to say something, but somehow I don’t want to console in any fashion. I don’t want to appear glib either so I back away. I leave the store with $10 worth of food. Not much, but more than I had at my apartment. I step lightly over the slush in my soaked boots. My head is down as I struggle to keep my face covered from the wind. Headlong I bump into someone. I just want to avoid all human contact, but my unluck forbids it. I mumble an apology and attempt to skirt around the person I collided against.

One thing against another. There it is. The law of Newton played out in the most inauspicious way. For every action there is an equal, but opposite, reaction. Humanity is nothing more than a mass of forces circulating, combining and splitting and canceling each other out. Society is friction, constant and painful.

“Wayne?”

I turn around startled. How is it the people I least want to see are the ones I bump into? “Darlene?” The Thai cuisine expert.

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. You?” I want to hide. I don’t want to see anyone I know. I can’t pretend I have a job with someone who may know I’m unemployed. I hunker down for the barrage of questions, of judgement, of her ‘I was right, you’re going nowhere’ look. She averts her gaze from mine. Her nose is red and her coat is torn. When did I see her last? Two years? She fidgets and hugs herself to keep warm.

“I’m good,” she replies.

“Well. I gotta go,” I say and quickly leave. I hustle down the street quickly and enter my building.

The climb up to my apartment is slow and treacherous because of all the melting water on each stair. I carefully reach my floor, lucky I didn’t break my neck after slipping several times. Once inside my apartment I quickly take off my boots and pants. Though what I will wear is beyond me. Most of my clothes are dirty; no money for laundry. I eat the food I bought and finally my stomach sleeps. I think about Darlene and how once she was the most able person I knew. Not egotistical in an imagined superior way, but confident and bright. What happened? Bob the engineer though, is a different story. His deflated arrogance seems like karma. Is it deserved? I don’t know.

Both Darlene and Bob are living, working, surviving. And suddenly, I understand my fall was not as severe as theirs. Granted I was lower in the social order to begin with, but now, somehow I look upon them as equals. What’s the German word for being gleeful at another’s demise? Schadenfreude. Except, I don’t take pleasure in their fall. I take solace that there are others who have fallen further than I. That even in my poor state there would be others that look up at me and wish they were in my shoes, as soaked as my boots currently are. Is my unluck changing or I’m I viewing it differently?

I sit down and look out the window. The sun peers through a cloud and bursts forth; an explosion of light. I squint and laugh. The warmth, as meagre as it is, feels good upon my face. I exist. I feel the heat from the sun, the lingering cold from the wind, and the stained sofa beneath me. That is it, I realize. If a person is alive then that person is inherently lucky. We’re lucky to be alive.

I stand up and put on my best pants, the ones that are the least soiled. I pause for a minute. I realize that the moment I came into being the promise of a million other souls perished. We all start life at an instant of extreme luck. We don’t make our own luck, we are our own luck. I understand this unluck is all in my head. That’s where it lives. If I give it no food it will die. “A new day.”

Photo by Aron Balogh from FreeImages

Culture Under a Siege of Change

August 27, 2019 Update: An interesting article I came across recently spoke of how tablets and phones are now making skim reading the new norm and that is affecting how we humans can digest and critique the information we read:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/skim-reading-new-normal-maryanne-wolf

Culture is the means by which individuals have an understanding of the norms and practices, or customs, of a society. It encompasses language and non-verbal communication, world view and history, religion and spirituality, and the arts. Cultures are now experiencing crises after crises. Why?

Within any culture there have always been sub groups. Post-modernism has seen societies further fracture into a myriad of ever smaller, ever more specifically defined, sub-cultures and groups. The more fractured the groups the less cohesive the overall culture is. Add in the loss of common language and communication norms and an inability to debate ideas rather than personalities, societies have further disintegration. This is tribalism.

What is causing this fracturing?

I hypothesize that it is the frantic pace of change.

Change is not limited to any one country. It affects the whole world. Changes in one country can have tremendous impact on other countries. Changes in technology, in language – slang and new words – and in generational perspectives all create cultural friction. We’ve seen this in the past. Where an older generation will denigrate the following generation as lazy or too interested in the wrong things.

Three hundred years ago the difference between two generations was relatively minimal. The 1690’s were not that much different than the 1710’s at least technologically. Yet technology did make itself felt from time to time. The industrial revolution and the advent of the steam engine brought unprecedented change, causing strife when people in the manufacturing industries lost their jobs. Luddites are the prime example of this era.

Rebelling at new cotton and woollen mill technology these English workers destroyed machinery, which they believed jeopardized their livelihoods. Sound familiar? Now the term ‘luddite’ refers to someone who is against new technology or new ways of working. I think this is incorrect. What a Luddite is really against is change. There is a lot of change right now.

Culture Changed More Slowly in the Past.

Cultural evolution, as a measure of the acquisition of knowledge, emerging trends, and technological progress was a slow process. Cultures did not change very quickly because external and internal forces for change were minimal. At least from a population wide perspective rather than a smaller tribe perspective. In the 60,000 plus year history of modern Homo sapiens we’ve only been living in permanent settlements for the last 10,000 years or so. That’s how slow technological change happened. Today that is not the case.

Each day brings new technology, new advancements, and new improvements. Roy Amara once said ‘We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the affect in the long run.” Ten years ago broadband internet service was considered a luxury, now it is considered a basic human right. The difference between haves and have nots are now measured in ways other than just from a financial perspective; healthcare, education, food and water, and technology have uneven access.

Cultures cannot compete with this constant rate of change. When an individual, who feels secure in their world, experiences a sudden shift, creating great change, there is stress. Typically, this would be the death of a loved one, or a loss of employment, or the birth of a child. These changes have occurred through out human history and have provided friction in a person’s life. But, changes are now occurring all the time on top of these ‘regular’ events. What happens when everyone feels stress? Culture experiences upheaval.

Some attribute this upheaval to societies moving away from the religious centre of past generations, but that is only a symptom, not the cause of cultural distress. It’s the constant aggressive sharing of opinion, of technology advance, of desire for improvement, of negative news, of climate change heating up the world and causing increasingly turbulent weather patterns, all rolled up into one package. Through all of this there are those who push forward and there are those who push back.

Individuals Face Instability

An individual can experience culture shock. Anyone traveling to a foreign country has experienced this to some degree. My issues with culture shock in Japan revolve around the cicada, or semi in Japanese. Here in North America you can occasionally hear the cicada; it’s loud monotonous buzz, slowly diminishes to nothing after a half minute. You may hear one a day. In Japan at the height of summer you hear thousands upon thousands of them. Everywhere. That is when I landed in Japan.

This buzzing cacophony did not cease at night. The extent of this sound, which I was dropped into, is like a drill bit turning in each ear every minute of every day. To the Japanese this is a sound of summer. To me, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t think. I thought I was going insane. For weeks I struggled to keep up during the simplest of conversations. It was as thorough a disruption to my life as I’ve ever experienced.

Contrast that experience to my last summer in Japan. This time I was there for the beginning of the cicada season, when it started off slowly. By the height of the cicada buzzing, several weeks later, I was used to it. I didn’t notice it at all. The gradual change allowed me to more easily adapt to the change itself. Cultures no longer have gradual changes, and they are fraying as a result.

I wish I had the answers for how to deal with society’s ills. But, I do believe that if you accept and admit that there’s an issue to begin with, it becomes a little easier to manage.

For me personally, something will happen and I feel this growing bubble of frustration in my gut. It gets bigger and when it pops I get angry. Sometimes I don’t even know why, exactly, I’m angry. The issue is that I don’t know what caused the frustration initially. Was it my child dropping the drink on the floor? Was it something at work? Was it something someone else said? Something I read?

I need to take a moment and analyze why I’m feeling the way I am. But in this fast paced society we have there is little chance for reflection, to assess the situation, and to try to understand the wellspring of that emotion. When we all experience this how can society cope?

How do you deal with the constant change you face? Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you for reading.

Photo by joe murphy from FreeImages

A Line From Hamlet

Some sentences inspire and cause the reader to pause and take note. They draw the reader deeper into a book or film or television show. In this ongoing segment I comment on sentences I find inspirational, intriguing, or revealing of human nature in some way. What does the sentence mean in the context of the story from which it is drawn? What does it mean to me? What we can take from it and apply to the real world? Without further ado, I wish I wrote…

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet is arguably one of Shakespeare’s greatest and longest pieces of literature. The lead character Hamlet is dealing with the murder of his father. The scene in which the line is spoken takes place when the ghost of Hamlet’s father advises that he, the king, was murdered. In comes Horatio and Hamlet explains the conversation he’s just had with the ghost.

Horatio and Hamlet are both university educated, rare in Shakespeare’s time and rarer still in the time depicted in the play, and Horatio finds it difficult to believe in a talking ghost. Hence Hamlet’s line, which paraphrased, means there are things even the most educated of us do not know. If you think you know everything you’ll miss an awful lot in your life.

Hamlet’s sentence still resonates today. In science it reminds me of the English botanist J. B. S. Haldane’s 1927 line about the universe: “the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” In this case the use of the word queerer is the traditional one, meaning strange, rather than the contemporary one, meaning homosexual. The line has been recast many times with the word stranger replacing queerer, which is an edit I prefer.

The knowledge that we, as a species, don’t know everything is powerful. It provides humanity the fuel to search for answers to our deepest questions, which leads us to further questions we never would have asked in the first place. It’s what drives us to the stars, to the depths of the oceans, to the tops of mountains, to different countries and ultimately to further understanding.

Yet today, we as individuals don’t want to admit we are wrong let alone admit we don’t know something. Each side to any debate or controversy is so certain they are correct; they alone have the right answers. We have become thoroughly invested in our belief of being right that it becomes part of our being. So much so that even when confronted with solid facts proving we are wrong the facts are ignored, diminished and mocked.

This attitude carries over to debates between differing perspectives. This is where some don’t want to admit that someone else has a completely different, yet valid, view of society borne out of their own experiences. The marginalized must fight for their own perspective to be accepted by the general public. The plight of LGBTQ people is a prime example. People who believe their sexuality is different from the norm are experiencing hate from many in the general population for having the audacity to fight for their way of life, to fight for their right to exist as they, themselves, see fit.

Everyone has a right to exist, a right to safety, and a right to be protected under the law. Yet everyone seems bent on pushing their rights to the detriment of another’s rights. Religion feels particularly hard pressed right now. Diminishing attendance in a secular west is leading to a fight response by many religious sects. I empathize. Religious people feel attacked, belittled and threatened. So too, do LGBTQ people. Everyone in some way or another feels attacked. This phenomenon doesn’t make for a harmonious community.

Forcing a Christian bakery to bake a gay wedding cake does nothing but fan the flames of indignation. Forcing LGBTQ people to conform to a simple dichotomy of sexuality that others deem correct, is demeaning. Both acts create walls and chasms between the two groups.

Dialogue, education, and acceptance are needed: dialogue with those that disagree with us, education about an opposite perspective or point of view, and acceptance that not everyone will agree. This isn’t easy and as always the age old problem of stubborn ignorance will always be a factor.

I’m reminded of the trip my wife and I were fortunate enough to take to Fiji to help build homes with Habitat for Humanity. We were living in Japan at the time and my wife wanted to do more than just be a tourist. So, fresh off my Anthropology degree we landed in beautiful Fiji. We were driven to a little village to build two homes for which we had raised money. I was being an ethnographer of sorts, noting rituals and mannerisms, observing interactions between the villagers, trying to log everything. To my horror I thoroughly shamed myself when I, in a panic to remember the rituals of drinking kava, ended up spilling it all over myself. I thought I had insulted them, but the villagers were kind and simply handed me another. I felt embarrassed.

Over the week we were there I saw the old, traditionally built huts and how they used the local trees and leaves to construct them. They felt cooler and better to me. I suddenly felt that we were dictating to the Fijians how to build their homes with concrete and steel. I felt I was invading in some way. It was a difficult time for me, being in a paradise such as that with concern about what we were doing. Until, that is, I spoke with a family for whom we were building a home. I asked if they were happy with their new home. The father burst out into a wide smile and vigorously nodded yes. He explained it will last longer, provide more protection, and help him raise his family.

My own hubris led me to a perspective or view that was not the case at all. An honest discussion cleared that up. Some people think talk is cheap, but without it everything else becomes much more expensive.

How do you think we should bridge the deepening divides between us? How do we help ourselves see the perspectives of others in a non-threatening way? A civil discourse about our civic strife is the only kind accepted here.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Jan Sundstedt from FreeImages