Defending words, balancing self-confidence, speaking up and other things…

I recently joined a FaceBook group fighting against usage of names derogatory for special needs people. I read the description and it seemed to me well-balanced and having a good point – many groups created on Fb have very offensive names. After just 2 days, when reading some points of views in the discussion list I noticed very one-sided comments… well, let’s not hide behind words (and I am doing this on purpose) stupid comments. While the group included people with very balanced and rational comments, quite a few people would go as far as saying that words like “stupid, moron, cretin, idiot” should be outright banned from language. One person, mother of a child with Cerebral Palsy was even going as far as saying that she feels like slapping over the mouth the people who use the word “stupid” – never used against her son. I could, of course, let her know that my feeling was that she had issues accepting the terrible affliction of her son and was taking on the world, but I doubted I would be listened.
Words are just words. Like the atom technologies, they can be used to construct hugely beneficial things or destroy. They make up for the variety of this world and suppressing them would be totally wrong in my view. Of course, they should be used in the manner they were intended and adjust them to the sensibilities of the modern world but NEVER banned. I cannot describe the actions of a child playing in the street where cars drive +60 km/h with “less-than-intelligent”. A stupid person is NOT the person who by nature’s/God’s will has limitations but I believe it’s more appropriate to describe a person who has the capacity, the intelligence of being better and choosing not to do it. Education of how these words are to be used correctly is the only viable approach I can see. Banning? Even it would make some sense, which I don’t believe, it would never work since it doesn’t change attitudes. If “stupid” would be banned, people would use “oagadugou” or “phadhoum” (make-up words; can’t vouch they don’t mean something in some language 🙂 to describe the same thing. (When I was an adolescent, a friend has invented the word “babar” to describe cigarettes whenever his parents could be eavesdropping.) Education, on the other hand, could explain to some kids using “Look – here goes that retard again!” that in actuality they are the stupid ones because they choose to behave so hurtful despite having all the natural assets (intelligence, empathy etc.) to be something better.
I evidently withdrew from that FB group because I don’t want to be associated with hysterical people who want to social-engineer the very language. Then, at a party I mentioned my feelings about this, in approximately the same terms I am using here. A woman, teacher, retorted she doesn’t allow children to use the “stupid” word even when they describe themselves or their actions. Asked “why?” she looked at me as if it was obvious – “This could erode their self-confidence”. I started to argue that a balance should exist between boosting self-esteem and keeping it in check with reality. When one did something stupid, he/she should acknowledge that and apologize and try not to repeat it. Unfortunately, the teacher took the “higher ground” and kept silent. I say unfortunately because I honestly believe that only dialogue can educate free people – monologues are meant for slaves. In fact the whole assembly – about 6 people were witnessing this conversation – kept silent because, apparently, it is very embarrassing to have a contradictory conversation at a party, even if kept within decency boundaries. Later, reviewing the moment in my mind I reached the conclusion that the general silence was the saddest thing of that evening. 2 of the witnesses were very down-to-earth people and from other opinions they launched throughout the evening I strongly believe they were on my side. 2 others were Eastern-European immigrants and I have still yet to meet one Eastern European, who was educated there, who believes that artificially boosting children confidence is beneficial for anyone. What was sad is that no one of the 4 took any defense unless later, out on the porch, in private… at a time when it didn’t matter anymore. Some might consider this behavior good manners, I personally believe it comes from cowardice. I’ve seen it in team meetings (people loving the way you “told them off” but only in private conversations), I’ve seen it in high-school, basically I’ve seen it in any social environment. I remember a question a Women Studies Group from Algonquin posted as an answer to somebody accusing the group of manipulating The College: “How do you think 70 people could manipulate 1500?” This is exactly the way to do that: shame people into keep their mouth shut, throwing at them “guilt by association”: “he/she is a racist for saying that and you are one too if you defend his/her words”, being bullied into keeping your mouth shut because of what others could do or say about you… The silent majority, focused on every-day problem, allow “political officers/activists” take over and dictate their lives. What is more disconcerting is that later the same silent people complain of the results of their silence.
To come back to the conversation I had with that teacher, I had a vague compensation because the very next day I tripped over an article on BBC: Warning over narcissistic pupils! which confirms my belief that by boosting the self-confidence of children without any anchor in real-life performances is as bad as trashing it by continuous criticism (as it was done in Eastern Europe). Already we all witness the behavior of the Generation Y: demanding before giving, believing that they are entitled to everything and asking more and more, coming late at work and leaving early, suing over anything that discomforts them, abandoning their family/employee duties at the first sign of hardship… Imagine what 20-30 years of such education might do. I know it will all bounce back – the selfish, narcissistic generation will have children and faced with the choice of catering to their needs or the children’s, they will chose the former. Those children will probably grow with self-absorbed parents, trapped in an eternal pursuit of happiness. They will be neglected, ignored, their needs will not matter and as such they will grow to detest these attitudes and the wiser of them will write books, will work hard to avoid what they didn’t like (after all the Generation Y is the result of the New Age parents who preferred to be friends than parents, who didn’t believe in impositions of any kind). I know it’s a full circle but what good will that do to me, to us as a society in 50-70-90 years from now?

I, Robot!

Last night, although tired, I got stuck in front of the TV watching Star Trek – First Contact. No, although I don’t have much of a life, I am not a fan Star Trek – I was just cleansing my brain (already pretty well scrubbed by the exhaustion; but, you know, one can never be too meticulous about these things).
I was watching quite bored The Borg assimilate humans when suddenly a weird thought came to my mind. Nothing new here – the antithesis between the humans and machines is used and over-used for decades if not for centuries. Who is better? Stupid question! From where I stand it looks even worse – as an IT worker, for me the machine is a machine, a tool to perform some tasks. Am I better that a hammer?! WTF? Still, for some reasons this issue has risen to the level of a real obsession – books are written, movies are made, scientific or pseudo-scientific articles are published… Very few of them come to bring anything new to this conundrum. Last night, somehow, my mind managed to overexpose this (fake?) issue over what I think it is a collapse of the responsibility in society and it got me thinking. I believe that, indeed, there is a collapse of individual and collective responsibility: very few people still want to do what is right, very few people want to live by rules, hence the rejection of religion (people, religion is not equal to sexually abusive priests, to “don’t eat pork” etc.), of academic rigors, of systematic parenting and so on.
What if – pause and think for a second – what if all this behavior, this shedding of responsibilities has a fundament in us trying to make a clear-cut statement: “I am not a machine. I am not a robot.” Yes, I know it sounds far fetched but, incidentally or not, I can find many arguments for this. Technology has reached a level where it suppresses our individuality. While very often claiming to boost individual personality and liberating ourselves, technology – and modern society as a fact – does quite the opposite. Instead of a big fish in a small pond, we more and more identify ourselves with a tiny, tiny fish lost in the pond of globalization, of Facebook, of huge corporations. Yes, we communicate more and world has become a village but it’s a humungous village and we really feel lost in it.
Society managed to impose those rules within relatively confined spaces. Social rules are always much harsher and inflexible in smaller communities than in large ones. In face of technology and of this globalization that tries to change us into little robots, the self defense mechanism might kick in and it might try to assert itself by doing silly things and continuously trying to break the mold.
Even the dullest of persons will not agree that they are boring. We used to distance ourselves from accountants but that is so passé – now we are trying to distance ourselves from The Borg and as it becomes more and more difficult to do this, we are forced to become more and more inventive in doing so. 30-40 years ago stating that you will not marry every was enough to be stamped as different. Now, wearing in public thong, declaring that you are gay, live in a commune and will adopt children would probably not even get a shrug.
This is probably the dichotomy – our desire to be accepted vs our desire to be different. I used to wonder what the heck is with youngsters who, after covering their body with piercings and tattoos, complain that they are not accepted. You made this to be different and when, as different, you are treated differently by the society, you say it’s unfair. We should all understand the truth that lies in “one cannot have the cake and eat it too”.
Technology makes us embrace it by making us believe that we are different. Everybody seems to brag about their GPS, HDTV, PVR, Shine vs iPhone vs Chocolate. At the same time, our strong association of technology with The Borg makes us behave in more and more irresponsible and aberrant ways, trying in a futile and childish way to distance ourselves from The Borg. Sometimes I really yearn for the age when grandmas were baking cookies and telling stories, not getting plastic surgery, marrying men 30 years their juniors and jumping with the parachute.
The dichotomy above presented is present even in this article. On one hand, I come up with this idiotic idea – we are irresponsible because we want to draw a line between us and the machines – and on the other hand I really want people to say “Wow! I never thought of that! He might be onto something” (ok, you may lose the “wow” – there are so many words in English to describe amazement).

Peer Into a Soul

I copied shamelessly the marketing line for the new Kia Soul. Indeed, it is weird to see this commercial just as I was thinking to write something about the soul of objects – and out of all the objects my mind was focusing on my old and modest car. Indeed, I drive a Mazda Protégé, almost 9 years old, 174,000km which was in 2 accidents (one with my ex driving, in 2003 and another one with me, in Dec 2008). By its value on the market – maybe 3K – it’s almost a junk. Even so, after the last accident, I was very happy to get it fixed instead of having the insurance company declare it totaled.
I did manage to upset a woman some time ago – she didn’t say anything but did avoid me after that – by saying that cars are like women. It’s got to be a men thing: when you purchase them, you can’t have enough of all the features and bells and whistles and although you know there are better things out there, you feel like you found the one. Then, 6 mo to 1 year, you get used and start watching all the new models with different eyes, telling to yourself: “If only you could have waited another 1 year, you could have gotten heated seats at no cost”… But that is (should be?) a passing phase and if the car is reliable, if it doesn’t give you headaches, the initial excitement and passion you had for it transforms into some sort of deep attachment, into the warm feeling of knowing that it will take you where you want and you will take it where it needs (mechanic, car-wash etc.)… I should probably used “she” instead of “it” because after all these it’s become more of a “she” than an object.
I know, objects don’t really have a soul… but they receive one from the owner. After I divorced I considered selling my car just so I can get rid of all the associations between it and my complete family. I was hurting and many times I would see with the corner of my eye the shadow of my ex watching me with caring eyes, love maybe… This car had taken us in so many wonderful places – in N Quebec for a wonderful vacation on a huge lake, to Toronto to see CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Wonderland, The Zoo, to Niagara, to Montreal – so many times -, to Quebec City, Sandbanks, Mont Tremblant, Calabogie… These metal sheets have incorporated a wide range of feelings: excitement when leaving, panic when missing the exit, rush when being late, mellow when swept by the sunset orange light we returned home from a sun-filled day, worries when noticing a strange engine sound… It has been a pot in which the feelings of a family (mother, father and son) boiled and mixed… and as such it got memories stuck all over it.
I didn’t sell it because I realized that I should not punish it for things somebody else did onto me. My car did everything I imagined it will do. There are cars 10x better: more HP, lighter on gas, more comfortable and with more options included – but I wish against all reason that I could keep this car forever. Like 20-30 years ago, when people didn’t have the financial power to change cars too often, my car is a member of my family. I know when there will be time to say goodbye, no matter what fancy, sport, expensive car I will be driving then, a tear will glitter in the corner of my eye as I see it leaving, driven by somebody else.
This is why I deplore sometimes the society we live in. Consuming society, peer pressure, our own shallow desires and thoughts, make us replace objects before they have a soul. Maybe it’s better – no attachment, no tears in the eyes when they break and need to be replaced… but also the bad habit of changing something just because we afford it, because we got bored, because there is something better out there. Even the love I notice some people have for their collection cars is not what should be. Going back to my comparison, I believe it is like saying to a woman “I can love you only if you win Miss Universe or at least Miss Arizona contest, if your breasts are this size and if you get me to where I want in 5.3 sec”. I see this often – the Nissan Z350 or BMW Z4 or some other fancy car washed, waxed, loved, cared by the same people who, in winter time, drive some rusted Corolla or Civic, letting it disintegrate and all its memories together with it.
No, I am not crazy – it’s just an object and when time will come I will do the reasonable thing to do. On the other hand I feel that we live in a time when things don’t get to have a soul anymore and I somehow feel that this makes our life less rich.