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).

The Culture of Happiness

We all want to be happy, that is a fact. The writers of The US Constitution believed this is important enough to enshrine it in a public document. There is absolutely nothing wrong with searching the happiness and wanting to be happy. The search for happiness can, on the other hand, lead to a skewed way of life and unrealistic expectations.


I was reading some time ago on BBC that many marriages break due to people trying to live up (or down) to the stereotype imposed on them by the culture of happiness. Apparently movies and books teach people that, given enough effort, a couple can dwell in eternal bliss. When – as it is normal in real life – they encounter the first hurdle in their marriage, they are quickly to say “I don’t need to take this s…” and drop the towel. This is due to false image that happiness is a contiguous state. Happiness – at least in my understanding – is a mosaic: an experience created by hundreds and – hopefully – thousands of good moments, memories, sensations, and satisfactions. The grout between them is gray cement from the daily grinding mill or simply crap. We should collect the shinny and colourfull pieces of happiness and place them in our mosaic and – again, hopefully – at the end of our life we managed to create a meaningful picture with them.


And what would be wrong pursuing the eternal happiness? I found myself confronted very often with the view that nothing bad should enter our lives. People don’t watch the news of fear they might encounter death, don’t want to listen to sad stories although they might be carrying good lessons, even the children’s stories are modified so the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood will survive and, after getting in touch with his conscience, be repentant and become less wolf. Anything even remotely sad is quickly forsaken from our lives, and we forget that without Hell there would be no Heaven.
It reached the point where art productions creating negative emotions are avoided and deemed as unworthy forgetting that art should simply create emotions, not necessarily positive emotions.


Many people shudder and can’t understand how apparently some mild and happy-faced, family man, accountant by profession, comes one day home and kills everyone in his family over something as trying but still trivial as getting too much in debt or losing his job. “It doesn’t make sense!” they say. On the contrary, I argue, it makes perfect sense. Such people, who never contemplate nasty things, once they are confronted with a major crisis in their life, simply don’t know what to do and commit stupid things. And, when they turn around for help, everybody is so absorbed avoiding upsetting stories that they find nobody to give them advice. That is, if they are strong enough to ask for help and don’t put a frozen smile saying “Great, great, couldn’t be better”.


Submerged in this culture of happiness, people never reach a full understanding of the world and life and never fully grow up. It’s like the situation when, surrounding by the bright lights of the city, one can see very few stars – it’s only in the darkness of a remote countryside that the full beauty and richness of Milky Way reveals itself to us.
Indeed, knowledge does not lead to happiness… but it leads to wisdom and, eventually, to peace. Yes, I wished sometimes to be a bumbling idiot, happy and strong in my ignorance but finally I had to admit that this is not possible, not acceptable, at least for me. Once we bit the Apple of Knowledge, there is no turning back.


Conclusion: Happiness is good and searching for it is good too. Sadness, misery and despair are bad, but avoiding them by using horse (murphy’s) blinds is even worse. Not dwelling in bad feelings is one thing and it makes sense, rejecting everything that might make us remotely sad is another one.

Carpe Diem

These days, in a world where Latin is quasi-dead, carpe diem seems to be the motto. Everybody seems to live the day – in every meaning of the expression. Young people in debt because they lived the day too hard, old people forced to work because they didn’t think there will be a tomorrow are examples of misuse of this philosophy. Despite my better judgment, I have to recognize, it makes me feel quite inadequate. Slave of the opinion others have about me, I was ashamed to admit I don’t live too much in the present. Today I muster the courage to step out of a closet… probably in another one, since we move from closet in closet (I guess that the trick is not to die in one).


Even so, my analytic thinking says I am not doing anything wrong. My present is not interesting at all. It moves at an even rate with its little joys and upsets. My future? My future was, as somebody said in a radio essay I listened last year (I apologize for my poor memory), amputated when I divorced. Now and then, I catch a glimpse of it but then fog covers the vague shapes.


What is wrong with living in the past? What is wrong, when times are tough, to cuddle back with your parents on a Saturday evening in their bed and watch a black-and-white western movie and then go content that Sunday follows and that I can sleep as much as I want? So what if my nostrils fill with the smell of steak and mashed potatoes and pickles and I read “The Three Musketeers”, or I laugh my ass off watching “Tom and Jerry”, while waiting for Mom to call us in the kitchen for the weekend lunch? What is the crime in remembering the smell of lime trees embracing my street in a warm spring night, after I just returned from the student campus where I met my girlfriend?
We all go places where we felt happy, safe, loved. Some go to Disneyland, I visit the space of my memories. I sift through them and then, when I discover a warm and fuzzy one, I nest in it and let it carry me through the neither-interesting-nor-promising present.


Memory-triggers very seldom make sense. I listen to Gloria Gaynor and I remember visiting my cousins – not having siblings, they were my brothers. I remember the nights I slept over and we kept yapping until midnight, whispering so our parents would not come in. Not that we ever listened “I will survive” together. I smell the freshly-cut grass and I remember the feeling I was getting at my grandfather’s place, in the country, in a cold spring, hidden behind the stove. I remember the smell of burnt wood.
Why is the present so great? We have a lunch with somebody we love, it’s peaceful, the conversation is great, and one sees glitters of love in the other’s eyes. It’s good but it will be a long time before being able to refer to this lunch as one that brought the most happiness in your life. Watch a movie – it’s good, it’s titillating, intellectually stimulating but one will have to waste hundreds of hours lost in stupid productions before acknowledging that this movie was one of the best.


Live in the present? Buying the CDs of all the latest fashion bands just to realize within 12 months, once the craze passed that they are worth even less than the plastic used in their fabrication? No, thank you!


Personally, I don’t see any value in present – it’s a fad, it’s a moment and then it’s gone, it’s without memory and it’s made for people who want to live without history and without future.


I promised myself I will shed my shame of not being aligned with this “carpe diem” society. I will sleep myself in lost times and wait for a spring where, hopefully, I will be able to love more the present through the remembrance of the feelings that crush me today, the past.