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wicked witch

Today we toss words around like a volleyball and as a result the words not only lose meaning but get turned inside out.  The word “deserve” comes to mind because a young neighbor of ours just lost his mother suddenly and his father, who is divorced from the mother, is battling cancer.  My wife said that no family deserves that much hardship.  And while I agreed with her that such a burden was more than anyone can handle, I disagreed with the word “deserve.”

A very old word that once simply meant the benefits accord to someone who was worthy of them because of what they had done.  Being deserving was not a trivial honor. It was a high form of “earned”recognition.

Today you might hear someone say that a young Boy Scout who was working in a soup kitchen did not deserve to have his bike stolen or the young rock star did not deserve such praise and adulation.  In both cases the sense of deserving is purely subjective.  We, in our often misguided ways, think we have a right to determine who should or should not be deserving.

Did the Wicked Witch of the East deserve to die when the housing market dropped?  She was evil and if we are to believe the Munchkins, she ruled Munchkin Land as a cruel despot. So, did she get what she deserved? And did the Wicked Witch of the West get what she deserved by being melted away?

I believe in the demise of the Wicked Witches we are talking about our sense of justice which is “the administering of deserved punishment or reward.”

In our daily and ordinary lives we often confuse deserving or not deserving of something with our sense of “fairness.”  We don’t think it’s fair when someone we believe is good , and therefore deserving of good tidings, is stricken with cancer or suffers some tragedy.  We also don’t think it’s fair when a rich and powerful person gets richer or more powerful…for no reason.

We need to forget about deserving and fairness in the human condition unless we can say justice has been abused.  And when justice is abused we not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight to see that justice triumphs.

I think the worst thing we can do is bring in a “supernatural being” into the equation as if this “being” is the cause of or responsible for usually allowing bad things to happen. When we do this we minimize we make ourselves a pitiful victim of a whimsical god.

Bottom line?  We should be advocates for justice (and mercy). And we should stop thinking we deserve anything just because.  I don’t “deserve” to be treated fairly.  I can’t be responsible for other people’s actions. I can only be responsible for the way I think and the way I act.  I need to live each day being a positive force.  I need to be kind and caring. I need to put others before me. But that does not mean I should not stand strong against injustice.   That’s where I stand firm and say no one “deserves” to be the victim of injustice.

Complicated…right?

 

 

ybr

Face Book always wants to know what’s on your mind. Most FB followers are less interested in what’s really on your mind, preferring to see selfies, cat videos, and quotes about how much they love third cousins (pease like and share).  A blog, on the other hand encourages you to speak your mind. So, what’s on my mind?  Roads. Those taken and those not taken.

When I think about roads, two thoughts immediately come to mind.  The classic Robert Frost poem and M. Scott Peck’s best seller “The Road Less Traveled.”

Apparently L. Frank Baum was not interested in the road conundrum. When Dorothy met the Scarecrow she was not at a crossroad.  She didn’t wonder which way to go. She and the Scarecrow engaged in the usual blah-blah-blah and in short order were off to see the Wizard.  (I believe the yellow brick road Dorothy was traveling on was her road less traveled.)

For whatever reason, the filmmakers wanted Dorothy to have to make a choice.  It’s funny, but after all the pondering, the movie lacks any dialogue on why Dorothy and the Scarecrow did take the road they eventually took.

Looking back on my highway I can say without fear of contradiction that choosing the road to take is not a once-in-a-lifetime event.  In fact we are constantly having to choose the road to take. Sometimes we take the well-traveled road and less frequently we take the less-traveled road.

Every semester when I begin teaching the one course I teach, I ponder the question of which road to take.  Every semester I am greeted with twenty new faces.

I am teaching the GPS generation.  They were born knowing where they wanted to go and they seem to know exactly what road/s they have to take to get there…wherever there is.

I am the scarecrow they meet on the road.  To be honest, most students do not want to engage in conversation let alone take me down and invite me to travel along with them.

The dilemma I face every semester is do I act like a brainless scarecrow? Do I just smile, go through the academic motions and keep my big mouth shut? Or. Or. Or do I rip myself off the wood frame and open my big mouth?

Why would I want to do that?  Because I believe that letting them go their merry way toward Corporate City without asking them to think about the journey would not only be a mistake, I would be missing an  opportunity to shake them up a little.

My greatest fear is that the current generation is actually lost. And that’s not a bad thing.  They should be lost, or at least they should think long and hard about the yellow brick road in their life. The current generation is so directed, so pampered and so content that rather than ask hard questions about their journey, all they want is for you, the teacher, to see they graduate with an EZPass.

I have no doubt that the students in my class will succeed.  They have been well-taught. They know what to do and how to do it to succeed. They are determined.

I am a speed bump.  I want my students to think. I want my students to question and to challenge beliefs they have taken for granted. I want them to believe they have a choice.  I want them to understand that consequences come both from taking action and from choosing to be inactive.  (You can neve escape from consequences.)

In the end I also want my students to realize that the most important thing is to make sure the road they travel is THEIR road because THEIR road is one that has never been traveled on.

It’s all about seizing opportunites. But we all need to remember that opportunity is not a lenghty visitor.

A bumper sticker from my college days gave me some food for thought: Remember, wherever you go there YOU are.

heart-quote

circus-elephants

A high school friend recently posted on FB about how bittersweet it is that the circus era is coming to an end.  Bittersweet it is because many of us have circus memories etched into our childhood DNA.

We could debate the issue of the circus closing until the elephants come home, but that won’t be very productive.  In my mind, the issue is much larger than the big top.  It has to do with change…be it radical or simple.

The status was pretty  much “quo” in Oz until Dorothy crashed landed.  After that the balance was forever tipped.

We are not the first generation to be challenged by changes.  How many people were bereft when the horse and buggy was replaced by the Tin Lizzie?  How many blacksmiths lost their jobs when their services were no longer needed?

Change is inevitable. We all know that.  But there is something different about the way things have been changing in our lifetime. Change that is gradual and organic is something we can come to understand and even eventually embrace.  But change that is sudden and that comes like a tornado often leaves us breathless.

Animal rights advocates launched a campaign to end the abuse of the majestic animals that were the mainstay of the circus.  Having looked into what had to be done to take a wild animal and have it dance, prance and jump through burning hoops, I was sickened.

With what I know now, should I cringe at having been thrilled when I was held captive under the big top as a child?  Is ignorance really bliss?

I only have to take a look back at the way it was when I was a kid, a time when women’s rights were limited, when segregation was the “law” of the land, when people who suffered from mental illness were institutionalized, when being gay was a punishable  “sin,” when….

I think none of us really have a problem with changes that “change” the way we operate. Who had a problem throwing out the ink pen that used to blot at the worst moment and started using a ball point pen?  Who held a rally to stop automakers from introducing automatic drive, power steering and power breaks?

I think many of us who are open to change don’t know how to handle the militant advocacy that often precedes change.

That’s not to mean that militant advocacy is not more often than not necessary or needed. I mean how far would the Civil Rights movement had gone had advocacy not been the spur? Where would women be if the fight for change was not loud and open?

As much as we could point to other moments in time when change washed over us in tidal wave proportion, that was then and this is NOW.

Should we go with the flow and welcome change?  Should we stand firm and resist change?I mean, is change always good?

I have no answers. All I can say is that life is so friggin’ complicated!

 

oz-2017-new-year

For lack of a better visual equation, we could say that a House has fallen and 2016 is ding-dong dead.  Many might say 2016 was the worst year since the last worst year. Others might be inclined to say 2016 was a Super Bowl year.

Wherever you stand the first thing we need to admit is that there is nothing we can do to change what happened in 2016.  All we can do is reflect on 2016 and take the good and make it better.  We also need to understand the bad and do all we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

2017 is full of promise.  But nothing is going to happen unless we roll up our sleeves and make sure we are part of 2017 and not apart from it.

I hope that 2017 will be the year where we strive to make understanding universal and inclusive, where compassion is boundless and endless, and where we all find the courage to do the right thing.

But in our struggle to make 2017 a memorable year we have to realize we can’t change the world on our own.  We all need to shoulder the challenge.  And we have to cherish and appreciate the loved ones we have in the here and now.  We need to know that happiness is in our own backyard and in truth, there is no place like home.

 

Thanksgiving 2016, the traditional day of turkey, football games and relatives, is over and for far too many, done with. (Let the shopping begin!)

But, I think we short change Thanksgiving by giving it but one day. Heck, we give pickles, popcorn and peanut butter a whole week.

The people in Oz got it right.  Thanksgiving is a daily event. 24 hours a days where the people can give thanks to anyone and for anything.

Some years ago…at least 12 but probably closer to 15 or 18 years… I penned a short essay that appeared in the Times Herald-Record (Middletown, NY).

Of course I had forgotten about the article until this Thanksgiving when a woman, now living in South Carolina, called “out of the blue” to wish me a happy Thanksgiving and to tell me how much that article meant to her when she first read it…and everyday thereafter.  She told me she has the article framed and on her desk and that when she sends a graduation card to anyone, she includes a copy.

Today this woman’s call would be equivalent to a single tweet in a world where anything less than being retreated 278,413 times is meaningless.

However, one to me is still a significant number.

I share my Thanksgiving piece hoping that it might be meaningful to some “one” else.

thanksgiving

fork-in-the-road

I’m in the state of confusion, the 51st state of the Union where I seem to have taken up permanent residence.  Lately I’m very confused about the definition of words we toss around with reckless abandon.  Words like Democrat and Republican, in my opinion, are totally useless words that should be banned from use in private or public.  But words like conservative and liberal are two words that need some attention.

The dictionary defines the two this way as adjectives:

liberal – open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
conservative – holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.

The “troubling” words in the liberal definition are “willing to discard,” because discard is so close in meaning to toss or throw away like a piece of trash. The words “cautious about change” in the definition of conservative are, in my opinion, less offensive, but can easily be used to stop progress.

What I hate about the two words, aside from their lame definitions, is the fact that both words have driven a wedge between us.

I am a conservative.  I conserve water, energy, and natural resources.  I am a liberal. I am liberal with the time I spend helping other people, in using my money to help the less fortunate, and in praising people when praise is deserved.

But, I am not so cautious about change, when change is beneficial to us all, even if it might benefit some more than others.  I am not willing to discard traditional values without some gut-wrenching decision-making because, as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “without our traditions our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.

I have no problem embracing relationships of and between genders. I have no problem with people who are working hard to legalize marijuana. I am a big supporter when it comes to making sure everyone’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are defended. I am not a big, vocal proponent of abortion, but, I am against making it illegal because that won’t work.  Does that mean I’m too weak to defend the lives of the unborn? No.  It just means that I think a woman does have a right to make a decision despite the fact that I believe life is life…but a life has to be wanted, and I don’t buy the argument about so many couples want to adopt children.  (The issue is far too complex to fit into a blog.)

But I also fear that we are living in a society where anything goes without giving a second thought to traditional values that perhaps might  have some permanence and universal viability. These values, in my opinion, include respect, honesty, tolerance, selflessness, compassion, etc.  My conservative genes believe that today it is hard to maintain values in a world that spins on an axis of entitlement.

When I was in college during the big anti-war movement of the 60s, I was amazed how a “liberal” student could come home from a peace march and turn up his stereo to a deafening volume, but would say “fuck off” to a conservative, aka, hawk, when asked if the stereo could be scaled back.

I sometimes believe that extreme liberals and conservatives make it hard for all of us to create a world of mutual respect and admiration.  There are numerous forks in the road and we have to believe that not all of the roads to the left need be taken nor should we take all of the roads to the right. As a secular people we have to understand that our rights can be found in our founding documents. As a secular people we also need to know that we have a right to make changes in our laws and that our “laws” are not necessarily sacred.

Progress is not a dirty word. It does not, pardon the expression, trump, using our heads or following our hearts in the pursuit of creating a just world.  It does mean it is going to take a lot of internal courage to support justice for all.