PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

Talking at Cross Purposes

digital illustrationMy spouse and I have an intriguing way of discussing our disagreements, and I gather from what I see, hear and read that this is not such an unusual complication but probably more like the norm. We don’t fight about stuff that matters, remarkably, very often at all, being on the same page in our essential beliefs and concerns; if we differ there, we’re pretty comfortable having a rational conversation or two and agreeing, if necessary, to disagree. But the more inconsequential things are where we excel in having our weirdly, even hilariously, convoluted bouts of stubbornly wordy disagreement.

And the vast majority of the time, it’s because of the language barrier. We’re both native speakers-of-English, but it seems we are perfectly capable of saying virtually the same thing to each other in such different ways that each of us hears the other saying essentially the polar opposite. It’s quite miraculous, really. Two seemingly cogent adults, people who know each other rather well after being together for eighteen years and who both know inside that we share the deep core values that make eighteen years together possible, not to mention that we share so many experiences and tastes and interests—and we can’t reason our way out of a paper bag when one thinks the other is remembering something incorrectly or a question has been raised about some puzzling matter of fact.

Of course, I don’t think this is specific to being male-female, age-related, or any other such thing, this is a characteristic of our whole species. It’s a perfect example of how humans talk to each other a whole lot of the time. We think we’re having an epic battle over right and wrong, and both sides of the argument are  looking and hoping for exactly the same outcome, but each of us simply thinks we have put the correct names on the problems and resolutions and the other party is clearly an idiot or heretic until he/she/they will acquiesce and let us superior beings fix everything according to our righteous rightness. Happens in politics and religion and academia and relationships just about equally often. Whether weapons are involved has the most influence over how epic these battles really become, but the basis is hardly all that different.

My beloved and I get in the same ridiculous rut of circular conversation often enough, though neither of us takes it particularly personally or even necessarily sees it as a true argument let alone a danger to our relationship, and it’s easy enough to laugh it off when one or the other of us finally realizes that We’re Doing It Again. But it’s strange that we don’t spot the next episode from afar and simply have a straightforward, rational talk. If the goal or solution is nearly always identical or close enough to it, why do we have to wrestle around so determinedly before coming to that natural conclusion? I can’t guess why we mortal mugs are so quick to waste our energy and peace on pointless posturing, but it’s certainly a collective talent of ours.

I guess I’ll just have to take this opportunity to apologize to my partner for my part in the muddle, and hope I learn to listen—and hear—better. And if anyone with any power or aspirations to power (political, religious, academic, or other) happens to be reading this, would you do me a favor and do the same?digital illustration (B&W)