Three FiltersIs it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary?
Mark TwainThe two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.
Thich Nhat HanhWhen you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet, if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them,they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.
Abraham MaslowA musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What one can be, one must be.
Lao TzuTo a mind that is still the whole universe surrenders.
There is a certain amount of irony in my writing these words; my premise is simply that there are too many words being bandied about these days. We are being buried beneath a blizzard. Quite literally we are being snowed! The internet has made it entirely too easy to give voice to words which may or may not be worthy of being spoken. Every Tom, Dick, and David can have a blog. Every Mickey, Minnie, and Donald can Tweet. Sometimes those words reach tens of readers and sometimes they reach millions, and there is no measure of veracity for any of them.
In the “old days” when publishing and distributing words carried a certain amount of financial burden, there may have been a dollar filter that helped prevent garbage from being spread about. No guarantees, of course, but reaching the masses with words required a financial commitment of someone other than the author. If a second or even a third party didn’t feel the words were worthy of airtime, then they remained unheard or only spoken from the local soap box.
For my own writing, I’ve decided to use three filters, attributed to a variety of thinkers and philosophers throughout the years. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
The words that appear in this blog are opinion, and as such are true to me at the time they are written. I don’t write words that I believe to be untrue. I also don’t believe I ever present ideas as fact. Some thoughts over time prove themselves to be truer than others, but I think in the world of ideas, there is no black and white, only grey. In life, as in my fiction, there is always another story to shed more light on a situation, or other circumstances that make an event more understandable or obscure it forever.
Kind? I work hard at being kind. I don’t believe in name calling. I don’t believe in putting people down. I don’t believe in gossip. I always try to give the benefit of the doubt if ever someone’s honor is in question. Frequently, in the world of words, being kind means being silent. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Necessary? This is the hardest filter for me. Whenever I sit down to write this blog, I ask myself this question a dozen times in a dozen ways. Do I really need to write these words? It’s different from sitting to write fiction. It’s necessary for me to write my stories. It’s fulfilling, and as a writer, there are things inside me that have to escape. However, there is no immediate audience for those stories, and most will stay out of public view forever.
A blog is different. As soon as I push the button, these words become visible to anyone who chances upon them. So I ask again; is it really necessary that I push that button? There is, of course, a certain amount of ego involved. If I get a new reader, or get a new follower, then that is a sort of affirmation that someone else thinks my writing has quality. Maybe as a writer, I need that boost to keep going. I honestly don’t know. I do know I will continue to put ideas into words. There is a satisfaction in doing so. However, whether the publish button gets pushed or not will remain the greatest filter for determining the amount of snow or garbage that I spread about.
I like to think of myself as a positive person. I actively avoid negativism whenever I possibly can. I try to look for the twist of any situation that will allow me to accept it without judgement. And yet I’ve observed myself consistently sliding into the world of UN when it comes to role models.
That’s not to say that I don’t have the usual cadre of positive icons, each selected for specific traits that I aspire to. But on a day-to-day basis, I find the un-role models having a greater impact, and that might simply be because I see so many more of the negative ones than the positive. I see them everywhere – the grocery, the mall, restaurants, on the street. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing these people; I don’t even know them. I’m not judging them; there’s no point in placing them on a good to bad value scale. I don’t want to change them; I don’t have that kind of influence. Besides, I’m in no position to cast the first stone. And yet . . .
When I’m at the grocery and I see an overweight shopper leaning on their cart, I stand up taller. When I’m walking a mall and I see a similar aged person shuffling, I pick up my feet and step up my pace. When I see a similar aged person hunched over with obvious pain, I straighten my spine, lift my chin, push my shoulders back and keep my eyes looking forward. When I see an extremely overweight person eat an enormous plate of food, I slow my eating pace and save half my meal for left-overs. When I see driver after driver in oncoming cars with scowls on their faces, I smile.
A few years ago I remember sitting in an airport watching people. I particularly watched similar aged or older people. I observed as much as I could about them, and I would say to myself, “I’d like to be like that person when I get older” or “I don’t want to be like that person when I get older.” I found in a very short time that the people I want not to be like is far greater than those I would emulate.
I understand that there are many physical afflictions that people suffer from that cause them to walk, act, or move in certain ways, often painful ways. I understand for some there is little they can do about their physical being. And yet, in some perverted way, I guess I am thankful for their existence in my life. They have helped me be a better person. For now, at least, I am able to avoid letting my physiology be a limiting factor for my activity. I am blessed. And should the time come in the future, when I am no longer so blessed, I hope to also serve as the best possible UN-role model I can be.
As a young boy growing up in a reasonably large family, I understood that there were some things that just happened, repeatedly. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned these repeated events were traditions. They were just things that we always did. Pot roast for Sunday dinner. Gathering at Grandma’s on decoration day to sort flowers on the lawn before taking them to the cemetery to decorate graves. Attending Christmas Eve services at church and receiving a bag of goodies to take home and being allowed to eat them at night before going to bed. And countless others that clutter my memory.
And then I married into a family that had even more rigid traditions. There were correct place settings for particular meals. There were certain days when things were done. There were certain ways that things were done. Without exception. Sacrosanct. Almost stifling. I think I do understand the value of traditions. They give roots. They provide stability, a home base. But they are not sacred.
I married a second time into a family with four young siblings. I learned quickly the value in being open to change. Our family is a very viable community and as such is always changing, always growing, always becoming something new. Rigidity has no place in our world. This was made evident several years ago when one of the siblings traveled at Christmas time with a boyfriend’s family. I overheard a comment about how she “spoiled” Christmas, and yet Christmas continued, life went on, and I think we all grew as a result.
We all learned that changing locations, changing traditions wasn’t a bad thing, but a learning thing. In fact, last year, my wife and I traveled to Alaska for Christmas, and then we moved here. This year we celebrated Christmas with the whole group (minus a deployed son-in-law) in Orlando. And I heard discussion that next year we’ll return to Iowa for the holidays.
I’ve aged a bit. But in that aging, I’ve become more flexible in thinking and in action. There are no longer certain foods that have to be prepared for certain meals. When I dine out, I choose foods I’ve never eaten before. I choose wines I’ve never drank in order to find new tastes. I travel to places I’ve never been before to gain new experiences. There is so much life to be lived and so little time to live it. Traditions have a place, a marker for beginnings, but not an anchor to prevent movement. Traditions have the greatest value in showing us how much we have learned, how much we have grown.
Long live traditions! May we always be willing to change them!
The Alaskan winter reminds me daily that life is all about shades of grey. It is a gradient world never reaching absolute white or absolute black. There are infinite variations capable of melting massive mountains into clouds and hiding all sharp edges behind soft mounds of snow.
I like the subtle variations of this world; it feels like living in a gentle Japanese painting. I especially like the lack of absolutes. There are so many more possibilities within the shades of grey than if I were limited to black and white. The world becomes a richer place, and I get to share in that wealth.
All this is great, of course, unless I’m on a shopping trip, and I HAVE to buy something, and I feel I HAVE to be happy with my choice for the next four years at least. Then having too many shades of grey makes the decision very difficult and I might yearn for black and white to make the decision easy.
However, I’m personally very happy with my shades of grey. At any given moment, I have the joy of every point on the spectrum. My life is full, and I never feel the need to exclude anything or anyone. The Alaskan winter suits me, I think. I can prosper in this place, and when I have to go shopping, I can be happy with whatever I get, because nothing lasts forever, and it can always be replaced.
Before my wife and I made a final decision to move to Alaska, we visited for 10 days last Christmas, to check out the lack of sunlight we had heard so much about. Actually, we came to be with family, but a secondary goal was to find out if the lack of sunlight was as negative as many people like to think.
People in the lower 48 frequently say they couldn’t live in Alaska and be dark all winter. There is talk of vitamin D deficiency, light deprivation leading to depression, and so forth. So many notions of Alaska winters are negative.
Granted we live in the Anchorage area and not up north where they are indeed in 24 hours of darkness. Therefore we really don’t know what that world is like either. But speaking for our present environment, I would hold that the degree of suffering due to reduced daylight is minimal.
The most serious side effect I’ve experienced so far is that I get more sleep. I find that the mid afternoon darkness starts my feeling that it must be dinner time, and by 8:30 or so, I’m ready for bed. This really isn’t such a bad arrangement, because on most days I’m able to be outside while the sun is up. If I were stuck in an interior space where I didn’t get to see the sun during the day, I might feel differently about it. But even in the Midwest, there were many days when I went to work in the dark and came home in the dark.
On bright sunny days, driving can be problematic if heading in a southerly direction because the sun is always low in the sky. But, as you drive, there are frequently mountains to block that direct sun in the eyes problem. Not too big an issue, for the most part.
Like many experiences in Alaska, light and darkness is just another of the extremes. The more northerly the latitude, the more dynamic are the day to day changes. And the really wonderful part of that reality is that in just a few short days, the phenomena of little light will reverse, and soon the land of midnight sun will again be present.