“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I want to repeat this piece from five years ago exactly as it was then. Much is still true, even in this much darker moment of despair. We have a long road, and we are making progress. It’s slow, but it is true. The next generation will definitely do better.
At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.
But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.
The classic American road trip is a great experience for a lot of good reasons. More than the core of great novels and movies, it’s usually a journey of inner discovering and bonding and so much else all at once. At the core, however, is one undeniable lesson – this is a truly vast and amazing nation.
The best measure of how stuck in a rut this nation have become is how much that obvious fact has been forgotten. I promise you that the United States is bigger than you or I can ever possibly imagine. But to listen to today’s media or politics of any kind you’d swear that this nation is weak, fragile, and small.
We need a road trip. Short of that, let’s take one in our minds.
“People say that having more women in engineering will change everything. Well, that’s the damned point!”
Professor Toor was particularly animated one day in 1986. Our Heat & Mass Transfer class at Carnegie was very technical, with infinitely more time spent on math than sociology. Herb Toor, however, was a empathetic and real-world professor with a reputation. He was out to change engineering forever, and put his prodigious passion into it.
I think about him a lot when we reach milestones, such as the recent swearing in of a record 102 women in the US House of Representatives.
I’m still recovering from a surgery, so one more repeat this week. This is from 2017.
Has “political correctness” run wild, threatening to destroy our language and culture? Certainly, it’s a pain to have to learn new terms all the time. And no one likes to be scolded for using the wrong ones. But is this all just a way of repressing free speech and making people more pliant and reducing the culture to nothing?
No. We are in the middle of a process of determining just what “polite” is.
That’s not to say it’s every gonna be easy. There is no “process” and no one gets to vote. It’s necessarily messy to clean up the language and make sure it works for everyone. We all have to agree at some point. And in the meantime, the one thing that far too many people seem to agree with is that politeness isn’t necessary at all. That’s the real problem.
When I wrote this piece, the Tea Party was just starting to rise in opposition to Obama’s … well, it certainly wasn’t his being black that was an issue, so it must have been abuse of power or something like that. But the process that got us to where we are today was just starting. What was it like? It was remarkably predictable, sadly. Here we are, a bit lower than I ever hoped but really on the same path. Enjoy this trip back in time.
The situations have been coming on strong for years, but they seem to be peaking. Everywhere you visit on the internet, and sometimes even in public, we all run into someone who can take any subject and make it into a kind of right-wing rant:
“Sure is hot today!”
“That’s not evidence of global warming!”
It wasn’t long ago that characters and attitudes like this were the domain of the other side – those who were against The System, The Man, The Establishment, They. Has everything flipped, or is this all one big phenomenon?
This summer re-run is from six years ago. Way back then, I actually thought we could confront the narcissism that has been taking over our culture. Silly me.
The tidbits of popular inspiration roll through twitter and facebook in a nearly constant stream. You want your stuff retweeted or shared through the networks? Come up with a bit of folk enlightenment, maybe put it into a jpg pic as a “meme” (horrible mis-use of that word!). Keep it simple – a quick saying or maybe a set of “tips” devoid of heavy philosophy that could wear down a bizzy day. It could be a Bible verse or a simple admonishment to be a more decent person.
There’s nothing wrong with this sort of stuff, and it probably has been present throughout the history of human interaction. But the volume and popularity of these sorts of things leads me to wonder if there isn’t a hunger for spirituality and connection that is missing from the ordinary grind of the day. There appears to be a missing presence in the moment, a sense that ghosts float past our conscience whispering a calling to be a better part of the world.
This piece originally ran in 2016.
If you have a healthy news diet, you can easily be forgiven for thinking everything is going to Hell. Then again, that doesn’t seem too healthy. Perhaps “No news is good news” has a resonance far beyond the original intent of the folk saying.
Is there good in the world? Of course there is. People are helping each other and just being decent all the time. Yet in a world always closer together it seems as though there is a shortage of good things everywhere.
The difference, I believe, is what lies just outside of human scale. The world comes to us through machinery – ripped of context, stripped of humanity. It’s up to all of us to provide some context with our own empathy and judgment. Seeing good in the world is indeed about unplugging our brains from the noise and reveling in a good time with friends, a quiet moment alone, or even an hour passed in a patch of clover.