A Fit of Nincompoopery

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Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

According to the dictionary a nincompoop is a silly or foolish person. Nincompoopery refers to the beliefs and behaviors of a nincompoop. It is folly, stupidity. With a tip of the hat to Nero Wolf who first proposed the turn of the phrase, I submit that each day Twitter becomes the locale of many “fits of nincompoopery.”

Let’s face it, how much of great worth can be stated or argued in only one hundred forty characters? The comments are generally so terse that they might be interpreted in dozens of different ways, and therein lies a great number of the problems. Add to that the trolls lurking under the Twitter bridge and the so called discussions often become quite nasty, festering like plastic bags for perpetuity. Many a soul has lost a job or been revealed as a scum bag because of an outburst of tweets that might better have been left unsaid. We now live in a world of instant verbal arguments among strangers who somehow erroneously believe that they are doing no harm. It all reminds me of the back and forth that I sometimes heard among rival groups of fourth graders when I was teaching elementary school long ago.

Sure it’s a free country and all that, but frankly I’m becoming quite weary of the vast numbers of degrading tweets, particularly when they come from people who should know better than to let their fingers run afoul of common decency. We all see and hear things that make us angry, but generally control our temptations to lash out. There is a certain level of immaturity associated with outbursts that are hurtful to other people, so I find myself wondering when we lost our sense of decorum.

We have Roseann Barr, who has never seemed to know when to keep her mouth shut, losing a popular television series over rash racist observations. There is a New York Times journalist who seems to think that there is nothing particularly wrong with hurling invective at white men. The director of the highly successful Avengers series was recently fired over troublesome tweets and jokes made many years ago. Of course there is also the embarrassing aspect of the President of the United States making a fool of himself and the country far too many times with his late night rants. Regardless of the defenses being suggested in these cases, we somehow have a sense that something is going terribly wrong, particularly when we accept such behaviors as normal.

Freedom of speech is an important aspect of our Bill of Rights and certainly insults between adults are nothing new, but the more frequent incidence of such behavior is bothersome to me. I prefer a bit of propriety in public. If two people wish to engage in verbal fisticuffs in private, so be it, but why do we now seem to actually encourage public verbal executions, and even sometimes get down in the mud with the perpetrators?

Believe me, I do not wish to indict certain individuals or political persuasions because quite frankly there is plenty of criticism to go around to all sorts of people. I’d just like to encourage everyone to be careful about rapid responses that are hurtful and ugly. Those kind of things have a nasty way of coming back on us, but more importantly we need to rise above the muck and grime as a way of life. Nobody ever wins an argument with invective, and most often it’s not even necessary to attempt to do so. What does it really matter if someone disagrees with our beliefs? Why should we feel compelled to put down individuals with whom we have a difference of opinion. The likelihood that we will actually make a difference in their thinking is slim to none. Indeed what will probably happen is that we will make them even more enraged.

I refuse to be that person who gets pulled into verbal battles, and I think that we would all do well to walk away when a fight of words seems imminent. I learned long ago as an educator that ignoring nincompoopery is the quickest way to shut it down. Most people who engage in such shenanigans are just looking for an audience and I refuse to give them one. Perhaps more of us should consider bringing in the crickets whenever someone is being outrageous.

As a society we still have not yet learned how to deal with social media successfully. We forget our manners and too often neglect to take a deep breath before reacting. We have people using our outrage to stoke their own egos. We don’t have to play their game.

I am slowly learning how to move quickly past comments and tweets that make me feel uncomfortable. I choose to let them just lie on the ground seemingly unnoticed. I am seeing more and more evidence that lots of folks are following the same routine. The most egregious remarks that I see are frequently going without response, which is the way that we might all shut them down.

There is a flock of mockingbirds living in the trees in my backyard. They chatter day and night, but I have learned how to turn off the volume in my head. Now I scarcely hear them even though they are still there. I’m doing the same with Twitter.

   

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Save the Children

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When my mother was only three or four years old her mother had a mental breakdown. The full details of the event are sketchy, but the certainty of what happened to my mom is very clear. The little tyke loved her mama and felt safe with her. When medical personal came to the house, restrained her mother, and then drove away in an ambulance the child that my mother was felt confused and betrayed. This event had a lasting impact on her that was so traumatic that it haunted her the rest of her life. She often spoke of the disdain that she felt for her father whom she held responsible for what she viewed as the imprisonment of her mom. She insisted that her mother had been a good woman who did not deserve the horrific treatment that befell her. Unlike her older siblings she was never able to accept that her mama had been very sick and in need of treatment. She had been so very young when she was torn from her mother’s loving care that it impacted the very essence of her thinking. The scars left by the separation never healed.

My youngest daughter endured a similar situation that was less dramatic but nonetheless frightening to her. When she was not yet three years old my husband contracted a fungal disease that required hospitalization and a long regimen of chemotherapy. Our family was thrown into a kind of chaotic state when we learned that the disease was often fatal. We spent months in a new routine of hospital visits and uncertainty. Years later my girl endured a bought with severe anxiety and depression. Her psychiatrist asked what had occurred at around the age of three that had seemingly caused the her to have an enduring sense of uncertainty and fear. He noted that something had so affected my daughter that she had buried deep seated emotions that were finally coming to the surface and causing her despondency. It was shocking to learn that something that had happened more than a decade earlier that was seemingly resolved had such a profound affect.

Young children see and hear and feel far more than we sometimes know. They are aware of what is happening around them to a larger extent than we imagine, but they do not always have the capacity to interpret the interchanges with their environment, particularly when the security represented by a parent is taken from them. They are unable to fully express the need for the warmth and love of a mother or father that is so essential to their healthy development. It is critical that they have all of their most basic needs addressed, and there is generally no better person to do that for them than a parent who genuinely cares for them. So much of the basic personality is formed during early childhood and every event plays an important role in development. As children we all cling to our parents and look to them to supply our most essential needs. When that relationship is suddenly severed children lose all sense of safety. Unless they are carefully counseled and loved the event will have a lifelong impact.

My father died when I was eight years old. People often marvel that my memories of the days following his death are so crystal clear. I am able to vividly recall people, conversations, the weather, and most of all my own jumbled feelings. I was far more aware of what was happening that the adults around me ever imagined. That being said, without the maturity of adulthood I am certain that I often misinterpreted my situation, and not in a good way. I became a fearful child, someone unwilling to take risks. I was afraid of people and life. It would take me twenty or more years to overcome the shock and awe of the sudden loss of someone that I so loved, and I became a somewhat neurotic and sad little girl. It was only through my study of childhood development and my association with truly caring people that I was able to eventually lay all of the demons that had so haunted me to rest.

For these reasons I am both appalled and concerned for the welfare of immigrant children who are currently being separated from their parents. I realize that we have laws, and the adults who come here illegally are breaking them. In that regard there are many needed discussions regarding the issues, but it seems certain to me that taking children away while their parents are being processed is deeply wrong. The consequences of such inhumane decisions will impact these little ones for decades. The trauma that our government is inflicting on them is morally untenable, as anyone familiar with children understands. In spite of efforts to provide food, beds, education, games and other such amenities to care for them the one thing that the little ones require is missing. They must have their parents to feel secure. What we are doing is so egregious that we simply cannot justify the actions with by quoting laws or even the Bible. We must know that we are bending the truth and God’s word when we attempt to do such things.

I love my country and believe in its innate goodness. It has of late been overtaken by an incivility that is toxic. There seems to be an attitude that winning is more important than being just. The good people in our midst are being pushed aside by bullies, and the ideals of honor and respect are all too often being eschewed by those who insist on all or nothing in their political dealings. As citizens we must join together in the common cause of decency, following the lead of heroes the world over who insist on standing for what is right rather than what will make them popular. We must end the ugliness by demonstrating our best natures. Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country. We can no longer allow tactics that so scorch the earth. If we don’t save the children of the world regardless of the circumstances we are doomed to a dark future. Our best hope is in finding our natural goodness again and doing what we know to be right.

Taking One For The Team

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A little food for thought… A group of twelve wolves:  The three in front are old and sick, they walk in front to set the pace of the running group lest they get left behind. The next five are the strongest and best, they are tasked to protect the front side if there is an attack. The pack in the middle are always protected from any attack. The five behind them are also among the strongest and best; they are tasked to protect the back side if there is an attack. The last one is the LEADER. He ensures that no one is left behind. He keeps the pack unified and on the same path. He is always ready to run in any direction to protect and serves as the body guard to the entire group. Just in case anyone wanted to know what it means to be a leader, it’s not about being out front. It means taking care of the team. —-Ivan Ginsberg

The best bosses that I ever had were quiet leaders. Sometimes it was not until they had gone that those of us who worked for them understood the full extent of their greatness. They were the kind of men and women who rarely tooted their own horns, but rather proudly shined the limelight on their employees instead. They sometimes took the heat in our defense without mentioning the troubles that they were willing to endure for us. They were low key but ferociously loyal to the team. The success that they sought centered on finding and developing the individual strengths of each member of the group. Often their guidance helped us to find talents within ourselves that we didn’t even know we had.

In particular I recall working in a school that had a less than sterling reputation. It was one of those places where people were reluctant to go. The employees were thought to be mediocre to bad. Public opinion of the place was abysmal. A new principal infused life into the place without hiring a single new person. His secret was quite simple. He made a point of providing each individual with special responsibilities based on their particular skills. He turned followers into leaders. He made former weaklings feel strong. Before long people were flocking to the school from all over town to see what miraculous things were happening, when in fact the only real change had been in how the system was run. The talent had always been there and this man was able to make it work.

There is a current trend to see the brash and boastful as the sort who should lead us. We tend to favor those who sling the most hurtful insults or fire the most people. We view arrogance as power, when the truth is that such individuals are actually harmful. They are the sorts who will leave us stranded and responsible for our own safety when danger lurks. They mouth caring platitudes, but when push comes to shove they are all in for themselves and toss us to our enemies.

Years ago my husband worked in a start up company created by a man who literally sucked the air out of any room that he entered. His focus was more on his own needs than those of the business and its employees. At the grand opening party I met his mother. She was a sweet lady who was nervous about the impression that she was making. She did not want to ruin the event for her son who was doing his best to avoid her. She confessed to me that he had only asked her to attend for the optics, otherwise she felt that she was somehow an embarrassment to him. At one point he walked over to her and stealthily suggested that she had been there long enough and needed to just go home before she messed up his big moment.

I remember thinking that he was a horrible man for treating his mother so poorly and I silently worried about my husband working for him. My forebodings were right on target. Within months the organization began to fall apart as the man slashed and burned the cohesion of the team. Eventually there was almost rebellion among the employees and my husband was among those who left in complete frustration. For all of his fanfare the arrogant boss ended up being all hat and no cattle. There was nothing behind his words other than his own insecurities which ultimately led to the business failing rather quickly.

Loyalty is rarely produced by intimidation. A great leader understands the importance of seeking a common purpose and using individual talents in that pursuit. When there is an atmosphere of respect and gratitude for each contribution people are eager to work for the cause whatever that may be. When we feel safe we are able to ascend to higher and higher levels of actualization. When we see that each person is valued we are willing to take risks to become more and more accomplished.

The downfall of organizations or governments can be traced again and again to a kind of megalomania that pits one person against another, breeding paranoia and unhinged competition. Enron had been a good place to work until Jeff Skilling unleashed an atmosphere of winning at all costs that lead to cut throat tactics and deceit. The mentality of firing the bottom fifth of producers each year created a chaos that encouraged lawlessness. In the end the employees were left for slaughter.

One of my former students has started a very successful business. I have noticed with pleasure how often he gives credit to his employees and demonstrates his gratitude for their hard work. He understands that his job is to be the leader by following behind and taking care of the team.

There are entire educational programs designed to teach individuals how to to manage organizations. A great deal of social science has been dedicated to researching teamwork and leadership. The one thing that all conclusions have in common is the realization that working together in a spirit of mutual respect is critical, and it is the leader who makes or breaks the system. If we want to drain the swamp of any group that is not working, we must first find a leader who is willing to work with the group.

It’s Ten O’Clock

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It’s ten o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” If you grew up or were a parent in the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s you heard this question every night before the late newscast came on. It was a public service announcement that made sense then, but may be a bit confusing in today’s world. Back in those decades most children were what we now call “free range kids.” They played outside for hours at a time, often with little or no supervision other than a quick glance outside a window from a parent. They wandered away from home to visit with neighborhood friends, not always bothering to check in with parents before doing so. It wasn’t unusual at all for children to return outdoors after dinner to play in the dark under a street light or on someone’s front porch. It was a time of innocence when parents and kids both rarely worried about being harmed. Everyone knew everyone else and watched over one another. Perhaps the freedom that little ones enjoyed back then was fueled by naivety, but it was highly unusual for someone to be lost or harmed, there was little reason to worry.

The closest thing to a dangerous experience that I recall came when my youngest brother was playing a game of football in his bare feet in an overgrown field of grass. Hidden in the tall weeds was a broken bottle with its ragged edge pointing upward. When he stepped back to catch a pass he placed his unprotected foot on the shard of glass which immediately severed his achilles tendon. He bled profusely, but my mom and I miraculously got him to the doctor’s office in time to get it stitched back in place. I remember my mother instructing me in how to apply pressure to the wound to keep the bleeding to a minimum while she drove the car. I was quite frightened but didn’t let my mom see my fears. Of course at that time none of us were wearing a seatbelt and my mother did not carry health insurance either. The former was not yet invented and the latter was too expensive. The doctor did all of the surgery in his office proclaiming again and again that it was a miracle that my sibling didn’t bleed to death on the way over. I suspect that our final bill was little more than around twenty dollars and that even included pain medication that the doc threw in for good measure.

Needless to say times have changed so very much. Parents who allow their children to roam freely today run the risk of being reported to CPS. Few doctors would meet a patient at the office and take care of such a serious situation, especially if the family was uninsured. The world often feels far more dangerous than it ever did back then. Most of the time there are very few children playing outside for hours, and never all alone. They are busy with more carefully planned activities. Play dates have become the norm rather than random knocks at the door from friends seeking adventure. Children spend hours involved with computer games and surfing online. The real dangers lie in encounters with child predators masquerading in anonymity. Bullying either online or with texts has become epidemic. It’s no longer a matter of wondering where your kids are, but of whom they may be encountering on the worldwide web. The simplicity and innocence that marked my childhood and that of my own children seems to be a relic of the past. Parents have to be more careful than ever, even as they hover nervously.

I’m  not certain when everything began to change. Perhaps my experiences come from living in a city that had fewer than a million people when I was young and then somehow became a behemoth of over four million in a short period of time. Being in a place that large certainly makes a huge difference in how willing parents are to allow their children the freedom to interact without their watchful eyes. The dangers seem to grow exponentially in a major urban area. Still it just seems that over the years we have become more worried as a whole society. Maybe our twenty four hour news cycle has made us more aware of what might happen if we ride a bicycle without a helmet or drink from a water hose. I still wonder nonetheless why we no longer see children roller skating down the sidewalk or climbing the tree in the front yard even when their parents are around to guard them. Where are the street basketball games? When did our kids stop playing hop scotch on the driveway? Are they missing something wonderful, or is their world actually just an improved version of ours?

Children today certainly appear to be happy enough. I’ve always known youngsters to be quite adaptable. They tend to accept whatever reality is theirs. They don’t feel that they are missing something that they have never experienced. The child who lives in a high rise building in New York City learns to play in different ways from a counterpart growing up on a farm in Iowa. Both of them will tend to be perfectly happy as long as they are nurtured and loved. Perhaps the nostalgia that old folks like me have is thought to be quaint or even strange by the children of today. They would think it unwise, perhaps even crazy to ride down a highway in the bed of a pickup truck. They might easily bore of lying on their backs staring up at clouds searching for shapes of animals.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if things are getting better or if we have lost something special that we once had. I suppose that the reality is that we will always move ever forward, and while it may feel pleasant to lose ourselves in memories we are better served by joining in the forward progress. We have surely learned a great deal about how to be healthier and safer than ever before. We understand what smoking will do to our overall health. We realize that wearing seat belts and engineering safer cars has truly saved lives. We have used our common sense and our inventiveness to prevent harm and injuries to our most vulnerable. I suppose that it is a very good thing that we no longer have to ask where are children are when the clock strikes ten. 

Opening Our Ears, Eyes and Mouths

flat,800x800,070,fThere is a video of four little babies loving and hugging one another that has gone viral. It is a precious demonstration of the innocence that is in our human natures that sometimes becomes twisted and ugly in some of our fellow humans as they grow into adults. I suspect that the clip is popular because it reminds us of how we dream for the world to be, devoid of bigotry and hatefulness. Sadly we know that no matter how hard we wish for such a reality, it will probably never completely occur, but what if we did indeed have a way of extending the goodness that lies in our hearts just a bit more? Would we do our best to make such a thing happen or would we choose instead to take an easier path in life?

We have seen instances of people throughout history who have decided to be the change they desired to see in the world. They did not turn away from challenges to demonstrate love and justice, and often they were ridiculed and even persecuted for their courage. Jesus showed us the way and the truth about how we should all live, and for his efforts he was nailed to a cross and killed as though he was a common criminal. Abraham Lincoln held fast to a belief in the dignity of all men and was murdered. So too did Gandhi die because of his determination to speak for those without a voice. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead his people to their rights as humans and citizens of this country all the while understanding how dangerous it was to do so. The greatest individuals of all time have overcome their fears to stand up for goodness, but there have also been instances when those unknown to us have been unafraid to be noble. Every single day someone somewhere is facing down evil and moving the dial just a bit closer to the kind of loving perfection that we all wish to see.

I find it heartbreaking when we witness hurtful behaviors and we simply allow them to happen. We turn our backs, close our doors, draw the blinds, pretend that we did not see or hear the transgressions. We do not wish to invoke the ire of the people around us. We don’t want to make waves, and so we remain quiet, making excuses for those who embarrass or hurt others with their actions. These days we even invoke the premise that the end justifies the means, even as those means are truly vile. We advocate strength in numbers and informally join groups even when those groups do things that we know are wrong. We don’t wish to be shunned, so we allow the infractions to occur, pretending that they really aren’t so bad even when we know that they are.

It is when the vast majority of us close our eyes and put our fingers in our ears in the face of a wrong that evil takes root among us. The leap from being a highly educated and cultured society to gassing innocents for simply being of a certain kind is not all that great, and when it happens we realize that we have lost control of a situation that might have been stopped if only we had been forthright in the beginning. History has taught us time and again that the line between civilization and anarchy is often very fine, and bullies will take advantage of our failure to enforce it.

I have tried to give the president of our country the benefit of the doubt. I have wanted to believe that perhaps his comments have been sensationalized by a press that does not like him, but far too often he gives me little reason to support him in his baseless tirades against certain groups of people. I’ve thought that perhaps he does not know how to properly voice his ideas properly because his vocabulary and knowledge seems so limited, but now I simply think that he is in truth a very mean spirited person, a bully, and a bigot. What bothers me even more than the horrible things that he says is that there are actually those who applaud his ugly ideas, and sadly some who dislike what he says but are unwilling to say so.

The most recent example of this came from a discussion of how to deal with immigration, a topic that has brought out some of the most egregious comments from the president. The fact that he used a guttural term like “shithole” to describe certain countries was not as horrible as the inference that it would be preferable to limit immigration to those who come from so called better places. The meaning behind such statements is appalling knowing that there was once a time when my own grandparents and mother were thought to be unworthy of citizenship in this country by prejudiced individuals who called them dirty and ignorant. They came from a part of eastern Europe that has historically been thought to be home to lazy people not worthy of admiration or respect. My mother never fully forgot the sting of the insults and rocks hurled at her for no reason other than her heritage. It is painful to me to consider that the leader of our country would still be categorizing people based on their nation of origin, economic state, or educational opportunities rather than seeing each of us as equal in the eyes of God. I had thought and hoped that such thinking was a thing of the past, but I have learned that I was wrong.

What truly worries me is that so few of the men and women in the Republican party have remembered the model of Abraham Lincoln and risked their careers to say and do what is right. Some who have no trouble standing up to the wrongful thinking of Democrats seem to have become sheep with regard to President Trump. If they actually agree with his sentiments, then they are a very cold hearted group that has forgotten what this country was supposed to represent to the oppressed peoples of the world. The message that they are sending is not one about protecting the American people and our way of life, but one of exclusion and prejudice. No matter how the president’s remarks are parsed or what exact words he used it comes back to the idea that we don’t want to provide opportunities and safety for citizens who do not fit a certain profile, and I have to strongly disagree with that kind of thinking.

I have written my two Senators and urged them to step forward and demand that the president cease and desist his campaign of disgusting pronouncements, but I have little faith that they will even read my comments much less act on them. In the meantime we are hurting and demeaning individuals who like my grandparents only want a chance at a fair shake.

This country was not founded by the squires and noblemen of Europe, but by the second sons, the downtrodden, the persecuted, those who realized that their home countries held little promise for them. Over time they came to our shores one by one eager to make something of themselves, and many did just that Their resumes would not have been likely to enchant someone based on merit, but they proved themselves when given a chance. This has been the exceptional story of our nation. This is what has made us great to this very day, not some imagined vision of isolation and unwillingness to learn from one another.

We cannot build walls around ourselves and expect to thrive and find happiness. It didn’t work when kings built moats and stone structures and it won’t work now. The world is a vibrant place with ideas pulsing in every corner. A truly visionary leader understands that we have a place in the larger community, not if we hold sway over everyone else, but by becoming part of the conversations about what each of us has to offer. We were at our best when we saw ourselves as helpers rather than dominators. We changed the world with our goodness, not our brute strength. Every time we have become confused about our role it has gone badly, and right now our president seems to think that a he alone knows how to keep our country safe. History shows us the folly of such thinking, We can’t keep looking away. It’s time for all good men and women to come to the aid of our country. We have to open our eyes, our ears, and our mouths.