Archive - January, 2014

Love thy neighbor

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 12.03.04 PMI am fortunate enough to live in a unique neighborhood. Surrounded on all sides by cookie cutter houses in cookie cutter subdivisions, ours is one of the last places in this growing area to offer acreage lots. As an added bonus, our neighborhood is essentially one giant, looping road. There is only one way in and one way out. There are no street lights, no sidewalks and no MUDs (Municipal Utility District). Each house has its own well and septic system. Many of our neighbors have horses. Some even have goats and chickens. I’ve had several friends tell me they’ve driven past my neighborhood for years and never knew it existed. It’s truly country living smack dab in the middle of suburbia. We like it that way. It’s what drew us here in the first place.

For the most part, we look out for one another. I once had a new exterminator come to my house when I wasn’t home only to be greeted by my next door neighbor holding a shotgun in one hand and his cell phone in the other. After I assured my neighbor I was expecting the bug guy at my house but was running late, apologies were made and the exterminator said he would come back later. He probably needed a fresh pair of underwear. Like I said, we look out for one another. Most of the time.

We don’t get many new neighbors because people who move here typically don’t leave, but over the past couple of years the last of the empty lots have been sold and new families have moved in. One such family decided to shoot fireworks at around 9:30 pm last Saturday night. Someone called the cops on them.

What followed was an angry email shared via a community email system typically used to alert those of us on the distribution list of upcoming neighborhood events, missing dogs and neighborhood break ins.

Our new neighbor was upset that someone called the police rather than talking to them directly. She said that since there is no ordinance prohibiting them from shooting fireworks, whoever called the police had no right to do so. And she’s correct. I suppose you can shoot fireworks anytime, not just on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July. She went on to say that she has 4 young children and if any of us calls the cops, it should be to report people driving too fast through the neighborhood and endangering the lives of kids playing. Again, she has a point. People (mostly teenagers) drive too fast through this neighborhood and it’s probably no small miracle that no one has been hit save for a few squirrels–no big loss.

I heard the fireworks. For me, it was little more than a mild annoyance. It never occurred to me to call the police because like she said, there’s no law against it. Then again, I was just hanging out watching TV after a fairly uneventful day. I don’t own a dog who is deathly afraid of loud noises, nor do I have very young children that are in bed by 8:00 pm. But I have neighbors who do. Neighbors who know that on the days just prior to and proceeding New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July there will be fireworks, and will therefore need to be prepared to quiet young children and keep their skittish dogs penned up.

I don’t know who called the police. Maybe it was someone who thought the fireworks were gunshots–that was my first reaction. Or maybe it was someone whose dog freaked out and ran off. There was another community email the same day asking if anyone had seen a yellow lab who had escaped Saturday night. I feel badly for the new neighbors. I’m sure they came to this neighborhood seeking refuge from suburbia; a place where there’s a little more breathing room and people mind their own business.

From a strictly legal perspective, the new neighbor was in the right. I don’t think anyone should have called the police. I suppose they could have done what most of us did–shrug it off. But if unexpected fireworks bother you so much, the neighborly thing, the stand-up thing to do is to pay a visit to whomever is setting them off. It’s a small neighborhood, it wouldn’t take long to find them.

As I see it, the real problem isn’t people shooting fireworks or other people calling the cops.

The real problem is that we’re so completely wrapped up in what we’re entitled to–whether it’s the right to shoot off fireworks or the right to a quiet Saturday night–that we care precious little about how our actions affect anyone else. We’ve lost our sense of community because we’ve become empathy-impaired. It’s all about us. Is it any wonder that we are raising a generation of men and women who, when given an opportunity to express elation for teamwork and excellence facing adversity, we instead get a temper tantrum worthy of a spoiled toddler?:


(And yeah, I get that it was the heat of the moment. But please. Show a little class.)

A slow fade

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Sunday morning: A video was shown during the sermon–Slow Fade by Casting Crowns. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics:

The journey from your mind to your hands
Is shorter than you’re thinking
Be careful if you think you stand
You just might be sinking

It’s a slow fade
When you give yourself away
Its a slow fade
When black and white are turned to gray

And thoughts invade, choices are made
A price will be paid
When you give yourself away

People never crumble in a day
Daddies never crumble in a day
Families never crumble in a day

It’s a slow fade

Monday afternoon: After a mostly sleepless night, I’m dozing off on the couch, news on in the background when I hear the name of a local high school. This immediately gets my attention because it’s the national news. The high school has been evacuated because of a bomb threat. By the end of the day, close to 4,000 students have been released from the school and a 19 year old senior is in custody. Something called a zip gun has been found in a backpack thought to belong to him and there are news reports that another such device has been found in his car.

Before any official word came from the school district, I was exchanging texts with a friend whose kids attend the school. She gave me the name of the suspect. I found him quickly on Facebook. Nothing on his profile would indicate anything other than a normal, high school kid. His profile pic even reminded me a little of my own son’s last school picture. But somebody had to know he was in trouble. Like the song says, people never crumble in a day.

I’m grateful that no one was hurt. I suppose I could be outraged that something like this could happen so literally close to home.

But mostly I’m reminded that as a parent, I need to pay attention. That sometimes kids go through phases but at other times there are serious issues they’re wrestling with. There are times when kids–my own kids–just aren’t that pleasant to be around. And while it’s tempting to leave them alone and avoid the attitude, it’s those times when they’re least unlovable that they need love the most.

I don’t know what lead this kid to do whatever he was planning to do, but I hope it serves as a wake up call for other families who may be one or two steps away from the same scenario.

Families never crumble in a day…

Anthropomorphism: The life you save could be your own

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 4.01.39 PMIt’s certainly not a new trend. Humans have been anthropomorphizing the world around them as long as there have been humans. Early man used anthropomorphism in an attempt to explain things beyond his ability to understand and comprehend them. The term anthropomorphism was first used by the Greek philosopher Xenophanes when describing the similarity between religious believers and their gods.

I think we tend to assign human characteristics to animals we feel strong bonds with, particularly our pets. This would explain a multi-billion dollar industry devoted exclusively to dog clothing. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that if your dog could talk, he would most likely tell you that while he appreciates the irony, he doesn’t really appreciate being dressed up like a hot dog.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 11.33.47 AM He’s only been humoring you. And while this practice is relatively harmless save for the dignity of your canine companion, other forms are not.

Most of us remember the tragic death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum, the oldest and largest killer whale at the park. People were understandably horrified, but no one should have been particularly surprised.

As it turns out, the “normally docile” orca had killed twice before. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 11.58.45 AMMost of us are accustomed to seeing killer whales jumping out of giant swimming pools and allowing trainers to ride them like giant water horses, but they’re not called killer whales for nothing.Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 12.04.15 PM

I’m fairly certain that whale in the second picture isn’t jumping up to give that penguin a kiss. The anthropomorphisation of killer whales has a logical explanation. Sea World parks are profit driven. Kids want to see Shamu jumping out of the water and kicking giant footballs with their tails, not what they typically do in the wild like, say, dragging seals off of rocks and eating them.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 2.02.13 PMOther examples of anthropomorphisation are more difficult for me. While I suppose I can understand the popularity of the teddy bear based upon President Theodore Roosevelt’s encounter with a black bear on a hunting trip, I don’t think anyone in the early 20th century would have mistakenly assumed a bear in the woods to be cuddly and/or friendly. No, that ill-fated assumption only came to pass in the late 20th century courtesy of Hanna-Barbara Studio’s Yogi Bear. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 2.07.51 PM Since then, people have been happily feeding bears in state parks resulting in the death both campers and bears. Seriously, people. Unless a bear approaches you wearing a green tie and a fedora, it’s best to keep a safe distance.

I’m sure you can think of dozens of other examples. The Coca-Cola polar bears are fun loving and family friendly. Actual polar bears are one of the few mammals who will kill for the sake of killing. Fantasia’s dancing hippos? Hilarious. Real hippos kill more people in Africa than crocodiles. Sock monkeys? Adorable. Real monkeys? Disgusting, stinky, vile animals.

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.28.23 PMI will make one exception because I’m rather fond of rabbits due in large part to Watership Down by Richard Adams. I love that book, and I see rabbits all the time. They’ve never once attempted to attack me. Rabbits are wholly fantastic and wonderful. But don’t watch the movie based on the book. It’s horrible.

I am certain that real rabbits are mostly good and true and would be befriend you if they weren’t completely terrified of human beings.

I know that all the aforementioned is simply restating facts that you are probably already aware of. But of late, I have observed a disturbing trend in anthropomorphism. Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.44.25 PM

Namely, the cute-tification of owls. Owls are certainly not a new phenomenon to literature or home decor. Who can forget Owl of Winnie the Pooh fame? But he wasn’t portrayed as cute, only wise and a bit on snooty side. Home decor? Need I remind any of you of the tragedy which befell almost every 1970’s household: the macrame owl? Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 3.51.00 PM

Again, these could not be described as cute by any stretch of the imagination. But today? Owls are everywhere. In home decor and in fashion, almost always portrayed as cute.

They’re not cute, people! They’re predatory killing machines. I’m convinced that the only reason the large owl which frequents the telephone line behind my house hasn’t attempted to kill me is because I’m simply too heavy to carry off. But they’re getting more confidently aggressive every day as we are lulled into a false sense of security.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Righting the iceberg

iceberganalogyAccording to Freud, the human psyche is structured into three parts:

The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our psyche which responds directly and immediately to the instincts.

The ego seeks pleasure and avoids pain but unlike the id the ego is concerned with devising a realistic strategy to obtain pleasure.

The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others. Its function is to control the id’s impulses, especially those which society forbids.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 12.05.36 PMClearly Dr. Freud could not have fathomed a world with Internet and social media. A world where you need not be the brightest, just the loudest or most outrageous, where substance is often replaced with snark, and perceived anonymity brings out the very worst of all of us at times. It’s the iceberg analogy turned upside-down.

Lest you think I’m being a bit preachy, I will freely admit to being guilty of all of the above.
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Just the other day I was at the mall with my son when I snapped this picture with my iPhone with every intention of posting it to Facebook or Twitter with some snark-filled remark about the irony of a perfume named “Unbreakable Bond” featuring a couple whose marriage lasted less than four years.

I could have justified my actions by telling myself that if anyone deserves a little public humiliation it’s the Kardashians, who have made lucrative careers of allowing cameras to film what many of us would consider the most private aspects of their lives, all in the name of fame and fortune. Even those who have never seen an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians are inundated with headlines of their latest escapades courtesy of gossip magazines placed at the check-out line of their local grocery stores. One could reasonably surmise that for a Kardashian, there’s no such thing as bad press.

So, what stopped me?

My son. Who asked me why I was taking a picture of a bottle of perfume. What could I tell him? That it’s not okay for him to make fun of people but that it’s different for me? That I have an online reputation for my fun-loving snark and sarcasm? I decided right then and there that the purpose of taking the photo would not be the one originally intended. Maybe I could use it to share a lesson learned about empathy and grace right there in the long check out line at Burlington Coat Factory.

Regardless of how much you have or don’t have, life can be downright painful at times. And I don’t care how rich and famous you are, filing for divorce is a public admission that you made a mistake; that the vows you thought would last a lifetime did not; that you have failed at love. I’ve been told that going through a divorce is in some ways more painful than dealing with the death of a loved one, and that it is not something you would wish on anyone–not even an overexposed celebrity who probably should have seen it coming. Love is blind, and it often makes fools of us all.

I’m not suggesting that I will cease and desist all of my snark and sarcasm–it is, after all, my love language–only that I will ask myself how it would make me feel if someone posted the same thing about me.

The virtual world is a deceptive one. We fool ourselves into thinking that people understand where we’re coming from, that they understand when we’re kidding like our non-virtual friends do. Not long ago at a soundcheck before church, I stood on stage surrounded by a group of talented and experienced musicians and vocalists who also happen to be close and long time friends. So when I referred to myself as “the talent” it was understood that I was kidding, the joke made more amusing (for me, anyway) by the fact that of all the people gathered on that stage, I was the least talented of all of us. But referring to myself as “the talent” in an online setting just doesn’t go over as well, because there will always be those who misunderstand me.

I know choosing my snark and sarcasm more carefully won’t make a dent in the online sea of of mean-spirited humor. There are many popular websites whose sole purpose is to share a laugh at the expense of others. Some do so with permission and participation of their readers while others encourage their readers to submit unflattering photos taken without permission. Of the latter, ask yourself if you’ve ever ventured outside your house looking less than completely put together. Would you be okay with someone taking a picture of you wandering the aisles of Walmart in your ill-fitting sweatpants and flip flops? What about your mother, father, brother or sister? Because I can assure you that every unflattering photo posted on sites like these are of someone’s mother, father, brother or sister taken without their knowledge or permission. Imagine seeing your most unflattering moment captured and knowing that millions of other people have access to that same picture. It’s just not nice.

I won’t tell you where to draw your own personal line in the sand. I don’t think you’d find many who would fault you for calling Adolf Hitler a bad person or saying that Al Gore did not invent the Internet. But comparing someone to Adolf Hitler who isn’t knowingly and deliberately participating in genocide? That’s a line I personally will not cross.

If you’re still confused about what’s acceptable, you can heed words that were written centuries before the Internet was a twinkle in Al Gore’s eye (see what I did there?):

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. –Philippians 4:8

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Maybe we can all do our part towards righting the iceberg.