You say vanilla like that's a bad thing.
A few days ago I spoke of our societal discontent with good, and why I feel differently. Interestingly, as was contemplating my first post, I was talking with a few friends about how the term "vanilla" is often used to indicate bland and boring. As if that would be bad in and of itself...
Imagine your favourite chocolate pudding, cookies, or cake without vanilla extract. Pretty bland, isn't it?
So why do we present this flavour, this thing that adds depth to our lives, as bad? Is it years of low quality store brand ice chem? Why are we afraid of being the vanilla rather than the rocky road chocolate chunk? I sometimes think of such questions in my own life in terms of "Teenage Me". What would Teenage Me think of this? This house in the suburbs, those pants, these shoes, this LIFE? Lot's of times, she laughs at me, but she thinks I did a great job at passing on my taste in music. I'm sure she'd think my life is pretty bland, pretty boring, pretty...vanilla. I think *that* may be one of the reasons we eschew the vanilla banner and refer to such innocuous activities as having that second piece of cake or buying that fancy blouse as "bad" or even "evil". Sometimes, we try to infuse our everyday, frankly boring lives with some badassery (at the expense of diluting words that actually have an important role). I myself try to never stop infusing my personality into the everyday, whether that means wearing Spiderman socks to jury duty or a Star Trek uniform to church. But I don't feel the need to pretend my life is not what it is, that I'm somehow "badder" than I really am. As Tolkien said, " It is not bad thing to celebrate a simple life".
What's so bad about good? (Part one of two)
This weekend, one of the writers I follow on twitter, happynerdjohn
, posed this question: I'm sick of people calling superman a goody goody. What's wrong with being good?
Since I frequently ask myself the same question, I decided to tackle it in a duo of blog posts.
In order to get a bead on why people don't prefer "good" characters, I took the question to facebook. Three common themes emerged: one, that characters like Superman are hard to identify with, because they aren't subject to the same ,imitations as we mere humans.cannot strive to the same standards. This I can relate to, and I'd even say most of us have human friends that seem superhuman, that we feel sure we could never be as good as.
Secondly, good is highly subjective. Does "good" refer to legality, morality, or compassion? What about when those clash? (If you know me at all you know I'll always place compassion and justice above legality and strict morality, and so do most of the people I enjoy having in my life). I think true evil is easier to quantify than good. We look at people like Hitler and know he was evil. We look at the Europeans who risked their lives to hide Jews in their walls and fake exit visas were good (even as they lied and broke the law). But what of those involved in plots to assassinate Hitler? They were planning the death of another, but for the greater good. Is that Good? What of those who did nothing? Where are they morally?
I don't think we've answered those questions, and probably never will.
The last is that good can be used as a bludgeon; that people style themselves as good yet are in reality controlling, self righteous, or even as a competition. For myself, rather, this arguments means that we need to re frame and reclaim the word "good". Let's call self righteous, holier-than-though, and controlling people out for what they are and apply the word good to those who work for justice, mercy and compassion. And in the final analysis, I DO like having ideals like Superman to try and live up to. Fighting for truth and justice? that's Good, with a capital G.
Next: "You Say Vanilla Like That's a Bad Thing"
Yesterday both my youngest kids finished their standardized tests for the state. Testing seems to be one of the most stressful parts of the year for teachers, parents, and kids.
It's easy to see why teachers are so stressed. Schools and teachers are graded on how well their students do. In fact, their funding depends on it. Teachers have to spend their entire years teaching to the test, even knowing it doesn't benefit the students.
I didn't want that to be my kids' experience. As homeschooling and ALE students, they've undergone a couple of different testing scenarios: outside proctored testing, state online testing, and this year, testing at the local public schools for my younger two ( the eldest too college placement tests instead). They took the tests at school because ALE funding is in increasingly dire straits, and their advisory teacher has the hope that getting those test scores in will help the ALE cause.
Once, the first year my eldest child tested, we did a practice test. I deemed it unnecessary after that. In the years that have followed, have done little to prepare my children for standardized tests aside from making sure they get a good night's sleep and good breakfast (Well, my dear husband volunteered to drop the girl off on her last day of testing and presented her with a tumbler of coffee and peanut butter panda puffs to go). That's it. No pressure, and perhaps most helpful, no sharing of test scores. Until this year, when my eldest started preparing for Running Start, we never showed them how they did. This was my Husband's idea and at first I disagreed with it, but seeing the stress some parents go through over tests, I've concluded it's for the best. If your child is in a public school, their teacher may have to stress about it but you don't have to pass that onto the child. If your child is private or home schooled or in an ALE, that whole cause of stress in eliminated. If you know your child doesn't test well or has special challenges, then take that into account before worrying.
Test scores say so little about the people we will become. So why do we let them cause so much worry?
Support for Angelina Jolie
Today one of the big news stories is that actress Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy
after a genetic test showed she was at high risk for cancer. As is sure to happen in the wake of anyone newsworthy doing anything newsworthy, I saw plenty of criticism of her choice on the internet.
I wanted to respond to those criticisms with support.
I'll preface by saying that Ms Jolie has made a choice I'm unlikely to make. I don't have a strong family history of breast cancer, and I shy away from routine medical tests as it is ( not from either a philosophical or monetary standpoint, but because I have to have a pretty good reason to let someone poke or prod or stick a needle in me) . If I did get tested for BRCA1, I still think I would take the drastic step of surgery, but rather vigilant testing. I'm also not speaking as a hard core Jolie fan who thinks she can do no wrong. I'm just speaking as a woman.
She acted out of fear:
Well, yeah. Her mother died of breast cancer and CANCER IS FREAKING SCARY. Next.
She had work done:
What, a Hollywood actress had work done on her boobs? Now that's newsworthy. 'd never go under the knife for purely cosmetic reasons but if I had to have major surgery with reconstruction, such as double mastectomy, you can bet I'd want my boobs to come out perkier on the other side.
Not everyone can afford to do what she did!:
It's absolutely true that Angelina Jolie lives a life of extreme privilege and that a great number of American women either cannot afford genetic testing or could not afford elective mastectomy in the wake of finding out about genetic risk. But guess what? If untold women cannot get potentially lifesaving testing or preventative surgery in THE RICHEST NATION IN THE WORLD, that says nothing about Angelina Jolie. It says a lot about our state of health care access.
Maybe it should be called jury privilege
I just completed a tour of jury duty, and not for the first time. I have been called about every 2-3 years since moving into our house 16 years ago, and while I have gotten to various stages (from dismissed to alternate juror) this was the first time I sat a whole trial.
Mention that you've gotten a jury summons to a large enough group of people, and there's about a 90% chance someone will bring up strategies for "getting out" of jury duty. I recognise that there are some VERY valid reasons to ask to be excused from jury service, such as caring for an ill family member, being sole caregiver for small children,illness or disability, religious objections, or being a small business owner with no way to make up for lost income. I myself have gotten deferrals twice for being a nursing mom; I also served a week when I was nursing a toddler, and we both came out if the experience just fine and with our breastfeeding relationship intact. It's when I hear people scheme ways to to look like bad jurors because they don't want to spend all day in a courtroom or want to spend their vacation pay on a trip rather than jury service that I get hot under the collar.
My fellow Americans (North Americans, I imagine)- do you know how privileged we are? During the voir dire of the jury I just sat, one of the lawyers asked who had actually been excited to receive their summons. Among those who rose their hands were two people who were obviously naturalized citizens, who spoke of who fortunate Americans are to have this process. Trial of jury by peers (even if they don't always feel like our peers) gives us peerless safeguards. For a few days or even a few weeks, we are allowed to participate in a process that helps prevent tyranny and oppression by our legal system. And all some people can think of when they get that paper is, "Oh no, the inconvenience."?
Yes, the system could run better, but I believe we are doing the best we can for now. Imagine the coin is flipped: You commit a crime, you are accused of a crime you didn't commit, you are suing someone, you are being sued....you get the picture. Do you want people vying to NOT sit your case?
Why religion and organised sports are essentially the same thing
Today, I was going through hand me down bags in my youngest's closet, and found a few things that had missed the first round of hand me down cuts. Most of these were sports oriented, and like most sports related things, go to the clothing bank unworn by my kids. I couple of times the people handing stuff down to us express surprise at this. Aside from the fact that nothing screams "POOR" like putting your kid in a shirt for a school or sports team they have no connection to, my kids are as likely to wear a soccer shirt and the kids of my militant atheist friends are to sport crucifixes, and for pretty much the same reasons.
Why? It's simple. It's become clear to me over the years that in more ways than not, organised religion and sports fill the same niche in our society. I'm sure to upset people by saying this, but let's look at the similarities:
Both have a regular meeting time. Sunday morning? Monday night? If it's your things, you block out that time slot.
Allegiance to a particular group: Many religious groups stay with the same denomination or congregation all their lives. Sports fans have similar loyalties, often remaining fans of a team after they move across the country
Willing to demonize "the others" : How many times have you heard members of one denomination refer to those with different beliefs as "heretics", or say they're going to Hell or worse? And what about sports fans? I once heard a Husky's fan say he'd like to nuke Eastern Washington just to get rid of the Cougars.
At their best, they provide camaraderie, something to look forward to, and inspire people to make the world a better place. If you're volunteering or giving to charity, does it matter if you do it for reasons related to what your church or sports organization is doing? No.
At their worst, they can hide the most egregious abuses. The Catholic and Penn State sex abuse tragedies were entirely the same: organizations that let children be abused in an attempt to shield the greater organization.
The takeaway? Humans all have certain needs, and we will meet them: camaraderie, purpose, short term events to look forward to, and a unifying purpose. We will meet then in a variety of ways: sports, religion, fraternal organizations, comic book conventions, (or some combination thereof!) and unless someone tries to push their own on us (a football team jacket we once had to forcibly refuse comes to mind), we should pretty mush leave others alone to enjoy their thing.
Whatever gets you through the night
I've been thinking a lot lately about when it's appropriate to bring negative attention to someone's faith or religion and when it's not. Some would say it always is, and some would say it never is, but I think a more nuanced approach is necessary in a civil society.
If someone is trying to use their religion to deny you basic rights, like the benefits of legal marriage, it is right to call them on it. If someone tries to have their religious view of human origins taught in the public schools,it is correct to insist on science that is backed by science. If someone wants the Ten Commandments or Bibles in the classroom, it's is right to stand on the separation of church and state. If a clergy person or church lay leader abuses a child or embezzles from the congregation, he or she should be prosecuted to the fullest by civil authorities.If a coworker doesn't respect your polite refusal to invitations to their church, that's an issue for HR. Unsolicited religious callers have every right to be turned away.
However....respectful discourse calls for us to allow people their beliefs about religion without denigration. If your religious friend or neighbour is not trying to convert you or use their religion to deny you legal rights, what would ever inspire you to try and take that from them? If the hope of an afterlife and seeing their loved ones again helps someone sleep at night, is it not cruel to try and convince them we end at death? What do you think you ever gain by claiming that all religious people are fools, that religion....which both brings peace to many and provides an important social safety net...should be abolished? On the other hand, does any religious person really think that bringing up the specter of hellfire is going to convince anyone to believe what you do? What is ever gained but division when we judge others for their beliefs about religion?