Listening to Ourselves: Back to Basics #34
It's bad enough that we humans frequently don't listen to other people, but too many of us don't even listen to ourselves.
Dan Quayle, Vice President of the United States in the G. H. W. Bush administration (1989-93), quoted his grandmother telling him "You can do anything you want to if you just set your mind to it and go to work." Now that's a perfectly nice thing for a rich grandmother to tell a rich, healthy, generally moral child, but it's obviously untrue: Mr. Quayle isn't going to run a three-minute mile; more important, kids without Mr. Quayle's advantages probably aren't going to become US senators or even Vice President no matter how hard they work.
The grandmotherly quotation in Quayle's story quickly got twisted in re-telling to "You can be anything you want to be," with the wise-ass response from his political opponents — well, from me — "You can't be Barbara Jordan." I.e., a moderately intelligent White guy with modest skills in rhetoric can't become a very bright Black woman with immense talent as an orator.
Or if references to Dan Quayle or Barbara Jordan open old wounds, consider the gag photo going around the internet of a very angry swimming cat with the caption, "They Told Me I Could Become Anything, So I Became a Crocodile."
I grew up on "The Little Engine That Could," but I was never taller than 5'2" (158 cm) and even if I "gave 110%" — which I couldn't on arithmetical grounds — even if I set my mind to it and worked really, really hard, I wasn't going to fulfill a dream of becoming an NBA center.
Nor could I become "self-sufficient," a term that gets 12.9M hits on a Google search.
You want self-sufficiency? Check out the end of Stanley Kubrick's film or, to a lesser extent, Arthur C. Clarke's novel, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Star-Child at the conclusion of Kubrick's Space Odyssey is self-sufficient: a humanoid being sufficient to itself, floating naked in space, a god.
Some macho survivalist guy tells you he's self-sufficient, threaten to throw him naked out of an airlock into space. Once he's figured out he needs air and warmth to survive, plus fresh water and some food — then get him thinking about the other things he uses that he does not supply for himself: shoes, for a standard example, especially if he likes athletic shoes that are very difficult to make by hand from the pelts of snared rabbits.
More generally, try to get him thinking about what he's saying. Most people can eventually recognize when they're bullsh*tting.
Last example, a recent one: accusations against President Obama as "the most divisive" president in US history or in "modern" US history. Now my high school American history teacher was a certifiable loon, and I understand how even high school graduates may not know much US history — but come on! Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is out (and the video Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies), and with such images in your head there is no excuse for failing to recall that Mr. Lincoln's election was divisive enough to trigger the US Civil War.
And if Lincoln isn't modern enough for you, there's Franklin Delano Roosevelt or, in my lifetime, Lyndon Baines Johnson and William Jefferson Clinton. There were all sorts of things argued about Johnson's pushing for Civil Rights and "the Great Society" and about his escalating US warfare in Vietnam; for sure, however, his policies were divisive, in some cases violently divisive. And President Clinton was impeached by the US House of Representatives in a nasty showdown with Speaker Newt Gingrich and, possibly more so, the Texas Representative and (figuratively) brass-knuckled Republican operative, Tom DeLay.
We can do better, people.
There's only 100% of anything, and you're impossibly compulsive if you give more than 25% of your efforts to your job or some athletic team. You can't be whatever you want to be if you want to be something outside human limits or your own limitations: I will not be an NBA player of any sort, and certainly not a dolphin. (I'd like to be a dolphin; they seem happier than humans.) And as the literally ancient teaching has it, "Know thou art not a god."
And do recall the US Civil War and the blood as well as the music of the 1960s, plus the campaigns against Bill and Hillary Clinton, not by some vast, secret right-wing conspiracy but by a relatively small, largely visible, extremely well-financed, and very tenacious group determined to block Clinton policies and get them out of power.
Eventually, it will be nice for us to listen carefully and respectfully to others. First, though, let's listen to ourselves and try to avoid BS.