Wishing for and Believing in Better

Hello from my office,

It has been an incredibly busy Monday (it is about 2:15 p.m.) and I have another 7 hours to go. I got to my office before 8:00, but there is still more to do than it seems possible in terms of managing it all. I will do it, but I know before the day is out, I will be a bit tired. I smile at those (too often state legislators) who argue we only work 17 hours a week, which is our 12 hours of teaching and our 5 hours of office hours) and that we are paid way too much for what we do. I would love for them to follow me around for a week or so. . . . I did not get far on this yesterday, and the morning has also gotten away from me, but I continue on. It has been a busy morning and the positive is students are coming in for help. Sometimes I think things are clear and logical and then I find out not so much. I assume they realize and make sense of so much more than they do. It gets me in trouble. This struggle can be about something as simple as an assignment; it can be as important as paying attention to how they pay attention to directions that are constant from semester to semester, but affect their graduation. Yet, the lack of careful attention to detail sometimes exasperates me, but then I feel curmudgeonly. The more difficult thing is we can tell students what is necessary; we can meet with them, but then when they wander down their own particular path, we are called upon to fix it. And I do not necessarily mind that, but when I get in trouble for things about, or over, which I have no control then I get more than curmudgeonly. I have often said, (and it is quite easy to prove) that I can get in enough trouble on my own, I do not need help.

As I wrote these words the other day, the day would improve. Amazing what a walk and some classical music can do to lower the blood pressure. Later that evening as I glanced at the calendar and the time, I realized it was 43 years ago almost to the minute since my older brother had passed away after a five week struggle from a TBI and lying in a coma.That evening is one I can run through my head as a sort of slow-motion movie. It was also the first time I ever witnessed my father crying. It was the first time I really understood the finality of death. It was the first time I believed I had prayed unselfish prayers or shed unselfish tears, but to no avail. I had experienced death once not long before that, but the death of a person I did not know as a family member did not affect me in such a comprehensive, overwhelming manner.

Back then I had only started my meandering academic hike, with little preparation, and even less sense of where or why? Much like a person who decides to wander up a trail with no idea of where it goes or what the path holds in terms of difficulty or danger, I had enrolled as a forestry major at Iowa State University. I was not a stellar high school student. I had little discipline and even less focus. Those ingredients were a recipe that could only end in failure, and that is what happened. Yet, at that time (1977) the cost attending a state university as an instate student was so minimal that I actually made money as a college student. How foolish I was to squander that opportunity. Perhaps what I learned, and learned appropriately, I might add, is how not to be a student if I wanted to succeed. When I came some to Sioux City from Ames that February night, I would be forever changed by the death of my older brother. I would return to Ames only to leave college and secure my first job in the food and beverage industry. I would work harder and perhaps more professionally, and more disciplined, than anytime I had ever done in the civilian world. While the Marine Corps had certainly taught me discipline, I could not really see where that brand of intentionality fit in the world where the primary color was olive drab. Of course, I was wrong, but I was also arrogant and foolish. Again, quite significant how 40 years of life changes one’s perspective.

It is that 40+ years that allows me to both worry, and simultaneously, find a sense of optimism in the daily truth-is-stranger-than-fiction reality of our current national conversation. As I listen to my students when they actually put the energy into thinking and analyzing, I find incredible hope that we might survive the narcissism that seems to characterize our President’s daily twitter feed. I have mentioned in other blogs, I do not believe he is stupid nor do I believe he is evil, but I do believe his foundational, egotistical, belief that his intellect and power provide the opportunity for him to do anything and everything he desires without consequence causes me grave concern. The fact that he has the political right following after him like the legion in the New Testament running off the cliff is more astounding. The actions of the Senate, and within the last 24-36 hours of the Justice Department regarding the Stone case should be another canary-in-the-mine moment, but I am unsure that can help under the spell of the Party of Trump. While there might be an element of awe in what he had pulled off in a little over 4 years, I am more concerned with the long-term consequence of the transformation I see from this period. Retired Marine 4-star General, and former Chief of Staff, John Kelly has been pretty vocal about the firing of Lt. Col. Vindman. What is most difficult for me as a Marine veteran is the way the President thinks he can use his office as Commander in Chief. He continually demonstrates how little he knows about decorum, esprit de corps, honor, country and yes, all those things that Jack Nicholson said so passionately in For a Few Good Men. Before you think I agree with all aspects of the military, I do not, but I can tell you that my time in the USMC made me a better person. It instilled in me an incredible sense of patriotism, but not a blind sense of follow at any cost. It provided me with a discipline, that sometimes I fail to employ, but nonetheless taught me to manage things  I would have never be able to without that Marine training.

As I listen, read, and ponder the daily news (and I will note that I listen to things I find repugnant, but I need to know what is being said), I cannot help by struggle about the depths to which it seems we have fallen as a populace. While just this afternoon, the Attorney General has noted the President is making both  his job and the job of the DOJ more difficult, he has supported way too many of the President’s outrageous positions about our judiciary. You cannot have it both ways, particularly with our current President. The acquittal of the President by the Senate has given him a green light, and he seems to have gone from 0-60 in about 3 seconds flat. Incredible! and yet why should this be surprising? When you have a narcissistic ego-maniac who has spent his entire life bullying people now located in the Oval Office, which gives him only more power (as well as a Republican party that has sold out to Trumpism), how could you imagine anything different? As I have worked with the students in the rhetoric class, I have asked them to hold their own impeachment trial. I can state unequivocally they have been  been more professional and thoughtful than anyone I listened to whose address is currently in the 20003 neighborhood. Last week, two of the three who spoke were incredibly measured, thoughtful, and structured in their arguments for where they stood. I will hear more from the third tomorrow, but I know that person to be capable and thoughtful if they do their work.

Perhaps the more important point to consider is what is necessary to get better as I argue I am wishing for? What constitutes better? I think better for me is more polite, more accepting, more reflective, more beholden, more benevolent. Each of these terms speaks about how we treat or consider the other. There is that term again: “the other.” Everyone is the other if you think about it. There is no one quite like me, and that is probably a good thing for many and various reasons. More polite would go a long ways in changing the tenor of our conversation and how we respond. Accepting would give the other an opportunity to demonstrate the gifts they have to share. Wisdom is the fruit of reflection: this saying is on the back of one of the buildings here on campus. Nothing could state it better and we are certainly in dire need of wisdom in a world of 280 character philosophy. Thinking and reflecting a bit more before spouting off might eliminate much of the furor that seems to be flying in a tornadic manner on a daily basis. To be beholden to the other means we are our fellow person’s keeper. That does not mean we are completely unfettered in our responsibility, but we do have to consider how what we do has consequences beyond ourselves. None of us lives in a vacuum. None of us has the right to do whatever we believe possible merely because we can. This seems to be the 1600 mantra with a second article cape for protection, but that is not what the framers of the Constitution would have believed. The profound selfishness of someone we elected to such a position should tell us something about our own reflection, or lack thereof. Finally, what does it mean to be benevolent. It seems, at least for me, begins with a pure and humble heart. It is about our willingness to put the needs of the other on par with our own. It is about generosity and being altruistic, at least to whatever level we can.

There is so little of that in our society today. It seems we are all about what is in it for up. I will go as far as to say the MAGA theme has done little more than perpetuate selfishness and malevolence. I am not proposing someone allows themselves to be run over, but I do believe one can be benevolent and still use some common sense, which might seem a bit oxymoronic. Common sense certainly is that. I do believe I have much of this sort of “treating the other” as a foundational beginning of my life. Once when speaking to my great aunt, she noted that from the time before I was two, I was always kind and I was regularly happy to be around others. She said I seldom pouted or had a bad day. Perhaps that was because I knew as that two year old my grandparents, with whom I was living, loved me. They cared for me. I remember once rooming with a relatively well-off housemate. He was used to getting his own way. When he exasperated another housemate one day, the second housemate asked him if he had not been hugged enough as a child. I remember cracking up at the time, but lately that comment has come back to me again and again. Are all these angry people angry because someone did not love them enough at some developmental moment of their lives? Perhaps getting a million dollars as a loan was not what someone needed. Perhaps they needed to be disciplined and loved. Being a bully either individually, societally, or nationally is not a good plan. I somehow believe we can do better. I wish we would do so. I still miss having my brother in my life and I wonder what he would think of today’s world. He did not have much appreciation of the government control of that pivotal time of 1968-69, when he graduated from high school . . .  and yet the year 1977, was a difficult one. Between the death of Bob and also of my grandmother, two people who had a lot to do with who I am would depart this world. This song reminds me of my grandmother because she loved listening to David Gates. I took so much for granted at that time . . . it seems we are doing it again, and the consequences will be with us for generations.

Thanks to them and thank you to you for reading.

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “Wishing for and Believing in Better

  1. Hi Dr Martin. There are many topics you bring up and I like what you have to say about them, but there is one thing that I want to comment on. You seem to imply, like I see many others do, that we used to be better, and that our society has gotten increasingly more hostile toward each other. Now, maybe I’m just naïve (I prefer the term “optimist”) but I don’t agree with this sentiment. However, I think it depends largely on what lens you view the world through.

    I hope you’ll find that most of the people you’ve met in person are respectful, as I have myself. Most of the hate I see in the world comes from online. Take social media, for example. Why are there so many mean-spirited and disrespectful people on various social media platforms? Because there is no immediate consequence for saying whatever you want. In an in-person environment, the consequences of saying hateful things are immediate, and our empathy takes over. Our empathy is a key factor to what makes us human. When you take away the consequences of an action, you also take away the empathy, and suddenly the world seems a whole lot darker.

    This then begs the question: is the online persona of a person more representative of them than the persona they display in public? As you might be able to infer, I believe the answer to this question is no. People often exaggerate their thoughts and beliefs online. Additionally, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of only saying things that other people will share (often controversial opinions). Combining these two things leads to people expressing beliefs that they don’t actually possess, or at the very least implying that their beliefs are much stronger than they actually are.

    I think it would be ignorant of me if didn’t at least mention how the news adds to the perception that we have become worse. I used to keep up with what was going on in the world (or I tried to, at least), and everyday it seemed like the world was getting worse. I’ve realized that was because the majority of what I read was bad news. Nobody is interested in good news. We don’t want someone on the TV to tell us that something good happened. Why? Because we expect good news. Good news is normal news, normal news is uninteresting, and publishing uninteresting news doesn’t make for a good business model.

    Now, I’d like to acknowledge that maybe I just haven’t witnessed as much hate as others because I am not a part of any minority or marginalized group. I am not ignorant to the fact that people will have different experiences and be treated differently than me based on a wide variety of factors. I don’t mean to suggest that we are perfect, or even remotely close to being perfect. But I do think we are far better off than we allow ourselves to believe.

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