When Fragility becomes a Companion

Hello from my table . . .

It is my last day in Nicaragua, and it has been a learning experience. That seems to be the way most experiences go for me, and more an more, the learning has created an increased sense of fragility. I am glad for more reasons than not I that my time here was away from the bustle of the capital. While there were some initial plans to spend a bit of time there, the first afternoon did offer some insight into the Christmas holidays, and certainly sitting along the lake that first day was quite glorious. On another day a trip to Matagalpa, the other larger town to this little valley city of Sébaco, offered yet another vision of this beautiful country. While time and its relevance to daily life is very different from Bloomsburg and much of my own experience, there is something important to realize when you are virtually at the mercy of other people’s schedules and their schedules are controlled by individuals beyond them. The consequence has been at times feeling powerless, which is for me a feeling of being unsafe, and yet, I was in control of more than realized. The silver lining of this was my class got my undivided attention over the last 8 days, and I have been able to reach out both individually and through group meetings to offer assistance. The writing of this blog has been a source of comfort and focus over this past week as it seems death is all around me. That is not specifically here in Nicaragua, in fact, it is the opposite, but between the loss of two people I have known personally, as well as the passing of a former pope, the profound injury to a 24 year old football player, and yes, even the craziness of my own country’s legislative process, I see a thread. Most of what we know and accept as (believe to be) normalcy hangs by that very tired and frayed thread.

Normalcy is, undoubtedly, a subjective term. Even in the last week I have been pushed to understand what happens when my own cultural mores are imposed on a different place, when my expectations of what are general practices are not the practices of the other. One would think a decade later I would realize the profound difference between Hispanic time and Michael’s time. And yet I am always stunned by the extreme difference between their chronos and my kairos. I have know the conceptual difference since my first Greek class, but the experiential difference still confounds me. Growing up with a father who was early for everything, and I fall pitifully short by his standards, I still believe there is significance to being on time, following a plan, and doing my level best at doing what I’ve intended. And yet, stepping back, I must realize that my own standards are being applied in such a statement. And then again, the underlying principles of normalcy, of basic human behavior wells up from somewhere. Where? As I write this, outside the borders of my place of citizenship, the country that has claimed to be a beacon of freedom, of choice, of democracy cannot, two years to the day after an unprecedented attack on the very hall of democracy, cannot come together to elect a leader of the majority party. So, the questions of where? What? How? are front and center.

The thread of democracy, of decency, seems to be twisted and pulled in such a way that I cannot help but wonder if it can survive. And yet, the past two days where I am have pushed home again how desperately people still believe the American experiment has something to offer. I know my own life provides an incredible example of possibility. I know within my own family, biological or adopted, the choices made can determine long-term what might occur. Perception, as noted within my writing, is reality for the perceived, until proven otherwise. I wonder from time to time how my students perceive America and what it stands for, and not as some sound byte or tropism, but deeply, existentially? I know well the tropes used by my generation and I am pretty sure the majority of them are unbelievable to my students. And yet, there are larger concerns. What about fundamental understandings of words like freedom, privacy, decorum, or justice to name a few. There are books about these very terms, and to say there is disagreement is a serious understatement. How did we, as a country, get here? It seems the very thing we admire, or identify with, the most could become our undoing. It is one of those tropes: rugged individualism. We pride ourselves on the fact that we can do whatever we put our minds to; we have been enculturated from infancy to stand up for ourselves. I do not see anything problematic in this conceptually, but how do we connect the Lockean understanding of society to the individual? It seems we have lost that. The number of significant current examples are probably as many as I have fingers, and if I push how far I might ponder, perhaps toes.

I have caught a number of headlines lately that refer to doom-surfing. If I understand correctly, it is a preoccupation with a desire to read bad news. To be obsessed with the terrible things that we are pelted with daily seems a profoundly wrong direction to follow. While I have reasons to question, to wonder the whys, at this moment I wish to focus on something that gives me hope. I am reminded of a prayer one of my seminary professors shared at the beginning of each morning class. This was a prayer contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (LBW).

Almighty God, Draw your hearts to you. Guide our minds, fill our imaginations, control our wills that we may be wholly yours. Use us you will, always to your glory and the welfare of your people. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(LBW 1978).

As I write this, the irony that Neil Diamond’s song “America” from the movie, The Jazz Singer is not lost on me. The memory of one of my first time hearing it I was in Europe also comes to mind. What might we do to reignite the light of the torch, to re-establish the words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free . . .” My experience with those hoping for a better life are seldom looking to create trouble. They want to provide for their children and for their families. Indeed perhaps they are tired, but it is often because they have labored intensely with little hope of change. They live in poverty because their world provides almost no chance for change. They are huddled together because it is all they have. None of this makes them undesirable; in fact, I will assert it is exactly the opposite. While I am not advocating illegal immigration, I can understand how and why it happens. It gets me back to the title, and to a point in a recent blog. We need hope. Without it, we are fragile; we are frightened; and we become . There are a minuscule few who don’t wish better for their children. And yet laws (generally) have reason; without law and process we have chaos and eventually anarchy.

I am in Ecuador now (for the past two days). And ironically watching CNN world yesterday, it appears that the Brazilian version of January 6th was occurring in the Capitol of Brazil. Again, fragility is apparent. Is it perhaps our fragility is the consequence of self-centeredness? It is possible that we struggle because we seldom look toward the welfare of the larger group? Is this merely naïveté on my part or is it believing we should try for something better? These questions haunt me, and they cause me alarm. Are we in a time where the words I noted above are now but a former practice and gone in our present world? I wish I knew. I have been reminded pretty stridently the last few days that I am too kind, and I have a profound desire to have family within view. That is one of my most profound fragilities, and yet, a strength. I know how to manage both sides, but also to know who I am. I guess that is the most significant part. There is only one thing or person over which I have any real power, and that is myself. If I manage that well, I minimize my fragility in this fragile world. Guide our minds and fill our imaginations for something better.

Thanks 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.

4 thoughts on “When Fragility becomes a Companion

  1. Dr Martin,

    While reading through your latest blog post, I cannot help but think that most of the divisions and fear relating to politics is due to recency bias and the media. As you mentioned, an unusual event occurred this week when the majority party needed over a dozen rounds of voting to elect a Speaker of the House of Representatives. This caused many news outlets to spread a blanket of fear over the nation by linking it to a breakdown in American politics and connecting it with the 2021 raid on the Capital. If we look through history, however, both of these events are not unique in nature or unprecedented.

    While the most recent election for the Speaker of the House of Representatives was unusual when compared to other recent Speaker elections, it was definitely not unprecedented or unique of an event. On fifteen other occasions (albeit not having occurred in over 100 years), this specific election has required more than a single round of voting. Furthermore, the election for Speaker of the House occurring in 1855 actually required approximately a month of debate and 133 rounds of voting. I would actually be bold enough to remark that this Speaker election not following the recent trend of being “cut and dry” is a good thing for Democracy. Any time additional debate is required and political compromises are made, this generally ensures a greater number of voices are being heard and recognized which, in fact, is the greatest value of a Republic framework of governance.

    Regarding the 2021 raid on the Capital, while this incident was a deplorable act that should be repudiated and condemned, it was not unprecedented or as extreme as the media and political leaders portray it to be. In 1915, 1971 and 1983, bombs were detonated inside of the United States Capital due to dissention over political beliefs. Four Puerto Rican nationalists fired at members of Congress in the House of Representatives chambers in 1954. Even as recently as 2018 there was over 150 individuals arrested due to protesting climate activists breaching areas of the United States Capital that were off limits from where they were allowed to demonstrate. Dissention due to political views has always motivated segments of the population to engage in acts that go against the fabric of this nation, but these detestable events are not the “death knells” for Democracy.

  2. People all over the world refuse to believe what is right in front of them, and America is no exception. Science and research have been traded for fake news and it seems everyone believes that they themselves are the oracles of everything, as we saw during the pandemic. Suddenly, everyone around me was an infectious disease expert! Perhaps our fragility, politically and otherwise, is a result of self-centeredness. People lacked consideration and compassion through a life-threatening pandemic, and now these issues of alleged voter fraud benefit a divisive, nationalist parasite in our country, and in our world. As Amy mentioned, the media and rampant misinformation has plagued our world. Social media, especially, seeks to encourage people to act, as we saw with the US Capitol riots. We witnessed the quickness in which memes and news stories spread on these platforms and become cultural focal points, and how rapidly people are willing to act out of anger.

    I recently watched “Four Hours at the Capitol” and was shocked by how terrible things got in D.C. I had read the news and had seen the immense stupidity of the “QAnon Shaman” and footage of people smoking joints in the rotunda, but I hadn’t comprehended how truly awful that day was until I watched this film. Previously, I made the simple assumption that the people at the Capitol were a small group of extremist, Trump touting fools, but I did not comprehend how many individuals actually participated in January 6th’s events. It seemed surreal and idiotic to me, that those people thought they would somehow reap benefits from their behavior, that they were going to prove that the election was somehow rigged through their violence and disrespect. I believe there are times where extreme action can be of benefit to the masses and revolt can be an act of justice, and I don’t have a lot of trust or faith in our government, but the insurrection revealed to me that several thousand people believed in what had been transpiring there, not just a small crowd of backwards thinking individuals. These events made it abundantly clear that the United States’ democracy is crumbling, and it seems to have been fuel for the events which transpired in Brazil.

    Bolsonaro’s departure from the Brazilian government as the catalyst to Brazil’s Capital riots is equivalent to the insurrection which followed Trumps’ loss of power in the US. Bolsonaro is often referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics,” indicating the commonalities between these conservative leaders, and what is even more concerning to me is that alt-right figure, Steve Bannon, has made statements in support of the attack on the Brazilian capital. I believe rugged individualism contributes to these sorts of events. Capitalism leads to individualism and “survival of the fittest,” and many believe they are entitled and more deserving of the resources they acquire than others. The Calvinistic roots of our society inform current attitudes of many right-wing people. Determinism removes the values of community and gives permission to believe some people simply “deserve” things that others don’t. That it is somehow someone’s karma or God-delivered fate to struggle and be born into poverty or to have to endure other challenges. Individualism places blame on anyone who isn’t living in alignment with the productivity culture we are forced into. Americans took the land from a communalist society and turned this country into one of slavery, colonialism, capitalism, consumerism. Individualism is certainly polarizing.

    It is apparent that America is a self-centered nation, that we project classism onto others because of the competition we so fear. We see other individuals and businesses and entities as threats to our own success. But if our “right” to resources and our “deserving of resources” is God-willing, is it not paradoxical to feel threatened by the other? We see these divides whether they be political, financial, gendered, racial, whatever, and perceive them as a threat. In a capitalist, consumerist society, our success is under siege when others can take away what we think is rightfully ours. This perpetuates the severance of people and feeds on the types of behaviors we saw in these two examples of riots.

    America can provide opportunities that are not available otherwise, and I believe we should allow people to enter our country if it provides them with stability and safety. It should not be seen as an attack or threat to our society to receive others with open arms. Connecting this back to the insurrection and to the Brazilian uprising of anger after the election – this individualism spawns our denial of our own limitations of knowledge. We don’t want to rely on experts just as we don’t want to rely on the government for resources. We assume we can do everything ourselves and that our community should only extend to those who believe the same things we do. We end up engaging only with that which reinforces our own opinions. Who are we as humans in one region of the world, to declare another human an immigrant, when we benefit from the labors and imports of the very countries we refuse to allow individuals to come to America from? Who are we to claim another as “illegal” or “an alien” when they are the very people offering us supplies we depend on?

  3. Dear Dr. Martin,

    Your blog “When Fragility becomes a Companion” is a recap on recognizing your biggest strengths as weaknesses. Using the example of the doom-surfer, they enjoy surfing so much and are great at it but know, ultimately, it’ll be a demise. The comparison to that and our fragility is strong. We know what hurts us but decide to do such things anyways.
    You brought up questioning how your students think about America so I’ll say this from a students perspective: America is an opportunity for anyone to become successful in what they please without any external fears. Now if those fears are concealed like you’ve said in a previous blog is another question. America is a symbolism for hope to people of poverty. America is melting pot of cultures, opportunities, and the expression of basic human rights.
    America has not lost its specialty; People have misconstrued what hope is. They believe hope is wishing for something and it will come. I have went over on the last blog on what hope truly is and why it is gone. People do not take steps for themselves and expect things to come. That is not hope. America is hope.

  4. Dr. Martin,

    Your writing of democracy and decency, and how we reached where we are as a country really got me thinking about how we’ve progressed overall. The things our country was founded on, freedom, individuality, and choice, as you’ve said, have evolved to the point I’m not even sure if they’re a component in how we act anymore. Undoubtedly, everyone has experienced the changes in economy and work-sentiment across the United States. People have become slaves to the system, making pennies while billionaires are richer than they’ve ever been. Can our government, and we as a people, truly value freedom when we’re bound in chains by our jobs? At this point, I find it hard to feel like an individual when millions of people simply live by going to work, returning home, sleeping and repeating. I don’t think that’s what our founding fathers had in mind at the inception of our country, and I feel that we’re straying ever farther from their intentions.

    Yet today, as you said, America is still a beacon of hope for people who come from far less. People come to America to escape poverty and poor working conditions, and are greeted by a society that in reality has little care for their misfortune. I find it almost sad in a way, that a society I feel is approaching dystopian can be considered a haven for somebody else. It almost makes it hard for me to condemn how our society functions, knowing that others have it worse. Nonetheless, I think that everyone in America deserves a better life than what’s available, regardless of their upbringing or past experiences. It will take many years and many advocates, and even then I’m not sure if change is possible. Change is slow and tedious, especially in America, which is why I fear that we’re heading down a path of sorrow rather than hope. Worry as any of us might, only time will tell what the future holds for our country.

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