Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Court of Public Opinion

I learned one thing when I served on a jury.

Well, in fairness, I learned more than one thing, but one thing really did stand out, and I've never forgotten it.  

Perhaps because it was so obvious.  Perhaps because at the time the people I shared my revelation with felt that it should hardly have been a revelation.  And perhaps it shouldn't have been.  But OMG it is something I truly wish everyone actually felt was not only obvious, but something they should live by on a daily basis.

My particular case was excruciatingly boring and interminable (yes, even the Judge went to sleep once), but the experience truly reinforced the home truth: 

Don't judge before you have heard both sides. Really.  Don't.

Now in life, you often don't have the opportunity to hear both sides.  

So pop quiz: what shouldn't you do?  

Correct: don't come down on a final judgement.  

Sure you can have an opinion, but acknowledge that you're shooting from the hip and your aim and accuracy will suffer for it.

Of course, it is fun to judge othersit can be enormously satisfying and quite entertaining but not if you start to take yourself and the numerous equally uninformed others seriously.  If you plan to make a serious judgment you have to investigate all sides and unemotionally do your homework. And it's hardly reasonable to take other opinions seriously unless they've listened to all sides and done their homework, right? But reason doesn't seem to have much cachet right now.

A favorite childhood tale was a friend who had a somewhat...difficult relationship with her older brother.  Her favorite method of pulling his chain was to wallop him, then shout, "Mommy, Johnny's hitting me!!!!" Mom would, naturally arrive just in time to see with her own eyes Johnny retaliating, and send him off, no excuses.  Eyewitness account!

Our judge instructed us in our role as a jury, noting that it was up to us to discern the truth from the information we were given.  "Ask yourself," he requested, "why someone is saying something.  Figure out what their motives might be, what the repercussions might be, and assess the information accordingly." (Like: will it sell more papers? Get hits? Go viral? Make me famous? Yes? Think about it.)

Good advice.

But in this self-obsessed, self-revelatory, boundary-less world of private/public yammering, everyone is a self-anointed judge, jury and executioner.  That is until someone points out the accused wasn't even there, or the visuals were utterly misinterpreted, or the victim was actually the perpetratoror vice versa.  Oops!

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. [Matthew 7:1-2]

I appreciate the power of stories, books, filmswhateverto put us in the shoes of those pilloried by public opinion.  And, I hope, offer us some insight and restraint in controlling our own often irrational and thoughtless behavior.  

Bullying isn't just the province of the young.

Monday, November 24, 2014

You’re Welcome….

I know I will sound nostalgic for those putative good-old-days, but I must voice my ongoing surprise that in a time when communication has never been easier—email, text, SMS, phone, letters, c’mon, you don’t even need to actually waste time speaking to someone—there is a profound lack of what seems to me to be basic consideration.  

No acknowledgement of information received, thanks for an event attended, confirmation of receipt of package or card.  Emoticons were invented for the terminally inarticulate—a heart, a smiley face, or just thx—but don’t hold your breath.

I thought I would share an excerpt from a delightful book titled:  Good Form:  Manners, Good and Bad, at Home and in Society © 1890, p. 31.  Yes, that’s the kind of book my friends give me!  While it's not about acknowledgement, I found it a powerful reminder of what seems so missing from our discourse.

I also have a great 1942 edition of Emily Post’s Etiquette.  It notes in the front pages that “This book is manufactured under wartime conditions in conformity with all government regulations controlling the use of paper and other materials.” The book is filled with excellent advice in general, and timely advice on how to bake a wedding cake by borrowing friends ration cards for butter.  Belt tightening indeed.

Good and bad manners in conversation

“Unfortunately, it is sometimes the man "who don't know that he don't know," who is most insistent upon being listened to. This fault is not confined to men, however. It is the ignorant who are inhospitable to another's opinions. Entertaining alien views long enough to judge them fairly is not adopting them, anymore than it is including a person in one’s family to ask him to dinner. The scoffer at any seriously formulated judgment shows bad manners. Another bad mannered person is the one who boldly or baldly contradicts.  Dissent is allowable if cautiously expressed, but denial or contempt is bad form.  Those who differ from each other in opinions, are in very bad form if they cannot meet in society and find harmonious topics upon which to speak to each other.”

But I realize that in addition to sex, conflict sells, and when you’re looking to gain, retain and monetize an audience, the Xtreme, the outrageous and polarizing positions capture our attention, our time and our clicks.  Unfortunately, we even believe it. 

On the positive side, I would note that Jon Stewart usually displays a level of tact and decorum that might be a model for a 21st Vs 19th Century self presentation. And worth channelling as we head for those fabulous family meals....!

Thanksgiving is a good time to say

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Wonders of Hair Clips

Well, I can't offer you 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover or perhaps more appropriately the many (25 or more!) uses for Duct Tape (which, I was amazed to learn, actually started its life being called Duck Tape, as Johnson and Johnson used cotton canvas duck cloth to create it).

But I can share my own enthusiasm for plastic hair clips.  Yep, you heard it right.

Plastic Hair Clips, various sizes

They come in different sizes and shapes, but are available at most drug stores in the "Hair Accessories" section.

First, they do hold hair.  I can vouch for that.  But they hold a lot of other things too, easily, conveniently and fairly cost effectively. 

Like tidying up irritating strands of wires, they open in an instant, can be removed, reused or re-done, unlike a lot of other cord controlling options.

They hold things up, get and keep cords off the floor and out of the way.  They can conveniently grasp things that you might like having handy, like your charger-which-keeps-sliding-off-the-table.  Like holding other hair accessories nearby and accessible:

But one of my favorite uses is to keep my earphones in a tidy and (relatively) untangled ball (one that I can attach to things, perhaps an inside purse zipper pull) if I need those earphones handy.  The other is holding yarn ends and beginnings so they not only don't unravel as I carry them around or store them, but I can also find the #%@&*! end (or beginning) when I need to.  They also work holding ribbon.


Many things have more than one purpose.  Look at an object's (or a person's) skill sets and see what other purposes they might fulfill.

You might give your lover another chance--or you might duct tape the door shut!  You have options...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wonder: Toilet Seats

Isn't that a remarkable word?

I was sitting with a writer friend--a literary type--and we were talking about things in general, delving into personalities, actions, motives,  assumptions...speculating on scenarios.  And in the midst, she noted, "Perhaps I wonder too much."

Hmmmm.  Well for her, in many ways wondering was her job, as it is for most  writers.

And I have to admit, I wonder too.  Life is filled with so many mysteries, so many different perspectives, so many different layers of truth.  Such richness.  Indeed, such wonder.  Can there be too much? depends how much time you have to spare wondering.  Because it can be a fairly time consuming habit!  Indeed, it can expand to encompass all time.

Here's my most recent wondering experience (alas, not a nice one):

Yesterday, I had the unpleasant--I think almost entirely female experience--of going to the Womens' Room in a restaurant and sitting on a wet toilet seat (lighting was low).

Now I have spent years wondering why a woman who clearly is overly obsessed (in my opinion) about GERMS would decide the right thing to do is urinate all over the toilet seat such that someone else may sit on a seat they have fouled.

Really?  You couldn't lift the seat with your foot and hover over the bowl? It's excellent for tightening those flabby thigh muscles!  Or just use the often available toilet seat cover?

The good news is that urine is almost always sterile, so as disgusting an experience as it is, the likelihood of any harm (aside of rather strange wet spots on the back of one's pant legs) is minuscule.

But the hypocrisy of this germ-phobic human dumping her waste so that others may sit in it just boggles my mind.

Perhaps it's an aggressive act? Like a hacker sending a computer virus just for the fun of messing up strangers' lives? That at least offers me some logic.  Perhaps the world is filled with angry souls, acting out in small ways.  Perhaps, as I wipe myself, I should send a silent pitying prayer to the offender, rather than a not-so-silent curse! Perhaps....

Though I have to admit, I am, in general, very pro-germ.  If I pause to reflect (yes, OK, wonder) on where obsessive cleanliness will get you, it is not a place I want to be.  I want my body trained--like an athlete--to handle germs easily, without breaking a sweat.

Hey, I eat things I've dropped on the floor, and I'm still alive. No, I'm not allergic to anything--my body is a finely tuned germ-ingesting instrument! For me, the germ phobia road leads to a version of becoming David, the bubble baby.

I celebrate a world filled with good things and bad things.  And I wonder....

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What changes, you or it?

How do you fall in love?  What is it based on? How can you change how you feel? a friend was asking as she was seeing someone who seemed to be more attracted to her than she was to him.  Yet she liked him, enjoyed him, and wished she could reciprocate.

Except it's not an intellectual exercise is it?  There's a reason that traditionally Cupid is blind.  Logic and reason often don't have much to do with feelings.

And our feelings can change.  We have fallen in love with people we've known for years.  We have fallen out of love with people we have loved for years.  Thoughon considerationfalling out of love seems to have a lot more intellectual and factual aspects to it than falling in love!

It's pretty hard to describe what exactly is the change that suddenly transformed 'someone' into something beloved. Sometimes there's an action, a look, an understanding, but it's pretty ineffable.

Trying to understand the hows and whys that cause us to fall in love with a person seems too complex and big a challenge to wrap our arms around.  So let's consider smaller things.

Can you remember an instance where your attitude changed? Some occurrence that switched your opinion, changed your mind, opened a door, gave you a new perspective, readjusted your thinking, caused you to reframe your perception and realign your judgement?

No?  OK, here's one from my files.

Some of you may remember the early days of Clint Eastwood films (directed by Sergio Leone, A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, etc.).  I would declaim to anyone that would listen how unbelievably boring and stupid the films were!  They just consisted of Clint Eastwood...

1) Walking onto the screen
2) Obliterating everyone
3) Walking off the screen

4) Walking onto a new screen
5) Obliterating everyone
6) Walking off the screen


Many would agree.  But what stuck in my mind was the one person who looked at me and said, slightly sorrowfully, as if speaking to a somewhat retarded person:

"But...that's the point."

Well, the scales fell from my eyes and I was able to utterly reassess my conclusions, realign my expectations and realizeand appreciatethe poetry in motion that this metaphoric Western ballet depicted. Indeed, all Westerns celebrated.  Reader, I loved them. Yes, all of them.

Example two, further illustrating my point on how much thingsfeelings, beliefs, opinionsdepend on how you are looking, not actually what you are looking at.  So when people say (with a myriad of quotes) 'you can only change yourself,' know that you probably change yourself constantly, often easily, and that it has the power to instantly open new worlds.

I remember first moving to NYC and asking, "What is an egg cream?" and always getting the answer, "It's an ice cream soda, without the ice cream."

Are you with me here?  Huh?  Why would anyone ever want an ice-creamless ice cream soda?  I mean, Hello? WTFP? (What's The F**king Point?).  Given that the point of having an ice cream soda is, in fact, THE ICE-CREAM.  That's why it's the lead!

I wandered through Manhattan really feeling pretty sad about New York and their delight in creating and ordering an ice cream soda...hold the ice cream.  Indeed, II admit itwould occasionally indulge in a little rant about the cosmic stupidity of the concept.

Until finally someone saidslightly sorrowfully, as if speaking to a developmentally disabled person: "It's not an ice cream soda without the ice cream.  It's an enhanced Coke."

The scales fell from my eyes and I was able to reassess my conclusions, realign my expectations and realizeand appreciatethe nectar of the gods this delightful fizzy fresh and thirst quenching ambrosia offered. Reader, I loved them.

And consider all these challenges to reread books you've read in the pastPractical Classics and others I can't immediately locate with search, or numerous articles over the years all illustrate how you, not "it" changes, and how amazing that is, because the world we see changes as we do, endlessly new, never entirely known.

Think about it....

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky
(but of course time changes you, even if you never leave)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Winter Trees

Spring is a fickle and flirtatious season, luring us with the promise of warmth, rebirth and new beginnings.  But for everything you gain, there is always an element of loss.

And while the sight of new buds and flowers is lovely, I love winter trees.  I treasure their beauty and mourn the loss, the elegance, the sculptural beauty, each as unique as a fingerprint, etched against the sky...soon to be all covered up by a mass of green fuzz.

Yes, I know I am lacking in the formatting department, but below are some winter trees to enjoy before they disappear....


Happy Spring!

And remember, no matter how fabulous the covering is, it's the structure & the bones underneath that deliver throughout the year...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why I buy organic milk

I buy organic milk.  There.  I've said it.  And it's true.

But I do not buy organic milk because it's organic.

I do not buy organic milk because of its lack of pesticides.

Nor do I buy it because it's fashionable and others will admire me for my thoughtful and responsible choices.

In addition, I do not purchase it because I know that my milk choice will, in some small way, Save The World.

In fact, let me say this right up front: there is only one thing I really am interested in with anything ingestible: Does it taste good? Well, actually, the question really is 'do I like it,' because "goodness" is clearly self-defined.

And in terms of self-definition, I have little taste memory, so my assessments use the scientific A/B method on everythingthat is I taste things back-to-back to try to determine which I like better, or indeed, if I can tell any difference at all.

I also need to confess that I am a tea drinker and have both milk and sugar in my tea.

Thus I must have milk available every day, and it has to last.  It is inexpressibly sad to see a kelp bed of white curdled milk streamers appear at the top of your mug as you milk-up first thing.

And I like fat milk, a creamy taste.  I call it Boy Milk, i.e. whole milk, Vs Girl Milk, which is skim (as I child I thought was called 'skinned milk.' Really not too far off).

I was initially intrigued by organic milk by the remarkable sell-by dateoften a month away.  Given the issues around the allowed sell-by date (in New York City, the allowed date migrated to 5 days later, so milk that used to last for a week past the sell by date expired in two days, totally messing up my arithmetic) this swath of time was seductive.  I was seduced.

Then an odd thing happened.  I found the organic milk not only lasted longer, but tasted better, sweeter, creamier, I could have 2% and it tasted as good to me as regular whole milk (yes, I verified this in an A/B taste test).

There's a fair bit of information out there as to the whys and wherefores, but the most compelling explanation for me was in Scientific American.  The article's focus is on the long shelf life of organic milk.  It notes that organic milk processing is different from regular milk, as it is heated to a higher temperature (UHT), which kills more bacteria and enables it to last longer and hence travel further.  There are fewer organic farms and the product ships longer distances.  The high temperatures slightly caramelize the trace sugar in the milk, giving it a sweeter taste.  Yum.

I have not found non-organic UHT milk, and do not care for the taste of Parmalat, so I'm just paying the price.

And happy to.

Do you have things you do or buy for all the "wrong" reasons?

Isabel Swift