Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*

Guns and Roses: If you Love to Argue, and There Aren’t Really Any Roses*
I have always gotten into a bit of trouble with my fellow human beings because of my love for arguing. Things that have been said to me over the years:
1. Why are you so angry?
2. Why are you so opinionated?
3. No one cares.
4. Shut-Up.
5. You were created in a test-tube. (That one was my brother. To be fair I think Isaac would have said that no matter what).
I tend to see disagreements as a puzzle. What will happen if I say this? Or this? Can I win? What does it mean to win? Can I argue the other side just as well as this one?

And can I be honest? I don’t always love that side of myself either. I get obsessive, and then I forget I’m with other people with feelings who get more hurt over this stuff than me, and then I end up regretting the whole thing and thinking it didn’t really matter that much anyway.

I’m also, I have to admit here, a tad dishonest. I’ve always argued based on who is watching. I’m not kidding. When I was a teenager and thoroughly entrenched in being a pk, I only argued things that would not get me in trouble with my father’s congregation. The side I could take on things like gay marriage, guns, immigration, etc. was entirely made by considering what I could get away with without getting in too much trouble in the big picture. And I didn’t even really care what I argued. I just wanted to play the game. I wanted to bandy about words like a master-swordsman and WIN.

I remember one particular classroom debate where the side we were to take were assigned to us. I was assigned the position opposite of what I always argued. The whole class actually went “Oooooo,” together, thinking I was in trouble. My debate partner looked almost depressed and glanced at me sideways when the topic was assigned. Internally I smiled and cracked my fingers like a super villain.

“Excellent,” I thought. “No one can get mad at me if I HAD to debate the other side.”

We won so handily it wasn’t even funny. I remember my partner, who had been pro-this issue for a long time looking at me with glee as I shelled out arguments she had made to ME, as well as some she’d never heard of before. I LOVED dancing through the side of thoughts I’d never been able to publicly display. It was marvelous!

And here is where I suddenly feel sheepish even telling this story. The truth is that I only cared about arguing. Not really the subject at hand. And at a deeper level, I cared only about making sure I didn’t have to carry any responsibility for the actual subject away from the conversation. I didn’t even know what I truly believed on most subjects. Only what was possible to believe and what I was SUPPOSED to believe.

So the question here is, obviously, why am I telling this story? Who cares what I did in high-school? (The answer to the second question is no one. No one cares. It’s just that telling stories about people from more recent history gets me into trouble and as I already discussed, I can be a dishonest coward about these things).

Because there is a lot of arguing going on these days. And there are so very many people just trying to win the game. I can tell. I know what it looks like to pull a fast one in a debate to make a dishonest argument while hoping no one is alert enough or clever enough to notice. (In the past I would have pretended never to do these things. But of COURSE I have.  If the object is to win and you are obsessed, and you know you can get away with it, cheating happens.) And I have had to confront the very troubling heart issue, in myself, that I got so used to doing this that I didn’t even notice anymore and I could lie even to MYSELF that I was being honest. That’s how much I NEEDED to WIN. Which eventually turned into NEEDING TO BE RIGHT. This is even worse when one side of the debate makes me feel more secure, safe, or like I belong to the tribe that it’s from.

But there is a different way to do this. A way that isn’t really even arguing or debating, though it has something in common with those things. We can discuss things in order to discern the truth. Whatever that may be. Even if it is inconvenient, or threatening. Even if it is what is best for a larger population, but maybe not for us personally. And it looks like:

1. Admitting when you don’t know something or haven’t done enough research to be sure.

2. Admitting when you hold your opinion out of bias and culture, even when knowing that doesn’t mean you are instantly going to change your mind. Or that you ever will.
3. Making sure you understand not only the opposing side, but WHY someone would hold those views. Is it culture? Is it experience? Is it bias? Is there something I don’t even have context to understand?
4. Recognizing when you personally might hold a different opinion or take different actions if your life had been different.
5. Replacing judgement with compassion.
6. Arguing for purpose, but not for pride, anger, fun, or just putting a moral stake in the ground (i.e., I don’t want to discuss this, I just want you to know what I think.)I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think arguing was kind of fun. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still sometimes do it passive aggressively. But with big important lives-at-stake issues, I’ve learned to be a tad more careful, and to at least value tact even if I don’t always achieve it (which often means saying that I am sorry and admitting when I was wrong or went to far). And it has meant lots and lots of soul searching. I have to ask myself questions like:

1. Why am I discussing this?
2. What am I hoping to achieve?
3.  Is this good or just noise?
4. Do I care about the people I am discussing this with?
5. Am I being honest about my actual expertise here?

The current debate is particularly interesting, because I really do not think I could qualify as an expert in any way, and I feel pretty neutral on the entire subject. But it DOES matter, and I DO care. So instead of arguing for or against anything, I’ve mostly been paying attention to the discussion at hand. I’ve had to ask myself how much I know, and what I might actually think. I’ve been open to where people are being honest or dishonest because I don’t need one side or the other to win. And it’s a total crap-fest.

I’ve been a little mad at myself lately for always tying up these posts into a neat little bow like there is always an easy moral to every story. There isn’t. (and I often leave out the messy or inconvenient to make it come out that way). I don’t know what the moral of the story is here. I don’t think I do this discussion thing perfectly, or even well all the time.

But I hope that by encouraging people to think about HOW they talk, and not just what they are talking about, maybe we could get just a little bit of clarity. And since we can’t control other people, maybe we could achieve honesty and truth seeking within ourselves.

I don’t know. At least we can try.

*Yes, my title is mostly nonsense.

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

If You Just Had to Park so Damn Close: Showing Each Other Grace By Believing the Best

“DO YOU HAVE TO PARK SO DAMN CLOSE?!”

I found the tiny yellow note on my dash under my wipers at a point where I’m not entirely sure which of my parking jobs it was referring to. As with anyone, I think, with any kind of criticism, my gut reaction was to defend myself.

But to whom would I present my defense? Would it even be sufficient to just defend myself for this particular time? As someone who has always struggled to pull off neat parking jobs, it didn’t terribly surprise me that eventually it caught up with me. Having given up on re-parking repeatedly every time I wasn’t perfect, I eventually settled for between the lines and able to open the doors without dinging anyone as sufficient. I desperately wanted to tell them that I had tried. That I THOUGHT I had done a good enough job. That though pregnant I had been able to get out with relative comfort on the close side.

But you can’t argue with a note. Maybe that’s the point? Shame with no risk of argument.

Jonathon asked, “What’s it say?”

I didn’t want to show it to him, but passed it over anyway. “It’s not very nice, and there’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”

I thought to myself that if Mr. Note Writer had met me in person it would be hard to be mad at me. I would be so apologetic. I would move my vehicle right away. I would smile and poke fun at myself. I would use my own awkwardness to charm them out of anger and diffuse the whole thing immediately.

But as it was, they got to think of me as only a selfish close parker. A note like that carries a note of hate and contempt in it. It would be impossible to hold that kind of emotion in a stable way with real me. But with mysterious close parker me, it was easy.

And I imagine, that kind of fits right in with what everyone seems to like doing these days.

I read an article recently that current ratings of television and movies can be actually quite hard to interpret by audience numbers alone. Because it is a current fad to hate watch things. As in, people watch things they despise for the sole joy of complaining about them afterward. I think this is a much softer way of pointing a finger at the general emotional atmosphere of the U.S. in general right now. We are so much more into what we are against than what we are for.

But what if we started believing the best in people?

What if when someone parked badly, we imagined all the great reasons they could have had to do that. What if when someone piles 30 items in the express lane we think of what could lead a nice reasonable person to do so? What if, when we heard an opinion we thought was truly awful, our first reaction was to wonder how a person came to that conclusion? What if we assumed it was for good reasons, even if those reasons led them to a different place than us? And what if…what if I assumed the man who left the note on my windshield had understandable reasons for leaving an angry note?

Maybe his Mom died. Maybe he has to use crutches that made it even harder for him to get into his car than for me and my pregnant belly. Maybe he was joking. And maybe the note wasn’t even that mean and he was genuinely correcting me in a way I needed to be corrected.  All of these things are at least worth considering before I just decide the note leaver was a mean person. (Or even a man. Did you notice that?)

Because if you are like me, you’ve been the person on the other end of that equation. The person who needed grace. I’ll never forget the day, when I had an emotional explosion in public, way too old for it, and way out of line–when someone came and wrapped their arms around me and asked me how I was feeling. That person was even the object of my explosion. She sat with me until I calmed down. She made sure I was ok. And not once did she defend herself against the list of untrue assumptions I had made about the situation. She just saw me. She assumed the best.

And in that moment, receiving grace I did not deserve in any way, my heart changed. It was a grinch getting a bigger heart moment. The kind of thing that changed my life. The kind of thing that gave me capacity to finally dive into my own hurts and work on them, so that I could turn it back around and show grace to others.

If life is a parking lot (and we are ok with intentionally terrible metaphors), we are probably all going to park a little too close at times. Or try to take the same spot at once. Or bump into each other circling to find a spot. But we can safely assume we are all here for similar reasons, seeking basically the same thing. A place to fit in, and hopefully with as few scratches and bumps as possible. And we owe each other that grace. We are all worth that risk.

Otherwise, why are we here at all?

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

If You Are Really Into Nostalgia: Searching Our Souls for an Old Rightness

“I love old things. They make me sad.”
“What’s good about sad?”
“It’s happy, for deep people.”
-Sally Sparrow, Dr. Who-

…the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

I stared at the old black box with wooden paneling on the top. I pressed the buttons, knowing exactly how they would feel before I did. The numbers along the radio tuner were so familiar I closed my eyes and saw them in my mind while I ran my fingers over where they were. I could still hear the way it would sound, early in the morning before school. I still could feel the anxiety about a new day of school coming, or the occasional excitement when I was anticipating something good. I knew the clicking sound the snooze button would make, on a morning I was avoiding getting up, without even having to touch it again.

My Mom gave me my old alarm clock when I was 5 years old (though it wasn’t old then, and wood paneling was still something people insisted on putting onto appliances). She thought that I should start building up the habit of getting up early for school independently. Funny enough, my Mom could rarely hold herself back from waking me five minutes before it went off anyway. I remember how that felt too. Knowing how deeply my Mom cared while simultaneously feeling her anxiety about time and my own yearning for autonomy.

It’s funny the way one mundane object can make you feel.

I don’t actually like to feel sad. But I’ve always had this feeling well up in me that I half love half hate that inspires me more than any other that is just so very close to sad. I’ve always struggled to describe it. It’s not the main feeling you get when your dog dies, or your favorite TV show gets canceled–though those kinds of things can cause it too.

It’s a longing for a time when things were more right. More perfect. More like they are supposed to be.

I used to sit alone with my own thoughts trying to figure out exactly where this feeling was coming from and how to fix it. The feeling, if it’s something you can feel, is more like nostalgia. The way people feel when they think about the way we used to tune our TV’s with knobs, or the exact weight of the needle on a record player as you set it gently down on the vinyl. It’s the way a rotary phone or the touch tone dials feel when you dial a number that you used to call all the time. The memories you get when you make the cookies from your grandmother’s recipe and you smell that smell.

I constantly sort through feelings like this. I sat for almost an hour staring at that stupid alarm clock, knowing I wasn’t even going to plug it in again. Not all my memories around that clock are happy, exactly, but it came from a time when I wasn’t an adult. I wasn’t solely responsible for caring for myself. My worries were smaller. I did not have to take care of so many relationships, or be in charge of running the finances of a home and keeping three children alive, and hopefully, healthy and well-adjusted. It feels like it had to be better in some ways. Ok, not better. But less complicated.

Nostalgia is the sad feeling you get when you remember something happy that doesn’t exist anymore.

Did you know that all the cells in your body completely replace themselves about every 7 years? I’ve always remembered this, because it makes me think of the various versions of myself I have been. That girl, the one that used to slam the snooze button in high school to avoid getting ready for another tense day of academics I loved and social situations that made me feel queazy–that girl is gone. Every single cell that existed in her body died and was replaced years ago. All that is left are the memories which are made of neurons which copied other dying neurons.  She’s a memory of a memory. I don’t even have any way of knowing how accurate what I remember about her is.

Right now I think our world is really into nostalgia. We long for times that existed before we were born. We think of ourselves as owning the past and the peoples we came from when really, all we know are stories told about stories told about stories. We actually take personal pride in the exact version of things that make us feel our own nostalgia. Maybe it’s memories of hard working people during the Great Depression. Maybe it’s members of the Greatest Generation that we Loved. Maybe it’s days when kids used to run free more. Maybe it’s the swelling in the chest at old protests or liberation movements. Maybe it’s a memory of a road that used to be in the country, but has been civilized now. Maybe it’s a neighborhood that used to be rough, but has sadly become upscale.

We take our identities from these things. What we long for is part of who we are.

But so much of it has fallen through the cracks by now. What remains was sifted out by the victorious and powerful, and if we’re occasionally lucky, true historians, artists, and dreamers trying to capture the truth.

Most people I know are trying to match the world up to some idea of rightness. Some long gone memory that things can be right, though now they are wrong. Our desire for redemption is just so strong. We may have different ideas of what that redemption looks like, different goals and ideals. But it’s there. We’re not seeking to add more random outcomes to a randomly generated universe. We look to restore and correct in a reality where everything is drifting toward entropy. Why do we do that? How many millions of decisions are made in subconsciously trying to recapture something that has long ago left us?

But the thing is, I think rightness is something to be made, not something to recapture. It’s going to be new. Not old. Maybe we are inspired by the past, but I think we are called to build a new story together. With all the siren voices calling out in anger right now over politics, theology, fundamentalism, or whatever, what if they unified to create something new, instead of trying to recapture something old?

Maybe it’s more remarkable that the cells in my body were newly generated to keep me alive than that they once all died. Maybe what we can make together in the future matters more than what we once were. Maybe knowing how universal some of what we long for is can unite us in what we will one day be glad that we did.

I set up my old clock in the basement, for now. It tells time to the spiders and mice, and me occasionally when I’m sifting through piles of old junk. Smelling. Smiling. Remembering. It’s worth something, the sad joy of memory, for sure. But I think it’s a small part of building up what is to come.

And one day, I will be nostalgic for now. For baby clothes and bruised knees. For piggy back rides and little boy giggles. For late night feedings and falling into bed exhausted.

And the truly odd thing is, thinking of that makes me feel that same longing for what I DO have right now. And for what is coming. And it makes me think that longing for the same things, all of us together, is not such a crazy dream.