Facebook Fatigue

I used to love Facebook.

But as I’m sure you’ve noticed, its become toxic.

Why can’t we be friends without discussing politics? Please, add as many cat memes as possible, but is it really the place to be discussing immigration policy?

And yet, I find myself commenting on any number of threads. I cannot not comment. Especially after I sine the inane comments, the misinformation, the outright falsehoods, and the mystifying beliefs which are not based on any facts whatsoever.

Or at least that’s from my own point of view. And everyone else has their own point of view. A billion points of view which are based and shaped by those other billion people turn out to be not so helpful after all.

And so I wonder why I continue to be a Facebook warrior. Why can’t I let people wallow in their own incompetence. I’m sure they let me wallow in mine. Why can’t I let a snide comment go? Why do I have to add to the toxic environment? Why do I insist on mindlessly scrolling through everyone else’s political comments knowing I’ll simply think they are idiots. (as they think the same as me) Why? Why? Why?

The better question is: why don’t I quit Facebook?

I do wish someone would pay me to be a truth warrior on Facebook, countering every false meme and ridiculous comments with obnoxious statements based on fact and actual research. I could spend a year on my own newsfeed countering the misinformation. Anyone want to sponsor me? $50,000 should do it. I will make you proud. I’ll produce quotes, facts, laws, research, history, and common sense to defend those who blast against the decency of truth. I’ll do it. I have a computer and I’m willing to use it.

Facebook has put me on the edge. But I’m not likely to jump anytime soon. I’ll probably keep my scrolling habits in place. Unfortunately.

Facebook fatigue is a real thing. And I live there.

 

The Bored Generation

I’ve become quite bored with the bored generation. Okay, that’s not exactly true. But I do wonder what will become of all of these bored kids.

Yes, they are bored. They tell me they’re bored. They get bored at all the wrong times in all the wrong ways. It’s like they need to be bored. The opposite of bored being extremely active with meaningless superhero films to pass the time.

I had one say that the movie I showed them in class this week was boring. It was “The Quiet American” – based on the Graham Greene novel set towards the end of the French Indochina War. The book is fantastic. The movie isn’t bad. Not the best in the world, but good acting, solid plot. Action, intrigue, mystery.

But a student said it was boring. I suppose I should be happy. It must mean that my lectures are so riveting that anything Hollywood produces is a long, boring step downwards.

I do, however, lament the fact that “boring” movies mean nothing to kids these days. I just watched “To Kill a Mockingbird” starring Gregory Peck. Yes, it was slow moving. Most teens today would be asleep in the first five minutes, which would be a shame. It shows a wonderful view of southern life and all its ugly realities in the 1930s. Lessons galore for our generation, but most of them would be lost on this generation of instant gratification.

We all know what sells in this world. Wild stories, told in big epic computer-generated FX. Comic books come to life. Explosions and sex and in your face language and loud music. It’s an endless scroll of images, fast and furious, many and meaningless. Dialogue is short-changed, and characters are not so deep. We have become bored, shallow, inattentive to the world around us.

Good or bad, it’s where we are at as a society. I hope this generation will awake from its boredom and begin to ask critical questions of how our world has gotten to where it is. We need art, music, and stories which challenge the notion that we are the throw-away, consumer, classically illiterate society.

Here’s hoping that we all awake from our slumber.

Shared Misery: A Step Towards Friendship

What’s the saying: “Misery Loves Company?”

Maybe this is a better saying: “Misery Builds Friendship.

My excruciatingly long flight back to Malaysia had an unexpected turn last evening. As the massive A380 aircraft landed in Kuala Lumpur, it stopped on the tarmac for quite a long time. Then the captain came on to say we are waiting for another aircraft to leave the bay before we can pull up. Another ten minutes or so.

That’s fine.

About fifteen minutes later, the captain announces that the Malaysian officials told them it will be another thirty minutes. There’s a collective groan on the plane, but we bear it, hunker down and wait it out.

Thirty minutes later, a clearly perturbed captain apologized to us saying that the Malaysian officials have been “lying to us,” and that he has been in contact with Emirates headquarters in Dubai and is trying everything to get us unloaded. It would be another 35 minutes.

Well, that was it. I was going to miss my flight to Penang. After the hour and a half wait on the aircraft, we debarked, and the ten of us who were flying to Penang, were called aside from the ground staff and told to wait until an Emirates representative would deal with out situation.

Well, here’s what dealing meant. They informed us that the first flight to Penang they could book us on would be the same flight the next day. That is, 24 hours! All other Malaysian Airlines flights to Penang were overbooked all day. That was the first one we were guaranteed on.

So they said they would provide us with hotel vouchers and meals, and we would need to go to baggage claim to pick up our luggage.

Ok, fine. Just give me a bed! Well, little did I know!

We were escorted through immigration by a Malaysian Airline official and we waited for the bags to come. All bags for the Dubai-KL flight came, except for the bags going to Penang. I asked the staff, Don’t you think they put our bags aside? Only Penang bags are missing. He said, No, we told them to send them through.

Forty-five minutes later, we are confirmed with this announcement: all Penang bags have been brought to storage. It will take two hours to get them for you.

Grrrr.

At this point, I got talking to the several people who were stuck in the same situation. We conjectured how long everything was going to take. We commiserated with our circumstances. We all agreed on the incompetence on display.

A German girl from Frankfurt, who was trying to get to her boyfriend in Bayan Lepas, Penang, was in need of some guidance. I was able to help her know which bus station to go to if she didn’t want to wait for the flight. A student, who hadn’t returned to Penang for two years because she was studying in London, needed some help and guidance to get to the hotel. I chatted with another. I chatted with another young man and a person coming in on a diplomatic passport.

What struck me was how easy it was to talk to these people. We quickly had things in common, and when we started talking, it was obvious we had more things in common as well. We, or perhaps I should say “I”, tend to treat strangers with distance and indifference. Not that I don’t care about them, it’s just that I’m an introvert and I don’t care to talk to people I don’t know. I barely care to talk to people I do know, so you see my dilemma.

But this little travel mishap has reminded me that there isn’t much difference between me and a complete stranger. Including the Saudi Arabian man who I sat beside on the plane from Dubai. He was a big guy, like me, and we were jockeying for position the whole plane ride, but he was very friendly, constantly asking me what the announcement meant. I found out that he was on his honeymoon, and the two lovebirds sat beside each other with much tenderness during the flight.

I could see how I could become friends with any one of those people if our paths continued to intersect. It was a good reminder to continue to build bridges and get to know the people around you. You might be sitting next to a friend, and friends love to be in agony together.

If you speak vulgarly, do so in all your languages.

I don’t use vulgarities. That’s my choice.

They were never heard in my household when I was growing up. I was taught the usage of vulgarities was in poor taste and simply made people sound silly and uneducated more than anything else.

Some people use them all the time, and that’s their right. I personally think the spoken “f” word in every other sentence sounds foolish. But that’s just me. I don’t care how other people speak. I’ll take care of myself and they can do likewise.

Except I do have one qualification that I’d like to make in that regards. One of my pet peeves is when a speaker of another language high-jacks the “f” word and other vulgarities into their regular English speech. If you are doing it to impress, it doesn’t. If you are doing it for emphasis, it’s a fail after the first ten times. So let me first give you an example of what I’m talking about and then I’ll tell you why I don’t like it.

A few weeks back I was at a fast food restaurant, and there were three high school students sitting there talking. One of them spoke as if he learned that rule that any time a word that starts with a letter after the “f” in the alphabet, then that word must be preceded by another word starting with the letter “f” – a four letter word variety, no less. I could tell that the students were very proficient in English – probably attended an international school, but I could also tell that English wasn’t their first language. As the boy cursed up a storm, I thought how ridiculously stupid he sounded and I asked myself this question: “Would he be speaking the same way if he was in his native language and his mother was sitting with him?”

I’m guessing the answer is ‘no.’ I’ve always felt that language learning gives people license to do and say things that they normally wouldn’t do in their native language. Part of it is the glut of English media which glorifies coarseness and vulgarities – movie, TV, music. We all know the drill. Everyone is so desensitized that those words don’t shock us anymore. They no longer hold the gravitas they used to. Remember the scene from “A Christmas Story” when the boy says “fudge” and the soap is inserted into mouth? That’s what our neighborhood was like. Well, no more. Is it Hollywood affecting how people speak or reflecting how people speak? It’s not clear, but the end result is the same.

I think another reason why some second-language learners may speak so coarsely is because they don’t understand that there still are a good number of people who don’t speak that way and don’t care to hear it every other word. Well, there are.

As a writer, I’ve learned that you can have a vulgar character without having your character speak vulgarities. This, in my estimation, is more effective. It’s a cheap trick which eventually means nothing when choice words become common place. One strategically placed vulgarity is MUCH more effective than 100 vulgarities machined-gunned over the page. In my writing, I will occasionally use a profanity only to make a strong point that cannot, in my estimation, be made otherwise. I think having characters who constantly use foul language is lazy writing. Again, that’s my opinion. I’m sure others will disagree.

But getting back to swearing in your second language, here is the rule of thumb that I think people should use. If you regularly speak vulgarities in your native language, frequently peppering them around in conversations with adults and kids alike, then feel free to do the same in English. After all, I want you to be yourself. Don’t change on my account.

However, if you are only hijacking English in order to spread your vulgar ideas around, then I would say that I don’t want to hear them anymore than your mother does.

Be consistent in your swearing habits.

 

Is Society More Dysfunctional Than It Used to Be? (not really)

It’s easy to think that we live in a dysfunctional society. When’s the last time Congress worked together on an issue to accomplish a big task? Hmmmm …  ???

We complain about everything. Education (Common Core), Health Care (Obamacare), Economy, civil rights, and whatever are the big issues of the day.

I think that’s the point – whatever are the big issues of the day.

We live in a society and world where everything is magnified because of the media which surrounds us day and night, but the reality is, life has always been messy because democracy is messy – pluralism is messy – a free society is messy.

Why is it messy? Because it can be.

North Korea is not what we would call a messy society because they have no choice to be messy. The lives of the people depend on everyone falling into line, knowing their place, kowtowing at the appropriate times. They have no choice, despite the great suffering that the population endures. It is theirs to endure if they want to live.

We, who live in open societies, have the luxury of being messy and dysfunctional. It’s as frustrating as heck sometimes, but it’s also normal. Messy societies allow the free exchange of ideas — actually, they demand it!

You need proof that American society hasn’t always been dysfunctional and messy? Here’s a few to think about.

  • One of the most dysfunctional bunches of representatives who ever assembled was the Continental Congress which nearly allowed a chance for independence from Britain to pass by due to their bickering and backbiting.
  • What about the anti-FDR Republicans who fought him tooth-and-nail during the 1930s, which led FDR to, in turn, propose the most outrageous and preposterous legislative idea of his own by wanting to pack the Supreme Court more to his favor?
  • Do we even need to mention the Red Scare and McCarthyism of the 1950s?  But did you know the same type of tactics and discrimination happened to many after WWI as well?
  • What about the 1928 election? Alfred Smith, the Democratic presidential candidate was skewered for his Catholic religious beliefs. Some propagandists even used the building of the Holland Tunnel, which was meant to connect New Jersey to Manhattan, as proof that Smith had evil intents. They tried to scare the public that it was going to be a secret tunnel to the Vatican.
  • How about the 1896 presidential election of William McKinley which was basically bought outright by a few wealthy Robber Barons.

These are just five simple examples touching upon a little political history. I’m sure we could scare up a bunch of examples from many aspects of society.

The point is this: it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day tragedies and frustrating situations which we hear about from the media. It’s easy to rain gloom down upon our heads and wish for the “good old days.” But the reality is that each generation has their own demons and struggles with which they have to deal. Each generation has its positive and negatives, and it will always be that way as long as we allow freedom of expression.

Messy dysfunction is much preferable to the alternative. Too bad we can’t ask the North Koreans if my supposition is correct.

Can someone be too open-minded?

(Here’s a little different kind of post for today. I like to dabble with philosophical thought and societal issues from time to time. It helps me process. Here goes.)

What does it mean to be open-minded? Or narrow-minded? Or closed minded?

Have you ever took a minute to think about what those terms actually mean?

I came across a person’s profile the other day (I can’t even remember the website) and this person described herself as open-minded, and for the first time I wondered exactly what that meant. I, myself, am a person who has a head full of opinions, but I always consider myself open-minded. I’m willing to listen to what others have to say. I don’t ignore facts. Is that what this person was saying? It’s not the impression I got.

I got the impression that open-mindedness in this person’s mind meant that “I won’t judge you no matter what.” Everything and anything is okay. And so I posed myself this question: Can a person be too open-minded?

If open-mindedness means that whatever-whatever is all right, you could basically dump everything and anything into that person’s head. What’s the beauty of that?

So many people are afraid of stating what they believe because they might be deemed by others as judgmental or it might be “offensive”. I personally can’t live in such a way that my brain is nothing but a fluorescent light on a warm summer night, welcoming all kinds of creepy crawly things. My life needs to be grounded in things that I believe in. Things which I believe are good for both me and my kids. Things I believe that help society, and build a better future for everyone. Not everyone will agree with me about what those things are, but I’m okay with that.

Do I care what other people do and think? Not really. That’s up to them.

Do I think that certain ways of raising kids or looking at the world are more beneficial than other ways of looking at the same things? Absolutely. So does that mean that I should be looked upon as a judgmental and close-minded person. I don’t think so.

This, of course, explains the trap of the “judgmental” stereotype. We’ve seen this many times in the media over the past few years — someone feels offended because someone else thinks differently from them. They feel like they are being judged or their actions criticized. But the reality is, sometimes offense is brought upon oneself and it doesn’t originate with another person.

When disagreement happens, offense is not a necessary outcome.

Let me say that again: Disagreement doesn’t have to create offense.

I accept the fact that I disagree with some people. But I would also be happy to be that person’s friend. Sometimes no offense was meant and no offense should be perceived. Sometimes disagreements should end with shaking hands and going out for coffee.

Now let me be clear. There are, of course, times when real offense is obvious. No one should have to tolerate a spiteful racial epithet or a hurtful gender slur. This is not what I’m talking about.

But our society has become so super-sensitive that any type of belief that goes against the popular thinking of the day or that pierces the ear of the mainstream media is quickly brandished as narrow-minded. (Which, ironically, automatically makes the open-minded people seem less open-minded.)

Hopefully, we can come to respect each other, regardless of beliefs, actions, or religious backgrounds. We spend so much energy in this country being offended, that it could be spent more productively on just living our lives and trying to be graceful, loving people who respect each other’s differences and opinions.

There’s no need to become so open-minded that we don’t believe in anything. There’s no need to be so open-minded that we start to close our mind.

And, by the way, if you disagree with this post, I won’t be offended. We can still be friends.

Your Highness, Walt Disney, and other words we don’t think about

How often have you come across words that we use everyday only to finally realize how strange they are or what type of hidden meaning lurks deep inside the etymology of the word?

I’ve often been struck by how a person’s name becomes something completely different. ‘Walt Disney’ is a perfect example of it. It has become some common place and ubiquitous that the term signifies an entertainment conglomerate, but once upon a time there was a Mrs. Disney who named her son Walter. Walt was a boy who eventually ‘lost’ his name to colloquial English. That was one of the things I enjoyed most about the recent movie “Saving Mr. Banks” because it once again put a face to the common words we hear so often.

There are many other example of words that become so commonly used that they may lose their meaning. Or possibly they don’t lose their meaning but a normal person wouldn’t think about what it actually means.

The example that struck me the other day was “highness” such as “Your Highness.” I’ve been writing a short play called “The Last Princess” and one of the princess’ attendants used the words “your highness” to refer to her.

I stopped and pondered on the word “highness.” What the meaning of that?

It wasn’t hard to surmise that this is about status. A prince, princess, or any royalty has a status above everyone else. They have a “highness” about them. Everyone else bows in their presence. They sit on a throne high and above the common man. They have an ancestry that is revered, a lineage that is esteemed above all others, they may even have the Mandate of Heaven, a blessing from God upon their heads.

As an American who grew up without a monarchy, I have a heard time understanding the lure of status. A monarch is a person just like any other and yet we confer on them a high status – a highness. It seems to be a status that, to me, belongs in storybooks and fairy tales, but I understand the modern allure of keeping a country’s past monarchy alive. It is part of their culture and history and I respect that.

But “your highness” is not just a term that we use for a monarch, it is a special delineation that says that person is set apart, higher than myself, special, deserving of praise and adoration. I guess it takes someone like me to write about “The Last Princess” – an equalizing of society where everyone is of the same status and everyone has the same opportunities to live their lives how they please.

It may just be a word, but it is definitely packed full of meaning.

And those were the ramblings inside my brain about the small phrase “your highness.”