Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Civics 101: Jury Duty

Professor,

This week found me fulfilling the civic duty of serving on a jury. I have a few observations.

This was my second summons. A few years ago I was chosen to serve on the jury for a criminal case, that experience took me through the entire process from jury pool to trial, deliberation, verdict (guilty), then more deliberation for sentencing. While everyone groaned and complained about being called, once the jury was chosen I recall that the attitude changed immediately. People who had made light of the process until then took the responsibility very seriously and everyone went to great pains to follow all of the rules to the letter. I have to say it was impressive how quickly any cavalier attitude about the system disappeared immediately when it came down to the trial. 

No one seems to like to be notified of their opportunity to serve in this way. Everyone complains. It means time off work, or away from home, and in my case the thing that bothered me the most about it was the requirement to sit for the entire day. Something I am not use to doing. But I reorganized my phone, deleted old emails, and read Wuthering Heights. By lunch time the diverse cross section of our city had broken some of the ice and were getting a bit chattier. Like voting, only more so, jury duty forces citizens to work together as a group if you are chosen. If not there is still a benefit from the "we're all in this together" mindset.

We were shown a video by Supreme Court Justice Roberts explaining how and why the system works and Sandra Day O'Connor outlining why the Founders believed in a jury of your "peers."

Around mid-afternoon we were called to the courtroom. I was in a group of 12 out of 40 to be questioned first. The judge determined if we had family members in law enforcement and if we'd ever been the victim of a crime or if we'd ever been arrested or convicted. Some of the answers from fellow potential jurors were funny like the young woman who explained she'd been arrested for having a "blunt" and thought the justice system had worked well for her since she didn't go to jail. Then there was the woman whose husband had been murdered by a 14 year old as part of a gang initiation. He'd received life in prison without parole, she hesitated when asked if the system had worked for her and finally said "Given the situation..."

After that the judge had a little chat with each of us as the microphone was passed around. I garnered attention for most unusual job with "beekeeper." Got two orders for honey at the break, one from a Cambodian man and fairly new citizen who was beaming throughout the day as he fulfilled his duty as a fellow citizen. I was excused with the rest of those 12 save 2 and free to go.

When I walked outside I realized just how miserable having been inside all day had felt. Particularly in the courtroom where there were no windows but fluorescent lighting and an atmosphere that was tense. I couldn't help but wonder if people are making the best decisions possible under those conditions. One of the great lessons of the day was just how much better we feel when we get to move and be exposed to natural light.

Advice for introverts: Take up beekeeping. You never have to think of anything original to say because you are too busy answering questions in social settings. :)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"I Need To Learn More"

Madame,

“My experience is the norm.”  In this society cleverly divided by a privileged class where money and privilege begets more money and more privilege, while the opposite begets the opposite, we get this self-structured inability to perceive VALID differences.  Too many of us instead dismiss different views as “radical,” “far outside the norm,”  “crazy” or “evil.”  We end up universalizing our personal experience, as in “true in my experience” means it must be true for all, or at least ALL WHO MATTER. 

How easy it is to make us self-delusional in this hyper-individualistic society! And with it, all the deleterious second and third order effects from that self-delusion.

What we get, instead of consensus and united action to change a system that more and more intellectuals recognize as disastrously harmful to the shrinking middle class while it further enriches an already obscenely rich micro-sliver upper-upper class, is diversionary misfocus. 

The knowingly malicious and the willfully ignorant team up to manipulate the carelessly ignorant to vote against their own interests, and then alienate the remaining ignorant to become hopeless or apathetic enough to stay away from the voting booth.  Giving the appearance that voting has become irrelevant.

Bill Moyers had a piece recently to talk about a strategically clever donor class:

“We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.

“Writing in the Guardian recently, the social critic George Monbiot commented,
‘So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics... When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?’”

Read more: 
http://www.utne.com/politics/the-rule-of-emperors.aspx#ixzz2yE2qeFIA

Precisely how that donor class wants it.  It won’t change until most of us cease cooperation with it.  Perhaps the first step is to say to ourselves, “I don’t want to be low-information anymore.  I want to learn more.  I NEED to learn more.”

"And I need to talk with others.  Others NOT like me."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Things are Tough All Over

Professor J,

 Like anything else there are lots of ways the mandatory service thing could go wrong. But in a nation with so many fatherless young men, those who lack discipline, and who have so little respect for themselves and others, I think the positives might outweigh the negatives.

I find the balance between seeing things as they are, which is pretty bad, and maintaining hope that they can be better hard for lots of people. What you see most often instead of hopeful realists are either Pollyannas or Doomsday Preppers. Neither of which are all that helpful in problem solving.

And as far as looking for adults I think my two years of service between high school and college would help immensely.

Last night I went with my son to the Italian Film Fest at his university. The movie was a documentary about Venice and I expected it to be the standard fare about the city sinking and the tourists ruining it. But the problems presented were much more complicated.

Teorema Venezia (The Venice Syndrome) depicted the situation in which residents of Venice find themselves. Property is being bought up by investors for rentals at astronomical prices, but the real problem was that the infrastructure (schools, post office, and businesses like markets and groceries) are closing. So the residents, many of whom have lived on the island their entire lives are being forced out due to an inability to survive.

The citizens had clearly been sold out by their city leaders. The money was bypassing the residents and going directly to the big corporations, cruise lines, and investors. Little of it remained in the city to keep anything going. The feeling of the people was that they were being driven out so the city could become a sort of tourist attraction with no real residents, an Italian Disneyland with canals and history.

Interesting how many citizens around the world are facing problems that have no simple solutions.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Summoning The Adults

Madame:

I was going to play devil’s advocate on the mandatory service thing, but heck, as my son has said, the two or so years from high school until one gets to be officially a full adult (age 21) are a period of angstful in-betweenism anyway. :)

I’m thinking that a candidate who showed that kind of humility of admitting not having all the facts, or willingness to consider new data and change opinions,would be loved by the many.  Hopefully, those many would vote.  Because the haters, well, they may not do much constructive, but they are loud, they are forceful, and they vote.  Man, do they vote.

I was thinking the other day about so many of us have this need for something positive to be presented, rather than pulling up our boots and making something positive by turning a negative thing around until a positive outcome or change is effected. In some ways, this desire to have a positive presentation is beneficial.  But in others, it holds us back, because it keeps us from facing up to our's and our society’s situations in full clarity.

Because how many times have you heard someone say that they listen to something, like something, recommend something, because: “It’s not doom and gloom, not all bad news.”

Americans have been doing a poor job of handling bad news.  That “handling” has too often consisted of going into deflect, deny, or escape/divert mode, or self-enfeeblement/self-depressive mode.  Such reaction states are not only not productive, but serve those selfish interests that are truly causing the bad news in the first place. 

Ignore the problem?  Deflect it onto something or someone else?  Deny it?  Temporarily escape from the consequences?  Divert oneself into something pleasurable while the problem builds in the background?

Those are all a child’s reaction to the need for taking responsibility and actively addressing and correcting the problem.  Those who thump their chests and say “we are AMERICANS,” should put their actions where their words are, and be adults.  Adults who lay fantasizing, wishing, and avoidance aside to come together with other adults to be the grown-ups who make the hard decisions.

And we need to be honest about our “leaders,” and ourselves.  Whose bidding are we really doing?  And where is the real data? 


Being the adult isn’t always fun.  But the children of future tomorrows need us to be.  Desperately. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Grit Factor

Professor J,

I thought we were agreeing that we agreed? Now I'm just confused. ;)

Very interesting that you list various groups of people with different degrees of grit. The fact that the discipline of the military seems to foster it in people reinforces my belief in the idea of having 2 years of mandatory military service between high school and college. I think a couple of years of service, physical fitness, and discipline would do wonders at a time in life when so many young people find themselves floundering. As I've noted before I think we'd also find ourselves in fewer unnecessary conflicts if every person in government knew their child might be involved.

You make a good point about true opportunity. Perhaps meaningless math problems don't bring out the stalwartness those researchers were looking for. I know that personally I will work long past exhaustion on something I care deeply about and carve out time for it no matter how busy I am. When engaged in a project I will often skip meals and lose sleep. I call it selfish industriousness. People who ask me to help with something I'm not interested in or don't see the importance of don't see the same kind of effort. Hopefully, they would see at least a a desire to help and a little grit. :)

And if you don't mind another family anecdote, my daughter told me a few weeks ago that she felt like her determination in getting an education and being interested in how people learn in general, arose from being responsible for so much of her own schooling. There is a great benefit in allowing students to be in control of much of their studies and time. My son corroborates her theory. As any teacher knows you can kindle, inspire, share and expose,  but you cannot teach anyone who doesn't have a desire to learn. Making students more and teachers less responsible for learning may be a part of the grit equation in education.

Franklin's genius is apparent like that of all great men in still being relevant centuries on. Intellectual honesty isn't something we see all that often in our culture. When did it become a mortal sin to be wrong or change your mind? Why is it so hard for people to say that they didn't have all the information or now realize they were purposefully mis-informed?

It seems almost impossible for people to say:

I see your point.

I hadn't thought of it like that.

I didn't know that.

My information may be wrong.

I don't have enough information to be sure. 

This human determination to be right (or at least not have our pride hurt by being proven wrong) is causing many to cling to faulty thinking and resist looking for common ground where we can collaborate.

It may well be our undoing.

* A note to our readers to bookmark this new web address, as it has changed. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Eh Too?

Madame M:

I disagree that we disagree. :)

Yes, grit, and its companion, determination.  The comparison between US and Chinese students?  More than a little foreboding.  Now, perhaps US students just get more determined about different things, and one could hope that is the case, but time and again sociologists and anthropologists have identified how SOFT—physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, to name just a few—we, and especially what should be the very hardy young—have become.

Although we don’t know how to instill grit into people, we do know something of the seedbeds, or at least a faint sense of its occurrence rate among some.  Immigrants—high rate of grit.  Scientists—high rate of grit.  Military members—higher rate of grit than general population.  Special Forces—one of highest rates of grit.

Might it be that well-discernable TRUE OPPORTUNITY in front of an individual or a culture elicits a higher probability of grit?  Legacies—cultural or otherwise—probably increase or decrease such probabilities.

And if that is correct, then might it be that there is some deficiency of TRUE OPPORTUNITY here, as well as a debilitating effect of a diversionary, denying, self-enfeebling culture? 

All those things you talk about that people should do because they are good for them—DO they truly know they are good for them? Or do they make a quick and shallow (“undiscerning”) surface assessment about things—perhaps even just an unexamined short-term emotional one—that acts against their better interest, never figuring out (at least for a while) the benefits they are missing and how and why things fit together? 

For SOME things, we have the INTELLIGENCE and reasoning to be pretty certain of what is right to do.  Yet we may lack the WISDOM to actually choose to act (and especially fully) on that knowledge and understanding.  For others, our faulty (and often shallow) reasoning results in poor decisions, and our unwillingness to, in Benjamin Franklin’s words, “doubt a little of our own infallibility” means we do not 1) reconsider those decisions, or 2) weigh them anew, or 3) make attempts to correct in time.  And because we don’t, enough, we become easy, unwitting prey  for those who cleverly manipulate us to act against our own true self-interests and collective interests.

George Will’s column of a few weeks ago reminds us, via a professor emeritus,  “that humans are the only animals that do not ‘instinctively eat the right foods (when available) and act in such a way to maintain their naturally given state of health and vigor.  Other animals do not overeat, undersleep, knowingly ingest toxic substances, or permit their bodies to fall into disuse through sloth.’”  We are making bad choices, sometimes with little thought, and certainly with few considerations of wisdom.

Reasoning without wisdom is perilous enough.  Faulty reasoning processes without wisdom translates into grave danger to individuals, families, societies, governments, and civilizations.  Shakespeare’s Caesarian line echoes vividly to us these many centuries later: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves…”


We will get better, or one day a future people will read about a nation, citizenry, and civilization that is no more.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Nitty Gritty

Professor J,

Discernment-- how to get people to know that they need it let alone try to cultivate it? Whenever I hear the story of Solomon I think to myself that he must have had a lot of wisdom already to even know that it was the thing he should have been asking for.  Someone who is basing their criteria for happiness on various external goals or acquisitions will have a hard time grasping the value of a rich internal life.

I recently watched a TED Talk that shed light on something else at play in life, grit. Here's the video:


It reminds me of a study my daughter recently shared with me that she'd read, in which they gave Chinese students and American students very difficult math problems to solve. American students worked on the problems an average of 3 minutes and then gave up. The Chinese students? They never gave up. The people conducting the study literally had to take the test away from them.

How in the world to instill that in people? As you can see from the video, we don't know. 

The world's major religions have been advocating lots of things that turn out to be pretty good advice now that we study what makes people happy and leads to physical and emotional health. That assembling in churches or temples? Well, now we know how healthy social connections are for us. Separating yourself for times of prayer and meditation? Turns out that's pretty good for us too. Singing and chanting? Good stuff. The compassionate care of others and living beyond yourself? One of the keys to living a truly happy life and having a feeling of significance. Fasting? Self control? Moderation? Very healthy advice.

So it isn't that we don't necessarily know what to do. The trouble comes in the doing. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.  Every day. All day. Or maybe that's just me. :)

Which brings me right back around to those endless every day choices...




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