Mad Respect. Thanks Mom.

The other night I was pumping gas at the local Exxon station. As the 87 octane was flowing from pump to Honda Civic tank, in my proactive attempt to avoid the annoying television screen that pops on when you start filling, I stared off into the night. It was not long before I noticed a dark-haired woman of about 50 years of age foraging through a trashcan just a few feet from my car. This is not at all an abnormal occurrence, but, for whatever reason, I seemed to take extra strong notice of this activity on this evening.

As I watched the dumpster diving unfold, it appeared she was looking for recyclable goods, such as plastic containers and cans. I noted her shopping cart, left at the station entrance, was full of both these things as well as blankets and clothes, so it was pretty much a dead giveaway she would soon be off to the recycle bin. We caught a quick glimpse of each other as she looked me in the eye for a quick millisecond creating the briefest of gazes. Then, without the remotest hint of wanting anything from me, looked down in her continued quest for a few dollars’ worth of trade-in goods.

I was actually very impressed with this “apparently-but-who-knows” homeless woman. She did not have a dirty homeless look about her, rather a perhaps “recently homeless” look as if a homeless “newbie” or a woman on the verge homelessness. However, what impressed me about her was, during our millisecond gaze, having the greatest of opportunities to ask me for a handout and not doing so.

As the prepaid $24 worth of gas continued to pump, I realized what this woman was doing. In addition to perhaps providing the few dollars for a meal that evening, she was actually performing a public service. Her trash activity was making all our lives an environmentally better one. She was helping herself yet she was also indirectly helping you and me as well. I wanted to reward her so I reached in my wallet and took out a $20 bill. By this time the woman was on her third or fourth trashcan and now about 30 or 40 feet from my car.

I was thinking: What do I do? Should I approach her? Would this be insulting and demeaning? Dangerous? Is this a really bad idea? A really good idea? If I do approach her, what do I say?

I really just wanted to get in my car and drive off, though my impulse was strong on this cold and very rare, rainy Southern California night.

To better understand my inner conflict, know that I am very big believer in not enabling panhandlers and the like. When I see people giving money to street beggars and such, I am repulsed, as I believe providing money to those seeking handouts only perpetuates the problem and, in turn, creates a much larger one.

This anti-handout position in no way, shape or form applies to those wanting to provide some type of service for a handout -in which case it is no longer a handout rather a payment for services rendered. I will frequently drop a few bills in the tip jar of a street performer or give the guy at the red light a buck for washing my windows as I am stopped.

I also refuse to give because, well, I frankly believe many of those seeking handouts are compulsive liars and are not using the money for basic necessities.

Just a few weeks ago in the city of Redlands, CA, at another gas station (this time an Arco) a man came up to me and asked for some money for gas. I would normally just walk away, though, for whatever reason (am I changing?!?) I told him to pull up to the pump and I would fill his car up for him. He said that was not possible cause the car was several blocks away and he did not even have a gas can. He just wanted the cash.

I politely told him, “good day.”

Now at Exxon, I fought my instinct to drive away as I watched the woman continue to forage. I slowly began walking toward her, still not knowing if when I arrived I would follow through with my giving her the cash.

I was now a few feet from her,

“Excuse me, do you need some help?” I mustered the courage to ask.

She smiled and said yes.

I handed her the $20.

She smiled and said, “God bless you.”

That was about it. Not a lot more to write. Not a lot more to say. She accepted the money and I walked away and she continued in her recyclable endeavor.

However, I must say that, in addition to giving her the money making me feel really good, I realized how much I respected that woman: for both what she did do –recycle otherwise landfill refuse- as well as for what did she did not do –ask for a handout.

As a young teen, my mom once told me that there is never any shame in earning an honest dollar. Of course she told me this as she was getting ready to begin her afternoon cashier gig at the McDonald’s across the street from my high school. Pretty amazing words coming from a registered nurse who was taking some refresher courses to get ready to jump back in the nursing game.

I would take my dearly departed mom once step further…not only is there no shame, there is some mad respect. Deep mad respect. I love you mom.

And thank you woman. Thank you.

Sometimes It Is Better To Just Take The Hook And Forego The Line And Sinker

It seems as the years go by, my aging process is bringing with it an ignited resolve to live in peace with one another. Lest you think I am transforming into a pacifist loving, liberal tree hugger (sorry tree huggers, know I love you too and believe we really do need you), I absolutely LOVE grappling and wrestling with positions and ideas, yet can do so without personal animosity or ad hominem (personal) attacks against a disagreeing party.

I love arguing ideas for the purpose of learning and advancing, yet I detest “fighting” with people. One can argue with me whenever they please, though once a name is called or a personal insult is hurled -which are more indicative of petty fighting and immaturity over the beauty of arguing (hello youtube and twitter)- I am completely out. Which is probably why I am down to having only one social media -two if you count this blog- but that is a different blog for a different day. Uncivil dialogue is really not dialogue at all.

As I ponder my newfound resolve for peaceful and concurrently productive encounters, it occurs to me that one such root cause of the strife and divisiveness found in our current cultural conversation can be traced back to our collective suffixes of ments, ism’s, ist’s, and ity’s.

Nearly all ideological monikers that possess such a suffix must be approached with great caution and a discerning mind.

I am very reluctant to give an example of each as it may seem I am referring to a particular ment, ism, ist or ity: I am most definitely not. This blog does not concern a critique of any ideology or collective belief system in and of itself, rather it concerns the problematic nature of marrying into and identifying completely with ANY such group with this suffix.

But aren’t there both really good and really bad ments, isms, ists and itys? Absadamnlutely, though it is essential we understand the dark side of completely committing to ANY ideology and its thought forms. Once we commit to identifying and being perceived through the lens of an ideological group ending with such suffixes, we must realize we are now potentially placing an ideology over logic and reasoning as we often remain loyal soldiers to our suffixed movement -particularly in the face of an overall very reasonable movement possessing an unreasonable position.

Certainly some ideologies are overall better or worse than some others for the good of society as a whole, yet I will put forth the grounds that there exists no perfect ideology: all ideologies have their flaws. Once one identifies with an ideology or movement, there exists a pressure to conform to this system even when their own personal logic, reasoning skills and even personal intuitions may suggest otherwise.

As with many other aspects of my evolving belief systems in life, I find that I am unintentionally entering a very BuddhIST way of thinking (yes, the irony is not lost on me…just know that I do not identify with this particular “ist” as I am not a Buddhist: as much as I agree with many of its teachings). A writer who applies Buddhist principles suggests, “Millions of human beings have been murdered because the isms and ists applied to them were the wrong isms and ists. It’s pretty simple. Turn something one way and one person’s terrorism is another’s patriotism; turn it the other way and it’s vice-a-versa. Isms and ists can be useful, for example in libraries they can help us sort things. Isms and ists, when used by individuals or groups as descriptions of who they think they are and what they believe, can be, and usually are, a red flag to contraction. It’s often quite flagrant and not particularly useful in clarifying anything.”

After recently viewing the documentary by Deeyah Khan, White Right: Meeting the Enemy, I was deeply saddened as I watched young men (and yes, primarily people with penises who also identify as men) in their personal quest to find some meaning and identity in their lives, being recruited into these white nationalIST organizations. Often the need to identify with a ment, ism, ist or ity is driven by our deep personal needs to feel loved, connected, needed and have purpose in life.

Yet I would argue we can accomplish these same life objectives while remaining an ideological free agent.

Lest you believe I am suggesting we would all be better off without any ments, isms, ists or itys, you would be wrong. We have some excellent ideologies that are providing wonderful sources of positivity and usefulness in our evolution as a culture. Yet, each and everyone one of these movements have their flaws and, left unchecked, can turn an overall positive movement into a less than positive one at best, and a dangerous one at worst. It is certainly possible to be part of an ideological group and remain independent and critical, it is just really, really difficult to do so. It would seem very few can actually just bite the hook while successfully avoiding the line and sinker.

It is so very important that when our “something-is-not-quite-right” personal radars alert us to even the most minor of disturbing occurrence, such as the use of suspect words or behaviors within an ideology, we must take strong notice and listen to that voice of inner reasoning. The dangerous power of the ideology is found in its amazing ability to stop critical and independent thought immediately in its tracks, as if our personal identity is stripped of us in our pressure to conform and serve the ideology.

I personally was involved in an ity for decades and am now ashamed at how many times I ignored my personal radar for the sake of the “greater good” or the “bigger picture.” I suppose when the leader of this ity, who was strongly against the idea of premarital sex, found out his young unmarried daughter was pregnant and was able to convince the flock that she was impregnated without having intercourse, an “immaculate conception” of sorts, I should have turned and run and never looked back.

I was sickened by the whole thing yet still remained true to the cause: ments, isms, ists, and itys can have that effect. It was not until 2006 that I realized I had a brain that did fire a few critical thinking neurons and that I should probably use it.

One of my favorite “ists,” as in AtheIST, Sam Harris, will frequently address the upside of religious communities and what they bring positively to the cultural table, such as community, charity, discipline and good works. However, to put it in his words, why is it necessary to have to believe a bunch of bullshit in order to employ these wonderful practices in one’s life? In my words, it should not take a loyal oath to an ideological dogma, which may result in at least partial intellectual suicide, to practice the good side of what an ideology may bring to society.

Yes, I really do want to live in peace with others as we continue the necessary practice of challenging and refining ideas and thought forms. Loyal ideological foot soldiers frequently stand in the way of such essential dialogues and conversations, and, ultimately, it is both our personal reasoning skills and culture-wide civil discourse that fall victim.

I will remain at the ideological buffet table and pick and choose from each ideology what will best serve myself and others in this short stint called life.