Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

There are two assumptions, or stereotypes, if you like. One is that self-absorbed westerners talk much more about their feelings - their emotions -  than the rest of the world, and the other is that women do so far more than men. I could cite so many examples to contradict this, but I agree that there is a tendency here, so we'll let it go. As a woman I'm expected to have dozens of different emotions....ah......

I am generally considered to be a person who is not very emotional. I am aware of this, and I'm neither proud nor ashamed of it. I don't believe it's anything to be either proud or ashamed of. Got that? We're all just different.

However, if I say "I am not a very emotional person" all sorts of assumptions are made. That I'm cold. That I'm shallow. That, therefore, I have no feelings. That I must be insensitive. That I'm proud or ashamed of it. That I don't give a shit.

At the risk of getting very me, me, me here, I'm going to dwell on this for a bit, because I'd like to speak for all people like me. The movers and shakers. So that you understand. Please pay attention.

We are not "emotionally repressed". That is a different thing. That is being an emotional person and - somehow - getting a control of it. Rightly or wrongly, for good or ill. I don't actually think I could do that. When I am emotional, believe me, I have very little control over it. It just doesn't happen that often. Not because of any effort on my part, it's just the way I'm made.

I'm made solutions oriented, achievement oriented, and analytical. Aries. Londoner. Only child. High IQ. Individual genetics. Upbringing. Combination. I dunno. I have no effing clue. But this is me.

So, when you read a tragic story, and you cry, I don't. It's not that I don't care deeply, it's not that I see it as any less tragic than you, but my mind has acknowledged the tragedy, and has already moved onto "WHY?" and "How do we fix this?" or "How do we stop this happening again?"

People who don't know me well or aren't used to this, or whatever, can take it the wrong way. Additionally I fail to sympathize enough. I know, intellectually, that when people tell me their troubles, often all they really want is a sympathetic response. All too often what I offer instead is a solution. I know (I don't understand, but I know) that often people don't want solutions.

I'm going to get really personal now, because it may help, I don't know. Last time I had an argument with my husband (which is going back a few years) I did something they tell you never to do. I pushed away his hugs and kisses. And  I told him, I don't want your comfort, I want this never to happen again. I wanted a solution.

It's not that I don't care. I care very much. I believe I care more than average, in fact, because I'm a doer not a dreamer. But I forget that people would rather hear "Awwwwww" than "I can give you $50." I forget that they'd rather hear "Tsk." than "Well, tell her this...." And so on. I forget. I try really hard to remember, but I forget. My instincts are to solve problems. They say you should treat others the way you want to be treated, and that's where it all goes wrong.

Anyway, a few years ago, you all remember the scene in Harry Potter Order of the Phoenix, where Ron suggests to Hermione that:

" One person can't feel all that at once, they'd explode.” 

And he is told that he has the emotional range of a teaspoon.

Well, I relate to this. I have had "mixed" feelings before now, maybe two, but when some people list the different emotions they've had, all at once.....well, some of them I've never experienced in my entire life, let alone in combination.

You see, I'm not actually any good at feelings. To me they rank as a sort of disorder. No, I'm quite serious. I'm famous for having three emotions. Cheerful (99%+ of the time), sad, and angry. How many are there? Well, hundreds apparently. I think I've managed maybe 5 in my life.

If I were to start having more, or more often, or deeper, they'd have to medicate me. I couldn't deal with it. I'm just not used to being anything other than essentially cheerful, and have no coping skills for the other stuff. If I started having the emotions I see around me, I'd be in a rubber room.

Anyway, enough about me, and my lack of complex emotions (but remember, I'm not alone, and we are NICE people!) what exactly are these emotions and they do they afflict people?

Yes, I said afflict. Not just affect. I see suffering, great suffering. I see suffering in both the person with the emotion, and those they spew it on.

In fact I see many of the ills of the world caused by this.

Ah, you say, yes. Anger. That'd be the biggest one.

Weeeeell.......I think anger is a range of emotions, really. Not just one. At least, different levels, and different causes of anger. I'm not even absolutely sure that I do pure anger, or not properly, anyway. Or am I making that classic mistake of equating anger with rage?

I may be wrong here, but I think anger (or, at least, one form of it, I'll come back to that) is the feeling, and rage is the expression of it. Or maybe people feel rage. I don't know. I never have.

I've felt frustrated. I've felt impatient. I've felt annoyed. I've shouted, I've thrown things, and I've slammed a few doors. In other words, I "lost" my temper. But it always came back fast, and I wasn't really out of control. I've never wanted to kill anyone. Not really. I've said it enough times, but I wouldn't do it. How angry to you have to be to kill. How long can you stay angry?

Whatever it was for me it was fleeting. Very fleeting. I returned to the regular scheduled Melanie quickly.

And in fact when I'm really, really annoyed I go very calm and quiet, ask my kids (it terrifies them).

I am baffled and fascinated by people who get really angry over trivial things. As a people watcher I find myself spending a lot of time trying to analyze this. It's not just the short fuse, it's the big bomb. It's the lack of discernment between the small and the big problem.

I've had people get so angry at me that the ground shook, and my response (if it's safe to do so) is often "Did I burn down your village?" Because THAT is the level of rage they are showing. Out of all proportion to the "crime". Quite bizarre.

But what really fascinates me are those who get angry in text online. I mean really, really angry. Not just excited. Pure venom oozing from every word, absolute hatred, and deep, deep anger. With a person they never met, over a few words. WOW.

My reaction to a slew of things that others get angry over is "Hey ho". But that's a problem because I tend to expect others to do the same, and when they don't I'm just lost.

When you are not an angry person, and you keep witnessing anger, it becomes fascinating. I find all people-watching fascinating, but this one baffles me the most.

When I was 11 years old I had a music teacher called Mr Ascot. He was short and wide, with flowing locks of curly white hair. I think he was possibly quite mad, he was certainly eccentric, but what fascinated me was his anger. He would go red in the face and jump up and down. You've seen it on cartoons, but he really did it. And it was over such tiny things too. I kept expecting his head to explode. I bet he had blood pressure problems.

But if you'd told him to calm down, it would have made him worse.

And I can relate to that.

I am so rarely angry that it catches people unaware. But the last thing I need is someone telling me to calm down. Especially if it's coming from a person who I know to be an angry person. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

So, I try not to tell people to calm down because I think it's the wrong way to go about it. In person I tend to just give a look. I'm good at "The Look". In text, I often just ignore them, and carry on, sometimes I ask why they are so angry over something so trivial. It's usually trivial. The things we ought to be angry about (suffering, injustice, cruelty, war, poverty, etc) are rarely the things we do get angry about. We shrug those off (because we have no solutions) and get bent out of shape over minor things instead. Weird, weird species.

What came first, my laid-back approach to life, or my philosophy of harm? I don't know. They go together well though. Because when people are getting angry and I see minimal or sometimes no harm at all, then I ponder on why they are like that. I don't always have an answer, but sometimes I do, and it helps to understand why they are behaving like that. That, and only that, allows me to be sympathetic.

People who find themselves angry can often work this out for themselves if they analyze it. If they "count to ten" and ask themselves "Where's the harm." "Who is being harmed?" "How much harm is there?". Obviously the answers have to be sincere.

Is anger just a feeling? Is there more than one kind? Can you overcome it without repression?

I believe that anyone can make the choice to analyze their anger and by doing so diminish it. While emotions themselves may not be something we have control over, I do believe we can choose how we react. Even if it takes a bit of practice. I believe that one of the reasons I'm not an angry person is choice. Takes thought.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


You've read all the media hoopla about Josh Duggar, I'm sure. Just in case you missed it, or don't understand exactly what went down, this reality TV "celebrity" admitted to molesting his sisters when he was a teenager. His parents covered it up.

The details are available just about anywhere online, so I won't bother with links just yet, and besides he is only an example. Please let me repeat that for emphasis, while I write about this case, it is only an example.

It's making more news than it otherwise would because of that fact that this family are famous Christians. Not just any old Christian, but extremists. So the hypocrisy angle has been noted, because this family are loud in their anti-gay opinions, and openly accuse homosexuals of being pedophiles.

That's not the only reason their religion became a big issue here, and it's where my emphasis is.

According to supporters of the family, Duggar has been punished and forgiven. As far as they are concerned, that's the end of it. Now isn't that interesting?

What is this obsession with punishment?

Humans have been punishing one another since before we could write, and who knows how long before that. If it worked, we'd all be good. We're not. Punishment doesn't work as a solution or as a deterrent. In countries that still have the death penalty, even that is not enough of a deterrent. In fact crimes rates are HIGHER where there is a risk of execution. Go check for yourself. This is a fact, it's not a secret, and yet it continues.

Are people "cured" by punishment? No. You've all heard the story (maybe it was you) - "the child was repeatedly beaten for transgressions", "I was forever being sent to the headmaster to be caned", "He's in and out of prison". My son spent most of Grade 3 in the principal's office. It doesn't matter what the punishment is, is doesn't solve anything.

And yet we keep on doing it. This is madness.

I hear some of you say "But we can't let it go unpunished! We need justice".

Have you ever actually "felt" justice? What does it feel like? Does it feel good? That's not justice my friend, that's vengeance. When we see the bad guy get his come uppance in the movie we cheer. We love that stuff. Does it turn back history? Does it bring back the dead? Does it unburn the village? Does it unrape the women? That delicious feeling of vengeance is short-lived, because the damge remains done.

Justice works quite well with monetary fines. He stole $10,000? He's pays back $10,000. So long as nobody was hurt in the process, that's good enough.

But with violence and loss, hanging a man serves no purpose.

In the example I began with Duggar did some "hard labour". Rubbish. He did some construction work. That's not hard labour. Breaking rocks in the hot sun, dum dum de dum, that's hard labour. Still, it bears no relation to what happened. That's not justice either. That's plain ridiculous. And if he had been given real hard labour, how would that help the victims? How would that cure him? How would that solve anything.

We are so used to hearing how X treatment is punishment, that we've lost track of the bigger picture.

Without realising it, the pro-punishment contingent know that he caused harm, and they think that causing harm to him balances things out. It does not.

Please understand, I'm not opposed to hard labour as a way of making a statement. I think we should do it more, but that's not justice. It is, at best, a way of saying "look, you are doing something useful now". Trust me, I've done it. My boys have found themselves digging trenches more than once. But this is for "crimes" that make hard labour logical. If one of mine molested their sister the only trench they'd need would be the one their brothers laid them in. We don't tolerate that sort of thing in this family.

Ah, you say. Melanie isn't as soft as she makes out to be, she's suggesting the Duggars kill Josh.

No. Actually. That was hyperbole. But I'm very surprised his brothers didn't at least rough him up a bit. I'd have had to step in and hold my family back. What is wrong with that mother? Where's her anger?

She has no power. Her husband has all the power, and so he arranged this "punishment". He also arranged some counselling. That's a laugh too. Perhaps you've seen it. It disgusted me. But we'll come back to that, let's look at this forgiveness.

It's no secret that I'm not big on forgiveness, and it's quite possible that I don't actually understand what it is. But it's a major part of the Christian belief system and so it is very important in this case.

Because western culture has a lot of of Christian influence, the whole idea of forgiveness it deeply ingrained in our minds and social norms, but I think that's a terrible mistake. I think we are going about this wholly the wrong way.

This may be a new idea to you, so bear with me.

To need forgiveness, first you have to commit a transgression. We'll use that word, because the idea of sin is too complex. And not a crime because something is only a crime if it's first of all deemed to be one. A transgression. Something done that another person believes you shouldn't have done. May be illegal, may not. It's a transgression to them. Their feelings may even be really silly. Let's look at a silly example. This is a true story.

Let's say you went to a wedding, and the bridge got upset at your choice of attire. As a guest there was no guide given as to what should be worn, so you went with fashion and what is currently considered appropriate for the occasion. You selected something you thought suitable, it looked nice on you, and you wore it. On the day, the bride looked at you as if you just crawled out of an apple, and later you heard on the grapevine that she was very disapproving of what you wore.

Well, that was me. The guest, not the bride. What I wore was too "bright". I believe the word garish was used, but don't quote me on that, it was a long time ago. Anyway, it was mentioned afterwards, long afterwards, because it messed up her photos, doncha know.

We still speak, and it hasn't been mentioned recently. Maybe she's over it. Maybe she's forgotten. As I said, it was a LONG time ago. But I betcha, if we discussed it today, she wouldn't be amused.

But she wouldn't have had to forgive me if she hadn't got so bent out of shape over it.

OK, let's look at this the other way around. Was I hurt by her attack on my dress? No. Did I need to forgive her for this pettiness? No. I thought it was funny.

Why have I remembered? I remember everything. It's not intentional. It's not to store grudges. I write a lot and I can dredge up all sorts of examples at will, great filing system my brain has.

So, maybe she's forgotten, but I bet she hasn't forgiven me.

I haven't forgotten, but I didn't need to forgive her, because I wasn't damaged in the first place. It would be too silly.

But people DO take umbrage for things like that.

So, first lesson, forgiving and forgetting are two very different things.


Before I met my husband I had a boyfriend who cheated on me, and took one of my friends to a dance. We weren't engaged or anything, but we were an item, and I thought it was a pretty dirty trick. And that was the end of that relationship. He thought we could still be friends afterwards, what a goof. Shortly after, I met my husband and never looked back. Did I ever forgive that goof? No. Does it matter? That was a long time ago, almost four decades ago. Changes nothing. He did a bad thing. What possible purpose could there be in saying "I forgive you"? So, when he requested my friending him on Facebook he got X'd.

Seems a bit harsh? It has saved me so much heartache over the years. One transgression and we are done. I won't hurt you, I won't suffer myself as a result, but that's your lot.

Was I harmed by his transgression? No. Did me a favour really. But he still doesn't deserve forgiveness. To forgive is to say that the behaviour is not such a big deal.

But what if he HAD harmed me? What if instead of cheating on me, he had stolen from me, or hit me, or sexually assaulted me? I think you know the answer. If I don't forgive a breach of trust, I'm certainly not going to forgive actual harm.

As I understand it, the Duggar family have forgiven Josh, because their religion teaches them to. I think that's wrong. They say "God forgives", OK fine. You know, I am very fond of that saying "And may God forgive you, because we won't". This same God they refer to apparently thinks that consensual loving homosexual relationships can't be forgiven, but pedophilia can. I'm jolly glad I don't worship their God. Their God is an arsehole.

But of course, there's more to it than just erroneous forgiveness, and meaningless punishment. There's something much darker. I don't think we've heard the end of this case.

I'm going to leave you with thoughts from someone who knows far more about this than any of us. This may help explain it.

Vyckie Garrison is a former adherent of the Quiverfull movement. She tells her story at her blog, “No Longer Quivering,” and has created the Spiritual Abuse Survivior Blog Network

Each To Their Own

On the topic of choices, there is a common, and well-intentioned way of dismissing choices, and that is to say "each to their own" or "whatever floats your boat" or similar. We are saying in effect, "your choice is not my choice, but it does no harm, so you have my permission to carry on". Like they need it!

I say well-intentioned, because most people are sincere when they say it. Some are being sarcastic. What they really mean is "I think you are quite mad, but I'm avoiding conflict".

Either way, it is actually dismissive. It would be far more honest to admit you disagree.

It is OK to disagree. We forget this. In our efforts to be polite OR politically correct (which are not the same thing) or just to avoid argument, we often shrug off differences. Sometimes it does more harm than good. Resentments can build up if you let them.

In my circles what you commonly hear is "it wouldn't be my choice, but I can see it's just right for you". My mother was very good at that one. She would hardly ever criticize anyone, but she wasn't a person to pretend she approved when she didn't. Her reasoning? "If you pretend you like something that you don't, you run the risk of people remembering that, and then using that information to select gifts, and it would waste their money and cause more harm than being honest about it in the first place."

Yep. And that stuck with me. It has led me to vociferously state the things I REALLY don't like when a neutral occasion arises, to make sure people around me know. Doesn't always work. People forget. Why should they remember? Interestingly if you say it enough so that they can't forget you will get into trouble for "going on and on about that again". We are funny beings.

The point is, that if you can find a way to express distaste tactfully, it's not only perfectly good etiquette, but a solid idea.

I hate hostas. Hate them. HATE THEM. I call them space lettuces. They look like something from Planet Zarg. They have tiny insignificant flowers and otherwise just sit there being green.

Some people love them, collect them, etc. There are hosta fans.

If I say "I hate hostas" to a hosta fan, I get some really weird reactions. It's the full range of classic reactions to just about any expression of distate, so it makes a great example. Here are some typical ones.

"Why?" (Genuine bewilderment)

"What have they ever done to you?!" (Make particular note of that one. It means "they are harmless", proof that even people who don't know they have harm as a guiding light, still do.)

"Oh, I do, I want more." (Not bothered, just stating their case in return. No hard feelings.)

"Well, they fill space, saves me a lot of work. Seems a shame to pull them up." (Being practical.)

"They were here when I moved in, I've never really liked them much, mumble, mumble...." (Insecure/intimated by strong opinions.)

HURT LOOK. (Taking it personally, as if I was referring to their children)

And so on. But I don't think we'd ever fall out over it. It's just a plant, FFS.

Now, if instead I were to say:

"I hate chihuahas."

There would be added bad feeling due to it being an animal. Not quite like insulting their children......... or maybe worse in some cases, thinking about it, but certainly more intense reaction than a plant. You can lose friends that way.

If I said:

"I hate Boy Scouts"

Then I'd be on really dodgy ground. That's almost smear campaign material.

Not only are some people more sensitive than others, some things are more sacred than others. An awareness here can save a lot of pain.

My husband, whose tact is limited to avoiding racist remarks right in front of people of colour, and is known and loved (or hated) for his frankness and honestly (he should have been a Yorkshireman really "By 'eck you know where you stand wi' me!") is pretty famous for hating hockey. It has got him into trouble a few times. "And more fool you" I think to myself. Cause and effect. He's a big boy and comes to no harm when he opens his mouth and gets told to shut it again. So I leave him to it.

But based on what I see happening there, I tried an experiment. In an online group I belong to which is overwhelmingly male, I uttered the words "I hate hockey".

I got told I simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and I shouldn't dismiss that. Basically I got set upon. And the NICER ones said "Hey, to each his own". The upshot was that I was told, in no uncertain terms, that  my opinion was not valid. Well, it really isn't.

We moved on.

I let some time pass. I uttered the words "I love ballet". They scoffed. They made fun of the male dancers. They claimed it was a waste of money. Did I KNOW about the damage to the feet? They said it was old-fashioned, pointless, and boring.

I said  they simply didn't understand it, that it was very popular, that the teamwork and self-discipline, not to mention the physical workout was good for kids, and that it was incredibly skilled, and they shouldn't dismiss that.

Nobody said "to each his own". Do you know why? Majority rules, that's why.

(I don't really like ballet, BTW, but I think it deserves equal respect to hockey. Personally I'd rather watch paint dry than watch either of them, but that's not even relevant.)

But I have to say, all things considered, if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that opinions have less to do with what's said, than the way it's said. And either way, some opinions are just not popular. You could actually start a war over the colour green if enough people held it sacred, because the thing that is sacred is not the thing, if you see what I mean. The thing is that when the majority (or the loudest person) has a preference, that wins.

The world would be a better place if those with an opinion stated it politely, and those who didn't share that opinion accepted it gracefully, which is of course what etiquette is all about. So why doesn't this happen?

From my observations, people confuse their opinions and choices with their own value. They hear something negative about one of their choices or opinions, but they hear something different to what is being said. They effectively feel persecuted.

So, when somebody says "I really don't like cowboy boots", a person hearing or reading that who wears cowboy boots is suddenly offended. The words were clear enough "I really don't like cowboy boots", but what they "hear" is "I really don't like people who wear cowboy boots." It wasn't said, and it wasn't intended. But now somebody's feelings are hurt.

If you love and wear cowboy boots, do you need everyone else to like them? Why? Are you not secure in your own choices? Would you prefer we PRETEND to like cowboy boots? Is that what you want? No? You want to convert us to cowboy boots?

Somewhere behind all this is an unspoken, possibly even unaware, desire for others to think like us, choose like us, be like us. It leads to a cycle of dishonesty, disappointment, and hurt. All it takes to break that cycle is an awareness of what's going on.

I won't judge you if you grow hostas. Promise.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Politics and Photos of Cats

Just to annoy everyone :)

To completely misquote a common "meme"......

(Two things that I happen to know really annoy SOME of my FB friends)

Here's the politics.

This is just another variation on the complete and utter bollocks that you hear all the damn time:

"If you are intolerant of intolerant people, that makes you intolerant."

First time I faced it in person was on the same topic, the whole anti-gay thing. It was from a person who claimed she had gay friends, but she couldn't possibly condone their homosexuality. She didn't say if was because of her religion or the "ick" factor, could have been a bit of both, but I'll be perfectly honest, I was at a loss for words. I mean what can you say at that point that will really achieve anything?

Thankfully it's somebody I don't see very often, and I usually just avoid the topic.

But it also crops up from time to time in other discussions, and I've given it some thought when I've had time, so that if I need to, I can explain it.

As we're on harm this week, let's get this one out of the way.

Prejudice tends to be harmful. If you don't understand why, we need to talk. I'm assuming you understand that it is.

Therefore, intolerance, which tends to manifest as prejudice, is potentially harmful.

Does that matter?

Depends. I am prejudiced against serial killers, strangely enough, don't know about you. I don't want them near me or my family. I want them locked up. Forever. I want them kept apart from society. I want them treated as faulty, and I want them treated as ill. Incurable. (I do not want them dead, but that's a separate topic).

Intolerance against serial killers is sensible. Prejudice against serial killers is sensible. They are harmful people. They've killed many times and would probably do so again, because they are psychopaths.

Prejudice doesn't mean you have to spit on them, torture them, fail to give them basic human rights and dignity, etc etc. That makes you no better than them, actually, and it is unnecessary harm. But you can be intolerant of them to the extant that you EXCLUDE them from the fun we have out here. They lost that privilege.

I am not prejudiced against Native people. They are just a different culture and/or ethnicity, no better or worse than mine, they are fellow human beings living their lives the same as everyone else. I could say I'm tolerant of them, but that's not correct. Tolerance is only required of something you don't really LIKE. I either like or dislike these people individually, not as a group, same as all people.

If you are are intolerant (and therefore potentially prejudiced) to Native people, you can cause them considerable harm. And this is exactly what has happened over the years. They have suffered the most disgusting treatment at the hands of prejudiced people of European heritage for no good reason whatsoever. They have been and are still being harmed by intolerance and prejudice. I see no end in sight.

If I am intolerant of those who are intolerant of Native people, where's the harm exactly? What am I doing to prevent their health and welfare? While I try to prevent harm of one group, how am I damaging the other?

"I live near a Res, and they're all on welfare, and they're all drunks....."

Have you ever taken the trouble to find out why? If you did.....but that takes too much effort. You'd like them to just "snap out" of centuries of abuse, and be fine upstanding citizens. Just like you. Well, if you are intolerant and prejudiced, guess what? You're not a fine upstanding citizen. You sir, are a bigot and an arsehole.

In any example, of any group, anywhere, big or small, who are the victims of intolerance or its brother, prejudice, the harm is coming from the perpetrators of that intolerance and prejudice. The harm is not being done to them. If they are scolded for being bigots and they want that scolding to stop, they need to stop the bigotry. Get help. Help is available. Get counselling. Go to a mental health professional, and say "HELP! I'm a bigot and I can't stop!"

And if, as in the link above, the excuse given is religious, then check that religion. Does that religion ask you to hate thy neighbour?

But don't worry. If all of that is too heavy for you. If it upsets your groove. If it is painful to think about, if it hits too close to home, well......

An Example of Harm

The topic this week is harm. It's the basis of my ethics, and it makes it very simple, and yet we still have to analyze harm.

I'd like you to take a look at this article.

This may well be the most difficult thing we do when it comes to human behaviour. 

What we have here is a person being harmed, because of his choices. These choices are harmless. 

When you read that article, whether or not you have sympathy for the boy, you may also have considered the idea that doing what the school suggests is a compromise, that is to say, not the real solution, but a solution. 


If you think that a compromise includes effectively agreeing with the people doing the harm, then the harm continues.

If you think that, in this example, by leaving it at home, it will end the bullying, you're mistaken. The lunchbox is not the problem. 

Our society simply has not addressed the real problem, and we don't teach the real solution.

I consider myself to be qualified to teach this because at that age, I know I would have teased him too. That would have been wrong, but I had not been taught well. Despite being taught generally to be kind to other people, I was getting mixed messages. All around me were people criticizing the choices of others. Children are very influenced by what they hear, and they hear far more than you think. So I didn't understand. 

Around me were other children who were nicer than me, and who would not have teased him. And yet, now, when they are supposed to be old and wise, and with all those years behind them of knowing "it's not nice to tease", I witness them being extremely judgemental about people's choices. Have they forgotten? Have they changed? No, they never really understood it in the first place. They were just following what they were taught. Instead of maturity bringing realisation, it brought bad habits, because they weren't really paying attention.

I was a slow learner, and it took me a long time to understand all of this, but once I did, I became quite passionate about it, because I could see how important it was. 

So, while the article is a perfect example of the problem, it's only one tiny example. The problem itself is enormous.

When was the last time you ridiculed the choice of another person? Be honest with yourself. We all do it, all of us. No exceptions. We do it often, and we do it over and over. I've done it once today, and I know I'll do it again before the day is out. None of this makes it right. Just because we all do it, just because it's "human nature", that doesn't excuse it. OK?

If you insist it was only in your head, and never shared, it's still wrong. If you insist it was shared with others, but not the person concerned, it's still wrong. If you came right out and ridiculed the person to his or her face (or in text) then it's even more wrong. But let's go back to your private thoughts. 

You saw this person's choice. It would not have been your choice. That much is not a problem. We are allowed to have different choices. But in some way, you think your choice is better than theirs. That's very arrogant. 

Ah, but you say, their choice makes no sense! That may be true, but who said you had any right to understand it? 

BUT RELAX. The ability to find absurdity in observation of the world around us, and not understanding it, is the basis of humour. If we take that away, we have no humour, and we must have humour. But like everything else, there is a limit. That limit is the all-important aspect of what constitutes harm. And this isn't so simple.

I'm going to show you a few funny "memes".

This is considered "dark" humour. It may offend people for its tastelessness, or because they are animal lovers. It may be upsetting to somebody who sees it who just lost a loved one. Imagine if that loved one had been hit by a car! But we can't cover all possibilities when we share humour, or there would be none. We can't always avoid offending people, because there will ALWAYS be somebody, somewhere who takes offence. Is this a harmless joke? If it was voted on it would probably get about 50%. One thing is certain, the joke does not harm the raccoon. He's past caring.

This could be considered potentially offensive to those who don't speak English, but my guess is that most of them, seeing it translated, would be amused. I don't think any offence was meant here, and in a vote my guess is that this would be seen around 90% harmless, possibly higher.

This is a sort of pun. Probably 95% harmless or more. Would not be funniy if a loved one had recently died from a burst appenfix, but again, you can't really allow for all possibilities. However if you deliberately showed it to somebody in that situation, it would be cruel. Still it's not the joke that's the problem, it's the intent.

Ah. Anyone like to shuffle their feet? Ever told one? Ever laughed at one? 40 years ago it might have been acceptable, because we hadn't clued in. A rape victim would not have laughed though. Are they the only ones to be offended? No. Rape jokes are not offensive because any given person is offended, they are simply offensive. How to combat rape jokes? Don't laugh. When you are asked why you don't laugh, ask them why they do.

Another pun. Totally harmless. Is this offensive? Of course not. Except that when I saw it posted, it was done specifically to have a dig at a person known to be "into" videos of UFOs etc. This person has been teased a bit, quite gently, but this image was meant to poke fun at him. I don't think he was offended, nevertheless an otherwise 100% harmless joke was aimed at a person. I don't think any harm was done, but I offer it as an example that this stuff is a bit complex sometimes. 

The harm therefore, is not always in the joke, but in the intent. Harm is frequently in the intent. Sometimes it's in the neglect, but rarely is it truly accidental.

When we riducule others, however we do it, it's not accidental. It is based on our belief that our choices are better than theirs. Even when it's in pure fun, if we analyze it, that's what's going on.

Nobody, least of all me, is suggesting that we never do this. Teasing is a part of human interaction, and to a greater or lesser extent it's actually quite important (whole other topic). The important part, and the difficult part, is stopping before it's harmful.

When that limit is reached, it is reached because the victim chooses it to be so. It is never the joker's right to decide.

As a mother, and in fact as a woman in a house full of men, I watch this constantly, the interaction and joking around between them, and I watch how they choose how to bring a stop to it. It's very interesting. This grey area between fun and bad behaviour fascinates me because it's a key aspect of self-control and recognizing the good guys from the arseholes.

Sometimes otherwise good guys cross a line. In the heat of the moment they fail to stop when signals have been given that it's time to stop. Some fail more than others. Especially if any drinking has been going on.

So, there can be no hard and fast rules, you have to learn, over time, from experience when enough is enough.

What the world does NOT need, is people in authority giving permission for the jokers to win. 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

More Than a Feeling

That word belief. What does it mean? I've given it a lot of thought over the years, and I've had a lot of objection to my thoughts, but I am very comfortable in them

First, I contend that belief is an opinion. It may be an opinion picked up from somewhere, maybe from upbringing or early cultural experiences, or it may be arrived at after a lot of research and deliberation. Nevertheless, it remains an opinion. While many can share a belief, they are never universal. Beliefs can always be argued, but never proven. That's how you know they are not facts.

I also contend that they are not a choice. To choose a belief would be phony. People do try to do this, and some end up genuinely believing things, but choosing a belief is self-deception. I'll explain that a bit more in a while, but I want to make it quite clear. A belief is a sincere thing, which is why, I think, we sometimes give it more respect than it truly deserves. We see that sincerity, and we like sincerity.

We also use the word belief in different ways. This suggests perhaps that we are actually using one word to cover several different concepts, which are related but not quite the same.

The first of these then, is the simple opinion.


An opinion is an idea that is held dear on the basis that we think it is right. We all have these. We are also able to change these, and we do when it seems appropriate. "I've changed my mind". It can be as mundane a thing as what we want to order in a restaurant. That makes it no less sincere. At first, I really thought I wanted beef, but then I smelled the chicken, and discovered I wanted that. When I was opting for beef, it was a genuine feeling. A true desire. I really believed I wanted beef. If you had questioned that, I'd have insisted. "Are you sure?" "Yes, quite sure." But then along came this delicious waft, and everything changed. "Are you sure you want chicken now?" "Yes, quite sure." And both of these are true.

It can be much deeper.

"I, Fred Smith, take you, Mary Jones, for my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part."
But 7 years later, they are signing divorce papers. What happened? On the day they said those vows, they meant it. It wasn't on a whim. They were deeply in love and they truly believed what they were saying there. Then it changed.

If you had asked Fred, on his wedding day, if his unending love for Mary was "an opinion" he'd have been horrified. He'd have said it was a fact. But it wasn't - it was his belief, and beliefs can change. It was a sincere belief, nevertheless, it was only a belief. Beliefs can be wrong.


Sometimes the belief is evidence based. This is still an opinion, and it may also be a fact. But it may just as easily still be wrong.

"Scientists believe......."

Based on all available data, the latest findings, and the carefully checked and peer reviewed work of many, this is a belief that has some solidity to it. It can still change.

These beliefs are often taught as facts, but they are really expert opinions. My grandfather was taught in school that there were canals on Mars. It seems laughable now, but he believed it. Why wouldn't he? He couldn't exactly go to Mars and check for himself, and besides, when educated people all agree on something and it finds its way into the textbooks, there's no reason to doubt it.

After a detective has collected all the reports, statements, photos, DNA samples, and other evidence he needs to make a conviction, it is all presented and the defendant is tried. Certain parts of this are indeed facts (the bloodstain matched) others are opinions ("I saw") but it's put together as a case. It all looks good, the detective believes he is right, and yet, there is still a jury to decide on that. Because there may be wrong assumptions along the way. He reached a conclusion, very carefully. It's still only a belief. He may be wrong.


Quite often when we believe something will happen it is based on previous experience. We trust that the sun will rise tomorrow because it always has. We trust the alarm clock to wake us, or the car to start, as it's always been reliable.

But most of all we trust people. We feel safe because we trust the police (no comments at the back there, different topic!). A child feels safe because he trusts his parents and teachers.  Some people even trust the government, to a certain degree. Sometimes trust gets broken, a spouse cheats, a colleague lies, but sometimes we manage to trust them again. Some are more trusting than others, of course.

We believe what they say. We even believe politicians, despite their track record. We can be very credulous sometimes. Foolishly perhaps, we seem to need to believe our fellow humans.

When it comes to what we believe that we hear or read, we are easily fooled. If it's a trusted source we may not even question it.


I saw this as a meme on Facebook on several people's walls this week.

Nobody questioned it. Why would they? It's what we suspect! We all know how this goes. Bloody oil companies.

Now, I'm not much for math but something didn't look right there. That is a LOT of money. So I made the effort and did some research too. Multiply $5737 by the number of US taxpayers and you get a figure of almost $700 billion. I found differing estimates for the subsidies, but an independent (and definitely not sympathetic) entity, Oil Change International, says "as of July 2014, U.S. fossil fuel subsidies were estimated at $37.5 billion annually". So that could even be on the high side.

Sure, it's still a lot, but it's 20x less. So where did the $700 billion figure come from?

The citation is a Guardian article, which in turn cites the IMF. Why is there such a huge difference? Not double, not even ten times, but 20 times greater than the other source?

Which is correct? Well, let's look at this:

This shows us that 3% of the $1.16 trillion budget goes on energy in total. Not over half of it. Somebody read something wrong somewhere.

As I said. I suck at math, but you don't need to be a mathematician to see something's not right there.

Yet how many people balked at that figure? I found a grand total of one. One comment said "That's more than the defence budget". And he was right.

I'm sorry for the sudden leap from philosophy to math there, but it's a perfect example of trusting a total stranger to give us information, and just accepting it as is. And that's my next observation.

When we believe something, whether it's an opinion, a conclusion, or trust, it remains an unproven fact, and yet we accept it. WHY?

Unless you are truly delusional (it came to me in a dream), you do have a reason for believing what you believe. Not what you want to believe, or pretend to believe, but what you actually believe. That reason is the centre of all of this. No reason? No belief.

Reason #1: It just makes sense. This is perfectly reasonable. When early astronomers believed the Sun went around the earth, they made a mistake but it's unfair to criticize them. That is exactly what it appears to do. If you spent you whole life watching it do that, you'd still never have any reason to doubt it. So how did Aristarchus of Samos (q.v) decide it was wrong? The easy answer is that he thought outside the box. Perhaps he was also a genius. We don't know much about him, but we do know Copernicus read him. Without people like these we wouldn't have got far, that's for sure.

Reason #2: I read it/ I was told. This is most of us, really. We are not genius scientists, but if we can read we can find the work done by others. We choose who we read of course, and that can sometimes be a problem. As you know, I am especially frustrated by those who reject the work of teams of qualified academics over a long time, and defer instead to a random self-published, self-proclaimed "expert". "Some guy on the internet" has replaced "some guy in a bar" as the source of all knowledge. Not only does he know more about it than all the PhDs, he has secrets that are hidden from everyone else. Except him. Impressive, huh.

Reason #3: I've spent years studying this, and this is the only logical answer. This is better. It doesn't guarantee anything, especially if you studied "some guy on the internet". But if you read respected writers, for example those widely accepted by accredited universities, and kept up to date on new discoveries, you should do quite well here.

Reason #4: I just do, leave me alone, I'm entitled to my beliefs. No. Not good enough. Don't expect to be taken seriously. And for pity's sake don't spread it around. There are credulous people out there who might believe you. Spare them! We'll leave you alone if you promise to shut up and keep your thoughts to yourself, because without something to back them up, they are meaningless. And.......potentially harmful.

And so, Monday we'll look at harm, shall we?

Friday, 22 May 2015

Chicken and Egg

I feel a need to explain something very carefully.

I am often told that I'm critical of religion, in some way or other, and there is some truth there, but when it happens there's a reason why.

I am pro love and anti harm. That is my basic attitude/mindset/way of thinking/whatever you like to call it. Ethics R Us. That does not mean that I claim to be all love and zero harm, it means that's what I seek. Nobody's perfect and nobody is expected to be. To err is human. But that's my thing. That's my priority.

Where did I get that from? Where did I develop this? Life, I guess. Upbringing, experience, preferences, observations, etc etc. No single person or book. Just an awareness, a mindfulness.

Love = good.
Harm = bad.

More love, less harm.

This is what I seek.
This is what I choose.
This is what I teach.
This is what I expect.

You can call it my personal philosophy if you like.

I would be at a loss if anyone objected to it, how can you object to it?

So. When I see a lack of love, I am saddened, and I protest.

When I see harm, I am saddened and I protest.

IF I see that lack of love, or that harm in a religious example, I protest. If I complain about a religious example, it's because of this. If I avoid a religious example it's because of this. If I speak out against a religious example it's because of this.

I do not dislike religious examples just because they are "different", or foreign, or whatever. They have to have caused harm, or shown a lack of love.

If you, personally, feel offended, because I have said something negative about your religion, then think again. It's not about you.

If you think your religion as a whole has been insulted because I said something negative about it, think again. Look at the specifics.

There is a lot of talk about respect. I respect people.

I am told I should respect beliefs. What, automatically? Just because they are beliefs? Not likely!

If it's a belief that leads to love, and prevents or avoids harm, I'll respect it.

If it's a belief that leads to a lack of love, or causes harm, I do not respect it. I reject it.

Beliefs are opinions. Nothing more or less. I do not have to respect your opinion. I can listen to it, consider it, and give you the time to explain it. But if it's an opinion that I not only do not share, but see as harmful, I shall say so. I shall explain why. I shall still respect you, as a human being, but I shall not, and SHOULD NOT respect your harmful opinion.

We can argue over what is harmful, and I'm sure we shall.