The first flags were battle standards used during conflict. In times like those, especially when battles were bloody and fought face to face and you were usually slaughtering your neighbors who looked just like you, it was rather important to indicate whose side you were on.
Think about that for a minute. We have to be able to tell each other apart in order to kill the right people. Because if we were all running around naked and flagless, we would all essentially be the same. In which case, what the hell are we fighting for?
Good freakin’ question. What are we fighting for? I think the last war that was waged even tangentially for moral purposes (rather than purely for greed or racism or religious zealotry or the quest for the control of oil) was World War II. So, yeah, we need those flags, man, or we can’t separate ourselves. Us vs. Them.
Flags are the ultimate symbol of polarization. Either you’re on our team or you’re not. And if you aren’t willing to play by the flag flyers’ rules, then get the hell out. Love it or leave it.
It’s very comforting to be a member of a group. You’re accepted. You’re part of the norm. You’re just like us.
But in order to form a group, you have to be willing to believe that all of your members feel the same way about things. And, hey, you’re a good person, right? So if everyone in your group is just like you, then you must be the good guys.
What does that say about those who are excluded from that group? They must be bad. That only makes sense.
And we (“we”) wonder why we can’t all just get along.
On the anniversary of 9/11, I saw a Facebook post that waxed nostalgic for 9/12. It talked about stores running out of flags to sell because they were being flown everywhere. It talked about us all being Americans before anything else. It talked about us being united.
I remember it quite differently. I remember fear and paranoia and confusion and anger. Yes, I remember flags everywhere. Flags defiantly flown. I remember people getting beat up if they looked the slightest bit Muslim. I remember my employer trying to force me to wear a flag pin, and feeling as though my livelihood would be threatened if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon. I remember not knowing what this angry, enormous mass of “we” was going to do.
That scared the hell out of me. It still does.
I don’t even like rooting for sports teams. I don’t like turning anyone into a them. The only “thems” in my life at the moment are Trump supporters. I don’t understand them. The level of hate they demonstrate terrifies me, because I know that to them, I’m the them.
This will come as no big surprise, but a very large part of me likes to avoid conflict, stress, and confrontation. Decades ago, I decided that the most effective way to not deal with the slings and arrows of life was to sleep. I absolutely love to sleep. My spirit animal is probably one of those fainting goats.
I wish there were some sort of internal switch that I could flick on and off so I could just check out when I’m overwhelmed. Kind of a Sleeping Beauty effect without having to rely on some evil witch to knock me out or some handsome fool to kiss me awake again. But then I’d probably sleep my life away. Heaven knows that I wouldn’t deem housework or errands to be adequate incentive to rise.
Even when I’m alert and functioning, in times of high anxiety I feel as if there’s a part of me that is sleeping. She wants to be left alone. She doesn’t have the slightest desire to engage. She curls up. She dreams. I’m amazed I wasn’t a thumb-sucker as a child.
Here lately I’ve been feeling the urge to wake that part of me up. I want her to come to the party. I want her to live life. She’s not happy about this. She doesn’t like change. But it’s time to grow up and face the world, and experience it.
I sense there are many adjustments I’m going to have to make in order to become fully conscious. I doubt it’s going to be easy. I’m definitely a work in progress. Wish me luck.
Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:
Texting while driving? Deadly.
Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!
Compassion? Karma, baby.
Net neutrality? Crucial.
Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.
A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.
A right to health care? Obviously.
Voting? The most important thing you can do.
Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.
Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.
Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.
Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.
Education? Critically important.
Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.
Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.
Paying your fair share? Of course.
Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.
Global warming? HERE. NOW.
Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.
Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.
Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.
None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.
Recently a dear friend introduced me to the Japanese concepts of honne and tatemae. I had never heard these words before. Without her, I would probably just have assumed they were the names for a Japanese pop culture couple or something. (They do say that opposites attract.)
After reading several articles on the subject and watching this interesting little video, I think I have a grasp of it now. Honne is basically your true feelings and/or thoughts in any situation. (I will have no trouble remembering that word, because it kind of looks like “honest”.) I’m quite good at honne most of the time. If you ask my opinion on something, I’m always happy to give it to you, often to the point where it gets me into trouble. (Because, sorry, those shorts actually do make you look fat.)
Tatemae is what I struggle with. It’s kind of the public face you show the world in order to avoid conflict, spare feelings, and/or further your goal. It can be as innocuous as saying, “I’ll call you!” after a particularly bad date, or as insidious as, “Corruption? No corruption in this organization!”
Tatemae definitely has its uses. Unfortunately, it will often get you further in the work environment. “Yes, boss, you are doing a pathetic great job!” (This is probably why I’m a bridgetender instead of a CEO. I just can’t do it.)
And if you are trapped on an island with 127 million other people, avoiding conflict is all the more crucial. Not that tatemae is exclusive to Japan. In fact, I seem to be over my head in a sea of it here in Seattle, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever adjust to it.
But perhaps I’m better at it than I think. As I blogged the other day, friends tell me that the things I write here are not like the person that they know. That has a lot to do with editing, and my desire not to be perceived as a nut job. So, hey, there’s hope for me yet, if one considers tatemae to be a hopeful thing.
Many years ago, I came across a woman who was crying. I didn’t know her. I didn’t know the reason for her tears. It didn’t really matter. I just knew she was sad, so I gave her a hug. Sometimes you just need a hug.
She clung to me like I was a life raft for a minute. And I actually felt her emotional pain pass through my chest and out my back. It was the strangest thing. It was palpable. I’ll never forget that.
I could tell she didn’t want to talk about it. We didn’t. She just gave me a weak smile and we went our separate ways, both of us, I hope, feeling a little better about ourselves.
Quite often when we need comforting the most, we are hesitant to ask for it. We don’t want to impose. We don’t want to be a burden.
But I submit that allowing someone to comfort you is like giving a gift to the comforter. It feels good to be helpful rather than feel helpless. It’s as nice to give love as to receive it. It’s wonderful to think that this gesture will be reciprocated if the situation is ever reversed.
I remember another time when I had a disagreement with the person I loved most in the world. We lay in utter silence, marinating in the tension, and I felt like my heart would break in two. Then, out of the darkness his hand reached for mine, and it felt as though life flooded back into my body. We hadn’t resolved our conflict. We still had work to do. But that gesture reassured me that it could be done, and at that moment, that was all that mattered.
Comfort, either given or received, is the most wonderful feeling on earth.
It occurs to me that a lot of the conflict and scandal and overall kerfuffle in this world could be avoided if we all stuck to one basic tenet: You do you. I’ll do me. (That is, as long as what you’re doing does not negatively impact others.)
For example, I’ll never understand why people get so worked up over which bathroom people use to pee. For heaven’s sake, there are stalls. You don’t have to watch. It’s not like you’re being peed upon. So why do you care? You pee in your stall, I’ll pee in mine. We’ll both wash our hands, and go about our business. We don’t even have to make eye contact at the sink if you don’t want to. Simple.
And why do you care if people practice another religion or choose not to practice one at all? How is that even your business? Are you worried that they will go to hell? Gimme a break. No you’re not. Worry about your own final destination. A believer ought to be able to trust that the God of his or her understanding will worry about everyone else.
Is there a good reason that you don’t want the best for others? As the saying goes, equal rights isn’t like pie. It’s not as though there won’t be enough for the rest of us if others partake.
Personally, I have a hard enough time keeping my own ducks in a row without trying to deal with everyone else’s flock. So, you do you. I’ll do me. And we’ll both be just ducky.
If I were getting a masters degree in world history, my thesis would be an attempt to answer this question: Was there even one day in the recorded history of mankind when no one on the planet was at war? I’ve honestly wondered that my entire life.
Of course, you’d have to create a firm definition of war first. For example, America may have tried to call the war in Vietnam a police action, but I’m sure those covered in napalm were pretty convinced they were at war. Perhaps “non-peace” would be a better term.
By that definition, it would be easy to eliminate huge swaths of time. World Wars I and II. Civil wars. Revolutions. Invasions. Pogroms. Genocide. Hostile occupations. Coups d’etat.
After that, you’d be left with a patchwork quilt of time frames, and you’d have to look at each country and/or culture’s individual history. I’d suggest you go with the big and/or influential countries first. America. Russia. China. England. They are the troublemakers. They’d eliminate a bunch of dates on your calendar. (Of course, reconciling the various calendars so that we’re sure we’re discussing the same day would be an additional challenge.)
Then perhaps go to the more tribal areas of the globe. Whenever you create a scenario that is “us” vs. “them”, you are sure to have conflict. Should we count terrorist activity? If people are getting killed, I’d say yes.
I guess my point is, humans in general are a violent species. I want there to be a day that we can all look to and say, “See? We are capable of peace.” Just one day. I need to know that day exists to give us all hope that it’s really achievable.