My Mom and I have a chronic skit. Recently they are centered around the operation of her newest cell phone. The year before it was the operation of her new Dell desktop computer, the modem, router, printer, and the cosmic-concept of wifi communication. Before that, the new HD television and the list goes on. In a repeating rhetorical exercise over the years, one of my first questions to her is usually, “Have you read the manual yet?” She knows it’s coming at some point, so she intentionally tries to sound smart, using big techy words (that are a bit outdated), to divert the inevitable question. Numerous quippy comical jabs at each other follow, always ending in laughter. I’ve become comfortable and overly entertained with this predictable cycle. It’s always provided us several big smiles.
But that’s my mother. It doesn’t always go so well in the real world, does it?
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Understanding the mechanics has so many applications in life. One common and popular application would be with your automobile(s) and driving. To get from point A to point B it is important to understand the operation of your vehicle and traffic tips and laws. Many might say it’s critical, myself included. When instructing me on the extra tips, knowledge, and nuances of driving — the stuff the nearby DMV does not cover — my father would often preempt our lesson saying “a vehicle is a lethal weapon.” Stark perspective gained Dad, thank you. He used the same type of instruction about guns, rifles, firing them, and storing them.
Like myself, most of us men grew up learning and doing the outdoor chores: mowing, edging, trimming, etc. In one particular instance when I was 13-14 years old, my father saw the perfect opportunity to teach me about the love-hate marriage between me and forces bigger than me; unseen misunderstood forces that can really hurt. I posted about this lesson (Click here) if you care to read about it in more detail. To earn a little cash I would sometimes do our next-door neighbor’s yard while they were out-of-town. I had to use their lawn equipment unless I wanted to pay rent to use Dad’s. No way! Profit, profit, maximize profits was my youthful M.O.! Cha-ching!
Their grass-edger was mechanical, a 1-cylinder driven blade on the side, as opposed to our edger, a half-moon blade I’d have to step on every 8-12 inches in the gap between concrete and grass. Starting the neighbor’s mechanical edger was a breeze, as I imagined all the dollar bills being stacked in my hand. You pull the string just like our lawn mower. Turning it off, however, was a mystery to me. I went and got Dad to show me how. With their edger you had to push this L-shaped piece of metal onto the spark-plug to short out the electric current to the cylinder. Pffft, easy. I reached down to that piece of metal, pushed it firmly onto the spark-plug…WHAAM! I was nearly knocked to my ass! With the biggest white-eyes I looked up at Dad, bewildered. “What happened!?” I had done exactly what he told me! Dad pointed at the still running edger, “Turn it off.” I thought to myself, maybe I didn’t hold it on the spark-plug long enough. WHAAM! Once again I was nearly knocked off my feet. Now with tears in my eyes I looked up at Dad’s unphased expression… “Turn it off son.” The third time I tried to hold the metal-breaker down even longer — only making the pain worse and my muscles begin to quiver. I was on the verge of bawling when I looked at Dad’s unchanged expression.
I could not bring myself to try a fourth time. When Dad realized I couldn’t, he calmly pointed to my other hand holding the metal handle-bar. “Move that hand to the rubber-grip,” he explained “then turn it off.” The damn beast died immediately.
Forces unseen, misunderstood, and bigger than me. Check.
Medical doctors and EMT’s must understand the mechanics of the human body to prolong lives. Marriage, love, relationships are no different. In order to communicate well with our loved ones, not only must we learn the basics of language to be understood, equally we must understand the mechanics of how others use it. Honestly, we should want to be experts at it, both parts, and not just to get by and leave it in the grey! The mechanics of parenting and raising children are perhaps even more important and more demanding than communicating and understanding adults, do you agree? Dad was a hardened cattle-hand and rice farmer, degreed in mechanical engineering from U.T. in Austin, former U.S. Marine, and well versed in precise communication. In his own way, correct or not, my father also knew how to use non-verbal mechanics to teach me one invaluable (life-saving?) lesson about electricity that I can never forget. There are times when simple words will not convey the magnitude.
So why, in the settings of community, conversation, love, family, SOCIAL-MEDIA, or government and politics, are we ever content with just the bare basic mechanics of dialogue which often fall into the fog of ambiguity?
A recent example…
A good friend of mine posted on a popular social-media website (FB) a picture I felt, and obviously he did to, conveyed the absence or ineptitude of federal legislation to stay on top of Wall Street and the activity of billion-dollar interest-earning corporations. The image is above.
The message resonates deeply with me because I am and have been an educator — 5th thru 8th grade Generalist and passionate about Social Studies and Science. Our young students, primary, secondary, and certainly college, are our nation’s hope and future. They are the potential leaders for our own children and grandchildren! The image has a lot of truth to it. This was my comment about it to my friend:
“Many a wise man have stated correctly that you give a man too much power or money, sooner or later both WILL corrupt him. History has proven the same in organizations or empires, particularly those who grow obese and disengaged from the very hands who fed them. Perhaps it is time to promote the eternal value of collective virtues rather than beguiled individual “success” or wealth. Foolish is the CEO and 1-percent who believe their ivory tower was built solely by their hands alone. Everyone enters this world from the womb of need and then one day leaves it in hospice. Never forget your REAL place in this world.
That’s my version, the short one.“
Then a complete stranger to me chimed in… from here forward named Cymbal:
Cymbal: “So people aren’t successful because of their own efforts. Spoken like a true Marxist.”
Myself: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” — Albert Einstein
Myself: “The difference between “success” and “value” is an ocean. Wouldn’t you agree Kelly?”
Cymbal: “Lol.. project much?”
Jax Jacqueline: “Most of the ppl now would be way better off going to one of the countries that now offers free college for Americans.”
Myself: “Jax, which not surprisingly explains why many nations, particularly the northern European countries, are ranked ABOVE the U.S. in a plethora of educational and quality-of-life tables. For example:
Cymbal: “Yea I’m sure life is so much better in Poland than in the US. Or by quality of life do you mean tax payer provided services?”
Cymbal continued his snippy semi-rude remarks despite my words. For the complete debate-dialogue (if it can be called that), click here. Click the image to enlarge.
Whether someone had the more convincing argument or position is not my concern here. My point is the minefield created between foreign parties or people, including on social-media, when lazy content basic dialogue and mechanics exist. Furthermore, what vibrates and disturbs that minefield, making it more volatile, occurs when one or both parties fail to rebalance their talking with listening, or in this case reading the entirety. It follows that the level beneath a statement(s) on the conversation-blueprint if you will, is understanding the mechanics and dynamics of the whole machine to appropriately operate it. Or in my painful childhood case, knowing How To Operate A Mechanized Electrical Edger!
I could write several posts about the enormous importance of civil debate or dialogue. Its use carries over into a long list of daily, human interactions, and the acute awareness of self. But I will spare all of you the laborious hours (laughing permitted) and skip the list. I do, however, want to share some film clips from two Directors who more eloquently express what it is I am trying to communicate. First, Stephen Spielberg. The dramatic scene is in two separate YouTube clips, in the following order. I beg you, watch both fully…
Without a doubt, Thaddeus Stevens’ 1865 speech to the House regarding slavery is today a foregone conclusion: the majority of Americans prohibit it. Yet, almost 150 years later Americans and our judicial courts are still dealing with various forms of racism, e.g. Ferguson, MO., modern-day George Pendletons in the Lincoln clips. Representative Stevens might well exclaim today, “How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands…the gentleman from Ohio, proof that some men are inferior, endowed by their Creator with dim wits…” but in the end, even Pendletons deserve some dignity and respect (before the law) if one must rip it from the deepest abyss of their human decency… it must be done! Right there, THAT is why professional, refined dialogue and the fortitude to understand ALL the mechanics and dynamics of a message or issue, are paramount to the survival and civility of a species… a species which is expected to be superior on this planet. Verbal abuse, violence, or war can never breach that sacred articulation.
In colonial America there was never a more charged, igniting relationship between statesmen which evolved into an endearing lifelong friendship than between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. How did these two highly intelligent juxtaposed men coexist? By superb discourse and acute listening; skills requiring great effort, time, and exposure to diversity. Who is the other Director who so eloquently portrays this point? This is a scene from Tom Hooper of the HBO Mini-series and the Pulitzer Prize book, John Adams. Ben Franklin is played by Tom Wilkinson, John Adams by Paul Giamatti, and Thomas Jefferson by Stephen Dillane:
Adams and Jefferson were two gifted communicators and more gifted debaters, each giving deserved respect to the other.
When I happily watch this seven-part mini-series over and over, I sometimes ask myself, who else can I note with such remarkable oratory and writing talent? The late Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi come to mind. Another is former four-star General and Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Perhaps a no-brainer would be the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. And not to forget great women, Eleanor Roosevelt and Marie Colvin, to name just two, stand out to me as superb speakers. How much more peaceful and enriched would our earthly experience be if 50, 60, or 80% of a population earned and acquired the same skills? Would more embarrassment or conflict be averted? I should think laughing would be more common, even epidemic, if human discourse were an art en masse and not an anomaly.
It has become my impression since the dawn of the internet, especially now with social-media addicts and a world fast becoming more Wifi connected, that an increasing number of people (at least in Texas and parts of America where I’m exposed) are lazily content with quick elementary dialogue and mechanics. For some time now I have been one of those nauseated with my speaking and writing skills, and trying to advance them in earnest. There is still much room for improvement. And what of acronyms? Unless mankind has mastered infallible telepathy or they are the codes of action used in live military combat where half-seconds count, acronyms are the epitome of lethargy anywhere else. I would be thrilled if proven wrong!
In a routine of convenience, impatience, and fundamentalism, mastering advanced language mechanics cannot be understated. Why? One noble reason is to have the ability of recognizing immoral and/or unethical rhetoric and manipulation — remind you of anyone or group in a particular field(?) — then protecting the greatest good for the greatest number. With each passing decade it is not enough to simply be free.
Two quotes I am fond of apply this idea…
“Patterning your life around other’s opinions is nothing more than slavery.” – Lawana Blackwell
“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” – Adlai Stevenson
Whether it’s good or not, we are inextricably tied to our fellows, our countrymen, our colleagues, our bosses, our coworkers, on many levels. Obviously we are inextricably tied to our spouses, our parents, our children, our siblings, even extended family. But it goes further. Modern genetics and DNA research has all but proven this: globally there is less than a one-percent difference in all of us; every living human being. In many contexts we are all connected. What we choose to do with those vast similarities and their interactions hinges on how well or how poorly we express ourselves and strive to understand what we hear or read. We will either be progressive and ingenious with dignity given and received, or we will be digressing, destructive, divisive, and impatiently ignorant, subtly devoid of common decency. No matter how annoyed I might get with a “Cymbal,” I must strive to find the strength and patience to coexist with them, and the respectful (eloquent) dialogue vital in the temporary struggle, always.
What sort of world do you live for, fight for, are willing to die for? Is your World Operator’s Manual small and unchanging, or perpetually growing? Let me put a different lens on the question: Is your Family Operator’s Manual small and unchanging, or perpetually growing? Do you have a library of manuals? Is the library designed to expand or remain stagnate collecting dust? The word for today is Impermanence! Actually, is it not 365 days a year? Maybe the question should be “Are you and I keeping up?”
I have on my bathroom mirror this sticky note: WOMS? It means World Operator’s Manual Status. I pronounce it “WHUM-s”; what’s my WHUM-s status, to remind me daily to find more strength, energy, and patience to understand the mechanics. Do I want to be slammed to the ground in tears by a motorized-edger, or would I rather learn how to wisely operate it and create a beautiful lawn and garden?
Can you use an upgrade in your oral and writing skills, beyond the high school level? Name one or two specific areas and the context below.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always
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