Long Spoons, Bowls, Food, and Feeding: An Allegory

I came across a short video today through the perusal of my Facebook feed. In order to get the full effect of what I am going to say, you’re going to need to watch it.

Source

After watching it, I posed this:

“A pretty good illustration of what is possible, but can you see another, more self-preserving solution? Once you see it, can you see that the selfless action is just as productive as the selfish one? And that it is simply a matter of choice between the selfless and the selfish?”

Being struck by its simplicity and positive message, I began to think more deeply about it, and another nagging thought planted itself in my mind, and that led to this post.

Are you ready for the thought? Sitting on the edge of your seat with intense anticipation?

Here it is…

Where did the bowl come from and how did it come to be in that place?

I get it. I get it. That is not the point of the video. The point of the video is, that through selfless action, it is possible to meet the needs of others while having your own needs met at the same time. I respect that fact. It does, however, imply the above question.

Does the answer to the implied question matter? Will answering the question solve the problem portrayed in the video and get the food into the people’s mouths?

No. No, it will not.

You might even ask me, “if it does not matter, then why bring it up to begin with?”

I am glad you asked, because, as always, I have an answer, and that answer speaks to a larger issue beyond the video, just as the video speaks to a larger issue than just getting the food from the bowl to the spoon to the mouth.

I don’t know about you and all of your friends, but I am friends with folks from wildly varied walks of life. I have male friends and female friends. I have gay friends and straight friends. I have white friends, black friends, latino friends, and Asian friends. I have friends that were born in the United States and friends that were born elsewhere. I have friends who are cat lovers and friends who are dog lovers and friends who love both. I have friends who drink alcohol and friends who don’t drink alcohol. I have friends who believe marijuana should be legal and friends who believe it should not be. I have friends who are pro-choice or pro-life or have no opinion whatsoever. I have friends who believe the Confederate battle flag should not be flown by the state and friends who believe it should be and friends who do not care one way or the other. I have friends who own guns and friends who don’t. I have friends who believe guns should be regulated and friends who believe they should not be. I have friends who believe that marriage should be only between a man and a woman and friends who believe any two people can marry regardless of gender. I have friends who believe government is based on secularism and should remain true to that basis, and I have friends who believe government is based on the word of God and should remain true to that basis. I have friends who believe in the veracity of science, and I have friends who believe in the veracity of the word of God. I have friends who are atheists and friends who are Christians and friends who have other faiths and friends who believe there to be a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name.

This is not a comprehensive list of differences that my group of friends have, but I think you get my point.

I want to focus on the last division of friends, those who are atheists, Christians or of another faith in a divine being or force, or believe in a higher power but cannot, or do not, give that power a name. I want to take this varied group of friends, some of whom are quite loud in professing the absolute truth in what they believe to be true and mix this debate into the context of the video, focusing on the bowl of soup itself.

The characters in the video do not ask how the bowl got to where it did. Their only concern is getting what is in the bowl into their bodies, and how to do it. One of the characters uses the spoon to feed another, but requires help to do so, which the other characters figure out. Then the other characters see that by sharing and helping, everyone gets fed. See? Simple.

Let’s talk hypotheticals for a moment.

Suppose one of the characters, instead of working to solve the problem of getting what is in the bowl into the body, decides to proclaim, through either divine inspiration or rational thought, that they know how the bowl got to the place where it sits. Then another character challenges that proclamation, and, before we know it, the original problem is forgotten because the characters find it more fulfilling to proclaim what they know to be true and work harder to convince others that their idea is the truth. Then, let’s say that one of the characters succeeds, after a lengthy amount of time, to convince all of the other characters that their truth is the right truth and they all agree on it. Already hungry and malnourished, they are even more so and more weak than they were before. They are so weak they cannot find the collective strength to pick up even one spoon together, but the original problem still remains, even though they found the truth.

Or…

Suppose we have the same instance as just above, one character proclaims an idea concerning how the bowl came to be where it is and another challenges their assertion. While the two are arguing over their ideas and the other characters get distracted by the debate, one of them figures out a way to get the contents of the bowl into their mouth and eats the contents as the others’ concerns remain distracted, and leaves nothing for them.

Or…

The same instance occurs. An argument ensues, taking attention away from the original problem. One of the characters figures out how to get the contents of the bowl into the body, tries to get the others’ attention, but fails to do so because they cannot overcome the zeal of the arguing parties. So the character waits passively until the parties come to a conclusion so the solution to the original problem can be shared, and by that time, all of them are too weak to utilize the spoon, even collectively.

Or…

The same instance occurs with the same argument, taking attention away from the original problem. The same character figures out a solution to the problem of getting the contents of the bowl into the body and jumps into the middle of the argument, and points out that they all can be fed. They all see the solution and that it works, but they are so zealous in their need to be correct concerning the bowl, they refuse to care about the contents anymore.

Or… (I know you are probably losing patience, but bear with me)

The same instance occurs with the same argument. Attention turns to the bowl itself rather than getting the contents from the bowl into the body. The same character figures out how to get the contents from the bowl into the body, jumps into the middle of the argument, points out the solution to the others, and the others reconcile their differences so that they can learn the solution to the original problem and take in the contents of the bowl and be nourished.

Or…

Well, these scenes can vary any number of ways, an infinite number of ways, to be sure. However, with all of those infinite possibilities, not a single one of them addresses the original and most pressing problem. They all focus on the bowl and its place rather than the contents of the bowl and how to get the contents from the bowl into the body. The problem is lost in a sea of disarray and all because of a disagreement that cannot, in all likelihood, be definitively proven one way or the other.

By focusing on the contents of the bowl and the need to get those contents into the body, a solution was found and shared. The solution took not only deliberate thought but also deliberate action in order for it be achieved.

Do not let loud voices that proclaim in one way or another how something came to be distract us from the central problem. Be deliberate. See the problem clearly as it originally presents itself and work toward a constructive solution that brings a benefit to all of the parties that are affected by the problem at hand.

With each constructive solution to a problem that provides a benefit to all involved, a little more peace finds its way into what can be a peaceful world. Pray or meditate to find guidance or seek answers to larger questions through rationality. However, do not let those practices distract us from seeing the problem and finding a constructive solution.

That’s kind of the whole idea anyway, right?

There is no doubt that there are plenty of questions that are implied by the video or assumptions made by the viewer and vice-versa. Anyway, that’s what I see when I watch this video. What do you see?

Advertisements

Challenges

I keep reading and hearing things like this:

It is not a gun problem. It is a people problem.

Or…

It is not a gun issue. It is a societal issue.

This is typically followed up by…

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

And I have quite a few friends and acquaintances that are gun owners. Some are members of the National Rifle Association and others are not. All of them, I believe, are responsible gun owners. I have not seen or heard anything to the contrary to believe or think otherwise.

I also read and hear things like this:

Guns are responsible for this massacre and that shooting.

Or…

Gun violence is rampant in our society. It is a gun issue and a social issue.

This is often followed by loud cries for gun control legislation or action by the president.

Then it all goes away quietly after a time like a receding tide only to predictably return, just like the tide, following the next shooting incident.

Why is that?

Could it possibly be that both sides of the argument have some merit?

Yes. Yes, they do.

Violence is a societal issue. Violence is not just isolated to those instances where a firearm is used. Violence uses many tools, often the tool that will do the most damage at the time that is most readily available, be it a gun, a knife, a hammer, a car, a screwdriver, a shovel, a 2×4, a fist, a foot, a curb…anything really. Violence occurs when a white individual shoots a black individual and when a black individual shoots a white individual. It occurs when a straight individual beats a gay individual with a tire iron. It occurs when a man beats a woman with a belt or his fists. It occurs when a woman runs over a man with a car. It occurs when a cisgendered individual stabs a transgendered individual.

These are all violent acts using tools of one kind or another to facilitate those acts. Do any of these tools need to be outlawed? Of course not.

Do folks that want to use these tools for what they were designed to do need to be taught how to use them before they use them? Absolutely.

No responsible father is going to let their son wield a hammer or screwdriver without first showing the boy the tool’s intended purpose and how to use it correctly. When the father sees the boy using the tool in a way for which the tool was not designed, the father corrects the son in one way or another with the hopes that it will not be done again.

It’s like a tool that I have come to be able to use pretty well, a chef’s knife. First I was taught how to use it, how to hold it in order to prevent an accident, and how to position the fingers on my other hand to help prevent injury. I’ve even been harmed by myself and others that have carelessly used a chef’s knife, and I have the scars to prove it on each of my thumbs. With my education and experience of using a knife, both professionally and in my own home, I am able to show others the misuse a knife where an accident will more than likely occur if respect for the tool is not shown.

And that leads me to the point concerning these tools, especially guns.

Respect.

I see pictures and videos of the use of firearms. I glean from friends’ conversations their appreciation of their firearms and how much they enjoy the activities in which they use their guns, be it hunting, skeet shooting, or going to the firing range for target practice and further training. Yet, of all of those friends that talk about their guns, only one…one of them routinely discusses the importance of learning and practicing respect for the tool. Only one of them regularly calls out the irresponsible use of the tool by other gun owners.

That is the one single thing I want to see more of when it comes to gun ownership. Just like me sharing my experience with others concerning the respect of using a household chef’s knife, why don’t gun owners share their experience with respect of owning, caring for, and using a firearm? You better believe that should I ever decide to post a video of me actually using a knife that a disclaimer concerning the years of practice and accidents and blood and lost fingertips and patience is going to accompany it, because I do not want someone that is inexperienced to see what I might do with a knife and decide to try it, especially if the blade is coming within centimeters or millimeters of the fingers on my other hand.

To quote Uncle Ben from the Spiderman movie:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

Yes, accidents happen. There is no disputing that. Like I said, just take a look at the tip of my left thumb to see that. Remembering the accident, how it happened, what you were doing when the accident took place, and sharing the experience of the accident and lesson learned can, and most often will, help another avoid an accident, which usually occurs during a period of time when focus is taken from the performed activity and placed somewhere else. In essence, we share our respect for the tool in order that others may adopt the same respect.

I call on those experienced gun owners to share the respect they have for their firearms with others in the hopes that folks will learn the responsibility one must assume if someone wishes to own and use a gun. I also call on gun owners to hold other gun owners, gun sellers, gun lobbies, well…anyone that has anything to do with guns to hold each other to the same responsibility. Those gun owners I know are responsible, yes, but, as we can clearly see, there are those that are, shall we say, less than responsible with their firearms and need to be held accountable before an accident can take place. If you do not want the government doing it for you, then do it yourselves.

I’ve used the term respect with respect to firearms and the responsibilities therein. There is an altogether different area with which the term needs to be used in this writing.

Violence.

What is the most violent action you can think of? For me, it the taking of another human’s life. This also coincides with the most egregious form of disrespect, essentially having no respect for another human’s right to live at all. This is not a coincidence. Violence of any degree equates with disrespect. Period.

Let me be perfectly clear. Disagreeing with someone does not automatically mean that there is disrespect. I disagree with people all the time. It does not mean that I do not respect them, their right to an opinion, or their right to express it freely. Why do I respect that? Because I have the right to believe that their opinion is wrong and the right to engage them in conversation and debate. Where disrespect comes into the equation is when anger ensues, and though not all anger grows into violence, it is always the starting place.

Talk about something that can be hard to do, well for me anyway. Talking with someone that I know in my heart of hearts to be wrong while at the same time maintaining my composure and respect for the individual and continuing to talk to the them rather than at them. In the past, admittedly, I have failed at this more than I have succeeded, but I am continually working to turn over a new leaf. If I find that I cannot maintain my composure and that the conversation is not going anywhere but in circles, I walk away…most of the time.

Anyway, back to the point…

Violence.

Respect.

Just like a child needs to be taught to respect the responsibilities of using a tool, a child must be taught to respect other people, even those that are different in one way or another…a respect of their basic humanity.

With respect, there can be no violence. Think about it. How can you commit a violent act against something or someone you respect? Even the smallest, most basic amount of respect, that people have the right to live without physical harm or mental anguish.

As I said before, anger breeds violence, and the anger that breeds that violence is the result of an animosity produced by an overt slight or a slight that is inferred by the recipient of a particular action or statement.

When I feel slighted and I can feel anger growing within me I know it is time to take a step back and regroup and compose myself or to just simply walk away from the confrontation. Not to walk away from it for good, because until a conflict finds a resolution most of the time, for me, that breeds resentment which can turn to bitterness and then to anger, which I have come to find is in no way productive whatsoever.

This, I firmly believe, is the key to finding a way to reduce violence. The first step is to look at yourself critically. There are not many things that are more difficult to do. Then ask yourself if when you communicate with people, are you talking to them or are you talking at them? Ask yourself if getting angry at the other side of the conflict, be it an individual or a group of people, is going to do anyone any good. Is it going to do anything more than raise your level of stress?

Then challenge another person to do the very same thing, and so on, and so forth. Like the bumper sticker says:

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Will violence among human-beings ever be eradicated? Probably not. Will massacres carried out with firearms and other weapons ever cease to exist? Doubtful.

Though I cannot help but think that every single impossibility that has ever become possible began small with seemingly infinite challenges standing in its way.

The wildcard is the same object as the challenge itself. Humanity.

An Apathetic Thought

It was hardly twelve hours after the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church occurred when I jumped online after having my first cup of coffee on Thursday morning. I saw the posted articles and statuses of folks on my news feed concerning the shooting and had a rather guilty thought.

See, the last thing I do most every night before I go to sleep is I tap on the email icon on my phone and have a final glance at any emails that have been sent my way. Usually, they end up being something that I do not read and I delete them, which is exactly what I did that night.

However, I recalled that one of the emails was a breaking news update from the New York Times and that the little preview stated that there was a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

I am going to share something with you that I think is strikingly grim and also not altogether uncommon…

My first thought was “oh great, another shooting…” Then I hoped that those I know living in the area were okay. Then I picked up the book I am currently reading, read some, and went to sleep. Then the morning comes…

Within seconds of checking my news feed, I was updated on the carnage that took place in that church in Charleston. A man (and I use the term loosely) gunned down a group of people gathered in worship and fled. The suspected shooter was later identified and found to be white, and the victims were identified and found to be black.

Within hours, really probably minutes, after the shooting, people began arguing with one another over various aspects of the incident they identified as most important such as the following:

The shooter was motivated by racial hate.
The shooter was motivated by hate of Christians and the Christian faith.
The shooter is crazy or mentally ill.

Hyperbolic rhetoric ensued on all sides. Exclamation points and capital letters sprouted all around, and people went about doing what they do best; they set up camp by drawing all of those with concurrent frames of mind to their side and made themselves distinct from the opposing side.

I don’t really want to get into the arguments of any side at this point other than to share my two cents put forth in the great social network debate:

There is one thing, and one thing alone, in my humble opinion, that we can glean from the news reports on this kid, Dylann Roof. He’s not crazy. He knows right from wrong. He ran in the hopes of not getting caught. His mental state should not be the focus of the discussion, but rather his motivations.

That was yesterday morning, and as far as I know, the shooter has not come forward and made public his motivations since he was apprehended.

What I want to focus on is my first thought upon learning that there was a shooting in Charleston…

“Oh great, another shooting…”

That was my first thought. THAT was my FIRST thought, followed by the side thought of hoping that those I know living there were okay and unharmed, followed by rolling over and going to sleep.

As I have gotten older and a little more mature (I stress “a little”), I have come more and more to abhor violence. I guess you could say that I am a pacifist, though I am not sure I would label myself as such. Yet even with my abhorrence of violent acts, I was able to rest comfortably and peacefully knowing that there was a shooting in another part of the world.

Why is that?

I am not a psychopath or sociopath. I feel empathy and sympathy. I even work to feel those “pathies” toward others with whom I do not readily identify or associate or know. Regardless of that work, I still find that apathy somehow finds a way into my heart and way of thinking.

One answer to the above question is that violence in some form or another is occurring anywhere at any time or at all times. If I allowed all of these acts of violence to keep me up at night I would never know sleep, or if I allowed these acts to constantly lay on my heart, I would never know peace. So in order to sleep or to find peace, I put those acts out of my mind.

I’d like to think that that is the answer I am looking for, but I cannot help but consider that there is another answer that is more appropriate, like this one:

Violence is occurring all the time in various places. It is part of the human experience, always has been, always will be, so why lose sleep over it?

That is probably a more apt response concerning my state of mind two nights ago, and I am pretty ashamed of it.

Even with the personal shame I feel, that is an all to common response, and it is accepted in society today. Think about it. An individual, such as myself, can willingly choose to feel apathy toward violence or an individual violent act and it is seen as acceptable and justified by another person or a group of people, and I am ashamed of that, too.

Questioning Questions

If you know me or read my writing, you know I ask questions. I ask a lot of questions, sometimes of others, more often of myself. My parents will probably tell you that one of my favorite things to say while growing up was “why?” or “how?” or “what?” or “who?” or “when?”. The answer I remember getting most often is “look it up,” but it isn’t the answer I want to explore in this writing, but rather the question…really any question, and why I ask them.

I went back through my posts and noticed that in the vast majority of them I ask at least one question. Most of the time I don’t get an answer. Sometimes I answer the questions myself in an attempt to explore the idea a question raises. Sometimes the questions are for the readers that grace my posts with their eyes and minds.

What prompted this question about questions, you may ask? Well, I was taking part in a group discussion the other day and it was said that during a dialogue, if one keeps asking questions, then the questioned will eventually be caught in a lie or a dead end or something to that effect; essentially that one’s argument may be found as weak or unfounded. And that is true. Questions, by their very nature, seek truth, but what is truth? This is a question for another time. The question here is about questions, not truth.

Questions need an answer, usually an answer that satisfies a need for better understanding of what has been asked. An unanswered question is something akin to listening to a piece of music and getting to the end of it only to find that the melody and harmony do not resolve, leaving a feeling of want in the listener’s ear.

Maybe better put, an unanswered question is a missed opportunity for the further exploration of an idea, reason, or practice. An unanswered question is a missed opportunity to learn, both for the questioner and the questionee.

Questions drive thought and innovation. Questions drive progress in all areas of life and society. Questions present possibilities and promote probabilities. Questions refine, reinforce, or redefine ideas and/or practices.

Best of all, questions stimulate the mind. They instigate communication and discourse. Questions inspire discussion. Just go to any library or bookstore. Every volume on the shelves is an answer to some question asked.

Back to the question…

Why do I ask questions?

I ask questions because I want to know. I want to come to a better understanding of what I know, or I want to know about something I did not know about before. I want to know what other people think. I want to know why people think the way they do. I want to come to an understanding about things I don’t understand. I want to ponder possibilities and consider probabilities. I want to know that I am right and why. I want to know why I am wrong so I can be right in the future (nobody wants to know they are wrong, especially me.).

I want to know. I want to learn. I want to understand. And I never want to stop.