Post 326

Family Counselling, Part 2:
The Coat

BLOGGER: So let’s continue. How is everything else? We’ve talked about some of the history of your births, and now I understand who is the mother of whom, and I’ve written all of that down. Where does that leave everyone? I see and I have spoken about the tension between some of the mothers, and between Leah and Jacob, but how do the rest of you get along?

JACOB: Everything is good!

BLOGGER: Everything is good?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Well, I wouldn’t say that.

JACOB: Yes, we all know what you think. We always know what you think!

LEAH: Oh, you! You don’t know everything. You just think you do!

BLOGGER: I would like someone else to answer. Someone else could speak about the current situation. Reuben, how about you? Are things good between everyone in this generation?

REUBEN: Things are good, yes.

JACOB: See! Just like I said.

SIMEON: We have no problems among us that are worth mentioning.

LEVI: We are shepherds, and we work together in the field. There is no dissension among us.

JUDAH: Mind you, to be fair, we should probably mention one thing, relating to one of us here.

LEVI: Do you mean?

JUDAH: Yes.

LEVI: Ah.

BLOGGER: So there is something?

JUDAH: Something, yes.

BLOGGER: Go ahead. It relates to whom?

JUDAH: To him (pointing)

BLOGGER: To Joseph?

JUDAH: Yes.

BLOGGER: What is it?

JUDAH: Well, to be frank, it’s his dreams.

BLOGGER: Dreams? As in, dreams when he sleeps?

LEVI: Yes! He says he has dreams!

BLOGGER: But — but why would this be a problem?

LEVI: It’s ridiculous! And he won’t stop with it!

BLOGGER: He won’t stop telling you about his dreams?

LEVI: Well, he tells about one dream, and then the next day, he’s got another one!

BLOGGER: You have dreams?

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Do you want to tell me about them?

SIMEON: Of course he’ll tell you about them! He’s not exactly secretive about them!

JOSEPH: I had two dreams. In the first dream, I was binding sheaves in the field with my brothers, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright. My brothers’ sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.

BLOGGER: And your second dream?

JOSEPH: In my second dream, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.

BLOGGER: Wow, those are some dreams!

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: And what do you make of them? How do you interpret them?

JOSEPH: I don’t understand them, but it seems that the sheaves represent my brothers, and the eleven stars are my brothers bowing down to me.

BLOGGER: I see.

(Silence.)

BLOGGER: And I can see why your brothers might not like to hear about them.

JACOB: It’s just a dream! Everyone has dreams. You sleep, you dream. It’s okay. Why is there a problem?

LEVI: Of course, you wouldn’t see the problem with it! You always favour him!

JACOB: Silence! You are not to speak to me that way, son!

BLOGGER: Why did you tell your brothers about these dreams?

JOSEPH: I don’t know. I just did. I never had dreams like these.

BLOGGER: Have you had more dreams like that?

JOSEPH: No, it was just those two.

BLOGGER: And they are important to you?

JOSEPH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Why?

JOSEPH: I don’t know. They just felt different. They felt significant.

BLOGGER: A message from the Lord?

JOSEPH: I believe so, yes.

BLOGGER: How do you feel when you remember them? How do they make you feel?

JOSEPH: When I think upon them, I feel peaceful, even though I do not understand their meaning.

SIMEON: Peaceful!

LEVI: I can’t believe he says it so plainly.

REUBEN: He can’t help himself.

LEVI: Anyone who will listen to his dreams is his new friend.

JACOB: Silence! This is disgraceful! How can you speak this way about our Joseph?!

BLOGGER: It’s okay — we’ll move on. I think I understand better now. So it’s fair to say that when Joseph told you his dreams, you were not very pleased, because you felt like he was making up stories where he was superior? Am I right?

SIMEON: He has absolutely no business saying such things.

REUBEN: We are the elder brothers, and he needs to remember to be respectful.

JOSEPH: But how was I being disrespectful?

LEVI: You impudent thing! What right do you have to talk back like that?

SIMEON: He is getting a big head because our father favours him, and that’s really the true background here. So then it goes into his dreams.

LEVI: You think he actually had a dream like that?

SIMEON: Well, maybe, but I am not saying it means anything. It’s just because Father is always–

JACOB: What? What do I hear coming out of your mouth. What is this “Father always”?

SIMEON: I mean no offence. I am just explaining to the lady that maybe Joseph causes problems because you favour him.

JACOB: Favour him? Well, of course I favour him! He’s the son of my old age! Of course! He is all I have left from Rachel — along with Benjamin.

SIMEON (to Blogger): This is the problem behind the problem.

JACOB: What problem? Am I, as father, not allowed to love my own son? My own son, the child of my old age?

REUBEN (to Blogger): Have you noticed that Joseph is dressed more flamboyantly than the rest of us?

BLOGGER: Well, yes, I see that Joseph’s tunic is more elaborate than the ones everyone else is wearing.

JACOB: This is a beautiful coat I got him! It is beautiful! Most beautiful coat you can find!

BLOGGER: You purchased this coat for him?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: I am almost afraid of the answer, but I should ask: did you purchase such a coat for only Joseph?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: Not for any of your other sons?

JACOB: No, of course not! I can’t afford such coats for everyone! This is unique, and it was truly expensive!

BLOGGER: Okay. I think I might be seeing some of the problem here.

JACOB: I am not a poor man, but I can’t get coats like this for everyone! Why are you all looking at me like this? You need coats too?

BLOGGER: I think your sons feel that you love Joseph more than you love them. I think that’s part of the resentment.

JACOB: Resentment? What ‘resentment’? There is no resentment! Who has resentment?

SIMEON: And there’s something else.

BLOGGER: Other than the dreams and the coat?

SIMEON: Joseph is a tattle-taler.

BLOGGER: Meaning that he reports back to your father things that you don’t want him to report?

SIMEON: Exactly.

BLOGGER: Joseph?

JOSEPH: I have said only what is true.

BLOGGER: You have reported to your father the things that you have seen your brothers doing?

JACOB: See! You see how he honours me! I should know what happens under my own roof! I want to know — I have a right to know what happens on my own fields! Who will deny a father his right to know what his sons are doing to his name? I have a right to know!

BLOGGER: Okay, okay, so I think I’ve got it. Jacob, it seems that your sons believe that you love Joseph more than you love them.

JACOB: What? He is the son of my old age! The son of my Rachel! I break no laws! Tell me where it says that I cannot love him, my Joseph!

BLOGGER: Oh boy.

 

 

Post 325

Family Counselling, Part 1:
Introductions

BLOGGER: Yes, please have a chair. Do we have enough seats for everyone? My, you’re probably the largest family I have had in the office for a while! Why don’t you introduce yourselves, and I’ll do my best to keep track. I am quite forgetful when it comes to names, so I’ll take some notes as we go along.

JACOB: I am Jacob, but you can also call me Israel. These are my sons. I have Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Judah. Here is Zebulun and Is’sahar. I have Dan and Gad, as well as Asher and Nephtali. And here are Joseph and Benjamin. Oh, and these are my wives. And this is my daughter, Dinah.

BLOGGER: Thank you for coming, everyone. So then, am I understanding the situation correctly: you don’t all have the same mother?

JACOB: It’s all the same father, that’s the main thing.

BLOGGER: Alright, but just to understand everything, I want to know how everyone is connected. How about this: I’ll ask the mothers to introduce themselves and tell me which sons are theirs? Would that work?

JACOB: I suppose it’s one method. You’re the expert.

BLOGGER: Okay, so why don’t we begin with the first wife?

LEAH: I am the first wife.

JACOB: But I got tricked into marrying her.

LEAH: He never loved me.

JACOB: I got tricked. I worked for him for seven years, and then he gave me the wrong girl!

LEAH: See? You can tell he doesn’t love me.

BLOGGER: Who gave you the wrong girl?

JACOB: Laban! Laban did this! I honoured my side of the agreement, and then he gives me his other daughter, the old one with the weak eyes. The wrong girl! I didn’t even realize it until it was too late! I couldn’t see until it was too late that it was this one beneath the veil, this one, instead of my Rachel. And besides, her attendant was the younger maid — who gives the younger maid to the older daughter? I was tricked! Afterwards he says, “But I could not give you my younger daughter in marriage first; it is not done!” So — would you believe? — Laban made me work for another seven years before I could have Rachel! Fourteen years I slaved!

LEAH: He never tried to love me. No matter how many sons I gave him, his heart never opened to me. If I were to give him one hundred sons, he still wouldn’t care for me! I can never be better than her! I can never win!

BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?

ZILPAH: No, I’m Zilpah.

BLOGGER (addressing another woman): Are you Rachel?

BILHAH: No, I’m Bilhah.

BLOGGER: Where’s Rachel?

BILHAH: She’s dead.

LEAH: Dead.

JACOB: My Rachel!

BLOGGER: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.

(Silence)

BLOGGER: So we have 1 father and 4 mothers?

JACOB: Should be 4 mothers, but today, only 3 are here. The best one is gone!

BLOGGER (Looking sympathetically at Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah): Okay, so how did this work? Were you married to four women at once, or was divorce involved?

JACOB: Divorce! No! No divorce! Only 2 marriages. These (pointing to Bilhah and Zilpah) — no marriage.

BLOGGER: No marriage?

JACOB: No!

BLOGGER: But children?

JACOB: Yes!

BLOGGER: Hmm, okay. I thought you said these women were your “wives.” How about this: we’ll go back to the plan. Let each woman who is present name her sons. Okay?

LEAH & BILHAH & ZILPAH: Yes.

BLOGGER: Who will go first? Whose son is the eldest?

LEAH: Reuben. He is the eldest, first-born to Jacob. I prayed to the Lord, and he gave me son. I thought that my husband would love me if I had a son. I named him Reuben. I said, “the Lord has seen me suffering so much; now for sure Jacob will love me.” But did this work? No. Still he pined after Rachel!

JACOB: You complain so much, but I never asked for anyone other than Rachel. Blame your father! Blame his tricks. He changed my wages ten times! He demanded seven years for Rachel and seven years for you, and six years for the flocks. It is not my fault! My heart was true; I always loved Rachel and your father promised her to me!

LEAH: But you are not saying things correctly! You never made any room for me; you never gave me a chance! The Lord knows that I would be content with a scrap of your love, yet you give me nothing!

JACOB: I owed you nothing! Yet I still took care of you, gave you a home and food enough!

LEAH: Oh! How he talks like this to me!

BLOGGER: Yes, this is a difficult situation. He feels that he was tricked. And what about you? When your father substituted you for Rachel, what did you think? Did you agree?

LEAH: I was young. Jacob says that I was the “old one,” but twenty-three is not a grandmother! My father put pressure on me; he said nobody would want me because I was so old, and he said I wasn’t pretty, like Rachel. He said that he was rescuing me.

BLOGGER: So you knew that Jacob wanted Rachel?

LEAH: Of course! Everybody knew.

BLOGGER: So then, why did you agree?

LEAH: What choice do I have when I am in my father’s house? My father made it like this. It was not my idea. My mother also agreed.

BLOGGER: So it was a secret plan? Did Rachel know?

LEAH: Later she found out what we were planning, somehow. Perhaps one of the servants told her. She was furious — she was crying, and yelling at me, and almost at our father as well! But it wasn’t my fault!

BLOGGER: So the three of you — your father, your mother, and you — decided that you would be substituted for Rachel?

LEAH: Yes.

JACOB: Oh! The sorrow of it! The treachery! All of you! Your father should be grateful I didn’t murder you!

LEAH: Listen to him! He hates me!

JACOB: You are dramatic for nothing!

LEAH: Oh! You! You said you should have killed me! Who is dramatic? You are dramatic!

BLOGGER: Alright, alright. So let me take a guess, Leah. Were you, on some level, happy to take your sister’s place as the bride?

LEAH: Do I look happy? Who is happy with such a one as this?

BLOGGER: At the time of the wedding. At the time of the wedding, were you happy?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Nobody has ever asked me this.

BLOGGER: Were you happy to be marrying Jacob?

LEAH: I suppose I was. Yes, I was. I thought I would enjoy being his wife, and that eventually, he would be happy as well.

BLOGGER: You thought that he would grow to love you? You thought that you could take Rachel’s place?

(Silence.)

LEAH: Was she better than me? I bore him more children than she did! I could be just as good as Rachel.

JACOB: But you weren’t! You weren’t!

LEAH: Yes, I know that you think that, you crazy man! Don’t you think I know? I was never good enough for you!

BLOGGER: I suppose your happiness was short-lived, because as soon as he found out that you weren’t Rachel after the wedding, he became upset?

LEAH: The next morning, he was furious! As if I were nothing, as if I were worse than a dog, really!

BLOGGER: So it wasn’t a happy ending.

LEAH: No!

JACOB: No! It was terrible!

BLOGGER: Alright, let’s return to the sons. Who came after Reuben?

LEAH: After Reuben, I had another son. My second son I named Simeon, to mean, “The Lord knows that I am hated, so he gave me this son too.”

BLOGGER: And then?

LEAH: I had more sons. When I had my third son, Levi, I said, “Now this time my husband will join to me, for I have given him three sons.” And then I had another son. I said, “This time I praise the Lord,” and I named him Judah.

BLOGGER: And at some point here, because we must be about seven years along, he marries Rachel?

JACOB: Yes! Finally! I was Laban’s slave for fourteen years! He took advantage of me!

BLOGGER: What happened then?

LEAH: They married, but Rachel had no children! I had so many sons, but she had nothing. She envied me.

BILHAH: This is my part of the story, if you don’t mind, Leah. Let me explain. The situation was that when my mistress, Rachel, realized she could not have children with Jacob, she sent me in with him. She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah. I can have children through her.”

BLOGGER: Wait, so you were the servant of Rachel, and she wanted you to conceive a child with her husband? You were helping her in this way?

BILHAH: Of course, yes.

BLOGGER: Oh my.

BILHAH: I had a son for Rachel, and she named him Dan.

BLOGGER: Was Rachel happy about that? The whole system, if I can call it that, sounds dreadful to me.

BILHAH: Of course she was glad! Because of me, she could provide Jacob with a son! She said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” And that is why she named him Dan.

BLOGGER: Then what happened?

BILHAH: Then I conceived again — another son for her. She said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and I have won!” That’s why she called him Nephtali.

LEAH: I will explain the next part.

BLOGGER: Alright, go ahead.

LEAH: When I found out Rachel’s way — to use her servant — I thought that two could play at that game! After all, I had a servant as well.

BLOGGER: And did it work?

LEAH: Of course it worked! I had son, who I named Gad, to mean “Good fortune!”

BLOGGER: Zilpah, that’s you?

ZILPAH: Yes, I’m Zilpah.

BLOGGER: You had this son, Gad, conceived with Jacob?

ZILPAH: Yes.

LEAH: And there was another one?

BLOGGER: Through Zilpah as well?

LEAH: Zilpah, yes.

BLOGGER: What was his name?

LEAH: Asher, because I said, “Happy am I! The women will call me happy!”

BLOGGER: Alright. Whew. So far, then, we have 8 sons. That is obviously not the end of the story, because there are 12 of you here today.

LEAH: When Rachel was hungry for mandrakes, she let me lie with Jacob. My son Reuben brought mandrakes to me, and Rachel wanted them. So I said, “You already took away my husband — now you want to take away my mandrakes too?” She said, “Then you can lie with Jacob tonight.” So I did, and I conceived another son. When he was born, I named him Is’sahar, to mean, “God has helped me because I gave my maid to my husband.”

BLOGGER: So you had five sons then?

LEAH: Six!

BLOGGER: Six!

LEAH: I named the sixth one “Zeb’ulun.” I said to myself, “God has given me a good dowry. Now my husband will honour me, because I have given him six sons!”

BLOGGER: That’s a lot of sons. No daughters?

LEAH: I had a daughter. This is Dinah.

BLOGGER: Hello, Dinah.

DINAH: Hello.

BLOGGER: Did Rachel have any children of her own?

JACOB: Of course she did! She gave me Joseph, and she gave me Benjamin.

BLOGGER: Okay.

JACOB: But she died when she was giving birth to Benjamin! She died too young! She left me alone!

BLOGGER: (thinking: “Yes, alone, except for the other three women and the twelve sons and one daughter.”)

JACOB: The love of my life.

BLOGGER: Yes.

JACOB: You know, I still think of her every day. Every day. Every day I think of my Rachel. I think: Rachel, you left me too soon. We had so little time together.

BLOGGER: Yes, I’m sorry that she died so young!

JACOB: Yes, so young!

BLOGGER: So who raised Joseph and Benjamin? Their mother was gone; were they raised by the other women?

ZILPAH: Mainly, it was me. I raised them.

LEAH: I helped too.

ZILPAH: No, not really.

LEAH: Yes, I did! Remember when you went away? You went to visit your mother. Who took care of them when you were gone?

ZILPAH: Alright, there was that time, but it was just the once.

LEAH: Ah! Who is forgetting now? You know how to show gratitude!

ZILPAH: I think I was their mother most of all.

LEAH: You remember things to match your taste.

ZILPAH: You are angry at the world!

LEAH: Oh! You scum! Do you see how she talks to me? This is a servant girl, yet dares say I am angry at the world!

JACOB: No, you are both wrong! You cannot say, “I am their mother” — to say this does not make it the truth. Blogger, I tell you: they had no mother! Their mother was in the ground! The only one they had was me: I was their father; I was their mother.

BLOGGER: Alright, so we will need to end today’s session soon. I will tell you my thoughts, as you have asked.

From what I’ve heard, there are a few layers of difficulty here.

I will address Leah first, because the first problems seem to stem from your rivalry with Rachel, which probably predated your wedding to Jacob. I don’t know if this rivalry went both ways, because Rachel isn’t here. It would be likely, though, that even if Rachel weren’t envious of you initially, she would have become so when you took her place. You had hoped, wrongly, that your marriage to Jacob would be a victory, but it was not, because it came about through deceit. You had hoped that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but as we see even now, this is not how it turned out. Now I know that so many fathers viewed and treated their daughters as property, but you did not need to consent to your father’s plan. You consented because you saw the trickery as being to your advantage. You believed, as did your parents, that Jacob and Rachel would forget about each other, but they did not.

Their love was strong. It’s a beautiful love, and overcame the obstacles thrown in its path. Jacob, your enduring love for Rachel today is romantic in its way.

Nevertheless, you, Jacob, have not treated Leah fairly. Once she came under your protection as your first wife, you owed her more than shelter and food. You would have been given the grace from God to treat her kindly. She has experienced a great deal of sorrow, and it didn’t need to be this way. She is a daughter of God, and has a right to be treated with respect, consideration and love. This love need not even be romantic love. It can be the love of one human for another. There is always room in one’s heart for that type of love, and you would not be guilty of dishonouring the memory of Rachel by being kind to Leah. Moreover, as the mother of your sons, you owe her kindness. To treat the mother of your children poorly is a sign of barbarism.

With respect to the servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, you are, along with Leah, in an unfortunate situation which is a product of the types of unions which were accepted in your era. As best as you can, treat each other with compassion. Restrain your anger, because you have been bound together, and when you lash out at one another, you are only preparing future harm for yourself and your children.

 

 

Post 324

Grace Refused: Reflections on Pope Francis' Slapping of a Woman's Hand

I’ll call her Alice. She’s the one whose hand got slapped by Pope Francis on December 31, 2019.

Alice’s demeanour is noticeably different from that of the people around her. Other people are smiling and look like they’re happy to be there on New Year’s Eve. Alice doesn’t look happy or relaxed. She isn’t really there just for the moment. She doesn’t have her phone out, because she’s not there to take photos or videos. She is really focused, and she’s chosen her location well. She is at the front, right behind the barricade, a testament to her planning. You don’t get to the front unless you wait a long while or unless you are pushy, or both.

Alice is so focused on Pope Francis that I say that the way she crosses herself as he gets nearer is just for visual effect and posturing. It’s not about praying. Even while she’s crossing herself, she’s looking around and she’s watching the Pope’s approach.

She is watching him with her hands clasped together, in a supplicating way. She is not smiling. She is just watching him, waiting for the moment when she will be able to speak with him.

There is a woman next to Alice, whom I will call Greta. Greta extends her hand to Pope Francis when he is directly in front of her. From our camera angle, in fact, he appears to be looking directly at her. He takes out his hand, and their hands are about 6 inches apart. Of course Greta thinks Pope Francis is going to greet her. But no — his hand goes up, up, up, and he is clearly looking above and behind Greta. Greta’s eyes follow his hand, and she no longer has hers extended. What is he doing? He has made eye contact with a young girl held aloft by an adult, a young girl with a pink hat and a big smile. She is happily waving to Pope Francis, and he steps forward because she isn’t in the front row. Maybe he will shake her hand? She is further back, and the barricade is there. The young girl prepares to give him a high-5, because his hand is so close to her that it’s more than a wave now. Does he reach it? Yes he does. The Holy Father has stepped forward enough, and extended his hand enough, that they make contact, and of course, they’re both happy about that. I’m happy for them too. Meanwhile, other hands reach up to touch his arm. I think people are just happy to be able to say that they touched him. They are planning to send texts to the people at home to report that.

I notice that Pope Francis, in this video excerpt at least, seems to particularly enjoy finding the children in the crowd, waving to them, talking to them, shaking their little hands. In fact I think it may be fair to say he finds it more enjoyable to notice a child in row two or three than an adult in row one.

When he is done with greeting the little girl with the pink hat, he is very close to Greta, and we see her getting her hand out again for a second try at a handshake. She almost had it the first time, and now he’s even closer. So she opens her hand, palm up, and it looks very much like his hand, which is palm down, is going to meet hers.

But you see, Pope Francis has decided that the high-five was the last of it for tonight, and he is actually beginning to turn away from the crowd. He is not planning on shaking Greta’s hand. She doesn’t know this yet. In her mind, it’s going to happen, because her hand is, once again, about 6 inches away from his. She’s been patient, and she too has expended effort in order to be where she is in the front row behind the barricade.

So as he lowers his hand, it appears that Greta’s upturned hand does make contact with it. And her hand is still on his arm as he turns away. Does he feel her hand? I suppose on some level he does, but his movements are unimpeded, and he is still smiling. I think it’s probably typical for people to hang on to him a little as he pulls himself away from the crowd. Greta watches his arm as it descends, and she continues to hold it, but not forcefully. Pope Francis is still smiling. The bodyguard is watching, but there is nothing unusual happening.

Alice has been watching too, and even though she has been mostly motionless all this time, waiting for the Pope, she has not smiled. She is, as I said, very focused. She is like a cat watching a mouse. Some say that she came from Hong Kong or China in order to ask Pope Francis something pertaining to Hong Kong or China. They say this because she’s Asian and because they have tried to understand some of the words which are audible on the video segment. I don’t know where she’s from, or what she says, but I completely disagree with those who speculate that she was speaking to him in an Asian language. She would be smart enough to know that he doesn’t speak any Asian languages. I think she would use English.

What I see is that Alice changes when Pope Francis begins to turn away. When Pope Francis begins to turn away, she opens her mouth and unclasps her hands. Now she looks like she’s really supplicating, arms outstretched, and protesting. I think her pose is partly dramatic, and partly genuine. I say it’s dramatic because she’s launching into her planned speech, or a short introduction, and I say it’s genuine because she’s really shocked that he got so close and he’s turning away.

So her arm is outstretched, and Pope Francis’ arm is nearby. Greta hasn’t let go yet, actually, and so this affects the way his arm descends somewhat. It is somewhat outstretched, and, as it happens, is very close to Alice.

Alice, like a cat, quickly moves to grasp his arm. Her hands were outstretched anyway, and so it’s just a little reach by her left hand to snag his arm. Her hand is about 4 inches away from his arm. She leans forward even more and catches it with her left hand. You will see she smiles here. Her mouth is open and she looks happy.

As Pope Francis steps away, his weight is on his left foot, and he is facing away from the crowd. When Alice brings her right arm into the act, and pulls his arm closer, the Pope senses that things are not right. He cannot move forward further, and he begins to lose his smile. He holds his ground, which means that his body is in one spot but his arm is now outstretched behind him. He turns his head back to see who is pulling on his arm. We can see that Alice is grabbing his hand with both of hers, and we still see, almost strangely, that Greta’s upturned hand is still there, as if glued. The force, however, is all from Alice, because it isn’t until Alice pulls that Pope Francis’s arm changes course and his upper body gets pulled back to the crowd.

At the same time the Pope is looking at Alice, Greta turns to look at Alice too. I think Greta looks surprised to see that Alice has pulled Pope Francis in. Alice has reeled him in in the way a cat might reel in a fish. Pope Francis’ mouth opens as if he is in pain.

And indeed, it is not enough that she has grasped his hand and that he is now looking at her.

Alice takes this as her chance to speak, and talks nonstop as she forcibly continues to pull him closer to her. He takes about two steps back to her, and he is joined by his bodyguards who also approach. They see that His Holiness has been pulled, and that he shouldn’t be. It’s the shorter bodyguard who can see what is happening and he steps in to intervene while saying something.

Pope Francis pulls his arm down and away from Alice, but Alice won’t let go and she keeps talking. By the time Pope Francis has done this, we can see that the bodyguard is gripping Alice’s left arm. Alice hangs on and keeps talking.

He tries a second time to shake Alice’s hands off of his, but Alice doesn’t let go. She is talking. He’s in the middle of his third shake when he brings his left free hand into the picture.

Whap.

He swats her hand once, while seeming to yell at her, and by then the security guard is holding both of Alice’s hands. There is an important moment when the Pope and Alice are looking at each other, and then the Pope, whose hand is now free, turns and leaves.

He looks very unhappy. Alice says something as he departs and she looks unhappy too.

There have been many reactions to the incident. Some people say that there have been too many reactions to the incident, and that we should all move on because Pope Francis has apologized. It is true that he apologized in a general fashion. He apologized the following day, January 1, in one sentence, and it was this: “So many times we lose patience – even me, and I apologise for yesterday’s bad example.”

I disagree that this incident is now behind us.

This incident has become infamous, and will remain so. This incident will always be a memorable event in his papacy, even amongst his supporters. I am one of his supporters, and I know that this event will never entirely fade away. It has brought ridicule upon Pope Francis and upon the papacy in many ways.

As it happens, his actions happened on the eve of his homily on the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. In that homily, he said:

The rebirth of humanity began from a woman. Women are sources of life. Yet they are continually insulted, beaten, raped, forced to prostitute themselves and to suppress the life they bear in the womb. Every form of violence inflicted upon a woman is a blasphemy against God, who was born of a woman. Humanity’s salvation came forth from the body of a woman: we can understand our degree of humanity by how we treat a woman’s body.

How shall we understand this tremendous ‘coincidence’? How is it that just before speaking so forcefully about the respect owed to women, Pope Francis has been videotaped slapping the hand of a woman?

God has allowed it to happen thus.

Why?

I think that this remarkable sequence of events is meant to draw our attention to the message. Would we have even known the inspired words of the homily, but for this incident? It also means that we are meant to think about the incident more deeply.

The apology doesn’t sweep this incident away, and most certainly, the apology doesn’t act as a moratorium on discussion of the matter.

The fact is that Pope Francis did inflict a form of violence on a woman — a petty, insulting form, but a form of violence.

In his defence,
a) this woman caused him physical pain,
b) she surprised him,
c) she treated him with less respect and decorum than he is used to and which befits his office,
d) he is 83 years old, and not as strong as before,
e) she spoke in an unfriendly and urgent way, and may not have been understandable to him in the circumstances,
f) she would not let go of his hand, even when he tried to shake it free, and
g) he was probably tired.

However,
a) she is a guest in his city, Vatican City,
b) she is likely a pilgrim, and has travelled a considerable distance,
c) she is likely a Catholic laywoman, and therefore one of his flock,
d) she has likely waited for several hours to see him,
e) she is a stranger to him, which means that physical boundaries are more important,
f) she is smaller than he is,
g) she is a woman, and
h) she is a daughter of God.

One of the most critical elements in all of this is the fact that God gave, and continually gives, Pope Francis the ability and the grace and the knowledge to behave properly, and Pope Francis refused it here. Do you not think that God gives abundant graces to those who hold this office? I have said that he gives special help to those who lead countries, and celebrities in the public eye. Would he not help the one who is charged with leading and guarding his flock? Would he not help the one who has been chosen to show all humanity that Jesus is truly the Son of God?

So you see, when Pope Francis slapped this woman’s hands, and rebuked her, Pope Francis was slapping the hands of Christ, and rebuking him.

Am I going further than the Pope himself went, when he said that every act of violence against a woman is a “blasphemy against God”?

By his actions on the eve of the Feast of Mary, he disgraced Our Holy Mother, Mary, too.

That’s the truth.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I continue to pledge my allegiance to Pope Francis, and I do not support those who attack his doctrine. You can see that the doctrine is clear, solid and inspired. But this was a very public act, and it is good for us to address what has happened.

I see, in his sinful act, three things.

I see, first of all, pride. He felt humiliated and embarrassed at being yanked backwards by such a small woman in front of everyone. He was embarrassed also that he couldn’t free himself from her grip. Moreover, he had made a decision to leave, and now he was being led where he did not want to go.

I see, secondly, a mixture of racism and ageism. I believe if the woman had been visibly older, he would have been more merciful. Or if she had been younger, say, 12 or 13, he would have been merciful. And I believe that if she had been either more racially familiar (South American, say) or more racially unfamiliar (African, say), then he would have been more merciful. The thing is that some types of people attract our sympathy sooner than others, and there are some races which people in the public eye are more careful to not offend.

I see, thirdly, sexism. If a man had pulled him in this way, he would not have physically challenged him. He may have rebuked him, yes, but based on what everyone knows about hand slapping, we know that it is not typically the way a man deals with another man. A man will hit another man in the face or shove him roughly if he wants to fight. We all know that the slapping of hands is what has so traditionally been done to women and children. Sadly, part of Pope Francis sees it as an acceptable method of dealing with those who are in a subordinate position when they do something wrong. His upbringing may explain this, but it does not excuse it. In his reflexive use of this method, we see that he does not understand all of the forms of violence against women (and children).

All forms of violence against women are damaging to the women and those who inflict the damage. Society is debased as a whole whenever violence (in any form) against woman is seen as understandable. I have seen comments online by people coming to his defence, and some of them say that, in the same situation, they would have not hesitated to hit this woman in the face.

Really?

So you see, demonstrating that even a “little” bit of physical force is “sometimes” acceptable opens the door. This man thinks that such-and-such a situation warranted such-and-such force, and this other man thinks that such-and-such a situation warranted this other kind of force. The cry that “it’s justified!” should make us stop and think.

Apart from self-defence, a man is always in the wrong when he behaves violently toward a woman.

And no, this was not about self-defence. By the time he turned to see who was holding him, he knew that he wasn’t really going to be in any danger. By the time he looked upon her holding him, it was about anger and it was about vengeance. In that moment, he didn’t care about anything other than putting this woman in her place. He was indignant and he scolded her, physically and verbally.

As he walked away, Pope Francis would have known, already, that he had done wrong. I wish he had stopped, and turned back to where she was. It was within his power to reclaim that moment, and break from protocol. Let the guards wait for a moment. Look, the Pope is coming back! Look, he has stopped in front of that woman again! What is he saying? He must be apologizing, because his head is bent. Oh look! He has gotten down on his knees in front of her! Oh my I hope you have the video camera going! Oh my! She is starting to cry. Oh my have you ever seen such a thing!

Prompt action on his part would have led to a reconciliation. The public nature of this reconciliation would befit the public nature of the violation.

As it is, the one-sentence apology that he made on New Year’s Day is insufficient, because he did not direct it to the woman. For shame! He directed it to the world in general, saying that he is not always a patient man, and that he gave a bad example. He is asking us to forgive him for being less than the person he wants to be, but do you see that he is misdirecting his words?

What about the woman? Does she not deserve an apology?

Trust me, she would receive it. Her friends and her family members — they all know that she’s the one who attracted his wrath. What about an apology to the woman you slapped, Holy Father?

Say to the cameras, “I do not know your name, and I do not know where you are from, but I heartfully and humbly ask, when you learn of my request, that I have the opportunity to meet with you in person to personally apologize to you for my thoughtless, rude, and unChristian behaviour on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady. I hope to meet with you in order to discuss the matter which you wanted to discuss. I will give you my time. If you have already left Vatican City, then I will personally pay for your travel expenses to return for this meeting.”

As I said in a recent post (“Unclassified”), it is more difficult to address a wrong than to avoid committing it the first time, but it can and must be done. It is good that Pope Francis’s sinful behaviour has been revealed, because he needs to think deeply about his rejection of God’s generous and unfailing grace in the moment of temptation. He chose wrongly, and based on the vagueness of his apology, it appears he has not yet admitted the wrongness of his words and actions.

You see, God is all about second chances, and in his great love, he is allowing the great and small sins of the great and the small to come to light these days. We are in a special time, and God knows that sometimes people don’t acknowledge their sins until others observe them. But it is time to acknowledge our sins. We must acknowledge them and then we must ask for mercy from those we have harmed and from God.

Post 323

Not What You Think It Is:
Reflections on Leadership

There is this wildly misguided notion that you can identify future leaders by looking for certain traits. This is the thinking behind ‘leadership’ awards, which are given out in university, high school, and sometimes earlier.

The person or people in charge of predicting the future always look for the same thing. In addition to looking at grades (which are often heavily affected by teachers’ personal tastes in students), people look for a student who has participated in a wide variety of approved activities, by which I mean membership in clubs, teams or other organizations which have a certain level of recognition and respectability. Award-givers are keen on public speaking and debate clubs especially, and they like any activity which seems related to government, such as attendance at events where everyone pretends to be a member of parliament/congress. By extension, anyone who has actually spoken at an actual government assembly is seen, almost conclusively, as a leader.

Now because most leadership awards involve an application process, you can see that predicting a future leader leans heavily in favour of preferring the people who prefer themselves: we reward people who ask to be rewarded. After all, such leadership designations and awards don’t generally fall from the sky. Most award-granting processes require applicants to promote themselves as extraordinary, outstanding individuals who DO MORE than everyone else. DOING MORE than everyone else is supposedly what you need to lead your peers into the future. I question this notion and the entire process, and I would go so far as to say that if a leadership award is in fact given to a real future leader, that would be a miraculous coincidence. These leadership awards are generally exercises in creative writing (by the scholarship-hungry parents), not to mention advance planning — which activities will make me look well-rounded?

Incidentally, this obsession with ‘doing more’ continues into adulthood. I see adults who are spreading themselves very thin in order to belong to every organization under the sun. They are on their community council, leading a church group, volunteering for the festival, hosting a book club, collecting donations for the whatever drive, all while managing their day job, their ‘side hustle,’ their art class, and their Instagram following. What on earth are they trying to prove? That they would be a terrific candidate for political office? That they are living life to the fullest? Yikes. Stay home with your children for a change. Don’t be on display in “the community” or elsewhere. Don’t obsess about your involvement and your accomplishments. Settle down.

True leaders aren’t like this. True leaders don’t do more for the sake of doing more, for the sake of puffing up a resume or a LinkedIn profile. A true leader is distinguished not by an extensive list of activities or even abilities. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of a single ability that is necessary for leadership. And it goes almost without saying that a true leader is distinguished not by background or connections.

A true leader is distinguished by a deep empathy for those who need a leader. A true leader wants to bring something good to those who need or want it. Compassion and love for others motivates a true leader. Bonum diffusum sui. Out of this love, a leader will be ready to seek the most effective means to achieve the desired end. And this is how leaders often become leaders in the first place. Alphonsus scans the room and sees that nobody else is doing what needs to be done, so he does it, and, lo and behold, a leader is born. He has the right attitude. Maria wants to help the others accomplish a task, and since she is willing to show the others how to do it, she becomes their leader.

Genuine leadership is about willingness to take up a challenge when others need you. So a person can ‘accidentally’ become a leader, much to his or her own surprise. You see, a desire to help is enabling. A desire to help creates leaders.

Thus it is almost impossible to predict who is going to be a leader, because it is almost impossible to predict who is going to want to help in the future. For this reason, it is largely pointless to identify certain people as The Leaders of Tomorrow. Most “leaders of tomorrow” go on to live selfish lives pursuing personal wealth, comfort, thrills, prestige, and power.

You don’t know who the leaders will be.

The leaders will come out of nowhere. They will be those who were in your midst, who allowed you to ignore them and sidestep them while you continued on. They will be the ones who seemed to fade into the background while you were headed for the spotlight. They will be the ones who made things easier for you, and who cheered for you. They will be the ones who brought you good news, the ones who were happy for you when you were happy and who were sad when you suffered unjustly. They will be the ones who advocated for you and who made sacrifices of their time and energy for you. They will be the ones who loved you.

A true leader empathizes with others and sacrifices himself or herself.

A true leader gives more than anyone else.

A true leader does not fear competition or rivals, and therefore a true leader always chooses the best helpers available. Only a bad leader intentionally surrounds himself with people who are incompetent or unmotivated.

A true leader is unafraid of new ideas, and knows that good ideas can come from anywhere. (All ideas which are truly good have the same divine source.)

A true leader is willing to take chances, and is willing to look foolish if that’s what it takes.

A true leader uses new approaches all the time, adapting himself or herself to suit the needs of the people. (St. Paul writes that he becomes everything for everyone.)

A true leader cares more about the success of others and the project than his or her own fame, because the true leader never has self-glorification as an aim. At the same time, if fame becomes part of the package, a true leader gracefully accepts that.

A true leader does not forget all of the help he or she received. A true leader remembers both small deeds and big deeds which made the journey easier.

A true leader understands that the first and final author of any success worth having is God. Without God, what could be accomplished? It is God who gives our eyes the power to see, our lips the power to speak, our hands the power to move. Without God, the sun wouldn’t shine and the earth wouldn’t sustain us. We wouldn’t exist.

So it is to God that first and final praises must go. He is the one who inspires, who encourages, and who brings to completion. He is the one who gives light to our minds and inspiration to our souls. How can we even give ourselves any credit at all, really? How can we congratulate ourselves, when all the while he was behind us, ahead of us, and beside us, giving us everything we needed to succeed?

May His Name be Praised!

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Matt. 9:36

Post 322

Dictator

I
see
thirst
appetite
unrestrained
insatiable hunger
desire for one thing
he wants only one thing
the only thing worth wanting
every waking thought every daydream
Power
Power
Power

I
see
hatred
contempt
for the poor
the weak the new
envy and suspicion
of the educated the strong
the student the professor the lawyer
Power
Power
Power

I
see
desire
to conquer
subjugate humiliate
suicide on the steps is nothing
power which is shared is worthless
make it lean make it mean make it mine
tremble at my power for I am your master
Power
Power
Power

I
see
schemes
to break to crush
to challenge the titans
to make them weep in defeat
rules can be broken if broken quickly
did you see what happened neither did I
and when it is over the masses can be bought
Power
Power
Power

I
see
dreams
of an empire
renamed in his honour
a leadership consisting of one
a rich region populated with vassals
farmers workers tradesmen women children
no partners no parties no members no mercy
Power
Power
Power

Post 321

Professor

God is like a professor who gives an exam.
He explains exactly what the students must study.
The materials are clear, with examples aplenty.

He gives adequate warning and time to prepare.
Class time is devoted to practice and drill.
Here’s the pre-test; the exam will be like this.

Yet when test day arrives,
Some ask for more time (An extension is granted.)
While others don’t bother to show. (An extension is granted).

He hands out the exams.
Some students are stumped; their preparation was shoddy.
Their answers are guesses, and their guesses are wrong.

Soon the examination is over; the clock says it’s time.
But he waits for the straggler.
(To snuff the wavering wick isn’t his style.)

Now the students are gone.
They are glad to be done.

Alone, he sighs as he reviews the finished exams.
Success was so possible
‘Twas there for the taking.
And yet —

Can he give partial marks?
He gives what he can.
And those who fail
May rewrite if they want.

As he walks to his car, he wonders to himself.
Are these the same students
He taught day in and day out?
Are these the same students
Seemingly so eager to learn?
Where is the effort?
Where is the will?

 

 

Over here
Here is the will, but
Nothing more, Lord!
I have nothing more
But I wish I did!
I wish I had all the meekness and patience
The determination and the strength
The early risings and the love of suffering
Oh!
It’s not me you can use
Not yet, anyway
I wish it were me
What can you do with me?
My shelves are full of books
I know the stories
I see the examples
So many
So good
I am not of their number
I am not like them
I am every year older
Yet I am never any better
What can you do with me?
My shelves are full of books
The stories of the good
Demonstrate the distance
Between what I am
And what I was meant to be
If only I were the way you wanted me to be!
So meek and so calm
Serene as can be
A heart full of peace
Unafraid of sacrifice
Unafraid of suffering
Prayerful and punctual and everything else
But above all
So full of love
As I was meant to be

Such was my lament
Oh! I didn’t know
The value of wishing
I didn’t know
The value of wanting
I didn’t know
The value of the will

God is like a professor
Who considers the effort
He sees what we want
And if we want what is good
Our wanting is counted to us as righteousness
Suddenly what seemed to be failure
Is a shiny
A+

 

 

Post 320
To Our Lady, who journeys with us

November 23 & 24

This is the fourth anniversary
Of something sweet
The beginning of a new world
That turned some lives
Upside down and right side up
All at the same time.

Jesus, we trust in you.

This is the fourth anniversary
Of first secrets revealed
Of promises made
And companionship in the darkest hour

Two years filled to the brim
Of the unexpected, the undeserved and the extraordinary
Oh the thoughts of the dog!
The thoughts of the dog

Two years filled to the brim
Of spiritual stuff you couldn’t imagine
Of words you didn’t make up
Like the thoughts of the dog

And then a third year
Steadier, stronger
Budding and blooming
Victories, successes and garlands of flowers

A third year
That was nevertheless
Understood best
As another year of waiting

Ah yes

And now a fourth
A year of growing closer
A year of understanding
That the future depends upon circling back to the beginning
The garden the tree the fruit the temptation the choice
A plan so perfect so simple so complete so generous so sweet
That it could only be God’s

There has never been a drama like this
No writer like this
As for me
I did my part but I never knew my role
Consider me astounded

The ring is on my finger
Seven diamonds are mine
But the struggle is not over
The work continues
As does the wait

This is the fourth anniversary
Of looking at the sky and looking at the sun
And the stars and the clouds and the moon
And wondering when
It will all come true

Oh Jesus, we trust in you!

Post 319

Can We Talk?
Reflections on Conversation

People are talking but not conversing.
By this, I mean that the talk between many people barely qualifies as conversation.

Have you noticed this?

It’s true that people are making comments, and acknowledging each others’ comments. This much is true. Even those who typically monopolize conversations know that conversation involves taking turns talking.

So, with this basic knowledge, people are able to scrape together some dialogue. It’s quite typical to hear something like this:

Kimberly: I am not looking forward to the speeding ticket I probably just got, getting over here.
Karen: Oh, no way.
Kimberly: Yeah, I was in such a rush it was crazy.
Karen: Wow.
(Silence.)
Kimberly: So I guess my parents are going to be in town over the weekend.
Karen: Oh, really? Where are they from?
Kimberly: Wainright.
Karen: Cool.
(Silence.)

Such bare bones interactions are common. The exchange involves nothing more than one person making a statement and the other person acknowledging it. There is silence until another statement is made. The conversation is so stilted, so halting.

Why is this?

There are a lot of things going on.

One explanation has to do with female power. In a female clique, there is a Leader, and she controls the flow of conversation. Here, Kimberly has twice initiated discussion.

Karen, by contrast, has not added anything much at all. In a clique, those who are in subordinate positions speak less. They contribute far fewer statements, if any at all. Their input is often limited to empathetic responses to the Leader’s statements. Often they pay compliments to the Leader. Sometimes they ask follow-up questions to topics previously raised by the Leader:

Karen: Hey, I love your bag. It’s so cute!
Kimberly: Oh thanks!
(Silence.)
Karen: Did you get that mix-up straightened out, about the jacket?
Kimberly: Oh, that! Yeah, I got a store credit.
Karen: Oh, that’s good!
(Silence.)

To be in a clique is to wait during slightly awkward yet frequent pauses. After all, the Leader may not have any ideas about what to say. It might be a moment or two before she’s able to initiate another exchange:

Kimberly: I feel so gross right now. I haven’t eaten all day.
Karen: Oh, no! I have a chocolate bar in my bag, if you want that.
Kimberly: Thanks, but I think I’ll wait until I get home and have a proper meal.
Karen: Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.
(Silence.)

The Leader may decide to mention a show or a movie, a common topic.

Kimberly: I was binge-watching Million-Dollar Mouse last night. I LOVE that show so bad, it’s not even funny.
Karen: (Laughs.)
(Silence.)
Kimberly: And I started watching Women Who Overspend. It’s got Shannon Shoebuster in it. SO awesome.
Karen: Cool! I’ll have to check that out.
(Silence.)

It’s almost hard to believe, because it’s so lame, but the dynamic here occurs in other situations as well. Social media typically involves a Leader posting something and followers responding with likes and emojis and supportive comments. All interactions revolve around the Leader. It’s about reacting to the Leader, not about interacting with the Leader. On the plus side, you can generally choose whom you follow on social media. It’s not like work, where you can’t choose your boss. In the work world, social interactions are focused around the boss. For example, he (or she) is the chief story teller. Even if he has told his story about That Time He Almost Got Imprisoned in Mexico more than once, everyone dutifully listens as if they’re hearing it for the first time. They all laugh at the right moments, even if it’s not funny. He wins the game of golf, even if he’s not as talented as others. These Smile-at-the-Boss situations are difficult.

Mr Salter’s side of the conversation was limited to expressions of assent.When Lord Copper was right, he said, “Definitely, Lord Copper’; when he was wrong, “Up to a point.”
— Evelyn Waugh, Scoop, 1938

In hierarchical social situations, you may not get a good conversation going if the person at the top uses the social circumstance to establish and reinforce the hierarchy. There cannot be a real conversation while the Leader is around, because the Leader wants only his or her voice heard. And there is often silence from the bottom as well, stemming from fear. That will also stifle genuine conversation. People are afraid to anger the boss, for fear of jeopardizing their position. They want to blend in, keep their head down.

The funny thing about cliques and many hierarchical social groups is that they are primarily about appearances. The members want to belong, yes, but it is very important that they are seen as belonging. So the members put in a great effort at APPEARING to be enjoying a great conversation, full of amazing secrets and juicy gossip. Effort is expended on exaggerated laughing and loud but meaningless exclamations such as “Oh, no way!” “Seriously!?!” “Oh, get out!” Body language is critical, with tight huddles being an essential element to indicate that everyone else is excluded from the Amazing Conversation Currently Underway.

When I think of Body-Language-For-Show, an example involving Meghan Markle comes to mind. She posed with others for a family photo on the occasion of Prince Charles’ 70th birthday. In it, she is doubled over with laughter. Anyone looking at that photo would think that she was enjoying a great time with her new and famous family. She is in on the joke, and you aren’t. She is an insider, and you aren’t. (Whispering to her nearest neighbour is a common behaviour of hers, and she does this during public events of all kinds, to show her closeness to those nearby, even if these others aren’t interested in chatting.) So, in the case of this birthday photo, what was so humorous? Oh, I see. It turns out that the children’s nanny was using a puppet or some other toy to encourage the children to smile and look up at the photographer.

That’s all.

Nanny didn’t realize her techniques would be so hilarious. Duchess Markle can’t even stand up straight, she’s laughing so hard!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You’re killing me! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Actress.

Meanwhile, all the other adults are just smiling normally.

But anyway, back to the topic of these cliquey conversations. You, the outsider, are missing nothing. Trust me. The cliquey groups are just killing time. They aren’t engaging in meaningful or even entertaining conversation. They are posing, pretending, posturing. It’s about how things look, not how things are.

There is another type of hierarchy which has a different feel. It’s the male version. You will notice that men will talk more readily between themselves, so that initially it will seem that there is no hierarchy. It seems, at first glance, that men are able to socialize freely without all of the complicated layers of rules that women have. You might think that all of the men are allowed to contribute thoughts and anecdotes.

But then it will happen that one of the men will tease another. Watch carefully, and you will see that the teased one will rarely retaliate, even jokingly. He knows that such an approach could be dangerous and become even physical quite quickly. Instead, he will laugh and seemingly agree with the joke against himself, perhaps even adding to it. Later, he may make a joke at the expense of someone else, but he will not openly challenge the one who is higher than he is on the totem pole.

It’s a hierarchy too. The rules are just different.

When I was about 13, I was the only girl in my junior high school’s industrial education class, and after observing the boys for a while, I could have sketched a pyramid outlining their hierarchy. I saw that Tier A boys can insult Tier B or C boys, but they usually won’t lower themselves to insult Tier D boys. Tier B boys will insult Tier C boys. Tier C boys will insult Tier D boys, and pity the boy who is insulted by even Tier D boys.

(The true bullies are those who insult those who are a few tiers beneath them, the ‘easy targets.’)

So conversation among boys is not stifled and weak, as it is in female cliques. On the contrary, it is relaxed and often very funny. Many times, the experience is entirely about hanging out, but it is not as free of status issues as it appears. There’s a pecking order here too, and you’ll see it in the words.

Sadly, there are very few social settings that are free of hierarchy.

I once overheard a group of college-age students talking. They didn’t know each other almost at all. One of the very first questions raised was about age. This was no accident; it happens frequently.

You see, throughout their years of schooling, from age 5 or younger until age 17 or older, students rank themselves higher if their age is higher. It’s what they’re used to, and using age as a way to separate and feel superior continues into post-secondary settings. As a matter of fact, not knowing each others’ ages causes a mild type of panic for some, and so they are willing to ask it, point blank.

Later these students will graduate, and by then, they will probably not ask about ages anymore. They will catch on that women are less comfortable revealing their age as they reach 25. And besides, by then, the hierarchy will shift, and the question will more typically be about jobs.

People really, really want to know what type of work you do. I remember my cousin telling me that when he met women at bars, he would deliberately refrain from revealing his work. He said the women couldn’t handle that. I believe him. Meanwhile, I remember two guys; they went out one time, and the first one would boast to the women they met, “I go to Harvard Law School” and the other one would say, “I’m a neurosurgeon.” Women would look at them and wouldn’t believe them. The amusing thing was that they were telling the truth.

Some jobs garner more respect than others. At the top are the celebrities and royals, famous entertainers and athletes as well as People with Connections. They have a disproportionate amount of power, wealth and fame. Such people socialize together on yachts and at resorts. They attend events together and hire the same architects, designers, photographers, publicists, therapists, divorce lawyers and criminal lawyers.

Next are the people who are quite connected to the first group. They don’t have the same level of name recognition, but they mix with them.

Turning to the occupations held by the rest of us, I believe that doctors have the best reputation, at least in modern North America.

They are viewed as caring, kind, and not in it for the money.

The average physician in Alberta, Canada, makes around $350,000 per year.

Next on the totem pole are those in fields that are viewed as lucrative (dentists, engineers, lawyers, politicians, accountants, CEOs, financial managers). Next are those in ‘good’ occupations such as teachers, nurses, firemen, policemen and other ‘helping’ industries. Next are those in service industries and the trades, with there being a hierarchy within trades as well. Near the bottom are those in retail and janitorial fields. At the very bottom are the nannies, except if they work for the royal family and are hilarious.

Those who do not have a job are, not surprisingly, often even lower. Women who are ‘housewives’ therefore have low status, in general, unless they are married to an obviously wealthy man. Students generally have low status, though it depends on their age and area of study. Children generally have very low status, though it depends on the status of their parents. The status of retired people depends on their wealth and health. People who are looking for work have very low status, but not as bad as those who are in jail, institutionalized, dying or homeless.

This hierarchy, tied to age and occupation, is about social relevance. Those at the top are considered very relevant and influential in society. Those at the bottom are considered socially irrelevant.

And of course, certain contexts serve to emphasize the differences. Some professors who are happy to talk to their students in class may not permit themselves to be seen socializing with them when other professors are present. Sometimes a grade 12 student will socialize with a grade 10 student until his friends arrive.

I once had a job as a janitor in a hospital. It was a great summer job for me (easy and well-paying, with almost no supervision), but I noticed that many people avoided eye-contact with me. I wasn’t hurt by this, but I took note of it. Evidently being part of the housekeeping staff changed who I was for others. People would enter the elevator after me and pretend that they didn’t see me or my giant garbage bin. Check out them wheels!

In the case of the janitorial job, people could see — or so they thought — my life’s occupation. Knowing that, they could dismiss me without even asking.

Appearance doesn’t usually reveal occupation, but it still reveals enough. People are constantly assessing each others’ appearance, and, often won’t interact with those whom they consider ‘beneath’ them.

Back to the female clique, girls and women will assess newcomers. The ones whose appearance is similar to that of the clique members will be granted an ‘interview’ (people who look too different will not be given an interview), by which I mean that the original clique members will engage in friendly banter with the newcomer. If she seems to be at the same ‘level’ as the clique, they will feel almost as if they have no choice but to include her. You see, they cannot ignore or shun her, because the newcomer may form her own clique, one which is superior and more socially relevant than the first one. The original clique can’t take that risk. The original clique members do not want to be in a second-rate clique.

So they will welcome the newcomer, and she may even become the new Leader. The original Leader may no longer hold that role, but in that case, she will strive to be the second in command. The view is that it is better to be second fiddle than to be cast out of a clique completely.

Thus personal appearance is often a type of ‘passport’ or ‘admittance ticket’ into a social group. And the reverse is true: personal appearance is often alienating, and a source of separation. If you appear a certain way, some conversations don’t even begin.

And of course, race is a big part of appearance. Some people won’t speak with you if you are the wrong race. I would know. I remember booking a canoe for a trip in Grande Prairie. The fellow I spoke with was fine with talking to me on the phone when he couldn’t see me. However, when I arrived in person, and walked towards him, he looked right past me to my white boyfriend, even though I was the one who had booked it. It was as if I were invisible.

There are a few places on earth with a tremendous diversity of races. In large Canadian cities, for instance, everyone looks so different. Everyone, or everyone’s parents or grandparents, was from somewhere else, or so it seems.

But go to a small town, or to another country where immigrants are few and far between, and suddenly you will be and feel very conspicuous as you go about your normal activities. It would be an interesting experience for everyone to have, but we can’t offer such a thing, even if we could move everyone anywhere, because your experience will still depend on your skin colour. Being the only white person in a group of Asians doesn’t feel the same as being the only Asian in a group of white people. Being the only black person in a group of white people doesn’t feel the same as being the only white person in a group of black people. Some races just enjoy more prestige than others internationally.

Many people don’t realize that they’re evaluating based on appearance or ethnicity, but their behaviour or words reveal it. I recently complimented a woman for her friendliness towards me, and she said, “I speak to people of ALL races! It doesn’t matter to me.”

Um, thanks?

Thank you for speaking to me despite my race?

It was a bit of a surprise. You see, I do not assume that people are interacting with me in a certain way based on race. Do you? I think you don’t. I think the general rule is that when people do or do not interact with us, we see their behaviour as a product of the general circumstance, and as a product of who they are, not as a product of who we are. Yet many (if not most) people are interacting or not interacting with others based on race.

Usually, we don’t realize it’s happening, but sometimes, we are reminded.

I am asked, not infrequently, where I am from. This question comes usually from a white male, aged about 55 or older, who immigrated to Canada a decade or more ago.

I am not offended. It simply betrays a lack of knowledge about Canada and Canadians.

But anyway, nowadays I ask them to tell me their guess first, before I will tell them the answer. (I am curious how wrong they will be.) After they guess, I tell such inquirers that I was born in Canada, and I do provide enough background information so that the mystery is solved for them, but that’s about it.

What I don’t tell them is that my ancestors Pierre Surette and Jeanne Pellerin married in Port-Royal (now called Annapolis Royal) in February of 1709. The country called “Canada” didn’t exist then, but the land was here.

What I don’t tell them is that I can boast of a sliver of Mi’kmaq ancestry too, which means that my connection to this land goes back a long, long time.

Where are you from?

My point is that race is another barrier that prevents people from engaging in conversation with others. There are conversations that I never had, because people did not feel that I was racially at their level.

Alas, there are many conversations that do not happen because someone viewed himself or herself as above another person, due to race, age, occupation, appearance, or social position within a group.

Some of us won’t even speak to some of us.

On one level, it is tragic, but certainly, the one who snubs will lose more than the one snubbed. This is because all of God’s children are equal. God created us as equals. We humans are the ones who create these different standards. We are the ones who exclude and demote each other. We are the ones who decide, “This person is worth my time. That person is not worthy of me.” We are the ones who ignore others, who say, “I don’t talk to such people.”

Now, it is true that there are some people who have taken much of our time, and yet demonstrated ultimately that they are not worth our time. So I am not speaking about people who have proven to be abusive or deceitful or both. Feel free to protect your time from such people. I am speaking here about the people we haven’t even met.

Are there people in your path, in your day, in your life, you avoid seeing? Why is that? Are there people you consider beneath you? Do you snub others without even getting to know them?

I can say definitively that although it seems that those who are rejected are the ones who will lose out, the truth is that those who snub others are the ones who lose, because they will not gain the gifts that God wanted to send them through this person in their midst. What was that gift? Perhaps that person would have made an off-the-cuff comment that helped you. Perhaps that person would have offered surprisingly wise advice that you would have always carried with you. Perhaps that person would have become your friend.

As for the person snubbed, that person will gain everything that was not supplied by these others. God has the final word, after all. The one who intends what is good will never be short-changed in the end. New friends, new acquaintances, and even new family will enter this person’s life to fill the void.

So the subject of conversation is more complicated than it first appears. That’s because in order to properly talk about conversation, we must delve into the issue of intention.

It may appear that Cynthia doesn’t know how to carry on a conversation, but the truth is that Cynthia just can’t stand Gertrude. It may appear that Harold is a big dumb ox, but the truth is that he has plenty of ideas; he just thinks, based on how you look, that you won’t be smart enough to understand them.

It’s about intention. Intention can build walls but it can build bridges. If two or more people want to have a conversation, they will probably have one. Even language barriers can be overcome when the intention is there.

You understand, right?

But let’s pretend that your intention is good.

Even then, with good intentions all around, it may be time for a refresher. After all, things are worse nowadays, in terms of conversation, than in the past. Nowadays, we are more comfortable, or so it seems, with short texts than phone calls, and more comfortable with phone calls than in-person conversation. People are inexperienced. They’ve been texting, not talking. They haven’t talked enough with anybody.

So even when they are seemingly ready to talk, they sound something like this:

Roberta: I was so cold today!
Rebecca: Yeah!
Roberta: I cranked my thermostat way up. When I get home, the house will probably be boiling!
Rebecca: (laughs)
(Silence)
Rebecca: I really have to take my car in.
Roberta: Oh yeah? Is something wrong with it?
Rebecca: I don’t know. It’s making some kind of funny noise.
Roberta: Hmm.
(Silence)
Roberta: Lately I feel like I am just not hearing things properly.
Rebecca: Hmm.
Roberta: And it’s not my hearing. I’ve had that checked. There’s nothing wrong with my hearing.
(Silence)

Can you imagine me sitting there having to listen to this?

If you know me, then you know that it would be difficult for me to be near a conversation sputtering out like this.

If you know me, you know how I just feel like saying:

“CAN’T YOU GUYS HAVE A NORMAL CONVERSATION???
DON’T EITHER OF YOU KNOW HOW TO TALK???
SERIOUSLY, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

Yeah, one time I should just stand up and go off in all caps like that.

They would be stunned.

They wouldn’t know what to say, so I would be able to carry on, uninterrupted. I would say, “LOOK REBECCA: ROBERTA MENTIONED BEING COLD. CAN’T YOU ASK HER SOMETHING RELATED TO THE TOPIC OF BEING COLD? IT’S A BIG TOPIC! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT TRAVELLING TO SOMEWHERE WARM! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT HOW PEOPLE GET SICK AT THIS TIME OF YEAR! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT HOW YOU ALWAYS WEAR SOCKS TO BED THESE DAYS! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT LIVING IN A CITY WITH A BIG WINTER! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT THE COST OF HEATING! YOU CAN TALK ABOUT WINTER COATS! HATS! MITTENS! MITTENS ON STRINGS! ANYTHING!!!”

And I would turn to Roberta. “I MEAN SERIOUSLY, YOU GUYS, ARE YOU REALLY THAT INCAPABLE OF DIALOGUE? SHE SAID HER CAR IS ACTING UP! YOU HAVE A CAR! CAN’T YOU TALK ABOUT THAT AT ALL? DO YOU REALLY HAVE TO LET EVERY SINGLE TOPIC DIE? ASK HER WHAT SHE THINKS IS WRONG WITH HER CAR! ASK HER WHERE SHE USUALLY GOES FOR REPAIRS! TELL HER WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT MECHANICS! YOU CAN EVEN TELL HER THE STORY ABOUT THE WEIRDO MECHANIC HARRY FROM CALI AUTOMOTIVE WHO ANSWERED HIS SHOP DOOR WITH A TOOTHBRUSH IN HIS MOUTH! ASK HER WHAT KIND OF CAR SHE DRIVES! ASK HER IF SHE LIKES HER CAR! ASK HER IF HER CHILDREN ARE LEARNING TO DRIVE YET! ASK HER IF SHE’S WORRIED ABOUT THAT! ASK HER SOMETHING! ASK HER ANYTHING! JUST STOP KILLING ALL OF THESE TOPICS!”

They would stare at me blankly, at first.

But then, of course, they would become aggressive, because Canadians are polite only at first.

Sigh.

I don’t think it would be worth the wear and tear on me. So I would have to leave them to their own devices.

Or wait — I have another idea.

Oh, this is brilliant. I could write up giant cue cards, like they used to have on news programs or television shows. I could quickly write up questions or responses and hold them up where one of them could see them.

Or I could get all modern and invest in a teleprompter. You bet — I could type up some dialogue suggestions, some “Talking Points.”

Oh! that reminds me of a Chesterton short story. It was about a guy who became really popular because he was so witty at parties, but his secret was that he knew a talented fellow who supplied him with clever dialogue. I can’t remember how it turned out. Which story was that?

Excuse me a moment. I am going to see if I can find the book.

Here it is. It’s a short story called “The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation.” You weren’t planning to read it anytime soon, so I’ll tell you how it goes. There is a man with beautiful hair (“his hair, which was largely grey, was curled with the instinct of one who appreciated the gradual beauty of grey and silver”) who gets all the attention at dinner parties. He is Mr. Wimpole. Mr. Wimpole amazes everyone with his words. When someone asks who Mr. Wimpole is, the reply is:

“Wimpole!” cried Lord Beaumont, in a sort of ecstasy. “Haven’t you heard of the great modern wit? My dear fellow, he has turned conversation, I do not say into an art — for that, perhaps, it always was — but into a great art, like the statuary of Michael Angelo — an art of masterpieces. His repartees, my good friend, startle one like a man shot dead. They are final; they are–”

Everyone draws near to him just to hear him. One such person is the young and single Muriel Beaumont, “who gazed at him with great violet eyes and with the intense and awful thirst of the female upper class for verbal amusement and stimulus.” She asks Wimpole how he is able to deliver such humorous responses (to Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh) so coolly. She says that whenever she thinks of something funny, she can barely help but laughing herself: “You say things quite philosophical yet so wildly funny. If I thought of such things, I’m sure I should laugh outright when the thought first came.”

The hero of the story, Basil Grant, knows what is going on, and later outside the house, he tackles Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh, and wrestles him to the ground, so that Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh can’t go to an evening dinner party with Mr. Wimpole.

At the party, Mr. Wimpole has nothing to say, even though people are there specifically to watch him in action.

Basil Grant, triumphantly pulling a ‘script’ from Sir Walter Cholmondeliegh’s coat, says:

This fat old gentleman lying on the ground strikes you, as I have no doubt, as very stupid and very rich. Let me clear his character. He is, like ourselves, very clever and very poor. He is also not really at all fat; all that is stuffing. He is not particularly old, and his name is not Cholmondeliegh. He is a swindler, and a swindler of a perfectly delightful and novel kind. He hires himself out at dinner parties to lead up to other people’s repartees. According to a preconcerted scheme (which you may find on that piece of paper), he says the stupid things he has arranged for himself, and his client says the clever things arranged for him.”

My apologies to Chesterton for reducing the plot to its bare bones, but I really did want to tell you about this.

So what do you think?

A side job for me. And of course, we could modernize it; you wouldn’t even have to memorize your lines. We’ll set you up with an earphone, and whenever you are in a social situation, I could help you figure out something to say. For starters, I could help you come up with a topic.

Interested?

I think that the people who most need such a service would be the least likely to want it. As I said, those who don’t talk have their reasons. It’s usually about unwillingness, not inability.

And anyone desperate enough to pay someone for help with carrying on a conversation is not in bad shape. Such a person will get better and better.

I do want to digress a little about something in that same story, while we’re here. In the story, Mr. Wimpole, who bought the services of the clever poor man, is an evil man. I want to share with you the description of evil that Chesterton provides, because it is very insightful.

Chesterton writes: “I saw that while all ordinary poor men in the streets were being themselves, he [Mr Wimpole] was not being himself. I saw that all the men in these slums, cadgers, pickpockets, hooligans, are all, in the deepest sense, trying to be good. And I saw that that man was trying to be evil.”

The worst among us in this world have manufactured an entire persona (often one of benevolence, if not holiness) for the world to see. The inside of such people is so corrupt and rotten that they exert all of their effort in preventing anyone from seeing who they really are. They lie so much that they can barely remember what their own likes and dislikes are. Compared to this, yes, most people are quite good. Sure, they get frustrated and they do evil things, but their lives are not entirely a lie. They are the types of people Jesus was referring to when he described the white-painted tombstones atop the graves.

I don’t think I will ever be done this post. Maybe it will join the other blog posts on my computer which I haven’t yet finished. I have posts from the springtime. And having this Chesterton book near me now is dangerous. Every second page has quotations that I’d love to talk about.

It’s an amusing predicament, and I see the irony. I’m trying to post about conversation, but I won’t be able to finish because I just keep finding new topics. It’s either that or the topics are finding me. I better watch out. Before you know it, the prose will become poetry and the poetry will become songs and I’ll be in a musical somewhere.

But as I was saying, or as I meant to say, in order to have a conversation, you need to pursue a topic. As you keep talking about something, the conversation gets richer. A conversation will never be any good if you keep changing topics. You are not a talk show host coming up with random, completely unrelated questions. Stay on the same topic for a little while; look for interesting aspects of it. That in itself will smoothly and naturally bring you onto a new, but connected, topic.

It’s like changing parties. I knew a long time ago that if you’re at a party, stay at the party until you’re done. Don’t follow that break-off group leaving to go somewhere else. The break-off group is always worse. They don’t have a good plan, usually, and you’ll be left with a handful of people at some lame bar that’s going to close soon.

If you can choose a topic, then choose something that interests the people in the room. There’s always some common topic that everyone has opinions about. If you’re a student, talk about student life. How are your studies going? Are you enjoying university life? How did you find the midterms? Do you like your teachers? Do you like your professors? Do you know a lot of people in your classes? What’s your schedule like?

If you’re a mother, there are a million things to talk about. If you’re a woman, there are a million things, ranging from the things we consider small and unimportant, to the things we consider significant.

A mixed group of women, men, students, seniors and recent immigrants can talk about a lot of things too. Let’s talk about getting around the city, about speeding tickets, about pets, about travelling, about allergies, about Trump, about Greta Thunberg, about the oil industry, about the new premier, about the Oilers, about Rogers Place, about gardening, about good restaurants, about how to figure out which restaurants are good.

Come on, people! Together, we know so much! Why can’t we talk? Why can’t anybody get going on a topic? Nowadays it seems like a person can get more heartfelt, genuine and energetic information by reading reviews on GoogleMaps or Amazon than by talking to the person standing nearby. (Yes, I know there are fake reviews; I have seen how all the ‘different’ reviewers for one product sound the same.)

Sigh.

But even if you can’t or won’t choose a good and appealing topic, then at least, don’t kill the topic that has been presented, even if it’s weak. (Distasteful topics, however, can be abandoned without any acknowledgment of them.)

A few days ago, I happened to hear a group of boys talking during a catechism lesson. Nobody went with anybody’s topic. Everyone was just randomly saying stuff, with very little or no attention paid to what the previous person had said. It was just a bunch of chattering, in the hopes that maybe someone was listening. A lot of talking, very little connecting.

Connection requires back and forth communication. Connection requires dialogue. Ask: What do you think of this? Ask: What is your experience of that? You cannot have a conversation if all topics die the moment someone says anything about it. But to listen, you wonder if people think a topic is finished/dead/taken once someone has commented on it. Is this some sort of misguided idea of originality? Have we reached a sort of modern Tower of Babel, where everyone is talking, but nobody is understanding? This too, is irony, because nowadays so many people in the world speak English, but those who know English are communicating less and less.

Do people know what conversation is meant to be? Chesterton says it has always been an art. I would say that this is true, and it is more than this too, because even if it is done clumsily, awkwardly, it is still an opportunity to understand — to understand each other, to understand humanity, to understand life and all the big questions.

I observe that nowadays, radio stations which invite listeners to phone in or to text in are popular. They are popular because the radio station DJs think of — yes, that’s right — the DJs think up TOPICS.

The DJs ask the listeners to tell about that time they were speeding because they were listening to a certain song. The DJs ask listeners to tell about a time that they needed to rescue an animal. One station in my town tells people to “Join the Conversation.” (Another station has imitated this exact phrase, which must not be very impressive to the first station, which spent a lot of money advertising this slogan.)

But, of course, this isn’t even a conversation, because a conversation is not really a whole bunch of people answering the same question.

A conversation gets richer as it continues. It is supposed to be back-and-forth, and it goes where people don’t expect, usually. It expands to other topics that are connected to the original topic, and becomes even more interesting as it develops.

The radio conversations just end without going anywhere. There are a few more songs, a few more anecdotes, then a string of commercials.

It’s not terrible for radio, but in-person conversations should be able to do better.

In person, we should be able to do more, right? We could exchange tips about how to do things better, about where to buy this or that, about where to get this service or that, about when to do this or that. And we could go further. We could find out what we think about different things, even if those things are not particularly contentious. We could talk about how you feel, about how you’re doing, if you want. Or we could talk about controversial things too, if you want.

I was recently at a fund-raising dinner and the other guests at the table had almost nothing to say. They just sat there looking blank. What were they planning to do for the whole dinner? Just eat?

The three of them didn’t seem like they were even connected with each other, because there was so little interaction. So I was surprised to hear that this man was the husband of this woman. And I was surprised to hear that the second woman was friends with this couple. Could have fooled me!

So I couldn’t leave them like that. You know I couldn’t just sit there.

Let’s talk!

I wasn’t nosey, but just talking about things that weren’t even personal meant that we covered a lot of ground, and by the time we were done, I knew that this was the man’s second marriage, that he was from a European country, and he goes back every summer for several months because they have a place that they rent out to tourists. The new wife cleans up the property between guests. She was eager to show me a photo on her phone of the view from the property. She used to garden here in the city, because she has a condominium that gets a lot of good southern sun. However, she hasn’t been able to garden since she started accompanying him to his home country. He has children from his first marriage. He doesn’t go to church when he’s in Canada, but he does go when he is in Europe. He feels that church is for families. The friend is planning a trip to Europe this year, to such-and-such countries. She is going with her friend. And of course, there was more. And there could have been even more if the seating arrangements were different. Large round tables with tall centerpieces really aren’t the best.

They asked me very few questions. The man’s only question for me was, “Where are you from?”

And that brings me to my next point:

People, you need to ask questions — REAL questions about the other person!

CC BLOOM: “Well, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” –Mary Agnes Donoghue, Beaches, screenplay, 1988

Nowadays people don’t ask questions even if they have been asked something and have spent quite a while talking. It can actually be rather astounding. I already told you about the woman who chatted with me at my place for 5 hours and didn’t ask anything about me. I found that the only way to keep the conversation going was to ask another question about her. She liked to talk about herself and her life.

If someone asks you something, try to reciprocate.

Don’t spend the entire conversation talking about yourself. Just because someone is asking you about you, it doesn’t mean that the only thing they want to talk about is you.

People like it when you show interest in them. People have areas of expertise, and they are happy to share what they have experienced and what they know. They like to think that other people find them interesting.

According to Chesterton, they like to think that other people think they’re impressive, on some level:

(I can’t resist this next quote. I just saw it a moment ago; can you blame me?)

“What do you want now?” I cried.
“I want,” he cried out, “what a girl wants when she wears her new frock; I want what a boy wants when he goes in for a slanging match with a monitor — I want to show somebody what a fine fellow I am.”

— G.K. Chesterton, “The Painful Fall of a Great Reputation”

The world has many talkers, but so few listeners! People want to be listened to. People pay psychologists and therapists to listen to them. People call their mothers because their mothers will listen to them talk about their problems without expecting them to reciprocate.

I would know. For most of my life, I have been like a mother to other people, listening to their problems, consoling them, thinking through their issues, offering my advice, worrying about them, and praying for them. It goes back a long way. Even when I was young, adults wanted to talk to me and confide in me.

I remember my piano teacher telling me about his marriage woes. As a matter of fact, he spent so many of the lessons talking about his life that I was surprised that he always collected payment for teaching piano.

The mothering role suits me, because I’m interested in people; I’m interested in humanity. I’m interested in its experiences, feelings, thoughts, theories, fears, goals, dreams, worries, likes and dislikes.

I am interested in how we are.

Is this rare? Are people uninterested in everyone except themselves? I wonder whether our inability to communicate has roots in a deep sort of selfishness. We do not ask about each other because we just don’t care enough?

And I can only wonder about prayer. Watching how people interact with people shows you that people are probably praying in the same way: they are listening to their own words, they are telling God what he needs to do, and how, without even caring about what God might want.

Of course, some people learn the “art of conversation” in order to climb the social ladder. They learn to seem empathetic because they have another goal in mind. They want to appear charming. They gaze into your eyes as you speak, as if they’ve never heard anything so amazing. (“A beauty is a woman you notice; a charmer is one who notices you.” — Adlai Stevenson, speech at Radcliffe College, 1963)

I would hope that your intentions are better than that. I would hope that your goal is to build genuine connections with the people you meet and the people in your life. I would hope that your goal is to share yourself with others, and to discover the richness and beauty that is in the people around you.

So, to summarize, I am saying:

1. Be willing to converse with people who are different from you.
Be willing to talk to people who are less socially relevant, less educated, less powerful, less attractive.
Be willing to talk to people who are not “from here” or who aren’t the same race as you.
(But yes, of course, avoid anyone who would harm you, or those who genuinely frighten you.)

2. Introduce a topic which people will understand and care about, or ask a follow-up question about the topic which has already been introduced.

3. Keep talking about the topic. Show interest in the topic, and let it develop. Show interest in other people’s response to the topic.

4. After you’ve answered a question, reciprocate. Ask the other person the same question you were asked, or something similar. After all, there’s a good chance the person was already thinking of his own answer to the question while you were talking.

5. Show interest in the people you’re speaking with, even if they’re wrong.

And on that note, I’ll call it a night.
It’s late, but strangely, later it will be not quite so late as now.
Ah
Daylight Savings Time
Messes with my mind
So odd,
Don’t you find, to play this funny game?
So odd.
Wind wind wind
Look! Now it’s early!
Wind wind wind
Look! Now it’s late!
Don’t you find it so odd to go back in time?
The symbolism of the clock
The clock strikes two
And it strikes you
That it does that twice
Or does it?
Oh but does your mind not consider the possibilities?
Turn it back a bit?
Turn it back a lot?
Turn it back today?
Turn it back tomorrow?
No!
Turn it back never
I tell you
Even if I love the past
I love the future more
I’m a Christian after all
I know about the fall
I look forward to the spring
A spring for all
Spring for all

8000 words and counting

So
I’d best
Slip away now
Before the poetry
Has a chance
To become
Song

Post 318

Unclassified:
Reflections on Zelenskiy's Conversation with Trump

I feel very busy these days. I feel that I don’t have enough time to do all of the good things that I feel I am supposed to be doing. I spend a lot of my time driving, and a lot of my time cooking. They are both time-consuming. And, as WiseOne once noted, they’re both dangerous but necessary. Cooking is knives and heat. Driving is speed and heavy machinery.

But I do want to write, even at the cost of not tidying up my kitchen just yet.

Moral choices pop up when you’re not expecting them. I will give you three scenarios involving moral choices. These are all true stories. One or two have happened to me, but let’s pretend they’re your dilemmas:

Story one: You are almost certain that the grocery cashier has made a mistake. You are glad that the chicken is on sale — if you purchase one, you get one free (“BOGO,” meaning ‘Buy One Get One free’) — but the cashier also has to deal with the rain check, and she has hit ‘cancel’ one too many times. Do you point out the error, or do you just pay and leave? It’s not your fault she’s made a mistake.

Story two: You receive an email that you have won a scholarship, but that one condition of collecting this award is working at a casino. It is required, not simply requested. You know that casinos exploit people. You know that many people are tempted by gambling, and that some people lose great amounts of money there, but you have earned this scholarship fair and square.

Story three: The judge has ordered your client to attend for an assessment of her mental health. You know that she is perfectly sane, and that she does not deserve to be put through this. It is a very dirty tactic. Nevertheless, opposing this will require you to go to the Court of Appeal, a prospect which is intimidating, because you’ve never done it. It will take a lot of your time and energy and it will be stressful.

You see, in all of these cases, doing what is right is painful. Did you catch that? Doing what is right can be painful. Sometimes it’s just a little bit painful, and sometimes it is excruciating.

But this is how God sets things up. He wants to know whether you can give up something that you (really, really) want or even something that you think you need, in order to do what is right.

Can you do it?

So let’s say you walk away with the chicken. You argue to yourself that it doesn’t matter. You are, in fact, kind of excited that instead of BOGO, you got BOGT (buy one get three), and you happen to mention it at supper. Your children say, “So you didn’t tell the cashier that she made a mistake?” They ask, “Is she going to get in trouble?” You assure them that the cashier won’t get in trouble. They ask you if you are going to tell the store that you should have paid more. You weren’t thinking of it. It’s true that you still have the receipt, and, in theory, you could go back to the store to pay more. You wonder to yourself what kind of an idiot would do that.

So let’s say you accept the scholarship and you sign up for the casino. The hours are long, and instead of studying more, or doing something wholesome, you’re there adding your energy and friendly face to the gambling industry. The entire atmosphere is foreign to you, and you wonder why anybody would do this. As a game, you think to yourself, which game would I play if I absolutely had to play one?

So let’s say you let your client be tested. The psychologist, being a psychologist, identifies some ‘issues.’ You meet with your client, and now you will tell her that, according to this report, she has such-and-such a condition. In layman’s terms, you will tell her that the professional says she is crazy. She will be distraught, and she will tell her husband and her family that she has been diagnosed with a mental condition. Her family, including her in-laws and her children, will never forget this, and neither will she.

The point is that the consequences of your choices are hidden from you. If you choose to do what is wrong, because it is easier or because it is, in the short term, more pleasant for you, you will set off a chain of events that are problematic. These create new moral choices for you and for others. In general, the second dilemma will require greater effort than the first, but it is God’s second chance for you to fix things.

Let’s do it again. Here’s what really happened.

You pointed out to the cashier that you think she didn’t count all the chicken. She makes you pay for the initial total, and says she will figure it out afterwards. You pay, and then she studies the receipt. Then she realizes you’re right, and she scans one of the chicken packages again. She needs your debit card again because now she’s going to charge you. You were already in somewhat of a rush, and she doesn’t apologize for her error. On the plus side, months later, when you’re trying to think of examples of moral dilemmas for your blog, you can remember this one.

You write back to the lady who offered the scholarship and say thank you very much, but I cannot accept the terms of accepting this scholarship. A few weeks later, you receive another email, and she tells you that the scholarship committee had a meeting, and they have decided that students should not be required to work at casinos. They have changed the policy, and she says that the cheque is now available for you to collect.

You go to the Court of Appeal, and you win. The three Court of Appeal judges rule that a person should not be required to submit for psychological testing when their lawsuit has nothing to do with psychological harm. The case makes its way into the handbook about litigation procedure and also appears in the online case databases. Other lawyers rely on your case in future years, and protect their clients from this dirty tactic.

There’s an expression, “a hill worth dying on,” which asks you whether you feel it is worth suffering or fighting about a certain point. In many cases, it is not. It is not worth arguing with your sister about whether such-and-such a celebrity or athlete is more talented than another, for instance. However, when it comes to moral decisions, they are all hills worth dying on.

Every time you have a moral decision, always choose what is better, even if it hurts.

Shall I retype that?

I urge this. Perhaps I am nobody to you, but consider what I say because it’s true, and not for any other reason.

Always choose to do the right thing, no matter what you believe the consequences will be. Do not give yourself the excuse that you are doing this TEENY wrong thing in order to bring some greater benefit overall. The expression “the end does not justify the means” is the best guideline.

It doesn’t matter that nobody will ever know what your moral choice was.
It doesn’t matter that nobody will get hurt if you don’t do what’s right.
It doesn’t matter that somebody else would probably do the wrong thing if you don’t do it.

Choose what is right, no matter how much it costs you.

For you see, this moral dilemma was part of God’s plan for you. He wanted you to win these moral battles. He wanted you as his soldier.

Let’s consider the case of Volodymyr Zelenskiy (Зеле́нський is sometimes written as Zelenskyy or Zelensky), President of Ukraine. He was elected recently, and his life’s story has been interesting so far. LoyalOne follows Ukrainian politics closely, and keeps me up to date. He has made significant changes to Ukraine in his fight against corruption. He has fired many people, and replaced them with those of his choosing. He is so popular that he has been able to fill his parliament with politicians who are loyal to him.

God of course had a plan for him too. God is good, and he always has a plan. His plan for Zelenskiy was to allow him to be a light for the Ukrainian people, to give them hope. For too long, the people of Ukraine have suffered under corruption. They took a chance when they gave Zelenskiy, this non-politician, the right to govern.
In many key ways, Zelenskiy has been doing what is good. Sometimes the decisions have been rather unpopular, but Zelenskiy has, for the most part, enjoyed his role as the Leader Against Corruption. Doing the right thing can be enjoyable.

God knows that Russia continues to harm Ukraine, and that Ukraine wants foreign help. God knows that the war is unjust, and that people are dying. He also knows that it is good for other countries to help Ukraine, but that most are not helping as much as they could. His plan was for the world to know that Zelenskiy is trying to fight corruption, and that countries can be changed for the better. A leader who makes good moral decisions will set his country on a new path, and God wanted Zelenskiy to be that leader.

God had a message to the world about corruption, and he wanted Zelenskiy to demonstrate that corruption could be fought, and how to fight it.

So God allowed a moral dilemma to be presented to Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy would be asked to do something wrong, in exchange for things that Zelenskiy really wanted. You know this story. Zelenskiy knew, before his telephone call to American president Trump, that Trump would not be willing to talk with him unless he were willing to discuss the case of Hunter Biden.

The name “Hunter Biden” would have initially been unfamiliar to Zelenskiy, and he would have asked his aides to explain why Trump would care so much about Hunter Biden, an American. The aides would explain that the Biden family is a personal, political rival for Trump.

Zelenskiy would be asked to assist Trump in its attack on Hunter Biden. Before the telephone call, Zelenskiy would not have known the exact form of the help that Trump would request, but it would probably involve prosecution of Hunter Biden using the Ukrainian legal system.

This is wrong because neither Trump nor Zelenskiy should be involved in prosecutions. There must be a separation between the leader of a country and the prosecutors. The prosecutors should not begin prosecuting people just because the leader personally wants it. Similarly, prosecutors should not desist from prosecuting people because the leader wants it. That is corruption of the legal system. The legal system, in order to be a good legal system, must be free from interference by politicians. It is also an abuse of political power. Political power is given by the voters to leaders so that the leaders will govern well, not so that the leaders can fulfill their personal wishes. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did wrong in pressuring his Justice Minister to proceed differently in the criminal case against a big Canadian company called SNC-Lavalin which was involved in bribery in Libya.

As a reward for agreeing to do what Trump wanted, Zelenskiy understood that he would get so much of what he very much wanted. In the first place, he would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid. This aid would allow him to fight Russia, and possibly enable him to achieve his goal of ending the fighting and ending the deaths. Success on this front is so important to Zelenskiy. In the second place, Zelenskiy could gain a powerful ally, and thereby achieve economic success. In the third place, friendship with Trump would prove that Zelenskiy was as skillful a diplomat as the previous president.

During the July 2019 telephone call, Trump gave details to Zelenskiy about the “favour” that he wanted. Trump was wanting a foreign government to begin investigations against one of his own citizens. Zelenskiy did not ask, “Who is Mr. Biden?” because he already knew. Indeed, Zelenskiy said that he was “knowledgeable about the situation.”

We all face moral dilemmas, and this one was Zelenskiy’s. You can see that it would have been painful to do the right thing. But a leader must be morally clean.

Zelenskiy’s past includes script-writing. Mine does too. Here’s what he could have said, “I am knowledgeable about the situation, and I can sympathize 100%. Indeed, I can sympathize 1000%. You know that I hate to see corruption in any form, and if this Hunter Biden was involved in any corruption, it would be very unfortunate. At present, I do not have a general prosecutor assigned, but I will be doing my best to choose someone who is very competent and ethical. The problem, however — and I hate to say this because we rely on the United States as our very great friend, and because we are counting on the military financial support that has been set aside for Ukraine — is that I cannot raise this subject with my prosecutor. Even if I wanted to, I cannot. Our system is arranged so that the prosecution is independent from the office of the president and the prosecution pursues cases based only on the information gathered by our police force or own intelligence agents. I hope you are not too dismayed, because I am hoping to be on good terms with you and the United States.”

Yes, it would have been difficult. I know this. I know it would have felt very scary to break the news to this famous and powerful world leader that he could not cooperate in this way.

But he should have resisted Trump’s plans as soon as he could see that there were any immoral elements in it. Immorality means that you have deviated from God’s plan. And God’s plan is always superior.

And what was God’s plan? How would it have played out?

Allow me to provide you with my theory.

This telephone call would have become public, not based on what Zelenskiy agreed to, but based on what Trump had requested. The entirety of the slimy request would have become known, and Zelenskiy would be on record as having stood his ground against this type of corruption. Immediately, Zelenskiy would have been known everywhere and hailed as a hero. It would be the David and Goliath story, believe me. He was born for the role of a young David — he is short (5’6” or 5’7”), he is Jewish, he is energetic, and he is ready for a challenge.

This was his moment.

We would have seen the pressure put on him by a lumbering Goliath (6’3”), who is used to having his way, who is uncouth and who has his mind in the gutter, and we would have seen how the hero, Zelenskiy, was polite yet firm. We would have admired him. The world would have admired him, and the stature of Ukraine, Ukrainians and Zelenskiy would have risen. This was what God wanted for him.

Instead, we have this.

The document which has been released, referred to as a transcript (even though it is not verbatim), may be followed later by the verbatim transcript, which is currently (and suspiciously) under lock and key.

But even this unclassified document is enough to show that Zelenskiy was excessively deferential to Trump. Zelenskiy must be so embarrassed that everyone can see how pathetic and groveling he looked. But what is worse is that Zelenskiy agreed to do Trump’s bidding. Zelenskiy said “I will:”

Zelenskiy: I wanted to tell you about the prosecutor. First of all, I understand and I’m knowledgeable about the situation. Since we have won the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.

Some have shown ‘understanding’ for Zelenskiy in this situation, by which I mean that they have — almost without thinking — excused Zelenskiy’s behaviour as being unavoidable. The idea is that Zelenskiy is a new, inexperienced, and weak politician who is understandably desperate. The idea is that nobody could have expected Zelenskiy to do any better.

I disagree. Zelenskiy is very intelligent. He is observant and socially skillful. He understands the law. He went to law school. He didn’t need to be a pawn. He didn’t need to agree to be a puppet. I am not surprised that Zelenskiy insists that he was not pushed, that he was making his own decisions. Unfortunately, people are not listening, because they want to write their own narrative.

Furthermore, Zelenskiy had help in this moral dilemma. He had two kinds of help.

First, he had human help in the form of advisors, as many as he wanted. If he had doubts or questions about ethics or legality, he had access to almost anyone he could have wanted. Yet he would have needed less help than someone less educated; a law school graduate does not always know the answers, but at least he has learned to see where the issues are. Indeed, he knew there were issues even before he had the telephone call.

Second, he had help in the form of grace. God gives grace to people all the time, but there is extra grace given to those who are faced with moral dilemmas, and there are extra graces given to those who lead others. This grace gives people wisdom to know what to do, and gives people strength to do what is difficult.

So where does this leave us?

God, being good, always has a plan. In his love for Zelenskiy and for Trump, their plan did not go any further. It was exposed before either could act on it. Zelenskiy wants to point out that he hasn’t contacted his prosecutor, and he wants to tell the world that his prosecutor is professional, and educated in the west, because Zelenskiy knows what is ethical and what isn’t, but that isn’t the part that the media is interested in. It’s too late now, and it shows he knew exactly where the problem was.

And as a side note, I will say that the era we are living in is one of revelation. What is spoken in secret is being proclaimed from the rooftops. All manner of wrong-doing is coming to light, and we are discovering that so many powerful and admired people have done so much that is wrong. It is good for all of this truth to be revealed. Sometimes, contrition doesn’t even begin until sins are exposed. Now is the time for people to be contrite; now is the time for people to admit what they have done wrong.

God’s immediate plan for Zelenskiy is for him to apologize. Zelenskiy knows that what he did was wrong. He was wrong to agree to cooperate with Trump’s plan. He should apologize to Ukraine. This apology will be more difficult than saying ‘no’ to Trump in the first place, but it would be the best starting point. And besides, being who he is, Zelenskiy would be able to apologize well. He could show the world how it should be done. God knows the world has heard too many bad apologies.

But I don’t think he will apologize. In his pride, he wants to pretend it didn’t happen, or make light of it. So that is a moral failing on top of a moral failing.

But that is not all of God’s plan for him. The second part of God’s plan is is for him to continue to fight corruption, but now he must do so with more humility. The world knows that he agreed to do what was corrupt himself, when the benefits were great, and the conversation was secret. His fight against corruption will be consequently harder, because it will always seem somewhat hypocritical. And he will not have the help that he would have received if he had acted heroically.

But that is not all of God’s plan. Zelenskiy did not allow himself to be a hero, so God will use him as an example.

 

Post 317

Hit List: Top 20 Posts

So, for almost no reason at all, other than the fact that I find it interesting, I decided to tell you which of my posts are the most popular so far. Back in December of 2016, I listed the top 10 as it stood then.

Just for the record, I don’t actually believe the stats on my blog, so I don’t study them or keep track of them. (I also don’t keep track of subscribers or look at their email addresses, so if you subscribe or unsubscribe, that’s entirely between you and the technology of this blog. I hope the technology treats you well.) You see, I once asked EfficientOne to hide them from me, and it seems that he has really fictionalized those numbers, because they don’t really make sense anymore. But you know, it’s better for me this way, and, in fact, I would recommend this practice of not watching statistics, because watching stats is what messes up so many people on social media. They live for the numbers, and that’s a really, really, unfortunate thing to live for. They are happy when they’ve gotten more attention, and downcast when people seem disinterested, as if their personal worth as a human being has been determined for the better or worse. (But truly, some of the people on social media with the ‘best’ numbers are doing the very worst damage to humanity, doling out advice that is very harmful, and setting examples that are unwholesome, and that will, if followed, lead to a lot of individual pain and suffering.) But people find it difficult not to care about ‘their’ numbers. And, perhaps worst of all, they don’t want to admit how influenced they are by these numbers they watch, so they feel that they can’t admit to anyone why they’re sad. It’s too bad! Please, notice how social media is making you feel, and make changes! Unsubscribe. Clear your mind. Protect your heart.

I have omitted the posts with the messages, because I didn’t compose those.

I am sure that all bloggers would say that they are surprised at which posts are the most popular, in the same way that singers would say that they’re surprised at which songs climb the charts, and in the same way that an author is surprised at which novels have become bestsellers. For the purposes of this post, I’m assuming that the numbers that I see about hits are reliable enough to show which are popular. Truth be told, I reread some of them to see what on earth I had written, and to guess at why those had been chosen. But anyway, here are my chart climbers — my best sellers:

The 20 Most Popular Posts (most popular at the top):

Post 236 Here’s My Essay, Baby! A Critique of the English 30-1 Diploma Examinations
Post 43 Zoom Zoom Beep Beep: Reflections on a Restless Culture
Post 18 Zip it: Five Reasons Not to Blog
Post 210 A Little Bit About Your Lawywer
Post 53 One Candle: Reflections at Christmastide
Post 44 Call Me When It’s Over: Reflections on Book Clubs
Post 288 Up Late Last Night
Post 286 Required Reading: Four Truths About Motherhood to Counter the Four Modern Lies
Post 293 9 Seven Steps: Reflections on Being a Prophet
Post 294 Sent
Post 285 The Grand Finale: A Recipe for December
Post 289 Hidden Depths: Reflections on Identity and Suicide
Post 229 Where Do You Go and the Other Inspired Song of 1996
Post 20 Bystander: Reflections on the Context of Suffering
Post 290 Because I Actually Like Quebec: Reflections on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Post 292 Canada Day 2018
Post 291 All That Noise: Reflections on Envy
Post 19 Blogging: Reflections on Reflecting Aloud
Post 3 Unprofitable Talents: Reflections on Hobbies
Post 261 Right to Rewrite? Reflections on a Revised Version of The Merchant of Venice