We Just Don’t Matter Anymore

Poverty hurts like hell.  I walk by people every day who beg for money, and hate myself that I can’t do much of anything for them.  But I least I can give witness, and say this:  In this country of infinite wealth, don’t the poor matter at all?  Anyone one of us can be poor – may be poor now – by no fault or action of our own.  One health issue, one accident – and our meager savings would disappear faster than a drop of water on a hot griddle.

None of us (except maybe the über-rich) can be so clueless to believe that it would never, could never, happen to us.  There but for the grace of God go any of us.  So even if you or I can’t give the poor what they need, we can at least let them (and everyone else) know that we know they matter.

Staked out my corner on a busy street
Asking folks to please give to the poor
But I’m just someone they don’t want to meet
I guess we just don’t matter anymore.

It’s not my fault that you don’t have a job
What is there that I have to answer for?
It’s no excuse for you to steal and rob
I’m sorry you don’t matter anymore.

The soup kitchen is full of hungry kids
They’re tired of sleeping on a dirty floor
Their moms and dads have really hit the skids
Looks like they just don’t matter anymore.

We’re sick and tired of “won’t you help us please?”
Your dirty filthy clothing we abhor
Now go to church and get down on your knees
We’re happy you don’t matter anymore.

There are some things that / We don’t conquer alone
Even warm and well-fed / We’re still empty inside
If the poor are blessed / It’s because they know
Everyone is hungry sometime

You see the poor and hungry every day
Mothers, sisters, brothers, many more
No one deserves to suffer in this way
Please don’t think we don’t matter anymore.

A Bee and a Bus – Part One

Five mornings a week, I wait at a stop near my apartment building to catch the bus to my downtown job.  These are usually uneventful times—occasionally I will just miss a bus, the same occasions I really need to catch a bus so that I will not be late for work.  But most times, I am at the stop early enough to catch a bus well before needed, and I wait patiently with my fellow CTA travelers for our subsidized transport.

It was a mid-September morning, just as the Chicago weather was beginning to shift from a very pleasant Indian summer to an ever so slightly more brisk autumnal shade.  I was again waiting for the morning bus.  I had my headphones on, CD playing Elvis’s number one hits, when an overgrown bumblebee, made sluggish by the weather change, seemed to have decided that I should be his new best friend.  My brothers and sisters will tell you that I’ve never much cared to strike up any kind of relationship with insects that sting, and certainly not when they are as big as Kaiser rolls.

Without thinking I involuntarily swiped at the flying monster, not quite sure just what sort of bug wanted to snuggle up to me.  I regretted this almost the instant it occurred, for now as he flew right in my face, it became clear to me that I must have smacked him pretty good.  I was convinced he was now on a mission to end my very existence, even if he had to sacrifice his own to accomplish this.

Well, after running around the stop for a minute or so, with only one or two onlookers bemused by the event, salvation came in the form of an articulated bus.  Thankfully, the death bee had left me alone long enough so that I could board and put this miserable morning awakening behind me.  But of course, nothing occurs at random, all things happen for some reason.  [No philosopher ever escapes this assumption.]

One of Teaching’s Greatest Joys

It was the fall of 2008, and I was teaching logic for maybe, oh, the twelfth time in as many years.  In one class meeting, one of my twelve students was on the verge of tears – the homework wasn’t making any sense, she wasn’t getting it, she was afraid she wasn’t ever going to get it.  I was really lucky:  I was able to use the moment with the whole class, saying something like, “It’s okay:  everything you’re feeling right now, I’m willing to bet everyone in here is more or less feeling as well.  That’s good – we’re here to learn.  And I promise all of you, you’re going to learn this stuff – not right away, not all that easily, but it will happen.”  That seemed to calm her, as well as the other students.

One of the joys of teaching – maybe its greatest joy – is to be able to let a student know that you will respect them and protect them.  If your teachers aren’t doing that for you, they’re dicks, pure and simple.  I’m amazed (and humbled) by just how much people will trust you, once you are able to convince them that you want only what’s best for them, that you won’t take them for granted, that you’ll honor their confidence, that you won’t abuse their trust.  I take this part of the job very, very seriously.  I think it’s one of the best things one human being can ever do for another – and all the Nietzsche, Sartre and Heidegger expertise combined is no substitute.

Oh, occasionally you’ll have a sociopath who doesn’t get that, who can’t get that, who will try to take advantage of you.  You know they’re sociopaths because they see trust as a means for manipulating the love and compassion of others for their own interests.  If I even get a whiff of that nonsense, that person is dead to me.  I don’t really care about them, because I can’t care about them.  I’ve had to learn it’s not possible for them to ever be anything other than self-centered egomaniacs, and the best thing I can hope for is for them to die soon.

Jessica Hagy

If you’re not familiar with Jessica Hagy, find her, read her work, and feel good about living again.

A while back I searched on “philosopher” in Google Images to see what I could find to best illustrate the concept.  I found one of Jessica’s graphics, entitled “The Difference between Funny and Mean.” I love it – it’s perfect!  I keep a copy pinned up in my work cubicle just to keep my spirits up.

I later bought a copy of her book How to Be Interesting: An Instruction Manual.  I’ve wanted to be interesting for a very long time, and I was very grateful to have found this remarkable individual’s work.

Of course, not everyone is quite so enthusiastic about Ms. Hagy’s wonderful bit of genius.  A few of the one and two star reviews by Amazon patrons seem to me to just not get what she’s doing.  The folks who were looking for a self-help book did not care for this book all that much (1 ½ stars out of five).  Mind you, customers interested in sports books averaged 3 ½ stars out of five for this work.

For an abstractionist, her x-y graphs and Venn diagrams couldn’t be more fun.  Imagine being able to select a slice of human behavior, suss out its contrapositions (“laughs at others,” “laughs at self”), and then plot out / define the boundaries of the two-dimensional field in front of you.

Hmm.  The more I think about it, it makes a whole lot of sense that sports enthusiasts would enjoy the little diagrams and graphs more than others.  Among its other virtues, sports reflect the desire to bring order out of the chaos that is human existence.  A literal world of play – who knew?


This is Why People Don’t Talk to Me

Some time ago a student of mine wrote me with a request to respond to a personal survey.  They were upset that “someone” they cared about had called them vain, conceited and self-centered, so they sent a short survey to a few people whose honest feedback they could trust.  The survey asked, “Am I vain?  Am I conceited?  Am I self-centered?” – with a request to answer yes or no to each of these questions.  Ever my philosophical self, I replied:

“It’s not clear to me how the results of your survey will help improve your relationship with this other person.  Keep in mind, I don’t have clue one about who this “someone” is – and I prefer not to know! – so that my remarks can at least attempt to be as objective as possible.  Whoever this someone is, ask yourself:  “Will this survey and its results improve my relationship with this person?  Will it help bring us closer together?  Or will this survey only worsen that relationship?  Will it only drive us further apart?”  The kind of relationship YOU want to have with this person has everything to do what your survey means for that relationship.

“To be human is to be vain, self-centered, conceited, spiteful, nasty, mean, ruthless, disgusting, ignorant and rude.  To be human is also to be valuable, nurturing, humble, just, pleasant, joyful, caring, appealing, curious and polite.  And to be human is to be all of this, a walking, incomprehensible bundle of contradictions, and much more besides.  If we are human, we have to keep in mind that the shadows of our existence highlight, emphasize, and “make stand out” what is truly outstanding about this same existence.  In other words, until we can acknowledge and accept the failings and frailties of being human, we can never appreciate how human beings manage to overcome such obstacles again and again.  Our efforts, our struggles to prevail, give meaning to our lives and make them worth living.

“Clearly being out of the classroom for so long has caused me to preach endlessly!  Thanks for letting me ramble on.  As always, know that you have my care, concern, and support.  I look forward to hearing from you.”

I never heard back from them.