Musings On Gender

“Our generation is becoming so busy trying to prove that women can do what men can do that women are losing their uniqueness. Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do.”

– (unknown author, posted on Facebook)

For whatever reason, this quote piqued my curiosity, me wondering, “Ah, I see, women are unique, but men aren’t? A woman must have wrote it.”

Or maybe not, maybe it was a man who has some kind of a Madonna complex. I mean, it was a little sassy.

I saw a single comment with a woman’s name that I would have bet said something (cutting through all the verbiage) like, “You go, girl!” I was surprised to read:

“Women (and men for that matter) were created to do what they have a talent for and not what society says they should do. So if a woman can do what a man can do that’s great. And if a man can do what a woman can do that’s great. The only complication is the uniqueness that biology has assigned the sexes (e.g., childbearing).”

I thought that sentiment had value and commented in return:

“Well said and absolutely correct. Instead of the focus of some (or society at large) on what a person (regardless of sex) can’t do (or shouldn’t do, and placing artificial barriers in their way), we should focus on what a person wants to do and encourage them to try. And, if they’re capable, get out of their way and let them do it.”

And then I decided that this whole issue we have in our society about sex, sexuality, sexual identity, what is considered sexual assault, and especially sexual roles – all of some importance – is totally out of control. We Americans are so hung up on matters sexual that we are starting to make mountains out of mole hills and taking the focus off the so many, many more important things that we should apply the same energy to if we want to work ourselves up in a lather over something. Things like hunger, poverty, the environment, crime, war (to name a few).

All this sex stuff is a tempest in a teapot by comparison. But back to the quote.

We are all aware of the differences between men and women in their strengths and how they perceive and interact with each other and life. Stereotypically, for examples, men look at the big picture, women the details; men value logical solutions, women look at the emotional impact; men want a workable quick fix, women the best fix. In each case there is value, and depending on the circumstances, either way may be a better approach than the other. But it is almost always better if both ways are taken together as a whole.

And that’s where the above cited quote falls short.

We shouldn’t look at how or why men and women are different (not that they are in most ways, it’s just a matter of degree), but that it’s precisely in those differences that we need to recognize that together they make a whole, where the best happens. Instead of celebrating the differences, emphasizing and demanding deference to them, we should be working on blending them to make a whole being.

Other than bearing and giving birth, there is nothing a woman can do that a man can’t; other than brute strength, there is nothing a man can do that a woman can’t. Or shouldn’t.

I wonder, if it were men who gave birth, would men be demanding deference in attitude and treatment from women?

Probably.

Still, I don’t want my grandsons and granddaughters to grow up in a world where the way they think, or what they do or the way they act, is limited or scrutinized or judged, predicated strictly on their biological gender.

Be they boy or girl, woman or man, whatever they are, we should affirm and celebrate who they are, and not what they are.

– Bill

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What’s New At The Zoo?

“People forget the good that zoos do. If it weren’t for zoos, we would have so many species that would be extinct today.”

– Betty White

[I haven’t written on this blog for the last two months as I’ve been very busy otherwise engaged in a new undertaking, to do something constructive with my retirement days. I have undergone some 80 hours of classroom lectures at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in biology, zoology, taxonomy, ecosystems and habitats and more, done labs, and as many or more hours in homework readings and on-site familiarization of the zoo’s veterinary hospital and (animal) commissary facilities and the zoo and its inhabitants, and observing the keepers at their duties, to graduate as a zoo docent – who will now be guiding tours and giving fact-filled informative talks to visitors about our zoo, our guests (the animals), the environment and habitats and conservation and, with further training, to handle some of the animals (for show and tell up close with the visitors). And to continue, I’ll need additional class-hours every year to be recertified a docent, in addition to undertaking continuing education “credits” during the year. (I cite the depth of this training, as it is not common for most zoos to train their docents thus – many zoo’s docents are nothing more than Walmart-like meeters-and-greeters inside the entrance, handing out site maps and directing visitors to the location of the gift shop, food courts, and bathroom facilities.) Never in my imagination did I realize what I would be taught, what I would learn, and it changed my concept of zoos totally.]

If you google what people have to say about zoos, you’ll mostly find negative comments denigrating them in the harshest of terms, deploring the inhumane caging of wild animals, etc.

I’m not sure that “inhumane” is a proper descriptive term here, I’ve never seen a human caged in a zoo; a better word, to coin a phrase (so to speak), might be “inanimal”?

And in many cases, those critical of zoos – at first blush – have a point; it is inanimal to just take an animal out of its natural, wild and free, habitat and confine it in a barred cage for we humans to simply gawk at for our own amusement, especially those animals that have higher intelligence and self-awareness that come damn close to being human – like the great apes and elephants, and dolphins (the lesser brained reptiles, fish, and most birds haven’t a mental clue about what’s happened to them or where they are). I say, “at first blush”, because if that is all a zoo does then the critics would be right.

But, I wonder if the critics haven’t been to the zoo lately. Especially a modern zoo, and one that is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). There are approximately 180 zoos in the US, but only about 140 are recognized as worthy of accreditation. Accredited zoos are:

• Reimaging animal enclosures, getting rid of cages or small enclosures and creating large open spaces for the animals to freely roam in a natural-like environment.
• Dedicated to saving species from total extinction (of some 6,000 species in all AZA zoos, 1,000 are endangered).
• Establishing breeding programs for those in danger of extinction and reintroducing as many as possible back into the wild (successes include the black footed ferret, sea otter, California condor, among many others).
• Educating the general public of the need to reorient mankind’s thinking and practices that have resulted in loss of animal habitats, that will result in extinctions if such practices go unchecked and habitats are not restored (in some cases, the animals seen in the zoo today are the only living examples of their species, none exist in the wild any longer due to human predation or degradation or destruction of their habitat and/or interconnected biosystem), and how they can personally get involved and help.

So, if you haven’t been to the zoo in a while…go. Take the kids or grandkids. Talk to the staff docents and keepers. Ask if it’s a AZA accredited zoo. If the answer is no, ask why not. If you’re put off, go public.

You just might find that a zoo is no longer a cruel show for our amusement. They are now sanctuaries, true animal rescues, and an educational experience.

You just might find that it’s now nothing like what you remember a zoo being.

– Bill

For Want Of A Modern-Day Knight

“In medieval times, contrary to popular belief, most knights were bandits, mercenaries, lawless brigands, skinners, highwaymen, and thieves. The supposed chivalry of Charlemagne and Roland had as much to do with the majority of medieval knights as the historical Jesus with the temporal riches and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, or any church for that matter. Generally accompanied by their immoral entourage of servants, priests, and whores, they went from tourney to tourney like a touring rock and roll band, sports team, or gang of South Sea pirates. Court to court, skirmish to skirmish, rape to rape. Fighting as the noble’s substitution for work.”

– Tod Wodicka

That image of knighthood is factual.

Few conformed to the image we have been conditioned to think of when we think of the knights of old – King Arthur and his Round Table for instance – for the most part, most historians tell us, knights were in fact soldiers of fortune, hired “guns”, thugs, that enforced the edicts (taxes, etc.) of the lords they served (and from whom they were paid to do so) upon the peasants. Not noble, not honoring the vows they took when anointed and dubbed a knight.

When so named, dubbed a knight, after years – from about six to twenty-one years of age, learning in an all-male environment (they were removed from their mothers), how to think and behave righteously (by the church), and how to be masters of the art of combat, and taking an oath to personal honor, sexual purity, and the defense of the downtrodden – most found it experientially impracticable; for all the hype and it’s worthy ideals, it simply wasn’t profitable – to be a knight was monetarily costly, what with needing weapons, armor, steeds (more than one) and retainers (pages, etc.) that they needed and had to pay for (including upkeep). They needed the income. In wartime, these costs were covered by the lords or king they fought under, but in times of peace they were on their own – little more than highwaymen – or if lucky managed to hire themselves out to the highest bidder and did what was required to survive in the field they’d chosen (or had been assigned to them), a warrior.

Like the lyrics of Merle Travis’ song, Sixteen Tons (popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford), “ Saint Peter don’t call me ‘cause I can’t go, I owe my soul to the company store.”

So much for history. Except what was originally meant to be a knight. A true knight had a code of honor, to do what was morally and ethically right and to do no harm; a knight had a mission, to protect the innocent and to right wrongs; a knight respected and fought to uphold the dignity of women; a knight did what was just and fair; a knight self-sacrificed his own wants for the needs for those less fortunate; a knight passed these virtues down to the upcoming generation.

Characteristics wanting in our leaders (as the White Knights we hoped they’d be, as we wish they were).

Be they clergy, politicians (Congress people, in particular), Supreme Court justices, or President of the United States.

Or, fathers.

It is our wish, our will, that they embody and practice the same requirements of a knight of old – to be honorable (your word is your bond), to do what is right, to be morally upstanding, to see to the needs of those less fortunate than yourself, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.

The nexus of this post is the book, Raising A Modern-Day Knight, by Robert Lewis. Admittedly, it is heavily based on Christian scripture. But you shouldn’t dismiss it merely for that reason – its precepts can be found in almost any religion. Even if you don’t hold to any religious doctrine, I challenge you to find fault with it’s basic premise. Which is, a boy needs a man in his life, to observe and learn from what it means to be a man.

A real man, one that embodies the classical meaning of knighthood.

When I think of what that means, I think of two of actor John Wayne’s movies, The Cowboys and The Quiet Man. I’m not a great fan of him, but these are two of his best; the first in how he influences a group of boys of a naive and tender pre- and post- adolescent age, introducing them into what it means to be a real man; and the second on how he treats the woman he loves, and then learns what true love means and how a real man acts with a woman.

I tried to do that to my two sons. You’ll have to ask them if I succeeded. I’m trying my best with my three grandsons. Time will tell. As well as my three grandgirls. Will they see me as a “real man”? An example they look to (in addition to their dad)?

So, be you father, step-dad, uncle or grandfather, or really close family friend…if there is a boy in your life…step up and be a man. Be his knight in shining armor. Show him the path to real manhood.

Not the self-centered, selfish gang-like “us against them” crap, or the not-helpful “find your own path and good luck to you”; rather, show him how best he can be and at the same time helping others to be their best.

And by doing so, also showing the girls and women in your life what a real man is.

Even if your armor could use a little burnishing and your sword a little sharpening – at least show that you’re fighting the good fight.

Show them what it means to be a knight.

– Bill

It’s The Truth – Except When It’s A Lie

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

― Adolf Hitler

A rephrasing of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s (opposite) observation about the truth: “A lie passes through three stages. First, it is rejected. Second, it is considered. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” If he read Schopenhauer (as he may well have), this may well have been the basis of Hitler’s quote above seventy years after Schopenhauer’s death.

It is truly amazing what some people believe, especially due to what is being called the “Info Wars”, about everything today – it’s difficult (at best) to discern what is fact from fiction, what is truth or lie.

One could blame unscrupulous trolls or manipulative “foreign agents” on the Internet or on Social Media, or statements by self-aggrandizing politicians or preachers, or family/tribal lore. One could blame some people for merely being trusting but gullible fools, or the educated who simply lack the time or means to do the required diligent research on their own to find what is true or lie.

And one would be right. All that is to a lesser or greater share for the reason why so many people just don’t know what’s true anymore. Especially when it comes to politics.

An interesting study and experiment was done at Yale, to see if conservatives could be turned into liberals. Apparently, they can be. The results say a lot about our political divisions (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2017/11/22/at-yale-we-conducted-an-experiment-to-turn-conservatives-into-liberals-the-results-say-a-lot-about-our-political-divisions/?utm_term=.1f8af09c0744).

My citing this study is not meant to pick on conservatives (I’m sure that a study and experiment to see if liberals could be turned into conservatives would yield similar results) any more than it’s my intent in citing another piece that helps explain why conservatives react to certain “hot button” issues, like immigration (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/14/identity-politics-right-left-trump-racism?) Of course, again, the opposite findings would be equally apparent if applied to a study of liberals – there surely are some things that are their “hot buttons” that are equally misguided.

The point I’m attempting to make is that the truth is subjective – we believe what we want to believe – especially when our belief is reinforced by others who tell us we’re right to believe it.

The bottom line here – my message today – is, don’t believe and accept as factual and true whatever you see or hear, and to always challenge – with an open mind, putting aside any preconceived biases you may have picked up or been indoctrinated in – what the truth really is. Because what you think is the truth might just be a lie.

I’m just sorry I can’t offer an easy fool-proof way that could prove it.

But that doesn’t mean we individually and collectively should ever give up trying, and just accept what we are told, regardless of the source.

– Bill

Rugged Individualism Isn’t Always The Best Option

“[I]f you are too much of a rugged individualist, it might actually indicate that you are… selfish, in a childish, willful kind of way.”

― Alexei Maxim Russell

There is a story I was once told that illustrated the quote: A man closed his eyes in death and, opening them, found himself facing St. Peter at Heaven’s Gate. St. Peter told him, “Enter!” The man took a step back and said, “You telling me what to do?” Peter, somewhat shocked asked, “You don’t want to go into Heaven?” The man answered, “I didn’t say that, I just want the right to choose.” Peter shook his head and said, “Well, the only choice you have is Heaven or Hell. You really want to go to Hell?” “Of course not, I’m not stupid!” the man answered (still grumbling to himself) as he strode through the gate. An Angel, observing the exchange, asked Peter if the man was Heaven material, since he exhibited such a willfully defiant personality. Peter responded, “Why do you think the Boss calls them his ‘children’?”

I find it amazing that, in a situation where there is no other intelligent option but to sensibly go with what is obviously in their own best interest, most people will do so, yet all the while bitching about it.

Case in point: Recently I was part of a three-way conversation about health insurance and Medicare. One said that she was contemplating enrolling in Medicare as soon as she was eligible in order to get the double coverage it would give her with the health insurance she has through her employer, because together they would eliminate most – if not all – out-of-pocket expenses, like co-pays.

The other acknowledged that it’s smart to have a supplemental health plan in addition to Medicare, and that there are so many supplemental plans to Medicare out there to choose from. Her friend explained that they are not an option, that her insurance plan through her employer was mandatory as long as she was employed, even if she was also covered by Medicare.

The other was aghast, that her friend’s employer was denying her freedom of choice! Knowledgeable of the first person’s employer health plan’s coverage, I stated that for her friend choice was unnecessary.

She was horrified that I was apparently unconcerned about a denial of choice. Started saying that was Socialist. I knew (from past discussions with her) where this was headed – into a tangential rant about socialist subversion of free-market capitalism – and bowed out of the discussion.

But I would have explained (if she’d even wanted to listen with an open mind) that with her friend’s company plan being infinitely better and at a lower cost to her than even the best Medicare supplemental plans on the market, that even if her employer’s coverage wasn’t mandatory, the end result would be the same, she’d still choose it as the best and least expensive plan, so the whole thing is moot.

But she wouldn’t have understood my point, I’m afraid, and would have carried on about needing the “right” to have a choice (as if there was any real, more sensible and intelligent choice to be made, even if allowed).

Some people need to feel they’re in control, say they won’t be told what to do or not do, yet grudgingly go along with things once they recognize it’s in their own best interest to do so, yet, still bitch about it.

Like “Obama Care”, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), that has allowed millions of Americans to acquire health insurance they otherwise couldn’t get (for any number of reasons that insurance companies wouldn’t insure them) at a reasonable cost. It came about because those uninsured needed medical insurance – without any, in the event of some catastrophic illness or accident, their medical bills could throw them into bankruptcy (not to mention the resulting financial costs to our society). And now that they can get insured, enrollment through the ACA has continually grown every year since the Act passed.

What they bitch about is that the Act requires every American to have some kind of medical insurance (in any plan that meets minimum coverage standards or through Medicare if they qualify) – it isn’t enough that they need the insurance afforded through the ACA, it isn’t enough that they actually like being insured, it isn’t enough that the government subsidizes the costs for more than 80% of them through tax credits – it’s that they complain that they no longer have the choice to be uninsured (as if being uninsured is a sane thing to be.)

Ah, well. It’s the American way, really. We bitch about everything. Rugged individualists, we. Selfish and definitely willful, ever insisting on our “right” to do what we individually want, even if it might not be in our own best interest or our society’s as a whole.

Insisting, just like children do.

– Bill

Happiness In America

“Instead of obsessing over the self-actualized perfected person, maybe we should care more about equality, community, vulnerability, and empathy. Maybe we should get out of our heads and be more present in the world around us.”

– Carl Cederström

I’ve come to the belief that if there is one single, overarching human innate hope, desire and want, it is to be forever happy. But happiness is both nebulous in understanding – just what is happiness, really – and ephemeral if attained – like most things, it is a short-lived, something always happens that erases it.

Happiness is very subjective, each of us thinks we think we know what would/does make us happy, and we spend all our energy and lives on the quest to realize it.

In my last post, “Where We Look For Happiness” (Sept. 1, 2018), I said that happiness is both a biological and psychological compulsion, and that what we think makes us happy is a learned thing – not only by trial and error by our own efforts, but also by observation and adoption of what apparently makes others around us happy, and that this dualism is never more evident than in the early teen years (especially in middle school) with the inner conflict of finding balance between seeking to be happy as an individual and at the same time finding happiness in being accepted as a member of one’s peers.

Where, I observed, unfortunately many never find the answer to that conflict. Especially among we Americans. It seems that, with everything we’ve accomplished, with the bounty of things we have, with all the opportunities we’ve made available to ourselves, we – collectively – are not a particularly happy people, nor are we a contented people.

According to be latest ranking by The World Happiness Report, as reported by The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2016/03/16/this-is-how-the-u-s-stacks-up-against-the-worlds-happiest-countries/?utm_term=.9d5a54794f41), the US isn’t even in the top ten, we come in at 13th of 126 nations, which isn’t exactly bad, but what’s worse, when measuring overall well-being (contentment with things as they are), we are 85th (between Chile and Slovenia).

To be American can mean many things, but if there is one thing that can define us, it’s that we are materialists – consumers – Capitalists. Which is not a bad thing. But how Corporate America has used marketing against us is – to be happy, to fit in, means to have the latest, newest thing, be it stylish clothes, smart footwear, mobile phone, car, or whatever; they have used psychology to manipulate us, individually and collectively.

In a Vox article by Sean Illing (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/9/4/17759590/happiness-fantasy-capitalism-culture-carl-cederstrom), Cederström gives a quick historical analysis of what happiness has meant to people over the ages, beginning with the Greek philosophers (the pursuit of simple pleasures), which was replaced by Christianity (self-sacrifice and the postponement of gratification to the afterlife), which was replaced by the Enlightenment (where “happiness became a fundamental right, something to which we’re entitled as human beings”), and ultimately the realization of that “fundamental right” in Market Capitalism. Cederström believes that our values of “liberation, freedom, and authenticity…[have been] co-opted by corporations and advertisers, who [have] used them to perpetuate a culture of consumption and production. And that hyper-individualistic culture actually makes us much less happy than we could be.”

And, given the evidence that we are not as happy a people as other people in the world are, maybe we should collectively re-think why we are not so content with our lot. Which leads back to Mr. Cederström’s thought in the quote above.

Maybe we Americans should stop emphasizing on what would make us individually happy and start looking for what makes everyone happiest – “maybe we should get out of our heads and be more present in the world around us.”

But is that too much to ask? Probably. We would no longer be the America we or the rest of the world would recognize.

Not that that would necessarily be an unhappy thing.

– Bill

Where We Look For Happiness

“No thing, and no one, can make you happy except you. Don’t hinge your happiness on anything [or anyone] outside of yourself.”

― Akiroq Brost

Happiness is a multi-faceted concept; what makes people happy probably equals how many people we’re talking about; everyone’s idea of what it takes to be happy is quite subjective – what I need to be happy might just anger you and what matters to you might be totally, incomprehensibly meaningless to me.

But where and how did each of us come to decide what makes us happy? Happiness is more than mere contentment with what is (although one could make the argument that contentment should equal happiness, because things could be worse). Generally speaking, we are happiest when something good happens above our usual daily existence or assuages – lessens or replaces – the pain or discomfort of some (perceived maybe, maybe real) negative that happens to us.

But, where does this sense of happiness come from? Are we innately programed to seek happiness or is it a learned thing? Certainly, to a great extent, there is an unconscious, biological need to feel good, to be sensually satisfied, like through food, drink, sex. Equally, there is an inherent psychological need to belong, to be accepted as being worthy, being “like” as opposed to being an “other”, an alien or outcast.

We know that the sense of “self” begins at an early age, when we first realize we are an individual among others. This emerges around the age of one and is more fully developed by age two (some authorities say three). I know from both my sons that it was well developed by age two. They don’t call it the “terrible twos” for nothing, and by that age every parent is tired of the incessant cries, “Mine, mine!” or the tantrums thrown when they don’t get their way – proof that the child knows he/she is a person, a “self”, who demands acknowledgement as an individual with her/his own wants, seeking their own sense of happiness.

And when these demands go beyond the basic cry for physical needs (like food), it can be said that most of their needs are psychological – comfort, “feel good” things, like acknowledgement, affection and other “happy” feelings. Some need little, some much more than most. And those who need more than less figure out how to manipulate the adults around them to get what they want. And the things they want are just that – things that give them an emotional and physical sense of happiness, be it a favorite blanket or toy, or the touch, a cuddle, to let them know they are loved. And those wants continues to grow – and expand in scope – as they grow.

It’s something they learn, not just by trial and error but by observation how they can fulfil their wants, what will make them happy.

You may want to read The Atlantic magazine article, “Why Kids Want Things” (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2018/08/kids-materialism/568987/).

Joe Pinsker, a staff writer for The Atlantic on families and education, tells how that need accelerates around entry into middle school for the twelve/thirteens’. Anyone who has or has had a tween/teen knows how important things – possessions – are to them, especially those that are the same as those of their cohort; they feel they need them to be happy, to be accepted into the peerage because of the fear of derision and rejection if they don’t have them. Stylish clothes, smart footwear, a newish mobile phone and the list goes on. (Which raises the question: Why all the demand to be seen as an individual while, simultaneously, wanting to look, speak and act like everyone else? Well, it is the age of discovery, how to be different, yet belong at the same time. And, unfortunately, many never find the answer to that question.)

The article is a good read for any parent and I recommend it to any new parent, especially if they would like to instill in their child that there is more to happiness than mere possessions. The caveat here is, look at yourself first:

“[P]arents who act in ways that value things, parents who make a lot of sacrifices to get a lot of things, parents who get a lot of joy from buying things, parents who talk a lot about things—they tend to have adult children who act the same way.”

Of course, sometimes children grow up to be the opposites of their parents. Still, it isn’t a sin to want things, but it becomes problematic on how you see them.

Are they the end of the means, or the means to the end, in the search for happiness? Are possessions just a small secondary part of your overall happiness, or are they the primary source of that happiness?

Perhaps you come from parents that were excessively materialistic and that resulted in your belief that amassing things equates to happiness.

For the sake of your child’s ultimate happiness, or even if without children of your own where your attitude to materialism is being closely observed by those closest to you (nieces and nephews, for example)…

You may want to think about what makes you happy and where you should really look to find your happy place. For your sake and theirs.

– Bill