29 August 2011

Go placidly, and know thy universe

Whoa, Reihan Salam knows I read his blog, The Agenda. He identifies me right here:
Rather, I write in the hope and expectation that people read people with whom they disagree to challenge their settled views. Suffice it to say, this isn’t generally the case, but I’m happy to continue behaving as though it is, as it is true of enough people to justify the effort.
I'm that people! Can you believe he found me out? Every Sunday, when I catch up on the week's online news and opinions, Reihan Salam is someone I count on to write intelligently about stuff with which I disagree. (Did you see that? He used good grammar, so I did too.)

As I do for all the articles tagged in my feed reader as "national politics," I read The Agenda with a necessary amount of tolerance. Tolerance allowed for myself, I mean. Ahead of time, I consent that I shall be free to disagree as much as I want so long as, in any later complaining I do about the content, I'm not a jerk about it. (Wait! Warning: The other end of that link contains a potentially offensive word. Okay, proceed at will.) I am therefore under no personal obligation to agree with any portion of the excerpt above. But I do agree. I'm a sucker for the idea of behaving as if the world were the way it should be. (Oh, I guess that ought to be, "as if the world were the way I want it to be.")

Desiderata by Max Erhmann
Maybe that's because Mahatma Gandhi exhorted us to be the change we want to see in the world. Maybe it's because the golden rule, a Kindergartener's first educational take-away, relies on this concept. Maybe it's because wise words on the plaque in Mrs. Jenkins's English classroom-- a plaque shrewdly hung beside the room's most watched decoration: the clock-- reminded me daily ("weekdaily"?) for an entire school year that "the universe is unfolding as it should." Quixotic at an early age, I took those maxims to mean that either (A) yup, it's all true, so go ahead and make decisions knowing that it's true; or (B) if that isn't quite the way of things, then it's only a matter of time; might as well get started right now on turning my world into the one it is meant to become.

On a typical day in Mrs. Jenkins' English classroom, all of this idealism translated into something like, "Sure, I'll miss some recess to help you find your Troll doll pencil-head, because I don't doubt that when my classroom chore comes around, you'll be beside me, clapping chalk out of the blackboard* erasers. (Achoo!) I think it becomes difficult-- as we grow up, old, and experienced-- to still view the world so optimistically, mostly because as adults in the early twenty-first century, we're not apt find a Troll doll pencil-head. ...anywhere. (Or perhaps, like the Dalek, Trolls always survive.)

DNFTT! Trolls predate Usenet

Even so, I still stand by the value in occasionally behaving as if the world were the way I'd like it to be, not least of all because, in order to act as such, I'm compelled to, for at least a moment, think about exactly what the-world-the-way-I-want-it-to-be looks like, what it's made of, how it works. Without ever imagining the landscape of my ideal world, how would I be able to listen to opinions with which I disagree and subsequently strengthen my understanding or repair my misjudgments? And how would I be able to stand beside a classmate with whom I might have little in common (the kid likes Troll dolls, for goodness sake!) and work together to clap away the dust?

If you care what my advice to my ideal world would be (and in my ideal world, you most definitely care about my advice; you can't get enough of it!), my add-ons to the reliable ole golden rule would be these:
  1. Know your universe the way you would want it to be.
  2. Some, even many, people will disagree with how stuff goes down in your universe. Disagreeing is fine. Seriously, everything's still cool. Just don't you be a jerk about it.
  3. Where there is doubt, give people (in the real-life universe) the benefit of it: behave as if the world is the way it should be.
Like the columnist admirably expressed in a column often in opposition to my opinion, but not this time:
  1. a)   ..."it is true of enough people to justify the effort."

* Chalkboard: dustier and more squealy than its successor, the dry-erase board.
Dry-erase board: squeakier and smellier than its successor, the iPad.
iPad: lame when kids will one day be learning on the iPad's elementary schoolroom successors. ...IMAX 3D screens and additive printers?

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