How Large Is Your Universe?

We used to keep tropical saltwater fish. When getting a new fish, one important question that would inevitably come up would be how much space would it need. It amazed me to think that some fish, even in the wild, could be perfectly happy spending their whole lives patrolling one small rock. That was the extent of their universe. Each individual person, like each of those saltwater fish, lives in their own universe, each a different (but probably overlapping) subset of The Universe created by God.

In The Beginning

When you are born, your universe is very small – focused only on your mother’s breast – but starts to grow immediately. Every experience gives you a new plank you can use to expand your universe. As a new experience comes to you, your mind stretches to make sense of that experience. In a later article we can discuss how important a strong imagination is to discovering the truth (this may seem ironic), which is important for the growth of your universe, but I don’t yet understand how strong imaginations are developed. Other attributes are also required.

When Growth Starts To Slow

Growth may start to slow, however, once your universe is large enough so that a new plank can fit entirely within your existing universe. Since you didn’t have to stretch your universe to accommodate that plank, you may feel that no more growth is necessary and discard that plank. For example, in the story of the blind men and the elephant, which I embellished in The Blind Men And The Elephant, one scholar, “holding the tail, announced that an elephant was like a rope”. While their later behavior may lead you to question how scholarly they really were, a non-scholar would have been more likely to have declared that there are no elephants; what he was holding WAS a rope and he resented any efforts to try to fool him into believing otherwise. In this man’s mind, his universe was already sufficient to describe what he had experienced, and so he threw out the new plank. Once this happens, it takes larger and larger planks to keep up any growth.

When You Have Reached Your Limit

At some point your mind may start subconsciously throwing out old planks to make room for new. In my first career, I was at a field unit (from which everyone starts) and it was a common complaint about how clueless the people in the district office were about what was going on in “the real world”, based on the decisions that were passed down to us. And when someone in our unit was transferred to the district office, we took bets on how long it would take him/her to move to the dark side. The same thing happens when teachers with experience get transferred downtown, away from the classroom. One could argue that it was the people in the field, who had experienced only one small piece of the puzzle (or elephant, if you will), were the ones with the smaller universes and thus were unqualified to pass judgement, while the transferee, with more experience in a larger world was making decisions that would benefit the whole team. While that’s the way we would like to see it work, that doesn’t always happen. My father, who had to join a union to learn his trade, could see only the benefits of the unions at the time and was a strong believer. Once he became a contractor and had to deal with unions “from the other side of the fence”, he could see only the negative. Apparently his universe was not capable of stretching to accommodate both views. Sometimes the truth about elephants is too large to fit in anybody’s universe. When your universe stops stretching, it has reached its maximum capacity.

Then there are other people who are unwilling to stretch, and start throwing out new planks that don’t match or fit into a set of planks that they created themselves. Those people are known as bigots. It’s when they grab everybody around them and try to force the others into their resultingly smaller universe that things could get ugly. I think it’s a bad idea to voluntarily throw planks out of your universe at any time. Here’s why –

The Descent

At some point as you age, your universe will start to become less resilient and will try to shrink. The process begins well before your universe has reached its largest size, but from then on it’s all downhill. I think I’ve already started the slide. If you don’t keep actively trying to add new planks to slow the process, it may act like shrink-wrap, too soon becoming so tight around your body that everybody will be able to see just how small those private parts really are that you had bragged so much about for so long. When they start laughing, you won’t care that the shrink-wrap is now too tight for you to breathe.  I wrote this analogy specifically for men with bloated egos,

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since this term is not in any medical journal or book on psychiatry, I will have to define it in a later post
(which may be my favorite target), but something analogous happens to all population groups.

Measuring Universes

While the size of one’s universe seems to be a far better metricD by which to judge a person than more common and more superficial traits like size, sex, or hair quality, measuring this parameter is not as easy as it sounds. Since you can only measure something that is completely inside your universe, you can only judge people whose universe is small enough to be completely contained within yours, which usually means a child or imbecile. Maybe you are perfectly happy to always be comparing yourself to morons, but eventually your friends are going to correctly conclude that “it must take one to know one”. If a person has any talent or experience that is not part of your universe, there is absolutely no way for you to tell how significant that talent is. If the common area between you and that other person is only a small part of your universe, it might be tempting to draw inferences unfavorable to that other person. But since again you don’t know how large his/her unshared universe might be, your conclusions would be completely unsupported (It is entirely possible that their unshared universe could be larger than yours), but it would give evidence to any counterclaim that it is you who is the idiot.

A less common but more important question may be how to measure the size of your own universe. Sure, you can get from one side of your universe to the other, but what can you compare it to? Maybe you are like that little fish I mentioned at the beginning of this article, perfectly happy patrolling your own little rock while others swim in and out of your life on their way through. How do you know you are not missing out on something worthwhile just over that next rock? How do you know that something big is not soon coming along the path that will annihilate your universe and the universes of everyone around you? I don’t have answers to these questions, but clues might be found in the answer to two other questions: “How often do you discover a plank that isn’t yet part of your universe?” and “How hard are you really looking?”.

A Failure To Communicate? Oops, My Bad!

I’ve been pondering why I haven’t received a single comment yet, and while investigating I found that it was virtually impossible to leave a comment on this blog. Apparently I left a few crucial check boxes unchecked when setting up the blog and never went back to check it from a visitor’s perspective.  That wasn’t too bright. Now I fixed it.

Of course that doesn’t rule out the possibility that my subscribers and guests are just too polite (or shy) to say bad things about my writing. If that’s the case and you feel strongly about something I wrote, just leave a comment saying “I’m too polite to comment on the second sentence in the third paragraph” or something like that.  I’ll understand.

What I Still Don’t Know About Forgiveness

Remember those times in school when you were able to just follow along while your teacher was explaining a topic, and it made so much sense that you didn’t bother to take notes or study that night for the next quiz, only to discover when reading the very first question, that your grasp of the subject wasn’t nearly as strong as you first thought?  That’s where I am right now on the topic of forgiveness.  I’m beginning to suspect that my earlier understanding of forgiveness may have been incomplete.

The Definition

Maybe I should go back and review the definition of forgiveness.  The Free Dictionary starts with “To give up resentment against or stop wanting to punish (someone) for an offense or fault”.  That sounds simple enough.  Forgiveness is something my preacher has covered many, many times, and it’s not too hard to see that without it you can wind up in a feud like the Hatfields and the McCoys that goes on so long that neither side can remember what the original disagreement was all about.

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OK, this might be the simplified Hollywood version.  For a more historical version, you can check out www.todayifoundout.com.

A Possible Motive

For Christians, forgiveness has a central role in the Lord’s PrayerD, which Jesus recited when asked by one of his disciples how they should pray to their God, as described in two places (Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 9 through 13 as well as Luke 11:2-4).  Just for reference, the line in that prayer that is pertinent to this discussion goes something like “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For the longest time I focused only on the first half of that sentence. It was only recently that I woke up to the second clause and realized that when saying the prayer I hadn’t just been asking for blanket forgiveness, as I had originally thought, but was telling God to follow my lead – meaning if I wasn’t willing to forgive others, then He was off the hook for my own transgressions.  That was sobering.

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At the time, I thought this “awakening” of mine was an epiphany brought about by my greater understanding of biblical concepts.  Now I see that for those of you who weren’t so blessed, this idea is spelled out in Matthew 6:14, immediately after the prayer.

The Questions

So here is my question. I would have gone to my preacher, but I was not sure he would have taken me seriously. And although I’m not the kind of person who takes everything literally (and I’m not suggesting that you are such a person, either), this question will use trespassing as the sin of choice.  Suppose you are on your own property and you see somebody walking along. You identify yourself and ask them to leave. Do you forgive them before or after they leave your property? And if they refuse to leave, do you forgive them before or after you shoot them?

Here’s another aspect I’m not clear on.  I guess you could call me greedy; for some time now I’ve wanted more from God than just forgiveness. What I’ve been praying for instead was to be cured of that particular sin so I don’t need to be forgiven over and over again.  Would that be cheating?

Are those questions related somehow?  Perhaps they are just two sides to the same coin.

Now it’s time for me to shut up and turn the discussion over to my readers.  Any help you can give me toward greater understanding would be greatly appreciated.

Am I Becoming An Insensitive Bastard?

My lifetime partner might think so.  Here are a few articles that have come to my attention in the recent past that may (or may not) support his/her view:

  • Beyoncé Slammed for Sampling Shuttle Tragedy on New Album
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    For putting a six-second audio clip of an official mentioning the Challenger disaster at the beginning of her song, “XO”, twenty-seven years after the incident, Beyonce is considered extremely insensitive for mocking the crew’s sacrifice and opening “fresh wounds”. Really?
  • JetBlue just made the ultimate faux pas on Twitter
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    JetBlue is forced to apologize for tweeting three words that reminded people of the Hindenburg disaster, which occurred seventy-seven years earlier. The life expectancy in the United States is currently 78.74 years. What is the normal mourning period (especially for someone who was less than two years old at the time of the tragedy)?  Looking at this from a different perspective, the article notes that 36 people died in the tragedy.  I’m willing to bet that over a million times that number have died tragically since then.  How long will you be able to devote to grieving over each one of these people?  Are some really more worthy than others?
  • Coke pulls Fanta ad over Nazi controversy
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    Apparently, it is now considered completely thoughtless to reminisce about the Good Old Days if there was strife anywhere in the world during that time period. In how many years during the last century would such recollections still be possible?
  • Under Armour pulls controversial ‘Band of Ballers’ T-shirt
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    The T-shirt was deliberately made to resemble the photograph of the raising of the American flag at the battle of Iwo Jima that “promptly became an indelible icon — of that battle, of the Pacific War, and of the Marine Corps itselfA“. The article notes that “more than 6,800 American troops died in that battle”. Not mentioned, by the way, is the fact that the United States actually won that battle and thousands of old geezers still take great pride in their part in defending our American way of life. The T-shirt, on the other hand, is about basketball. Lighten up!
  • US Senate Candidate Apologizes for Offensive ‘War Cry’ Comment
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    In the video clip, this lady is making fun of herself, not any minority group, for her own misunderstanding of the term “Indian American”. The “offensive” gesture lasted maybe two seconds, during which time all five fingers were extended (as opposed to just the longest, as would be displayed in a gesture that I have become much more familiar with).  The event clearly shows her ignorance, not her animosity.  I’m inclined to think “no blood, no foul”. It’s clear that the offended parties take themselves much more seriously than she takes herself. Probably too seriously.

I’m sure there are many other examples, but you get the idea. I know, I know – you have to take these stories with a grain of salt; there are some in the media who know they can sell more ads by fanning the flames of controversy regardless of how small those flames really are, and the outrage in at least one of the stories may be politically motivated. Still, I’m beginning to see a trend, and it’s not a good one.

Here are a couple of seemingly unrelated situations that may metaphorically give hints as to where I’m going with this.

  • FCC Part 15, which applies to many consumer electronic devices, says that the equipment must meet two requirements: (1) The device may not cause harmful interference, and (2) the device must accept any interference received, including interference that may cause undesired operation. To me this just makes sense.  Radio interference degrades the ability to communicate.  First, in consideration of others one should create as little interference as possible.  Second, since there will always be some interference, if your equipment can’t accept interference it may be worthless.
  • When operating a boat, “the vessel’s wake must not be excessive nor create a hazard to other vesselsA (See also A).  That sounds entirely reasonable to me.  On the other hand, any vessel that cannot handle the ocean’s waves would not be considered seaworthy, so while a ship is responsible for any damages caused by its wake, those damages would be harder to prove and collect when they occur in the open ocean.

It has been reported that “real men” don’t cry.  Even though that is erroneous, I can assure you that real men do not go looking for things to cry about. And while, contrary to popular belief, real men are not defined by what they wear or what they do or don’t eat, it is entirely fair and reasonable to judge a man by how they behave.

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Here, as you should have guessed, I am using the more general definition of “man”, as in “mankind”, which includes both sexes.
I propose the following rule of manhood:

A real man needs to be able to take more #$@! than s/he can dish out.

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And what are MY qualifications on this matter?It shouldn’t matter whether I consider myself a contender, a shopper, or merely a bystander, the statement should be able to stand on its own merits. If these rules are too stringent for you, sit back down with the wannabes.  If you have a better rule or argument, let’s hear it.
It grieves me to see people racing to find new ways to be offended. These are clearly haters and wannabes instead of problem solvers, and should not be taken seriously.  For example, the first four of the above examples involved alleged insensitivity to the tragedies of others.  We have all lost loved ones.  Those who claim to be hurt and offended that long after the catastrophe, in my book, are either faking it (in some sports they would be called floppers) or they need serious professional help.

Now that you know how I feel, what is the answer to the title question? Is it me or “them”? I think everyone needs to continually ask themselves this question. You should always allow for the possibility that you are wrong as a first step in reducing your own error rate.  Although being politically correct is obviously not one of my objectives, I do actually believe in considering the needs, rights, and points of view of others in my decision making process. It seems to me that following the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) should be sufficient.  But then again, if one actually were an insensitive bastard that wasn’t easily offended, treating others in the same callous manner that one finds tolerable toward oneself just might not be enough.  Unfortunately, we are all burdened by our own biases, so finding the answer to this question is not easy, and may not even be possible without the help of friends.  That’s why I’m turning this discussion over to you.  Thanks in advance for your help.

The Blind Men and the Elephant – The Full Story

There is an old story about several blind men who encountered an elephant.  This story plays an important role in several religions around the Indian subcontinent, as explained in great detail in Wikipedia.

Here Is My Version:

“Once upon a time, an aide brought an elephant into a home for the blind in India where a team of scholars was writing the first blind dictionary.  The elephant was soon surrounded by a number of blind men.  The first man, after feeling the elephant’s leg, declared that an elephant is like a pillar, and then proceeded to jot down his notes.  The second man, holding the tail, announced that an elephant was like a rope before he recorded his findings.  The scholar next to the elephant’s ear decided that this creature was like a winnowing basket, while another by the trunk couldn’t quite figure out whether he was dealing with a tree branch or a water spout.  He took careful notes.  Other men found the belly to be a wall or a granary, and the tusk to be either a solid pipe or a plowshare.   The head resembled a pot, the back a throne, and lastly, the tip of the tail evoked a brush.

While reviewing their notes, a discussion broke out among the scholars about their differing individual findings.  Since each of the men was certain that his own observations were correct, an argument developed, which grew heated, and before long the team was embroiled in a full brawl.  Only one man survived the scuffle.  He proceeded with the project and as a result it was his (limited) definition of an elephant that ultimately went into the blind dictionary, and so it remained for many, many years to follow.  While this man was finishing his work, the elephant was neglected, and eventually became hungry, and then agitated, and then wound up trampling the man to death as it made it’s escape.”

The Rest of the Story*

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* with a tip of the hat to the late Paul HarveyA

The aide returned a couple days later to find everyone dead and no elephant, so he ran to get the police and then returned home.  After their investigation of the scene, the police concluded that the elephant was the principal suspect in all of the killings and so, using the last scholar’s description, they put out a bulletin for it’s capture.  When they canvassed the neighborhood, one gentleman asked if this was the same pink elephantD that had been haunting him for years.  After reviewing the notes of the victims and other evidence at the scene, they found nothing that would rule out that possibility.  After an exhaustive search, however, the perpetrating pink pillar was never found and the case was eventually closed.

So What?

There have been several morals derived from the earlier versions of this story.  I feel that it reveals important human foibles and I may be referring to this story in future discussions and possibly coming to my own conclusions.

Who I am (Part 1)

What you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting for:

Those of my attributes that aren’t relevant to the discussion at hand are really none of your business. My sex is one of those, or should I say gender, because you will not find on these pages any “battle of the sexes” comments about why one sex is better than the other or engaging in any discussions using cliches and tired stereotypes to bash the opposition.  I always thought those were stupid, even as far back as the preteen years, when catching cooties from members of the opposite sex suddenly became such a huge concern for most of my friends.   Similarly, I won’t be discussing my sexual orientation.  I know what it is, and my partner knows what it is, and since you are neither of those, I’m hard pressed to understand why you care.  I doubt my height, weight, or race will have any role in this blog either.

Why I’m doing this:

Many people would consider me old.   You would probably pick up on that soon enough.  Back in the 1970’s, during the CB radio craze, “Silent Knight” was my handle (“Holy Knight” was never considered).  Being true to character, however, nobody ever heard that name from me. I had learned early in life that you can learn more with your mouth shut.  As I’ve been aging (especially more recently), I find myself becoming more opinionated, however, or maybe just more concerned about the direction this country is taking.  I understand that’s the path a lot of people take as they get older.   I just hope I have a few more good years left before my wildest fears get the best of me and I’m forced to become a Republican.

Politics is an acceptable topic for this blog.   Religion is also an acceptable topic for this blog. Since I am by no means an expert on any of these topics, I was hoping I could count on my readers to keep me honest.  As I hinted in the first paragraph, I will not let these discussions deteriorate into mindless sound bites and one-liners.  I expect respondents to actually address the issues and questions brought to light by those before them instead of talking past them in parallel conversations. Facts are important (but might be refuted by other facts). Facts cannot be trumped by theories or opinions, and even anecdotes could be considered suspicious.

We will discuss people’s rights in this blog. As an example, this is my blog and your right to free speech ended when you entered.  I expect to be a gracious host

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As usual, “host” here is the generic, gender-neutral form which could include “hostess”.

and welcome encourage opposing points of view, but I am under no obligation to let you trash all rules of civility and intelligent discourse to spout some mindless, unsupportable crap.  In that case, I may or may not use you as another fine example of an idiot, at my sole discretion.

More about me:

As you guessed, I consider myself to be liberal in most areas (although what once was considered liberal has since been relabeled “socialist”, and may now even be called “communist” by those who obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

Although I mention religion as a possible topic, I didn’t say anything about my own religious views yet.  That’s not something I can do in 25 words or less; I was hoping I’d have time for that later.  Also later, the astute reader will learn some of the various life experiences I have had, but only as they relate to a particular topic.

The last thing you may need to know is that I have absolutely no fear of numbers.  Numbers are merely a subset of human language and a shorthand in effective communication.  I am likely to fact-check the numbers before other parts of an article.  But if you think you can avoid scrutiny by simply leaving them out, be aware that any argument you make that is devoid of facts (many of which are best described with numbers) may suffer in terms of credibility and may not make it very far in this conversation.  Just saying.  Thanks for listening.  I am looking forward to a hearty discussion.