Rilalities VII

Effective Perhaps, Brilliant No— “She’s brilliant,” a social commentator, from the Vanity Fair magazine, said when asked to provide some commentary on the social impact Courtney Love had on the 90’s. “I’ve never seen anyone manipulate the media in the manner she does.” If this social commentator knew what he was talking about –and he must working for Vanity Fair— he would know that Love’s method of manipulating the media involves persistent, high volume, and presumably vulgar calls to the offending member of the media that eventuate into threats of physical violence to those that still refuse to portraying her in a positive light. Effective perhaps, brilliant no.

vicksburgIf this strategy of manipulating the media is brilliant, it’s brilliant in the way Ulysses S. Grant’s strategy in The Civil War was brilliant. His strategy has been called brilliant by some historians, and he has been called a “military genius” by others, but he has also been called a “butcher” for his utter disregard for the lives of his own, Union soldiers in battle. His strategy was based on the fact that the Confederate Army had a tougher time replenishing its forces, so he threw his soldiers at them in what some critics have called a “meat grinder” strategy to eliminate as many Confederates as possible without regard for casualty numbers. The eventual result was so horrendous that President Abraham Lincoln’s wife Mary called Grant “a butcher”, but Grant achieved results. He won strategic battles against the South, where other Union generals presumably worried about the casualty numbers suffered defeat, and history has looked kindly on Grant as a general. After reading through the stats, coupled with the results, it’s difficult to call these tactics, and this strategy, brilliant. Effective perhaps, brilliant no.

This term brilliant is thrown around so loosely, in the modern era, that it’s becoming as common in the American lexicon as it is in the British one. Is it brilliant when a young Miley Cyrus flaunts herself on stage? People talk about what she does, and that talk results in album sales, and in some minds that fact plus the other fact equals brilliance. What is she doing different, how is she expressing herself in an ingenious manner that exponentially exceeds anything I can do?

Can I call someone up and verbally abuse them into thinking I’m a pretty good guy? Probably. Can I threaten them in such a fashion that they’ll eventually see things my way? Probably. Could I have sat down at a Civil War planning board to devise Grant’s “meat grinder” strategy? Who couldn’t have? I do not mean to diminish the career of Ulysses S. Grant, because he did what was necessary to win the war, and it could be argued that if he hadn’t executed the “meat grinder” strategy, it is plausible to suggest that the Civil War would have lasted longer and eventuated in an equal number of casualties. It’s also plausible, and some historians would suggest likely, that if the “butcher” had not executed such a brutal that the proud South may never have been intimidated into surrendering.

That having been said, I think it would have been difficult for me to live with the unintended consequences of the “meat grinder” strategy, but that may have been what set Grant apart. My question is, was this an ingenious strategy that required a special kind of mind? Is it possible for me to twerk on stage in front of millions? I’m guessing that fewer people would want to watch me do it, but I do not think it requires a special kind of mind to do it. Ms. Cyrus may have been provided some unique assets that she’s not afraid to let people watch her jiggle, but is it brilliant? Effective perhaps, brilliant no.

Points for the Pointless— “Happiness finds you when you least expect it.” I used to pass by these oven mitt and bumper sticker-type sayings on calendars, and in desk cubicles, without lifting an eyebrow, until someone informed me that they’re points for the pointless. They’re for people that are doing nothing in life, have little-to-nothing to look forward to, and need some hope. Do they hope that owning these oven mitts and bumper stickers will make all of their dreams come true? Most of them don’t, but I do think that they’re comforted by the idea that being able to look up at pointless sayings makes their journeys around the Sun feel a little less pointless.

Provocative Statements— “You never know what’s going to come out of his mouth next,” someone once said of me. I lived with that assessment for years, and I spent other years trying to live up to it. Short-term, comfy statements that lead other people to being more comfortable, and happy, have always bothered me. I’m still not entirely over this. I still feel the need to challenge, mock, and expose comfortable thinking for the short-term, uselessness that it is. I’m still tempted, oh so tempted, to add to my already lengthy list of provocative statements, but I’ve realized –with the wisdom that comes from trial and error, and age– that some of the times, it’s better to keep some provocative statements to myself.

Political Hypocrisy— “If the government doesn’t help you, who will?” Some of the most fervent “government solution” types I’ve encountered are often some of the most fervently anti-law enforcement types. They don’t say that they’re anti-law enforcement, few of them do anyway, but they suggest that law enforcement officials “can” get out of hand, and that they “can” take the law into their own hands. Of course some law enforcement officials “can”, and “do” get out of hand, just as I’m sure that there are some shoe cobblers whose actions give their profession a bad name, but to castigate the whole of law enforcement based on the anecdotal evidence of a few is ludicrous. It’s like saying that singers can’t sing based on a performance by Britney Spears. The “government solution” types then extend their complaint to the manner in which law enforcement officials encroach upon our freedom. The funny thing is that these same anti-law enforcement types don’t draw parallels between the enforcement of some dangerous laws that law enforcement officials are forced to enforce and the government officials that pass those laws. Some of them actually turn around and vote for those politicians that complain about the manner in which law enforcement officials conduct themselves on the scene, when the only reason these law enforcers took it to the next level was that the victim failed to comply with the government official’s law. Their solution, I assume based on their premise, is for government officials to pass a law against the law enforcement officials enforcing the laws that the government officials pass.

I used to work in a PC, HR, and “California way of doing business” company. I had an encounter with a supervisor that acted –in a closed door, one on one session– in a very un-PC, anti-HR manner that would’ve left those that think that the “California way of doing business” should be exported, breathless. These people would’ve had their hands over their mouths if I told them even half of what this man said to me –in a closed door, one on one session. If I were as PC as this company informed me I should be, I could’ve made this supervisor’s life very difficult. It’s possible that I could’ve had him fired for the things he said, and the way he acted. It was obvious, from the things said –in this closed door, one on one session— that this was not business, it was personal.

I should’ve spotted this for what it was in the moment. I should’ve called this supervisor out at the time, regardless if I deserved it or not. I should’ve informed him that we live in a new world now, and that this company has adopted the “California way of doing business”, and that those old world, right-to-work Nebraska tactics don’t work in this company anymore. That’s not the way I was raised however, and I don’t write that to establish my bona fides as a tough, no nonsense guy, but to say that I do not think in terms of PC or HR. Regardless what I did to deserve this, just about every employee in the PC, HR department would’ve found in my favor.

The point is that while some of these PC, HR “California way of doing business” measures may help an employee, most of them are very damaging to the way business is done in America today. Most of these measures prevent the company in question from being sued, but there are always unintended consequences to the routine ways of doing business. Good employees are fired, poor employees remain based on the situations in question, but it’s all worth it, apparently, to prevent a probable lawsuit.

When a Kiss is Just a Kiss

“Why do people kiss?” my nephew asked his parents when he was younger.

“Because that’s their way of saying I love you,” answered his mother.

“Why don’t they just say it then?” he asked.  “Why do they have to kiss?”

This question has surely been asked by curious adolescents of their somewhat befuddled and giggling parents, for as long as children and parents have been interacting. The reason that most parents experience immediate confusion, in the wake of such a question, could have something to do with the fact that most adults have taken kissing for granted for so long, and that it’s been such a staple in the process for so long, that they haven’t stepped back to ask “Why?” since they were adolescents.

Puddy and Elaine

Most parents probably dismiss the peck as the source of their child’s inquiry, and focus their search for an answer on the saliva sharing smooch. Most adults probably assume –assigning their own thoughts to the question–that their child has already accepted the “Hello” and “Goodbye” peck as a fundamental part of the process of greeting and dismissing their loved ones, and that the nature of the child’s curiosity regards why a man would want to suck on a woman’s saliva, in a city park, to express love, and why the two of them would enjoy that transfer of fluids so much that they would want to do it more often.

“One hypothesis,” suggested by Noam Shpancer, of Psychology Today, “Is that (the sloppy smooch) might be a mechanism for gathering information about a potential sexual partner. A kiss brings you in close –close enough to smell and taste chemicals that carry immunological information. Our saliva carries hormonal messages: Close contact with a person’s breath, lips, and teeth informs us about his or her health and hygiene– and thus potential as a mate. Research also suggests a range of other functions, such as expressing and reinforcing feelings of trust and intimacy and facilitating sexual intercourse. The meaning of a kiss depends on who’s doing the kissing.”

If my nephew forced his mother to explore this further. She could’ve said something along the lines of, “A woman learns a lot from a kiss.” She would not have needed to go as in depth as Shpancer did. She could’ve simply said that a quality kiss shows a woman that you’re paying attention and that your love for her is defined in a kiss.

“If you’re simply kissing her for ulterior motives,” she could say, “a girl will know.  Some of the times a kiss is just a kiss, but some of the times it means something, and a girl will know the difference.”

My nephew was not, and is not, of the age to understand the term “end game”, but I’m guessing that that was the crux of his follow up question, “Why don’t they just say it then? Why do they have to kiss?” was why doesn’t a guy just walk up to the girl in the park and say, “I love you,” and walk away when he’s determined that she knows he’s being genuine?

I’m sure that his mother would then say something along the lines of, “Because saying ‘I love you’ can be easily faked, and a girl needs to know that you love her, and physically showing her, with a kiss, proves it to her.” This basically goes to the chemistry, and the Chemistry that Shpancer described, in a girl knowing and knowing in her conscious and subconscious determinations, but that would’ve been way over the head of my nephew, of course, and it would’ve only led to more questions about the abstracts need, emotion, and fulfillment that he was/is too young to understand.

My nephew is male, of course, and to read the Psychology Today piece’s listing of the 2007 findings in the Evolutionary Psychology piece, he might never understand when a kiss is not just a kiss on the level that those of the female gender do. For to a male, a kiss is rarely as important to them as it is to a female. If he thinks he’s going to arrive at an answer, he will chase it. He will want to kiss a girl his age, and he will be confused when it’s over and he doesn’t achieve clarity, but he will continue to kiss girls, because he knows it means something to them. When he has ulterior motives, he might try to add bits of information to a kiss, but if his recipient has as much omniscience as Shpancer theorizes the recipient will know when such additions are false. When he genuinely likes a girl, and those additional ingredients he adds are more organic, he will wonder what the difference was. My advice, is my nephew ever asks me for advice, is do not think, just do.

In their findings, the Evolutionary Psychology poll lists that 86% of women polled would not have sex with someone without kissing them first; while only 47% of males say they would not.  Their takeaway was that:

“For women, the smell and taste of their kissing partner weighs heavily in their decision to pursue closer contact. Men routinely expect that kissing will lead to intercourse and tend to characterize “a good kiss” as one leading to sex.”

The next poll probably gets to the heart of my nephew’s follow up question better, as it asks the genders how important kissing is. In this 2013 poll taken by the Archives of Sexual Behavior, there is the suggestion that kissing may never be as important to my nephew as the girls he’s kissing, as men rank the importance of kissing as a 3.8, on a scale of one to five, while women rank it as a 4.2. Their takeaway was that:

“Women rank kissing as more important in all kinds of romantic relationships than men do; men tend to consider it less important as relationships go on.”

The perfect depiction of this comes from (where else?) the television sitcom Seinfeld. In an episode of the series, entitled The Face Painter, the side character David Puddy informs the character Elaine Benes, that he will no longer “Support the team” by painting his face for hockey matches, because she is embarrassed by it. She is visibly touched by the idea that Puddy would alter his life in such a manner just for her, and to celebrate this new understanding in their relationship Puddy says:

“Ah, c’mere,” as he nears her for a kiss. “All right,” he says when that celebratory kiss is concluded, and he’s up and moving towards the door, “I gotta go home and get changed before the game. I’ll be back, we’ll make out.”

This scene is brilliant on so many comedic levels, not the least of which is the depiction of the value each gender places on kissing. Puddy acknowledges that some sort of romantic punctuation is needed for the agreement they’ve just made, and he basically says, “All right. Here!” to initiate that kiss. The comedic value of the situation occurs when that kiss, this romantic punctuation, is concluded, and Puddy simply says “All right” as if to say ‘now that that’s over now, I need to get things done.’ The very human element of “Enjoying that transfer of fluids so much that he wants to do more often” is then dispelled by Puddy saying once he’s done with something (changing clothes), they can start doing something else (making out). He thereby places the idea of making a seemingly transformative change of his life (no more face painting) with the act of changing his clothes, and the excessive kissing involved in making out on the same level, which is coupled with the overall theme of the exchange: that he’ll do what she wants, but that he’s only doing it for her.

This all surprises the once visibly touched Elaine for she thought she had a read on the situation. “You’d do that for me?” she asks after Puddy announces that he will no longer be painting his face. She believed in this new understanding so much that before he reached his (after the kiss) conclusion, she was breathlessly holding her hand to her heart, and on the verge of tears with the idea that her unsentimental boyfriend would be making such a life-altering sacrifice for her, and sealing it with a kiss. She appeared to believe that this sacrifice, and that kiss, suggested a brighter future, and a better understanding, between the two of them as a couple. When Puddy stands and says what he says, it dispels all of the conclusions Elaine derived from the situation, and the idea that a “woman always knows”. And her only takeaway, as the scene closes, could be that Puddy, like most stereotypical jarheads, will go through the motions to please a woman, but it actually means little-to-nothing to them.

Most boys spend their adolescence believing that their mother knows all, until they find out she doesn’t, but they continue to do the things necessary to please her, and fortify this illusion, until most boys become better men for it. Some boys put their heart into it, and live their lives, and kiss their girlfriends with the belief that their mothers know all, and how they treat their mother will be an indicator for how they will go on to treat all women. Others, like the fictional character Puddy, go through the motions to make their mother happy, and to them a kiss is just a 3.8 on a scale of one to five.

My sister-in-law asked me if I wanted to take a crack at answering my nephew’s questions, and I informed her that it’s probably better that I don’t. It’s probably better that he run the optimistic and loving course she has set him on. He’ll likely become a better man by trying to prove to all the women around him that he can be meaningful and moving when he wants to be, and when that time comes for him to plant that profoundly spiritual kiss on that one, special woman, he’ll do it with such belief that he can make her believe it too. And, he’ll hopefully get all that done before he falls prey to the cynical notion that some of the times a kiss is just a kiss to get women to shut up about wanting to kiss all the time.