Top 10 Favorite Smurfs: The 2020 Edition


It’s that time of year again. We present our annual best Smurfs of the year. The reason for the delay is that it was so challenging this year. There was great debate here in the office, as our panel spent long hours compiling attributes and characteristics to shore up our list. We might not ever be able to top our 2005 list, but we hope Smurfers appreciate how much work went into compiling our list this year. 

10) Pretentious Smurf- Pretentious Smurf wants other Smurfs to love him, but he doesn’t know how to make that happen. It’s a wonder more Smurfs don’t face this dilemma, as the primary source of information about love, for most beings, comes from their parents. Smurfs don’t have parents. Most Smurflings are delivered by storks, and some were created by Gargamel and others. Papa Smurf is the leader of the Smurfs, but he is not their father. There is no Mama Smurf, with whom they might witness loving interactions with Papa Smurf to help them define love. They also don’t receive influential paternal and maternal forms of love. They’re on their own to discover the definition of love. In the absence of paternal lessons, there are but a few definitions of attaining love: the love you give is the love you receive, and one cannot know love without first loving oneself.

As opposed to other Smurfs, Pretentious ascribes to the latter, as he pretends to love others for the sake of loving himself. The word pretends might sound harsh, as it speaks of artifice, and I’m sure Pretentious doesn’t intend to pretend, but the words pretend and pretentious have numerous unintended similarities. The questions we ask is why does Pretentious love his fellow Smurfs, and how does he love them? We think he loves them, because of what it says about him to love them. He loves them to define himself and love himself more.

He thinks he knows what everyone else is on about, but it doesn’t bother him when he’s wrong. He thinks he knows them better than they know themselves. He thinks he can read them, but he is often wrong, and his errors are costly when it comes to building relationships. He thinks he knows humor, yet when no one else gets his jokes, he doesn’t care. “This is funny, and I know funny,” he says when other Smurfs don’t even smile at one of his jokes. Pretentious Smurf’s exaggerated love of self might have started out philosophically pure, as he attempted to define the emotion, but it progressed into a protection device to avoid the fact that he doesn’t know how to love others, and that results in other Smurfs not knowing how to love him.

9) Writer Smurf- Writer Smurf wrote a popular piece sometime before we met him. The lore of that piece granted Writer Smurf the title of an artiste. He is unable to recapture the magic when we meet him. Writer Smurf informs anyone who will listen that he is not properly inspired to create another piece. Part of this is true, and part of this admission was inspired to fortify his legacy. After delivering this line a number of times, the other Smurfs begin to question his legacy. The desire to defeat this leads Writer Smurf frustration drove him to create pieces no one can understand. “Nothing happened in the story,” was the primary complaint Writer Smurf heard regarding his subsequent pieces.

To which Writer Smurf said, “The demand that something happens in a story is trite.” Writer Smurf chose to focus on writing beautiful scenes and incredible characters in a language few understood. He chose to litter his stories with limericks and songs that no one else has heard before. He also uses big words to impress upon the other Surfs how smart he is. He does this so often in one particular piece that we know it’s more about using those words than it is about entertaining other Smurfs. Writer Smurf appears to enjoy the motif he has created for himself. “Anyone can write a story,” he says to his critics, “but I create masterpieces.” Writer Smurf says such things, but we know what he would do for another great story.  

8) Reflective Smurf- Reflective Smurf read a wide array of books before we met him. We considered this a redundant error. Why not just give those same attributes to Brainy Smurf? We found out that that in this new generation of Smurfs, of unique depth, that Reflective Smurf learned how to analyze his actions by reading experts (i.e. authors of his favorite books) analyze their characters and their characters’ actions. Like many of the side characters in Smurf Village, Reflective Smurf is not fully developed. He is a vehicle through which the writers define other characters. When, for example, the good friends Salubrious Smurf and Quiescent Smurf argued, Lachrymose was upset by some of the the things Salubrious said. 

“They’ve loved each other for so long,” he said. “How could he say such things to his favorite Smurf Quiescent?”

“It was an argument,” Reflective said. “Some Smurfs will say whatever they have to say to win an argument.”

“You heard him. Salubrious said some things that will be difficult to unwind,” Lachrymose added. “I’m going to say something, before they drag this out too long.”

“You’ll do more harm than good,” Reflective cautions.

“He said some awful things though,” Lachrymose responds. “He’s going to regret it.”

“Be careful what you wait for,” Reflective says to close the scene. Our first impulse was to reach for the pen to write a letter to the writers of the show to correct them on the line. “It’s be careful what you wish for,” we want to write with apologies to those who note the dangling participle. Upon some reflection, we realized that Reflective Smurf probably intended to say this based on his experiences with Smurfs who are the exact opposite of him. He would probably be the first to admit that he analyzes situations and scenarios too much, but most Smurfs aren’t reflective, and some don’t reflect at all. If he were to expand on the topic, Reflective might add that some short-term thinkers say the most divisive, obnoxious things to the Smurfs who love them the most. They think their loved ones will last forever, he might add, so they say the meanest, most awful things to them to win an argument, and if some Smurfs confronts them to remind them that their loved ones won’t last forever, that Smurf will end up doing more harm than good. If the worst-case scenario happens, and their loved one dies, Reflective might say to Lachrymose, you could confront them at the funeral, and they wouldn’t see it. They might say you’re exaggerating, or that they don’t remember the argument being as bad as Lachrymose thought. We could even drop heartfelt comments from the subject of their scorn, and they wouldn’t see it. We might suspect that their ignorance on this issue is intentional, but Reflective’s experience on the matter suggests that that’s not the case. Some Smurfs simply don’t see it, and they never will.       

7) Jejune Smurf- I was not a fan of the early incarnation of Jejune Smurf, as there was something missing in his absurdist dada attempts at humor. As Heuristic Smurf later stated, “Jejune was not in a place where he could be a quality Smurf. He was without an identity, not quite a Smurf.” Jejune Smurf was but a shadow and little more than a disembodied voice until the light entered the room. He denied his physical identity and attempted to shut himself out of his own consciousness. Heuristic Smurf commanded the seas about Jujune, thus expanding Jejune’s dramatis personae and establishing Jejune’s raison d’etre in the Smurf motif.   

6) Bellicose Smurf- Bellicose Smurf’s early dialogue offended some of us so much that we wanted to crawl into a hole and cry. Many of us were unable to watch these episodes without a bottle of Merlot, a friend on the phone to talk us through it, and a warm, dry blanket. His discursive dialogue seemed so incongruent to the Smurf aesthetic. When acclaimed director Rama Eflue exerted some influence over the character, he introduced a holistic sense of cohesion in the whimsically conceived diegetic oeuvre. Eflue not only introduced us to the interiority of Bellicose, but he provided a basic honesty with his techniques and framed it in the Smurf schema with Homeric parallels. Introducing him with the Claudio Baglioni’s beautiful, orchestral arrangement E Tu Come Stai didn’t hurt either.

5) Contumacious Smurf- From his introduction to his bitter, unusually violent end, Contumacious Smurf provided us a form of drama in two different episodes last season that have no parallel in any prior or subsequent Smurfean fare. It was a mixture of fantasy, delicate political and personal satire, knockabout farce, obscenity (probably of ritual origin) and in the case of his far too infrequent interactions with Lachrymose Smurf at least, delightful lyric poetry.

4) Didactic Smurf- Didactic Smurf provided further definition of the eternal struggle between good and evil in his early encounters with Gargamel. The culmination might have occurred in the interaction in the Is it My Birthday Yet? episode. What does Didactic Smurf expect from Gargamel? What does Gargamel expect to extract from Smurf Village? What is Gargamel’s place in the broad edifice? Gargamel represents a past Didactic despises. To combat that, Didactic expresses a strong need for knowledge about Smurf Village in general and specific to Gargamel’s subterfuge. “I have much to learn,” Didactic’s interior narration says, as he writes to the Smurfling Invidious, “Learn and inwardly ingest.” These two ideas represent a near contradictory description of Didactic’s attitude. Was Didactic Smurf recalling a past episode in Smurf Village in which Didactic perceived, in a moment of metempsychosis, to see the ghost of Efficacious Smurf peering out through the vestments of the present? We don’t yet know, but we know he despises his creator, Gargamel, as a symbol of a guardian of the past.   

3) Taciturn Smurf- Taciturn Smurf completely changed what we considered the Smurf ethos when he opened the scene with the declarative, “I am another Smurf now and yet the same,” before turning out the lights to tacitly encourage the chaos and violence that followed. “A Smurf too. A Smurf of a Smurf. I am the Smurf of two Smurfs!” he shouted in a booming voice. “A crazy Smurf, old and jealous. Now kneel down before me.” Those who watched this with me considered Taciturn Smurf’s performance terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. One of my colleagues actually said he literally found Taciturn Smurf’s rancor so egregious that he was relieved when Taciturn Smurf reached his denouement during the great Smurf War. Taciturn’s performance made him uncomfortable. I agreed in a most glorious appreciation of his performance.  

2) Rhadamanthine Smurf: Rhadamanthine might not be on this list were it not for the existential questions involved in his interactions. Rhadamanthine Smurf is the most accomplished and decorated Smurf in Smurf Village. The other Smurfs, those outside his family, revere him. The old adage ‘he doesn’t know his own strength’ applies to Rhadamanthine Smurf in reverse. Rhadamanthine knows he is the strongest Smurf, physically. In episode after episode, Rhadamanthine shows his strength, compares it, and lectures other Smurfs on it for the good of the Smurf community. Physical strength is his raison d’etre, his comparative analysis, and the tool he uses to keep the random at bay. Is Rhadamanthine Smurf’s sole focus on outer strength, a window into his lack of inner strength? It’s possible that Rhadamanthine has only known weakness, and he considers it a strength. He constantly compares the strength of other Smurfs to something he once knew, but is he comparing or is he lecturing on a subject of keen interest to him, and is such interest always born of a subject on which we have no knowledge? He speaks of muscular strength, of course, but muscular strength is easily identifiable and concrete, but is it as easily attainable as inner strength? In the Less Unparalleled episode, we witness the idea that Rhadamanthine has no stature in his home. His Smurflings, including the Invidious Smurfling, are obnoxious and unruly. Rhadamanthine Smurf has an enviable reputation among the Smurfs who know him superficially, but in the confines of his mushroom, he is the weakest Smurf.

1) Solipsist Smurf– For the third year running, Solipsist Smurf is our favorite Smurf. We identify with his facile ruminations, and his jocose use of mnemonic devices to advise and entertain his fellow Smurfs, but most of all we love Solipsist Smurf for the way he manages to leverage all that with a unique level of depth and range. In the The Hat Becomes a Leaf episode, Lugubrious Smurf approached Solipsist for advice on how to tell Muliebrous Smurf that he loved her. Sopolsist’s answer reveals the rewards of self-reflection as it lends itself to occasional solipsism. “Touch her,” he said, “for touch is the one essential sensation we all share. Until we touch, we only dream. Touch creates a tangible connection to the person and to the dream. Touch is you, it is I, and it is Smurf Village. Avoiding touch permits us to never lose and never gain.”  

Destructive Personalities & Prodigies


Bulls & Wives– Tom did not appear to be a destroyed man who has no hold on the outside world, but a man with intimate knowledge of someone who was. When he informed me that his dad lived a relatively long life that surprised me, because I thought Tom’s personal knowledge of self-destruction had to be so intimate that it came from a dad. I figured that his dad had no idea how the system worked, and that frustration led him to destroy anyone and everyone within reach, before he eventually destroyed himself. I was wrong, his dad lived a relatively long life. I didn’t reassess, however, because I knew how to read my tea leaves. I just had to wait to found out how I was right. When Tom later informed me that his mother died a long slow death, I almost yelled, “I knew it.”

“Cirrhosis of the liver,” he said. I didn’t say anything, but I felt vindicated. I figured that Tom’s frustrated dad destroyed the only woman he ever loved, because she was within reach, and she was his alternative resource.   

My first guess was that Tom’s dad physically abused the woman, but that often results in a divorce, a separation of some sort, or even a suicide of one of the two parties. I knew that wasn’t the case with Tom’s parents. I knew he witnessed a slow, methodical destruction of someone he loved, and he felt powerless in the face of it.

A man who physically abuses his wife is also a bad guy, and my guess was that Tom’s dad did everything he could to avoid that label. My guess was that Tom’s dad rejected her in the small, insignificant ways those in his profession and in his personal life rejected him, until it manifested in ways he couldn’t manage or control properly. A little nip here and there made Tom’s mom feel a little better for a couple minutes. When the dad’s insignificant rejections began to snowball, her little nips followed suit, until it was too late.   

My guess was Tom saw her destruction very close up, during those young, formative years that leave an imprint nothing can erase. My guess was that he spent his life trying to avenge her, but he never figured out how to do it, and he spent the rest of his life cheering on the bulls in a bullfight.

The Phenomenal Phenom- “The worst thing about being the President of the United States at such a young age (Theodore Roosevelt assumed office at 42 and left office at 50), is what do you do with the rest of your life? How does one top being President of the United States?” That is not a direct quote from former president Theodore Roosevelt, but it is the general sentiment. We could argue that Roosevelt spent his whole life chasing windmills. He spent the first forty years of his life chasing his dad’s legacy, or the legacy he imagined for his dad. He spent the latter ten years of his life chasing his own legacy or trying to improve upon it. What does a man who assumed the most powerful position in the world in what he assumed was the middle of his life (he died at 60) do to top that act?

We move to a much less significant, but interesting corollary. In 1994, an actor named Jim Carrey was on top of the world. He had a year so successful that no other actor in his profession would dare even dream, and it happened when he was all but 32-years of age. In 1994, three of the films he starred in (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber) went to number one in box office sales, in the same year. Some fans of comedic movies mark two of those films some of the best comedic films of the generation. Although we don’t consider The Mask in that elite pantheon, we recognize how original that film was. We also recognize that without the unique talents Carrey displayed in that movie, the film wouldn’t have worked at all. It’s been 26 years since Carrey’s breakout year, and we can assume he will live another 26 years, but what can he do to top 1994? We have to imagine that Carrey looks back on 1994 as a bittersweet memory, because it happened so early in his career, and he probably thinks he didn’t appreciate it as much as he should’ve.

No one will feel sorry for either of these two, but imagine achieving such relative peaks at such a relatively young age. Relatively few recognize such achievements for what they are in the moment. We can only assume that Roosevelt and Carrey assumed that this was a new way of life for them. They probably assured others that they knew it wouldn’t last, but beneath that rational veneer, they probably assumed that they were such unique talents that it might. They probably grew accustomed to living how the other half lives. They were probably welcomed into rooms with proverbial and actual trumpets. Some part of them probably got so used to it that they considered it silly, until it went away, and they missed it. How does one top being the biggest star in the world? How does one top being president of the United States? Teddy only lived for another ten years, and while he packed a lot into those ten years, including another presidential run, it sounds like it might’ve been tough for such an ambitious man to live to a thirty to forty more years thinking he plateaued too early. He probably also knew that he could never top what happened in what he thought would be the middle of his life.     

Pining for a Prodigy– “I think you might have another da Vinci on your hands,” someone says when they see our kid draw something that sort, somewhat resembles a squirrel. Our normal, rational side thanks them for the polite sentiment, and we attempt to dismiss it as nothing more than that, but we can’t control the twinkle in our eye. Kids mature at different rates, we think, who’s to say that our kid isn’t some sort of prodigy? We consider the possibility for about twelve seconds, because we want the world to know what we know, our kid is special. Our flirtation with this notion is brief, because we’ve tried to do something creative, and we know how hard it is. Even though we won’t rule out the notion that our kid could do something special, it’s so far off that it’s not worth considering at this time. There’s far too much for a prospective artist to learn to inform his immature brain before he ever reaches for the creative ignition switch. No matter how many ways we turn his drawing, it’s gibberish, and we can’t will it into something great. He’s just a normal, happy kid. 

I’ve been obsessed with the creative process most of my life. I love reading about what drove the da Vincis, the Joyces, and the Mozarts of history to create their artistic masterpieces. With Mozart as the lone exception, most artists don’t do anything of note in their early years of life. One could also say that all of the other stuff they learn in their early, formative years, informs an artist’s art better than any school devoted specifically to the arts could do.

A teacher here and there might have encouraged them to draw, write, or sing more in their free time, but most artistic output of kids in grades 1-6 can be accomplished on their own time. I encourage artistic creativity in my home, but I don’t want my kid spending an inordinate amount of time in school drawing sharks and Spongebob. He needs to learn the foundational tools to help him in life. Reading, writing, arithmetic, a level of science he can handle, and some history is all my kid needs right now.  

The obsession I’ve had with the start-to-finish creative process is now decades old, and I’ve yet to stumble upon an artist other than Mozart who cited anything that happened in their elementary years as a direct source for their great works. The bios of most artistic geniuses suggest that they succeeded in the arts in spite of what happened to them in school. Most of my favorite artists created their best pieces in a rebellious reaction to those who never believed in them. They had some something to prove to the people who didn’t believe in them. It drove them more than any amount of encouragement could. It’s almost grist for the artistic mill for most artists to embarrass those who considered what they do as silly. If their parents believe in them, and they entered them into a school devoted to the arts that might have deprived them of the righteous anger that drove them to be better than they were in the first place.

How many movies about prodigies depict parents who thought their young prodigy was wasting his time with paintbrushes, a piano, or a pen? How many of parents wanted their kids to do something more substantial with their lives? When the prodigy turned out to be something substantial in the arts, the parents looked like the bad guys, and no parent wants to be a bad guy. The parents also looked like fools in the end for not recognizing their prodigy’s prodigious talent, and no parent wants to look foolish. So, we recognize our child’s doodle as something more than it is, and we do everything we can to encourage them to pursue that talent.

“He could be the next Mozart,” they say when our kid fiddles around on a piano. “Did you know Mozart created his first symphony at five years old?” That would be great, we say with that twelve second twinkle in our eye, but I’m still going to focus my kid’s mind on becoming a math whiz, relative to his age. I would rather see him display an unusual aptitude for spelling and reading than I would re-engineer his life according to some exception to the rule that occurred almost three hundred years ago. 

“I just wanted my kid to have a well-rounded education,” parents say when I ask how they selected their kid’s school. “I liked the way [this school] sandwiched art and music between the reading and writing and arithmetic.” If they added that they just want their children to find some way to express themselves creatively, I would have no argument. I think if I learned how to express myself creatively when I was young, I might’ve been a healthier and happier kid, teenager, and young man. Maybe. When I found a creative outlet, I thought I needed it all along, but I was taught art and music appreciation at a very young age, and I didn’t appreciate it back then.  

“It’s important to encourage creativity,” they say, and I have no argument. If my kid develops a creative outlet, such that he believes in himself a little more than I did, I will applaud him. I’m an artist who devours and regurgitates artistic pieces, but I would never choose an elementary school that devotes itself to expanding my child’s mind artistically. That just seems so far-fetched that it’s not even worth considering.

Unrealistic and Unreasonable Expectations


“Try to avoid unrealistic and unreasonable expectations,” I say to my son when he becomes frustrated that he isn’t as great in sports as he thought he should be, and he throws the same fiery, embarrassing temper tantrums I once did.

“What makes you think you should be great?” I ask him. “How have you arrived at such unrealistic and unreasonable expectations? How much work have you put in? How much instruction have you received? Is it because you’re not great at hitting the ball? How long have you been playing this game? You have unreasonable expectations of yourself, and that will not serve you well in life, trust me.”

‘Why can’t I jack the ball out of the yard every time?’ he asks himself. ‘I’m already seven-years-old, I should be able to do this by now.’ Perhaps it has something to do with the idea that I have unreasonable and unrealistic expectations of him, and I’ve passed it along. I’ve tried hard not to be that parent, but as someone who had unrealistic and unreasonable expectations of myself, throughout my youth, maybe I passed that along. Whatever the case is, my son shows signs of wanting to be better, and I think one of the keys to accomplishing that is to teach him that his unrealistic and unreasonable expectations might impede that progress. 

Failure can be humiliating and embarrassing, but how we deal with it defines us. “Don’t get mad about your momentary mistakes. Learn from them,” I say. “What did you do wrong this time, and how can you correct it next time?” We ignore such instruction, because we believe we are already there. We disregard advice, because we’re already seven-years-old, and it’s probably too late to change our ways now. We consider tidbits annoying chunks of information from some know-it-all who claims to know better than we do. We also fail to process most of the small information that it takes to succeed, because “we already knew that”.    

Former Major Leaguer, and Hall of Fame, pitcher Randy Johnson once talked about the advice that former Major Leaguer and Hall of Fame, pitcher Nolan Ryan gave him. Ryan instructed Johnson to alter his finishing step one inch to the left. Johnson said that seemingly irrelevant piece of information changed his whole career. He says he wouldn’t have been half the pitcher he was without that advice. By the time, Ryan gave Johnson that advice, Johnson was already a major leaguer. He probably pitched, at various levels, for ten years at that point. He probably heard enough advice and tidbits to fill a copy of War and Peace from pitching coaches throughout his maturation as an athlete. One of them probably spotted the same flaw in Johnson’s mechanics that Ryan did, but Johnson ignored that piece of advice. Did Johnson ignore that advice for years, because he thought he was already a great pitcher, only to cede to one of the greatest pitchers of all time, or was Ryan the only one to spot it?

What’s the difference between a Hall of Fame pitcher and a pitcher who never pitched beyond high school? Most would say it’s all about natural, God-given ability. What’s the difference between an all-star pitcher and a Hall of Famer? Baseball is simple. You throw a ball, you catch a ball, and you hit a ball. Some naturally gifted athletes will be able to throw and hit the ball better than we can, but the seemingly insignificant minutia involved in the mechanics of the process might enhance that natural ability. How open are we to such instruction? Are we a blank slate, an eager student in life, or what they call a coachable player?  

Learning, in any venue, is a methodical, meticulous process that requires the mentality of a coachable player to succeed.  The best students enter into each new venture they pursue a blank slate, eager to learn. How many of us enter into a new venture, a curious sponge seeking to learn everything we can to be better? How many of us enter into the same situation believing that with our God-given abilities we’re already halfway there? Once they see us perform, really perform to the best of our abilities, they will see that we don’t need instruction, tidbits, or piece of advice. Those giving this advice might be shocked to see how great we are, we think. How many of us miss the tiny nuggets of information that could define a separation between those who are halfway there and us?

We say such things to the young kids around us, but how amenable are we to instruction, advice, and tidbits? If we could go back in time, via a time machine, and speak to a younger us, would we be as open to advice? Are we now? Did we think our natural abilities would eventually shine through, or did we, do we, have unrealistic and unreasonable expectations?

My brother had an awkward, inaccurate jump shot. My friend and I tried to coach him up with some of the tidbits we learned over the years. He said, and I quote, “It’s probably too late to learn anything new now.” He was sixteen-years-old at the time. I laughed at him then, but I lived by the same philosophy in basketball and many other things.

Most people find sports analogies tedious, but they’re illustrative. When I played recreational sports, I never received proper coaching, and I never had an attentive mentor, but I expected to be a quality player no matter what the sport was or how much coaching I received. Everyone I knew was self-taught, and we considered advice and tidbits of information insulting. When we found out we weren’t as great as we thought we were, we found it embarrassing, humiliating, and infuriating.

“Even the most successful fail more often than they succeed and they’re wrong more often than they’re right,” I will tell my son when he’s older. “Even with proper coaching, and a mindset conducive to coaching, most people won’t excel at sports, but if you can use everything playing sports teaches a person, you might be able to use it in other venues. Most people aren’t great at fixing things either. You might think I’m insulting you, but I’m trying to teach you how to approach matters with a mind that is open and conducive to learning.”

We say such things to our kids, because we wish someone would’ve said such things to us when we were kids, yet when we take our first crack at operating a power saw, we find it humiliating and embarrassing that we can’t do it properly.

Our inability to succeed might be that we want to succeed on our own. We don’t want to give other people credit. We receive a great deal of satisfaction constructing a toy without consulting the instructions. If we’re able to successfully build that toy on our own, without any of these tidbits or advice, we might enjoy it more. We want to surprise people with our natural ability. We want to be what others call a self-made man, a prodigy, and an artist who stuck by his guns, no matter what the experts said. We want to prove how smart we are, and how athletically, artistically, mechanically inclined we are. We don’t want to know “an easier way”, or that we can do something better if we adjust our approach ever-so slightly, and we hate it when someone tells us we’re doing it wrong. We hate it, because we think we should have everything all figured out by now. We want to be “special” and special people give instructions, they don’t receive instructions. Nobody told Mickey Mantle and Alex Rodriguez how to swing, nobody ever had to tell Steve Jobs how to run a company. There was no doubt something special about them, and all of the special people that litter history, but what separated them from equally talented and skilled people of their craft? Were they able to see beyond their unrealistic and unreasonable expectations to see that there was nothing special about them, until there was.   

How many times will we attempt to construct a toy without following the instructions, until we realize that there’s nothing special about us. We’re just not very good at fixing things. Our ability to admit that there’s nothing special about us is frustrating, embarrassing, humiliating, illuminating, and the mindset we should have in any such ventures. We see the latter in the unreasonable and unrealistic expectations our children have, and it proves to be something of an epiphany for us.  

I’ve grown so accustomed to failing the first time I try to construct a toy that it doesn’t bother me that much as it once did when I wasn’t able to without instructions. I now expect to be wrong five to six times more times, even with instructions, and when I exceed that number in the reconstruction process, it might involve some inflammatory curse words, but I no longer find it a humiliating condemnation of my ability. If someone spots my struggle, and they offer a suggestion, I am not as insulted as I used to be, because I’m starting to see that most people know more about fixing things than I do. My motto, throughout this process is, “If one way does not work, try another.” That might sound simple, but we complicate these trivial matters with our unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. “I should be able to fix something as simple as this by now,” we say to ourselves. Some of the times, these unrealistic and unreasonable expectations get in the way of us completing even trivial matters. If we could get out of our way, we might realize there is another way, and once we’re done we might wish that someone introduced us to how counterproductive our unrealistic and unreasonable expectations were years ago.  

Parents can talk about the philosophy and psychology of sports all day long, and we love doing it, but nothing penetrates better than doing it over and over again. This is what sports psychologists call kinesthetic learning. Throw the ball, catch the ball, and hit the ball. He hits the ball solid, he learns. He misses a perfect strike, he learns. He also learns that one of the keys to success in sports, as in life, is to have a short term memory. He learns the power of forgetting what he did last week, yesterday, and in the last at-bat. We can discuss the philosophy of rewarding our sons and daughters with words of encouragement, and we can debate whether the drill sergeant approach might be more effective, and kids are so different that we witness how these approaches can work differently for young individuals, but nothing is better than just plain doing it. We sign our son up for various leagues, and he gauges how he’s doing compared to his peers. He also wants to be better than them. He wants to be great, and I encourage that, but he gets so frustrated when he realizes he isn’t there yet. He’s just a kid, and when kids play sports, they not only want to be great, they expect it. When they aren’t, they don’t understand the difference between their unreasonable and unrealistic expectations and reality. It confuses them, and that confusion leads to frustration. What’s the difference between being a quality seven-year-old athlete and a poor one? Some of it’s natural ability, of course, but most of it involves just doing it over and over again, in practice, in the backyard, and in their dreams at night. Doing it, also allows them to put all of our psychological and philosophical tidbits and advice into play, and it’s there, somewhere in that complex mix, that they learn the various nuances and intricacies of the game.

The Biological Control of Flatulence


Farts are funny. It’s immature to laugh at them, but we can’t help it. We’ve all dealt it, and we’ve all smelt it. Its universal appeal stretches across demographic lines, income brackets, and various levels of sophistication and intelligence. We might laugh out loud, behind a hand, or wait until the alleged perpetrator has left the room, but sooner or later, most of us will be laughing. Depending on how bad it smells, flatulence might be the one bodily function that offends everyone and no one at the same time. It embarrassed us (most of us) when we do it, but most of us don’t mind laughing at ourselves most of the time. The jokes we tell about them play as well in the seediest bars as they do in the most refined churches. They’re funny, and we laugh, but are we laughing so hard that we forget to ask why we have at least some ability to control this biological quirk?

Those of us who have a layman’s interest in evolution find it fascinating to read scientific theories regarding the most basic bodily functions we all take for granted. The theories are based, in part, on evolution and natural selection, but they are just theories. Most of these discussions involve relatively trivial, yet fascinating theories regarding why we have the ability to blink, fingernails, earlobes, and goosebumps. We don’t analyze these actions, because what’s there to analyze? Have you ever met a person who couldn’t blink. A friend of mine had this problem, due to necessary surgeries, and she had to regularly drop saline into her eyeballs. I didn’t value my ability to blink before I met her, and I never appreciated the greater mechanization of the human body before I met those who have a deficit in the basic functionalities we all take for granted. 

Most of our functions were born of need. If animals didn’t have levels of functionality necessary for survival, they either developed them or went extinct. When the species found a way to survive, a level of natural selection occurred, in which the animals passed those adaptations along. How has the otherwise indefensible ball of mush, we call the octopus, managed to survive hundreds of millions of years? They adopted and adapted various intricate survival techniques that are almost inexplicable to science.

At one point in human history, early humans realized they were near the bottom of the food chain, and they tried to find ways to neutralize the other animals’ dominance. In the course of developing weapons and other techniques necessary for survival, they developed the most complex organ in the animal kingdom, the human brain. Fossil records indicate that the human brain grew in size, relative to the body from early primates to the current Homo sapiens. The need to survive, in other words, dictated our brain’s current size and complex level of functionality. The owl needs acute vision to see small prey from their perch high up in trees, and they need to be able to fly down to catch them. Due to the complexities of the human brain, we didn’t need either of these abilities to survive, so we never developed them.

We don’t need goosebumps, but according to some theories, humans may have needed them at one time to ward off prey. When man was more hairy, the goosebumps made the air stand up and appear more abundant, so they would appear larger to the prey. The other, more widely accepted theory is that our hairier ancestors strengthened their hair fibers to stay warm, and the scientists suggest that raised hairs trap air to create insulation in a manner we still use. Thus, when we’re creeped out or cold, our brain still sends a message to the body to raise the hair fibers or strengthen them to make what we have more abundant, or appear more abundant. The point is that there’s nothing really interesting about basic, common bodily functions, until we delve into the idea theories regarding why we have them. 

If we have scientific explanations for why we might have needed something as trivial as goosebumps, why no explanation for the control we have of gaseous releases? Ashley Cowie wrote an interesting, historical guide to famous flatulence in history that includes stories of fart gods and various other spiritual connections to the breath between the legs, and the idea that if a person pushed hard enough they could “fart out their soul”. Other articles list some scientific theories we have to explain the biological need to release gas from the system. There are scientific explanations to explain why some flatulence smells and others don’t. There are even scientific explanations to explain why some farts are louder than others are, but there are no scientific theories I can find to explain why we can control (for the most part) the force and volume.

All animals have this ability of course, but humans are the only ones who voluntarily deploy it on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. Watch a young wild animal let one go, and the force and volume is apt to startle them. Older animals, like older humans, are unmoved by them. Some humans say they do it to gain relief, others suggest they require it for medicinal purposes, but most of us just do it for fun. Was there ever a reason for this ability, a source for it that would define its need in such a way that we enhanced it?

The science behind it suggests that the volume of flatulence depends on how much gas we have bottled up and/or how tight the sphincter is. The digestive system needs to remove/release gas, and if it served that biological need alone, the rectum would be similar to a building’s exhaust flapper. Instead, we have muscles that we can voluntarily (for the most part) expand and contract to release anything we want, at any volume, to disrupt or enhance, social gatherings, and no one has come up with a sufficient explanation why.

Some have theorized that louder flatulence might be equivalent to some sort of biological alarm to warn us when there is too much CO2 in our system. The louder the flatulence, the more CO2 buildup we have, and the greater need for one to switch to a healthier diet. If true, that might explain why some flatulence is louder, but it doesn’t explain how we arrived at this ability and if natural selection played any role in it. We don’t need the control now, but we don’t need goosebumps either, so why do we have these abilities? Is it possible that at one time, a time when modes of communication weren’t what they are now, prehistoric man manipulated their flatulence to communicate coded levels of alarm to their fellow man? If a wolf was near, they let loose some silent killers to inform those in their clan, by scent, that a wolf was near, stay still, or prepare the weaponry for the hunt. If a sabretooth tiger was near, they let her rip. Is it possible they communicated with flatulence in a manner similar, but different from the Native Americans’ smoke signals, and that which the military would later use with the Morse Code in WWII, and the predators couldn’t figure out our secret signals to one another in time.

Seeking answers for why we have this ability might also help explain our individual view of God. Most Christians believe God created everything from life to the universe and everything in between to support the harmonious relationship between the heavenly bodies. If God created everything from the Sun to Jupiter to the flagellum and the atom to serve a purpose, what was the purpose behind giving us the ability to control the force of our flatulence? Both literal and contextual readers also agree that God gave us autonomy, but they disagree on how much. Literal and contextual readers of The Bible both agree that God is of unlimited omniscience, so the only conclusion we can arrive at is that He knew how we would use this ability. Some might consider it heretical to suggest this, but did God design the intricate anatomy down to the smallest, most insignificant elements of the anatomy, or did He allow for some autonomy on the part of the being in the same manner he provided autonomy of belief? Was the control of the force and volume of our flatulence a gift that He gave us, knowing how we’d use it, and an indicator that He has such a wonderful sense of humor? Did He decide to give us some wholesome fun with our body or, was the ability to control our flatulence a biological quirk we discovered on our own in the process of forcing waste out?  

Atheists, who also happen to be scientists, suggest that too often religious people explain any gaps in modern scientific understanding with the idea that there had to be a miracle involved, and that miracle had to arrive at the hands of a creator. Religious people suggest that scientists do the same and that if God inspired the writers of The Bible to explain everything from creation to goosebumps to this control of our flatulence we might not be having these debates. We probably shouldn’t question the content, or the purpose, of the best-selling book of all time, and it might have damaged The Bible’s legacy as a serious philosophical document to waste time on such trivial matters, but it would’ve also provided us some much-needed information and some levity if God inspired The Bible’s authors to include some incidents, and discussions about, flatulence in the various stories and parables of the book. Whatever the case is, some of us prefer to think that God gave us The Bible as a philosophical road map to figure out the larger things and a progressive intellect to figure out the rest.

The Complex Art of Lying


Most seven-year-olds are barely capable of lying, and their “tells” are often so obvious when they do that they’re hilarious. They need to learn how to do it better, and that knowledge only comes with experience. A Scientific American piece by Theodor Schaarchmidt suggests that lying is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind, and the complexities involved often require peak capacity of the mind. Those with some frontal cortex injuries are incapable of lying, due to their injuries. The young aren’t yet capable of lying with great proficiency, and “Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability.” When elderly people display the fact that they’ve lost some of the complex functions required to lie, we make the mistake of believing they voluntarily disregard the filter we all maintain for polite conversations. “They’ve been on this earth 85 years, and they don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” we say. “They’re done with trying to spare our feelings.” We think it’s funny and intriguing to see this live, but studies cited by Schaarchmidt suggest that there is a U-shaped curve to truth telling, or an ‘n’ shaped curve to lying, and it’s all based on the complex functions of the brain that operate in some of the same peaks and valleys of our physical abilities.

The Scientific American piece also cites an illustrative story involving a man Schaarchmidt names Mr. Pinocchio. Mr. Pinocchio was a 51-year-old who “was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth [lying]. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous it was bad for his career.” The article states that doctors found that a walnut-sized tumor caused seizures whenever he told a lie. “Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties [his lying]. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome”.”

Some lie to advance an agenda, some tell white lies to be nice, and some BS to make others think they’re more successful, more adventurous, and happier. If we catch them in the lie, we’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Everybody does it,” or “if you say you don’t do it, you’re lying.” Those lines are effective, because there is some truth to them. We all tell harmless white lies occasionally. We fabricate, and involve some creativity in our truth telling. Yet, we all know the difference between stretching the truth and lying, and we fear that greater acceptance of small, white lies can affect our relationships with these people, our society, or our culture. The latter might seem like exaggerated hyperbole, but we fear that the society and culture cannot operate properly without some demand for some level of consistent honesty from our fellow man. We can’t help but think that such lines also give liars license to continue to lie without guilt.

***

“A lie is not a lie if you believe it,” the writers from Seinfeld wrote for George Costanza. The implication in this line is that the art of deception requires some effort on the part of the liar to convince himself of a falsehood if he wants to convince another party effectively. Schaarchmidt’s piece suggests that if the liar is between 18 and 29, they might not have to put forth as much effort, as the lie will flow more fluently, if there is no damage to the area of the brain required for the convincing lie.

Who’s lying, and why are they lying? How about we take the Costanza lie one step further and suggest that the liar believes what he’s saying with every fiber of their being. Is it still a lie? The separation of the two is, of course, that the liar doesn’t have to convince himself of the lie. He believes it. Even if it was technically a lie and we can prove its lack of merit beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be difficult to prosecute or persecute them in just about every court in the land, including the court of public opinion.

Perhaps, the liar is guilty of the “blind spot” lie. Blind spot lies are often momentary blotches on the liar’s otherwise stellar record of honesty. Yet, they loathe their adversaries so much that their competitive spirit gets the best of them. They cannot see the hole until they fall into it, and some of them cannot see even see it then, but their followers wonder if he hates them so much that he can no longer see the truth with regard to their opponent. If he can see it for what it is, the blind spot lie often permits its purveyor to lie without compunction if it serves his goal to do so.  

Regardless, he can no longer view simple disagreements with his opponents on how to resolve pressing matters in a nonpartisan manner. He can no longer see an honest disagreement as a simple case of differing values. We don’t know if he has a personal grudge or a professional one, but it’s obvious to everyone but him that his is an emotional pursuit as opposed to a rational one. He is convinced that nefarious influences affect his opponent’s agenda. He views his opponents’ motives as impure. He views his opponents as uninformed, incompetent, selfish, and divisive. He does not view any of his opponents’ mistakes as genuine, of if he does, he capitalizes on them and characterizes them as intentional. He does not think that his opponents are prone to human failure, or if they are, he seeks to characterize them as some sort of institutional failing on their part. In his quest to seek motive, he incidentally accuses them of matters for which he has the most guilt. If he accuses his opponent of thievery, in other words, chances are he knows the thief’s mentality™ better than most. Whatever form of deception lines his accusation, pay careful attention to the particulars of his charge for it might say more about him than it does his opponent. We call this psychological projection.

This blind spot is most disheartening to the liar’s believers, for they believe in him and feel disillusioned by his actions. When they see him dismiss his opponents on a personal level with unfounded charges and names, as opposed to defeating their argument on a granular level, his followers are disappointed. We might enjoy the name-calling, and we might even believe it, but on some other level, we thought “our guy” was above such street games. We thought he was an intellectual that no other intellectual would dare battle until he decided to use his power to shut his opponents down to shut them up. He then called upon others to help him shut down dissenting voices, and it shocked those of us who thought he was a fellow dissenting voice. We didn’t think he would stoop to the other guys’ tactics of corruption, lies, and the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to bring his foes down, but we find some of his actions troublesome. Some blind spot liars knowingly engage in wanton deception, but others have such an emotional blind spot of hatred that they can’t see it for what it is. Most of the times, it is difficult to see the difference, as we can’t know what’s in a man’s heart.

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The late 1800’s housed an historic rivalry between two West Virginia families. The Hatfields vs McCoy rivalry went beyond a simple disagreement between families. It involved pure hatred that led to murder in some cases. Many consider it one of the greatest family rivalries in history, pitting two families who genuinely hated each other with every fiber of their being. It was not blind hatred, as both families could provide a laundry list of incidents that stoked their ire. As with all animosity and grudges, if the families wanted to find a less violent solution to their dispute they could have at some point on the timeline.  

The Hatfields believed the McCoys were so awful that they accused them of dastardly deeds and vice versa. Some of the times, the charges they made were lies, and some of the times, they committed an equally egregious offense sometime in the past. Yet, the Hatfields viewed the McCoys as evil personified, and they thought everything the McCoys did should offend the sensibilities of every good person who learns of any incidents involving a McCoy, and vice versa. Even if we caught them in a lie, I’m sure they considered it justified on many different levels.

Some famous writers suggest that it’s preposterous to suggest that the most fair-minded among us are objective, as we don’t have the capacity for it. Our opinions, regarding the other side, are so emotional that they colorize how we view their actions. Our emotions, on the matter, blind us to facts, thus the term blind spot. The term blind spot and blind hatred are different, of course, but they intertwine when the latter provokes the former to view the other side as villains who are incapable of truth. We write pieces like this with a certain person in mind, but we run the risk of having a reader read this piece with one of “our guys” in mind.   

We choose sides. Those who follow sports, religion, politics, and the history of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys choose their guys vs. the other guys. Our side is right, and the other side contains villainous liars and corrupt cheats who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. They don’t care about us. We can guess that disinterested parties chose sides during the Hatfields vs. McCoys and proceeded to follow the newspaper stories from their side. They probably developed loyalties that led to their own blind spots on the matter. Even though most of them never met a Hatfield or a McCoy, or ever saw one speak, we can guess that their interest in the story spawned some loyalties on the matter that let them to believe “their guys” were incapable of having blind spots, lying, or any form of corruption bent on destroying the other side. We still have matters that divide us in seemingly trivial ways, as observers around the nation were intrigued, and divided, by this episode in history. We might never know the truth of the matter and in some ways, we don’t care. These episodes rarely affect us directly, so no one really suffers, until it dawns on us that everyone does when it becomes apparent that by picking sides we forego the quest for truth.