Presumptuous Qualifiers


“If we want to understand the totality of this philosopher’s character, we must know their flaws too,” they say, “because character matters”.

“Why are we questioning her personal character here? We’re talking about her philosophy.“

“She wasn’t kind to her husband. She stepped out on him, and she didn’t treat her children well. Also, she doesn’t agree with you on [some unrelated position].” 

If we planned on dating or marrying this philosopher, an expose on her character might matter a great deal to us. If the only thing this philosopher planned on doing was giving us her personal road map for life, and we could use her message, to be a better spouse, parent, friend, and person, why does anything else matter? If a couple of bullet points from her personal life sway you to question her philosophy, then you’re probably do it wrong.   

Those who tells us about her personal flaws wants us to dismiss her philosophy. She wrote some brilliant philosophical nuggets that either broke the complex down to simple, understandable nuggets, or she provided some insight into the human condition that was so brilliant we cannot shake it. What if she wrote something that changed how we view a substantial matter in our life? How often has someone, philosopher or otherwise, achieved that? If we considered those nuggets brilliant, and we could use them to make our life a little better, shouldn’t that be the end of the conversation?

“What if she disagreed with you on [some unrelated position]?” Detractors think that if they can trip us up on some unrelated position, we might dismiss the entire cannon of her philosophical beliefs. Wrongo Bongo! We do not have a litmus test on philosophers. We are only concerned with the information we think we can use. 

Unless detractors are able to disprove her theories, I don’t care to read anything they have to write about her. The detractors can even provide substantial proof that she was a hypocrite in that she didn’t personally follow any of her beliefs, and it won’t matter to me. I’m only concerned with how I can apply her principles to my life. If she decided to violate those principles, that’s on her.

Some detractors don’t even bother trying to refute the message of a philosopher anymore. They just go straight to character assassination. It means nothing to me anymore. Prove or disprove the message, I say, and do it so well that you can convince me that you have a quality rebuttal. Her philosophical nuggets may have proved so influential in my life that her detractors might not sway me, but I will at least appreciate the elements of their approach.

This assassinate the messenger to kill the message argument is tantamount to celebrity worship. I think detractors believe we idolize the messenger in the manner they worship people. They write scathing pieces about her personal life. They explain how that information serves to undermine everything she taught. They seek to expose some personal flaws about her to taint her message. Some of us don’t care. We only seek the message. 

They also seek to insert a qualifier into everyone’s brain whenever someone discusses the brilliance of her philosophy. “She was brilliant, sure, but wasn’t she a (fill in the blank).” Who gives flying fig leaf?

The progression of the qualifier has reached a point where we place so much emphasis on the faults of the messenger that their message gets lost. If I fell prey to such matters, I would consider that so confusing. “You mean I have to do research on everyone who ever lived, and if they have one flaw I should dismiss them?” I say. “What if they could provide me some valuable insight into matters that otherwise trouble me? What if amid everything they wrote, they provided a nugget that directly applied to that troubling situation? Should I dismiss that nugget of information based on the fact that they were unkind to their children?”    

Those who control the manner in which we interpret a message often find that the best way to torpedo a message is by taking the messenger out to the public woodshed. They obviously think most listeners/readers idolize the messenger so much that if they kill the messenger, the message dies. We obviously enjoy the messenger’s presentation more than others do or we wouldn’t be reading her books, but we never idolized her so much that if you point out a relatively insignificant flaw, we’re going to trash all of her philosophical tenets. “If you thought I was that superficial, then you read me wrong.”

We might find her message informative, entertaining, or some combination of both, but the moment after she dies, the next messenger takes the baton. Dear detractors: It’s not about the messenger it’s the message.

If John Doe develops a brilliant technique on the general, agrarian practices of South Dakota, some detractors might attempt to have his technique dismissed by discussing what he wrote about the Peloponnesian Wars. Thus, if John Doe wants people to take his unique and possibly helpful ideas on agrarian practices seriously, he is now required, personally and professionally, to inform his readers of his views on the Peloponnesian Wars. Why?

Why does anyone care that John Doe has been married four times, and that he wasn’t very nice to his kids? “Because character matters.” It does matter, in general, but it doesn’t make his ideas on South Dakota agriculture any less brilliant? Those who disagree with John Doe’s ideas, expose his philandering activities in the hope that no one will follow them. If we say that we’re going to follow Doe’s ideas, and someone says, “Are you sure you want to do that? You know he cheated on his wife don’t you?” Yes, I know all that, but I don’t plan on dating him, marrying him, or having any personal relationships with him. I just think he has great ideas, and I prefer to listen to anyone who has great ideas. “They work,” I say. “Try them.”  

If we haven’t had military service, we cannot comment on anything involving the military without thoroughly informing the public of that qualifier. If we haven’t reared a child, we cannot have a philosophy on raising kids. We must cede the point that if someone poses an idea on agrarian practices in South Dakota without stepping foot in the state that person might not know enough to comment, but we shouldn’t dismiss them outright. If their outside-the-box ideas work that’s the end of the conversation. We might need some qualifiers to make informed decisions, but too many people dismiss otherwise great ideas based on a messenger’s personal resume.

If we know nothing about the qualifiers, we cower. “I didn’t know that,” we say. Okay, now that you do, what are you going to do about it? If you feel the need to incorporate the relatively insignificant information, do it, then take it out and put it back into the philosophy. Does the philosophical nugget, that helped change or fortify your beliefs, still work for you, personally? Did it enrich your life all the way up to the point that you found out that your favorite philosopher was a (fill in the blank)? If so, continue to use that nugget for all that it’s worth. If you idolized her prior to learning that bit of information, and that information led you to question the philosophical nugget that helped you in some way, then you were doing it wrong. Your superficial idolatry put you in a vulnerable position that allowed them to refute and undermine the philosophy with a couple of superficial brush strokes. So, you see that the emperor has no clothes on now, was she that enjoyable to look at with her clothes on? Drop the superficial idolatry. It doesn’t fit you anymore. You’re too old now, and your experiences in life have taught you way to much to fall for such idiocy. Seek substance.   

Yesterday I learned … II


1) Yesterday, I learned that some love to hug, and they hug so long that it starts to feel weird. We can feel the message they want to convey. We know that they want to tell us that they’re fond of us, that they miss us, and that they want to strengthen the bond we once had, but in the midst of trying to create that moment, some overdo it. ‘Why are we still doing this?’ we ask ourselves while in the embrace. ‘Is this becoming more meaningful to them, or did they lose themselves in the moment? Would it be impolite if I started patting their shoulder here to signify that this is over for me? Why are we still hugging? They didn’t fall asleep did they?’

Today, I learned that a hug is not just a hug. For a greater portion of my life, the hug was largely indigenous to the female gender. We knew males who hugged. We called them “huggers”, as in, “Watch out for that one, he’s a hugger.” At some point, a shift started to happen. Suddenly, men were hugging each other to say hello, to celebrate their favorite team’s touchdown, and to say goodbye. No one knows when this shift started, but I blame the NBA. We teenagers could distance ourselves and mock the huggers we knew, but NBA stars were the essence of cool in the late 80’s-early 90’s. When they hugged, it took an arrow out of our quiver. For these NBA players, a hug was nothing more than a physical form of saying hello. It was a step above a wave or a handshake, but to us, it was a deep and meaningful physical embrace. We didn’t have anything deep and meaningful to convey to our friends. Others did, and they appreciated the NBA influence. They took these “hello” hugs to another level.

“We’re cousins,” huggers would say. “Cousins don’t shake hands. Cousins hug. Get in here bro.” Some of them even embraced us when it hadn’t been that long since our last hug. Their hugs were so deep and meaningful that they thwarted our attempts to break free. Their hugs bordered on combative. “I think the world of you bra.” We non-emotional, non-huggers learned to adapt to the need others have to hug, but we never fully embraced it, and they could feel it. They adapted to our adaptation. “All right, I won’t hug ya’,” they would say, and they stopped, and we sighed in relief, until we were the only ones they didn’t hug. We never wanted back in, but we recognized the strange way abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

2) Yesterday I learned that “a little after three” can mean 3:23. In what world is 3:23 a little after three? When I hear a little after three, I think 3:01-3:10. Anything after that should be a little more vague, such as “after three”. The next time block, the 3:23 time block, should list at “around three-thirty”. Today, I learned that we become more aware of time constraints and the relative definition of time blocks when a six-year-old is tugging at our sleeve.    

3) Yesterday, I learned that pop culture defines deviancy upward by defining any actions a criminal uses to evade law enforcement as those of a criminal mastermind. True crime authors characterize actions such as wiping fingerprints off door handles as brilliant. When compared to most impulsive, criminal acts, perhaps it’s worth noting when a criminal puts some thought into their criminal activity, but I’m not sure if I would call them brilliant criminal masterminds. If we take a step back from our desire to view them as brilliant, we might see that their methods are relatively mundane, based on information available to anyone with a TV and access to the internet. Today, I learned that criminals don’t want to get caught. They want to be free, and they want to be free to continue to hurt, maim, and kill as many people as they can. The Unabomber, for example, enjoyed the characterization of a secluded genius with a cause, but court documents of his trial reveal that he was “often unconcerned” with his targets. They reveal that he was meticulous about the construction of his bombs, and he went to great lengths to avoid capture, but he didn’t really care who the victim was as long as he maimed or killed someone. He basically wanted to shower in whatever rained down upon him in his elaborate fireworks show.    

4) Yesterday, I learned that criminal masterminds need a cause to justify their actions. They might not be able to justify their actions to anyone but themselves, but they do seek the satisfaction a cause provides. No self-respecting criminal mastermind would say that they did it, because they enjoy hurting, maiming, and killing people. That would diminish their value, their self-esteem, and their historic value. Today I learned that criminal psychologists say that we learn more from their initial crimes than those that follow, because impulses drive those initial crimes. If this is true, we find that most criminal masterminds are petty people who resolve internal and external, disputes in a violent manner. They also have a bloodlust, and as this bloodlust escalates the need for a cause escalates, until they slap a sticker on their actions to satisfy those questions we have about why they did it. It strikes me that everything these criminal masterminds say is window dressing to conceal their simple, primal bloodlust. They want to put a cause on it, because we want the cause. It wouldn’t be very satisfying, or entertaining, if a mass murderer, or serial killer said, “I just had some basic psychological, primal need to hear people scream.” No matter how many causes we assign to people hurting people, the simple truth is that some of us enjoy hurting people, and the rest of us enjoy reading and watching everything we can about it.

5) Yesterday, I learned that bad boys fascinate all of us. The only reason it’s noteworthy that bad boys fascinate women is that it goes against stereotype. Some of us want to know more about them than otherwise peaceful, normal individuals who accomplish great things. On a corresponding scale, too many of us want to know about the minutiae of the Unabomber’s actions, the motivations, and the aftermath of his terror, and too few of us, by comparison, are as fascinated by the actions and motivations behind Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic output. We label them both brilliant in their own, decidedly different ways, but the Unabomber fascinates us more. Today, I learned that I’m no different. Most of the people who fascinated me in my youth had violent tendencies. Some of my friends in high school, and some of my parents’ friends had violent tendencies on a much lower scale of course, but they fascinated me. I found their ways hilarious and engaging. Is this human nature, or do some elements of our culture encourage this mindset? Most of our favorite critically acclaimed movies have something to do with some low life committing violent acts. When someone found out that I listed the simple, feel good movie Forrest Gump among my favorite movies, they asked, “Why?” with a look of disdain. When I told her that I thought it was a great story, that didn’t help my cause. When I told her all of the others I had one my list that mollified her, but she still couldn’t understand why I would list a feel good movie like Gump among them. Today, I learned that the fascination with violence is universal and cool. 

6) Yesterday, I learned that I’m no longer interested in writing about politics. Today, I realized that I am far more interested in the psychology behind why every day citizens decide to become so political that they’re willing to create a divide between those who think like them and those who don’t.

7) Yesterday, I learned that psychologists state that we have a “God spot” in our brain. Today, I realized that this spot is inherently sensitive to the belief in something, if the rational brain accepts the rationale for doing so. This view suggests that the brain needs belief in a manner similar to the stomach needing food. We seek explanations and answers to that which surround us. Some of us find our answers in God and religion and others believe answers lie in a more secular philosophy, and the politicians who align themselves with our philosophy. They seek a passionate pursuit of all things political, until it becomes their passion, because they need something to believe in.   

8) Yesterday, I learned that there were as many differing opinions about Calvin Coolidge, in his day, as there are our current presidents. Today, I realized that no one cares about the opinions opinion makers had 100 years ago, and few will care about what our current opinion makers write 100 years from now. Some of those writers passionately disagreed with some of Coolidge’s successes, and history exposed some of their ideas as foolish. The historical perspective also makes those who passionately agreed with Coolidge seem boring and redundant. Once a truth emerges, in other words, it doesn’t matter what an opinion maker thought of the legislation at the time. Most opinion writers are less concerned with whether legislation proves effective or not, and more concerned with whether their philosophical views win out. In one hundred years, few will remember if our political, philosophical, or cultural views were correct or not, and even fewer will care. Yet, some of us believe in politics, because politics gives us something to believe in.

9) Yesterday, I learned that Tim Cook is an incredible, conventional CEO of Apple. Former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was the company’s incredible, unconventional leader, and he helped build the company from scratch. Steve Jobs was a brilliant orator, a showman, a marketer, and a great motivator of talent. If we went to an It’s a Wonderful Life timeline, in which Steve Jobs never existed, Apple wouldn’t exist. I had a 200-word list of superlatives describing Steve Jobs, but I decided to delete it, because it didn’t add any new information we know about the man and what he did. I decided to leave it at those two sentences. Better, superlative descriptions of the man, and what he did, are all over the internet. Walter Isaacson’s book might be the best of them. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created and oversaw a team of talent that created the most innovative company of our most innovative era of America, but Tim Cook has proven to be an incredible steward of that technology. If we flipped the timeline around, and Tim Cook was the first CEO, Apple wouldn’t be the innovator it is today, but I wonder if the less conventional and more mercurial measures Jobs employed would translate to the same consistent levels of growth of Apple we see today under Cook.    

10) Yesterday, I learned that Apple’s stock was ready to fall. Anyone who reads independent analyses from stock market analysts thinks that not only is the smartphone market capped out, but Apple’s position atop this industry is also nearing an end. Reading through some of the analysis of Apple’s projections for their various quarterly reports through the years, we arrive at some common themes. “There’s no way the iPhone (insert number here) can deliver on the projected sales figures Apple is promising,” they write. “Everyone who wants an iPhone already owns one, and numbers show they’re not going to upgrade. Those who don’t want an iPhone are loyal to another brand. The market is saturated, and Apple’s reign is about to end.” Today, I learned these analysts began making such predictions years after Apple began controlling the market between 2008 and 2012. Some of the times they were right, in the sense that Apple missed some quarterly projections, but most of the time they were wrong. Some think that there might be an anti-Apple bias, and there might be, but I think it’s human nature to cheer on the little guy and despise the big guy. I also think analysts/writers want us to read their articles, and the best way they’ve found to do so is to feed into our love of doom and gloom. These stories have a natural appeal to anyone who owns Apple products, Apple shareholders, and everyone else in between, because we love the prospect of the leaning tower. Apple will fall too, for what goes up must come down, particularly in the stock market, but the question of when should apply here. After it falls, one of the doomsayers will say, “I’ve been predicting this would happen for years.”

“Fair enough, but how many times did you make this prediction? How many times were you wrong? How many times did a reader act on your assessment and miss some gains? Nobody asks the doomsayer analysts these questions, because most of us don’t call doomsayers out when they’re wrong. The answer to this question was that on 2/3/2010, Apple stock closed at 28.60 a share, adjusted for dividends and stock splits, per Yahoo Finance. If one of the doomsayer analyst’s customers purchased 35 shares for a total investment of $1,001.00 that investment would be worth $11,170.60 on 2/4/2020. Anyone who invests in the stock market relies on expert analysis to know when to buy and when to sell. We consider the positive assessments and the negative, and some of the times, it takes an iron stomach to read the negative and ignore it. These negative stock analysts had all the information the others had, and yet they consistently predicted Apple would fall, because they knew a negative headline would generate a lot more hits than a positive one.

In our scenario, Apple experiences a significant fall in stock price, and the analyst finally proved prophetic. How many times were they wrong in the interim? It doesn’t matter, because a doomsayer need only be right once, for they can then become the subject of email blasts that state, “The man who correctly predicted Apple’s downfall, now predicts the fall of another behemoth.” The penalties for incorrectly predicting doom and gloom are far less severe than incorrectly predicting good times ahead. The former doesn’t cost you anything except potential gains, which most people inherently blame on themselves, regardless what anyone says. There’s the key, the nut of it all, an analyst can predict doom and gloom all day long, and no one will blame them for trying to warn us, but a positive analysis that is incorrect could cost us money.

The prospect of investing our hard-earned money in something as mercurial as the stock market is frightening. We’ve all heard tales of the various crashes that occur, and we know it will occur again. Most of us need Sherpas to guide us through this dangerous, dark, and wild terrain, and most of them are quite knowledgeable and capable. There are a few who will tell you that it’s so dangerous that you should get out now, and some might even tell us that it’s so dangerous that we shouldn’t even consider making the journey. Those with an iron stomach will tell us that we can get rich working for money, but we can get filthy, stinking rich when our money is working for us.  

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy II


[Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part review of the subject matter discussed in The Dude and The Zen Master. Part one can be found here.]

All wars, all conflict, can be resolved, and redefined, through interconnectedness—

“You might think it would be wonderful if we could go in and extract all the evil people out of this world, like we extract cancer out of a body,”  Jeff Bridges says in the collection of philosophical anecdotes The Dude and the Zen Master he made with Zen master Bernie Glassman. “But as Solzhenitsyn says, evil runs through all our hearts, and who wants to cut a piece of her own heart? We are part of nature and nature uses violence and war to make its blade sharper and sharper.”

The-Dude-and-The-Zen-Master-Gear-Patrol-FullBridges expands upon this theme by describing cells and magnification, and how the magnification of a cell reveals that every cell involves two parties fighting for survival, and that those parties are both essential components of the same cell. “They are,” in his words, “an interconnected whole fighting for the same thing.” Bridges states that there is order within the perceived disorder of that cell, and if we were able to disrupt that order to such a degree that we were able to kill all of the germs, viruses, and bacteria in our body, we would cease to live. Germs have a right to live too, he concludes, –which when taken to Bridges’ extended analogy between the internal skirmishes that occur within a cell and the wars of human history– reminds one of Rosie O’Donnell’s line: “Terrorists have children too.”

Bridges then speaks about how the fight that occurs within a cell is equivalent to the fights between good and evil that have occurred throughout human history. Within a cell there is the constant division process that occurs in which the organisms fight, and who is right and who is wrong is less important than the fight for survival. When you alter the magnification even more, he says, you could equate that cell to the Earth, in which humans are fighting in the same manner, and each parties believes he is right, and when you alter the magnification even more, you have Space, where the simplistic differences between right and wrong are negligible in the grand scheme of things.

Taking such a philosophical overview of humanity is a wonderful notion, and if everyone agreed to debate the topic in that forum, planet earth would be a wonderful place to live in. Humans have to live on the sphere we call Earth, as opposed to the theoretical one that is a speck in the universe, and doing so requires that we accept the realities of the place where we live in, and it also requires us to do everything possible to maintain livable conditions.

Bridges states that setting that forum to make planet earth a more wonderful place to live in should be the whole idea. He says that we don’t have to accept the realities of the place we live in, and that we can alter it. “Anyone that questions this,” says Bridges, “should look at how President John F. Kennedy set the course for landing a man on the moon.  He said that at one point in our nation’s history, sending the man to the moon seemed a far-fetched idea, until the president changed the conversation by informing the nation that it would be done. After he did this, the conversation centered around how it was going to be done, not if it was going to happen. ”

Bridges general approach to war, conflict, and his specific approach to the attacks on 9/11/01, is that we should try doing nothing to see how that works. On the subject of 9/11/01, Bridges states that he was all for doing something to those responsible for that act, but that he didn’t agree that that something should involve such a global war on terror. He says that we should’ve spent more time examining our role in 9/11/01, and that we should’ve apologized for our role in making them angry. As anyone that has read the history of terrorism vs. America knows, we did try the tactic of holding those responsible in criminal courts, after the first World Trade Center attack, and al Qaeda saw that as a sign of weakness. They called us a “paper tiger” and decided to explore the idea of doing something more. We have tried apology tours to quell the animosity the world is purported have for America, and humanity has also tried appeasing the evil intentions of those that plan to do us harm. These procedures have not worked. We should, of course, continue to try every method at our disposal for maintaining peace on our planet, and just because one measure did not work, with one lunatic, doesn’t mean that it won’t with another, but there is a point where Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes into play, and Bridges fails to incorporate that definition into his line of reason.

A philosophical inconsistency later arises when Bridges begins speaking on the subject of slavery. He states that when we were forming our Constitution, it was a difficult chore for our Founders to find unity on the many subjects before them, but the issue of slavery proved to be so divisive that it threatened to end the proceedings, so they decided to shelve it for a later date. They decided that all of the other aspects of our founding were so important that they couldn’t be derailed.  This, of course, came back to bite the nation in the butt, and Bridges believes that if the Founders had tackled this issue at the time, there may not have been the sense of disenfranchisement among blacks that lives on to this day. By the same token, it could be said that if we initiated a more global war on terror after the first World Trade Center attack, the incident that occurred on 9/11/01, may never have happened. The fact that we followed what Bridges still believes is the desired course of action, after the first World Trade Center attack came back to bite us in the butt.  

If peace could be attained in a manner where all the good guys had to do was view the human characteristics of their opponent as nothing more than an organism that wants to survive, and that that opponent would then appreciate that acknowledgement so much that they sat down at a peace accords table to engage in a serious and genuine discussion of their grievances, the Earth would be a more wonderful place to live on. Everyone wants to live in that world. Viewing this world through that lens, however, neglects the irrational component of evil people. Why would anyone want to set out hurt another person? They do. It’s irrational, but they do. Yet, it appears that ridding the world of evil, in this manner, would be like cutting out a piece of our heart out.

The danger of viewing evil people through such a simplistic lens occurs when we believe those humans, that happen to be evil, are evil. The thoughtful approach suggests that we view these people as people too when they enter into a Munich Agreement. It’s simplistic to view the individual that just wants Poland and Czechoslovakia as evil, and it’s much more thoughtful to pare back our forces and draw down our defenses with the knowledge that peace is the solution. The danger occurs when that evil person leaves that peace accord, and joins their generals at the planning boards with the knowledge that they acted their part so well that we’re now a little more vulnerable to their forceful persuasion. 

In a certain magnification of the historical lens, everything Adolf Hitler did may have been evil, but in another setting, say his, they could be viewed in another manner. Did Hitler wake up in the morning and think, I’m going to do something evil today, or was he eating apple fritters and drinking cocoa with his wife and dog? Hitler was a person too, and he had a quest for survival that was similar to the quest of germs, viruses, and bacteria. They don’t invade our body’s cells with evil intentions. They just do what they do. If we happen to get cancer, as a result of their victory over our white blood cells, we may consider that a bad thing, but if we alter the magnification, and attempt to view it from their perspective, we could view it as their victory.

Modern day evil people may go home at the end of the day to watch Happy Days reruns, and laugh with their kids bouncing on their knees, but that doesn’t change the fact that the actions they engaged in that day left their streets littered with dead people, homeless people, and a greater portion of their population starving than there were the day before. If we view that from a different magnification, an objective view that accounts for their definition of these actions, we could see the mass slaughter of civilians as a victory for their cause.  It’s all relative. 

If you’re one that lives with the relative notion that murdering an estimated eleven million people is a bad thing, or that a leader’s policies led to the mass starvation of his people, then you have to be willing to set a course of actions in motion that will, in a temporary fashion at least, set aside the fact that these evil people are just human, with kids, for at least as long as it takes to either contain their evil, or to set a precedent in the minds of evil men that their evil acts will no longer be tolerated. 

Some peacenik did not abide by the methods of achieving peace that The Dude did. His method alluded to the idea that the best way of achieving peace was through strength, and his record proved to be more successful than The Dude’s, Neville Chamberlain’s, or any other theoretical attempts at achieving peace in our time. We won’t talk about that person though, because he was icky, and his actions portend that there are icky, evil people that require alternative methods.  

The Big Lebowski and Philosophy


Throw the [Damned] Ball

Throw the [damned] Ball is the title of the first chapter of Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman’s collection of philosophical anecdotes: The Dude and The Zen Master. This particular chapter details the deliberations that The Honeymooners character, Ed Norton, would go through when preparing to do things that the character Ralph Kramden would instruct him to do. When Kramden would instruct Norton to sign a document, for example, Norton would flail his arms out a number of times, and go through a number of other, hilarious deliberations in a presumed search for that perfect, inner place he had designed for signing a document that Kramden informed him was important. The joke was that it was just the signing of a document, but that the Norton character believed that it warranted a degree of importance he had a difficult time finding. These deliberations would carry on for an extended amount of time that the Ralph Kramden character found so exhausting that he would end up exploding with a “Just sign the thing!” comment.

Bridges brought this scenario to a bowling coach that was hired to inform the cast of The Big Lebowski on the mechanics of bowling in a manner that would appease most bowling aficionados that happened to see the film. The deliberations that the bowling coach went through –pausing to include the necessary notes on the intricacies involved– carried out in a manner that Bridges found reminiscent of Norton’s deliberations, until Bridges said:

Anyone ever tell you to just throw the [damn] ball?!”

The bowling coach’s friends found that response hilarious. The bowling coach, being a bowling guy and a philosophy freak, had, at one point in his life, tried to find the perfect harmony between mind and body before throwing the ball down the lane. This search, he confessed, could take as long as five minutes, until his friends shouted: “Just throw the [damn] ball!”

The import of the tale is that some of the times, we can get so locked up in our search for perfection that we end up forgetting to just do whatever it is we’re trying to do. And, it could be added, the repetition of doing whatever it is we’re trying to do that can prove to be far more instrumental to learning than thinking about it can.

We all fall prey to trying to perfect what we do by doing something different or something more this time out to rectify, or improve upon, what we did in other attempts to make it better, or more. We’ve all written resumes, reports for bosses, and simple emails to friends, and we’ve all tried to do more in the present than we did in the past to make it more … More funny, more interesting, and more educational.

There is this desire, in all of us, to add the perfect cherry atop the pie, or if that particular cherry isn’t perfect enough, we may try adding another cherry, and another cherry, until the pie is so perfect that it’s now overloaded with cherries, and all of the individual cherries have lost that unique, special, and tantalizing quality that one cherry can have when it sits upon a pie.

“There is always more information out there,” Bernie Glassman said. 

Writers often have to fight this urge to add more, when they’re editing an essay, a short story, or a novel. All original drafts are incomplete in some way, but the question every writer struggles with is the idea of whether that incompleteness is as a result of quantity or quality? Most writers want their pieces to be more: more persuasive, more provocative, and more relatable, but as we all know more is not always more.

More characterization can feel necessary when a fiction writer is attempting to make their character more relatable, and it may be in some cases, but in other cases it can be redundant, counterproductive, and superfluous information that ruins the flow of the material.  More is not always more.  Some of the times, it’s too much.

This brings us to the fundamental question of when do we reach a point where completion can be considered established? I’ve often found a unique harmony in three. One piece of information, or one example of a pro or con, doesn’t feel like enough to establish a relationship with the reader; two feels incomplete in ways that are difficult to explain, but you know it when you see it; and four feels like it’s too much more. Three, in most cases, has a harmony that rounds a point out. I’m sure if I discussed this predilection with a therapist, they would inform me that most of the fairy tales my mom read me contained the magical power of three. I don’t know if that’s the answer, but I do think there is some form of subconscious power in three.

“We’re all looking for perfection,” Bridges says to conclude the Just throw the [damn] ball chapter, “but perfection is often a past and future tense that we’re not going to achieve in the present.”  

Bridges speaks about the difference between reading movie scripts in rehearsal and reading lines before the camera. He says that when he reads a chunk of dialogue in rehearsal, he might walk away thinking that he nailed it.  If that happens, he might spend the time between rehearsal, and going before the camera trying to memorize the pitch, the rhythm, and the pauses he used when he nailed it.

“Once that camera clicks on,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to nail-it in the exact same manner you did in rehearsal, because the conditions have all changed, and until you can learn to adapt to the current conditions before you, you’ll never be able to repeat the lines with any proficiency.  I nailed it in rehearsal, why can’t I find that same place?

“Because,” he continues, “That place may have never existed, or it may not have existed in the manner you thought it did. A person can go through all of the deliberations of trying to find that exact same, perfect place again, and they can go crazy with the thought that they never will. Some of the times it’s better to just throw the [damn] ball.”

 Be the man they want you to be

Bridges talks about a fan detailing for Bridges the idea that The Dude’s characteristics, are nothing more than a manifestation of another of The Big Lebowski’s character’s needs. The fan said that at one point in The Dude’s life (a theoretical point that preceded the time span of The Dude’s life that was documented in the movie), the Dude became the Dude in all the ways that this Donald character needed a Dude character in his life. The Dude then liked those characteristics so much that he may have incorporated them into his personae. The fan’s suggestion was that we’re all becoming different people at various points in our lives, based on interactions, events, and time. Some of the times, we don’t like those characteristics, and we discard them soon after we’ve fulfilled someone else’s short term needs, but at other times they fit us like a glove, and we incorporate them into our spectrum of characteristics.

When a momentous occurrence happens in one’s life, such as becoming a parent, few can move forward without that event affecting their character in some manner. If this momentous moment doesn’t affect a 180 degree change on us, it changes us in a gradual way that an infrequent visitor of our life may recognize, but those around us do not. We may have had parental characteristics in us before, but they were never tapped, until someone (the child) needed them.

We can try to revert back to that character that our beer drinking buddies knew, but in the aftermath of tapping into those parental characteristics, the beer drinking buddy characteristics feel false. You may want to become that fella that all of your drinking buddies knew, at least for one night, but you have changed in ways that make that character irretrievable. You may not know how much effort your putting into this, but your drinking buddies may pick up on it.

There are also characteristics that we display for the expressed purpose of impressing others. The popular parlance for this is an ‘A’ game. Our ‘A’ game may be something we reserve for our grandmother, prospective employers, or that incredible blonde that walks by our cubicle every day. Some may say that displaying an ‘A’ game, if we reserve it for these temporary moments, is the very definition of phony, but is that always the case? What if, in the course of this temporary display, we find some nuggets of our personality that appeal to us so much that we incorporate them into our spectrum of characteristics in the way the fan suggested the dude did to please Donald. 

We’re all changing, in other words, and we’re all affected by conditions, circumstances, and the people we run across, that we all  achieve some sort of compilation of reactions to the people around us that informs our personality.

That’s just your opinion

The goal of any writer should be to write a book that causes one to think in ways they would not have if they never picked their book up. If this was the goal of the authors of The Dude and The Zen Master, then I say mission accomplished. One glaring example is the That’s just your opinion section.  We hear this often in our culture, when another disagrees with our opinion. My reply has always been, “Of course that’s my opinion. Where do you think I got it?” Glassman’s twist on this trope is that some of the times a person needs to say this to themselves. If that person has failed to the point that they’re devastated by it, it could be said that the nature of that failure is just one person’s, theirs. Others may see our failures, and they might form an opinion of us based on that failure, but people move on. When the smoke of that opinion clears, there is only one opinion that survives, our opinion of ourselves. That opinion, Bernie Glassman says, is still just an opinion, one person’s opinion. If the subject of that opinion can convince themselves that it’s not a fact that they’re a failure, but an opinion, it might help them move on. While this may sound like a bunch of gobbeldy gook to some of us, if it could be used in a productive manner to lead more people to just throw the [damned] ball again without all of the complications of previous failures involved.

Impressions and Loopholes in the War for More


Have you ever met that person that gets every joke they’ve ever been told and knows the answer to every trivia question put before them?  We’ve all met people that specialize in an area, and we’ve all met those that take that to the extreme and accidentally develop tunnel vision for that specialty.  There are others that appear to know a little something about everything but specialize in nothing.  Then you have those rare individuals that appear to specialize in knowing everything about everything, and no one can trip them up on anything.

3a96c8b34ace31e0321b289d7dcc23ed66edb244_largeThis façade didn’t bother me when it was first erected before me.  I’ve met this type numerous times before, and their ego has never had any effect on me.  Most of these types are usually so focused on creating the impression that they know everything that they avoid those people in the room that they fear might know something.  Another aspect of their psychosis that has usually led to them leaving me alone is that creating an impression in another person’s mind is hard work, and it usually involves a great deal of concentration on convincing yourself.  As a result of this, most of them have already convinced themselves that they’re so much smarter than me that they usually leave those that don’t challenge that impression alone.  When a friend of mine informed me, with a simple, relatively innocuous smile, that his façade was not only created before me, but for me, it got to me, in a competitive sense.

It happened one day when a third-party friend gave the two of us the impression that she thought my friend knew so much more than I did.  It happened, as a result of the small smile that he flashed at me after this impression was made clear.

It all began with a joke that this third-party friend told us.  I made the mistake of telling her that I didn’t get the joke, and when she proceeded to explain it to us, my friend began echoing her explanation to leave the impression that he got the punch line.  He didn’t, but he pretended so well that she was left with the impression that he did. She even went so far as to compliment him on this. She said something along the lines of: “Why can’t ever get you?” There were no specific allusions to the fact that I was any less intelligent, but that was implied, and in that vein, my friend issued me a competitive smile.  The smile began as a general one that one normally issues in the face of such a compliment, and then right before he turned to walk away, he flashed it at me.

I’m not here to tell you that I was completely innocent in the progression that would occur, and that I don’t have my own psychoses that can develop in the face of what could be called a perfectly innocuous smile.  My confidence in my intelligence is such that I can better deal with outright challenges, and I can wave those off with the idea that the need to challenge me in such an overt manner probably says more about the challenger than me, but those relatively innocuous, and I say competitive, smiles get under my skin.

“Don’t you see it?” I asked this third-party person, as my friend walked away with that competitive smile all over his face. “Don’t you see the game he is playing?” The third-party friend confessed that she hadn’t, so I laid it all out for her. The answers I gave her concerned what my friend did, but I would not get to the more fundamental question of why he did it for years.

Jokes. The what he did involved my friend uncovering various loopholes that all humans have in their interactions.  Most of these loopholes are not obvious, and they allow those that locate them to conceal the limits of their abilities. When I write the word ‘limits’ I hope that no one thinks this piece is written specifically for the purpose of exposing the limits of my friend.  We all have limits, after all, and we’re all scurrying about trying to prevent others from seeing them, but some of us are more successful in covering them up than others.  Some of us avoid issues that may reveal our limitations, and others simply learn how to roll with the crowd in such a fashion that their limitations simply aren’t considered.  My friend had managed to turn the latter into an art form by the time I met him, and it would’ve remained our little secret if he hadn’t gotten my juices flowing with that competitive smile.

The loophole that my friend found in leading a joke teller to the belief that he got the joke laid somewhere in the laughter that he provided them when their joke was complete.  It was in the thin “knowing” laugh that he had issued to this third-party joke teller to provide her a glowing compliment that she simply bathed in.  In the midst of this glow, most joke tellers don’t put the brakes on the laughter to find out why the laugher thought the joke was funny.  The joke teller will just join the laugher within the shared glow of appreciation, and they will remain in that glow while giving the explanation of the joke to that unfortunate soul that admitted that they didn’t get it.  During this explanation, the impression seeker will nod knowingly, and everyone will move on with their lives with the impression that he got it, until the joke teller says something along the lines of: “Why can’t I ever get you?”

Trivia.  My friend is smart, and he knows his stuff, but I don’t care how smart anyone is, there is always going to be someone, somewhere that will come up a joke, or a piece of trivia, that they won’t know. My friend found a loophole there too. After hearing a trivia question, my friend will sit back and offer no reaction. “Do you give up?” the trivia asker will ask after a time. “Tell me!” he will say. After they tell him the answer, he says, “That is where I thought you were headed,” and he will say that in a manner that gives the asker the impression that if they had only given him more time he would’ve come up with the answer.  At that point, he will increase their impression of him by showing a general knowledge of the chosen subject that basically provides them breadcrumbs back to the answer of the trivia question.  The breadcrumbs do not have to be specific breadcrumbs, but they’re breadcrumbs, and the asker is left with the idea that he knew the answer. The whole point is that my friend waits until after the answer is given before putting on his show, and this leads him to his impression of himself in the trivia world of being excellent at answering trivia questions.  Others believe this impression too, either because they aren’t so impolite as to suggest that he doesn’t get any of the answers before they give them, or they don’t spend enough time with him to spot the pattern.

I’ve laid out these breadcrumbs myself, I think we all have, but I’ve always prided myself on laying out my breadcrumbs in a specific manner that specifically points to the answer of the question. But, and this is the key distinction, I will always admit if I flat out didn’t know the answer the question, or if it was on the tip of my tongue, or something I feel I should’ve known.  I offer no illusions about my intelligence, in other words, but I’m more confident of my intelligence than my friend. I only get competitive when people point out that he’s more intelligent than I am, because he achieves that plateau in what I believe to be a false manner, and it’s that false manner that I want recognized more than my comparative level of intelligence.

Another loophole my friend has exploited in the human condition is the need most people have to be impressive. My friend initiates this loophole by turning your need to be impressive back on you.  You tell him something to impress him.  He’s not impressed.  Most of us are insecure in this manner, and most of us will then begin to focus our need to be impressive on that one person that isn’t impressed with us.  I fell for this at first. I felt an overwhelming need to leave him impressed. I would show him why I thought I was interesting and impressive, and I would try to show him that I was funny.  He wasn’t impressed.

It wasn’t too long before I realized that I had accidentally become more impressed with him, because he wasn’t all that impressed with me.  I had accidentally foisted upon him the status of being a barometer of what the two of us should deem as impressive, because (and here’s the key) he poked holes in all of my attempts to be perceived as impressive.  The one thing that neither of us had bothered to do was examine if he was, in fact, impressive. Our focus was on me, and by focusing on me, we provided him the status of being one that analyzes another’s attributes from on high. I allowed him this stature, until I figured it all out, and it annoyed me when others proceeded to do the same without putting any effort into studying how he had manipulated their interaction. I wanted this phony to be exposed to the world, and I told everyone we knew what he was doing, until I believed we had all achieved a degree of awareness.

Missing components. What I accidentally tripped on, years later, in the course of studying what he did was why he did it.  I wasn’t looking for an answer, when I interrogated him on an almost daily basis.  Anyone that has made the decision to be my friend can attest to the fact that being subjected to interrogations is the gift/curse of being my friend.  The answer didn’t occur in one “aha!” type of epiphany either.  It just kind of occurred to me over the course of years that my friend had a vital component missing that he concealed within all of the impressions he created for others.  There was a loophole here too, of course, a loophole that when you create your own impression others will either believe it because they don’t necessarily care if they’re wrong, or they are so involved in creating their own impressions that they don’t notice any of those occurring around them.  Sifting through all these impressions, I accidentally uncovered that fact my friend did not care for rebellion in any way, shape or form.  He would laugh when I described the various forms of rebellion I had engaged in, but when those moments came for him to display a little rebellion, he made it quite clear that he simply felt more comfortable within the confines that his authority figures had created for him.

This is not to say that rebellion completely forms a personality, or that a person that won’t rebel is always somehow incomplete.  I’ve seen those that refuse to rebel achieve happiness, and a sense of completion, within authoritarian constraints.  I’ve also seen those that solely define themselves through rebellion end up accomplishing so little in life that rebellion was all they had, and they used it in a competitive sense to define a sense of superiority against those that weren’t as rebellious.  This friend of mine was trapped somewhere in the middle, and it exposed an essential missing ingredient that suggested that the difference between him and those that he sought to deceive by manipulating their impressions of him was not so much whether or not he eventually decided to rebel against something, but why he wouldn’t.

What was the reason my friend hadn’t rebelled against everything he could find, like the rest of us had when we were teenagers?  Why hadn’t he as much to drink as a teenage body could handle?  Why hadn’t he tried to have sex with as many women as humanly possible?  Why hadn’t he tried drugs?  Did it have something to do with the fact that he was simply more responsible than the rest of us?  Was he simply smarter, and he understood the ramifications of such actions at an age when the rest of us were just stupidly going about doing whatever felt good?  Or did he just have a better parent?  And if his parent was better, was my friend’s aversion to rebellion based on the fact that he assumed that his dad provided such a sound case for not indulging that he wanted to follow his dad’s golden rules, to emulate this man that he so revered? Or did he simply not have the fortitude to rebel? Therein lies the essential ingredient that I believe is missing in my friend that most people, that don’t know him, don’t see. He was so scared of disappointing his dad that he failed to indulge in that time-honored, teen rebellion against authority that provides characterization to those of us that believed our parents were wrong about everything.

Those of us that rebelled against anything we could find, thought we were righteous warriors on the road to an ultimate truth that only we could define. We eventually found that we were wrong about most things, of course, and that we didn’t know everything, but something about traveling through that natural course of life defined us in ways that my friend lacked.  We discovered these truths the hard way, and these discoveries incrementally defined us.  Those, like my friend —that never rebelled in any substantial manner when they were young— walk around in their adult worlds with some necessary ingredient missing that they are never able to locate, so they just decide —over the course of failed interactions— to fill the gaps in themselves. They decide that no one is really looking at them with much scrutiny anyway, so no one will ever find out that they had simply created impressions of themselves for others to feed on —with fibs, and façades, and affectations— that gives those around them the idea that they are complete.  They never expect another individual to get so close that they notice.

This missing component was difficult to find too, even with someone scrutinizing him as intensely as I was, because my friend was guarded.  He talked about being guarded too.  He spoke about the fortress that he had created around himself, and how few were admitted entrance.

“You’re lucky I let you in,” he said. “I don’t let most people in.” I felt complimented by this.  Who wouldn’t?  It wasn’t until I sat back and thought about how few were clamoring for entrance that I realized that he said this for impression’s sake. The impression that most “guarded” people want to leave is that thousands are banging at the door, and that if those people don’t act right, they are denied entrance.  Most of us, like my friend here, actually have very few banging on our door, but what if they were?  How would we keep them out?  It is here that I believe my friend came up with the ideal barricade to his inner sanctum: he wasn’t very interesting.  If you don’t want people in your inner sanctum, states the logic of the ideal barrier, be boring, be quiet, and exhibit very few traits that people are interested in. If you can accomplish that, most people won’t notice you, they will not want in, and your inner sanctum will be protected.  If the Chinese had only considered my friend’s idea of displaying wares no one wanted, they would not have had to build that Great Wall thinger diller.

It should be noted here that my friend is a good guy, and I do not believe that he sat down one day and devised a strategy to create false impressions, and fool people into believing he was more than he was by exploiting all of the various loopholes that occur within human interactions.  He is not a dishonest man, and he never set about to mislead people into believing that he had a game show host’s type of charm.  He is simply an insecure man that has learned —through failed interactions that have exposed his weaknesses— how to protect himself from ridicule, scorn, or the idea that he might be inferior or limited in any way.  Other than learning through painful exposures, he probably took note of how others created impressions, until he became a hybrid of all of them.  On that note, some may think me cruel for scrutinizing him to the point of revealing him, and there were occasions when I did feel bad about all this, but any time I let my foot off the gas, my friend saw this as a moment of weakness that he seized upon to attack my character.  My friend was no wilting flower, in other words, and most of the intense scrutiny I directed at him was borne of the competitive exchanges he and I have always engaged in.

These missing elements in my friend became so obvious to me, after a time, that when he tried to turn our friendship back to the stage where I was hell-bent on impressing him, it no longer mattered to me what he thought, because I knew that that sword he used to prod my weaknesses was actually a shield he held out to prevent further investigation.