All posts tagged: Rebecca Solnit

Stop Talking and Listen

Old habits can be very hard to break. Case in point: my difficulty in breaking out of the mold of being a stereotypical male. I’m reminded of this far too often and in many different ways. However, one of the more consistent occurrences involves listening. Or, to be more accurate, not listening. The stereotype is that men are encouraged, and even trained, to be the center of attention. It is a stereotype, in this case, because it is usually true. Studies show that boys are called on more in school, that boys grow up to become men who talk more in meetings, and that we interrupt women more than we interrupt men. Most of the time I fall into this pattern of interruption because I’m not thinking. But a few times I do it knowingly and with the best of intentions. That was the case earlier this year when I found myself talking over a friend to “help her” explain something that I thought might be difficult to articulate. Not because she isn’t a smart, …

All Men Are Created Equal, Except . . .

Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter in 1855 to Joshua F. Speed that became famous for the future president’s stand against the anti-immigration Know-Nothing Party. Lincoln and Speed met during the 1830s and remained friends even though their views differed on slavery. Speed grew up on a plantation and owned slaves. A turning point in Lincoln’s life that rekindled his interest in politics was the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, repealing the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opening the territories to slavery. It was in this context that the 1855 letter was written. In referring to the nativist Know-Nothing Party—which came out of a secret society in the 1850s and was primarily anti-Catholic, xenophobic, and hostile to immigration—Lincoln used his letter to make his point of view very clear: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. . . .Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we begin by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except …

Cynicism vs. Hope

Cynics.  We’ve all encountered them.  They make pronouncements with great certainty and take pride in not appearing foolish. Those who disagree with them are instantly branded, in the eyes of the cynic, as naïve. Thankfully, there are ways to combat cynicism. Over the holidays I finished reading author Rebecca Solnit’s most recent book, Call Them by Their True Names:  American Crises (and Essays).  Solnit includes an essay—Naive Cynicism—that flips the idea of cynicism and naivete on its head. “Naïve cynics shoot down possibilities, including the possibility of exploring the full complexity of any situation. They take aim at the less cynical, so that cynicism becomes a defensive posture and an avoidance of dissent. They recruit through brutality. If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. . . . Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards.  They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised.” Change and progress require hard work, and cynics …

Use Your New Year’s Resolutions to Give Up Stuff That Doesn’t Matter

This is the time of year when our thoughts turn to resolutions for the next twelve months.  This year I also considered what to give up for New Year’s. Two articles drove my thinking, the first being 13 Things You Should Give Up If You Want to be Successful. I realize that the title is designed to pull you in…and I took the (click) bait.  Nonetheless, there were some interesting suggestions (and corresponding quotes), including; Give up your perfectionism (“Shipping beats perfection.”) Give up your need to control everything (“Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.”) Give up the toxic people (“Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution.”) Give up your need to be liked (“You can be the juiciest, ripest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be people who hate peaches.”) The second article was from Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward blog entitled Why You Need a Stop Doing List.  He notes that, “The most successful people and businesses know …

Farewell 2018, Hello 2019

It is that time of year, dear readers, when I look back over the past twelve months, assess progress (or lack thereof) against my goals, and think ahead for 2019.  Careful readers know that for several years I have worked with a set of life rules (rather than annual resolutions) for living the next third of my life.  This review is just one small part of an exercise to have an honest conversation with myself, so I’ll be able to have real conversations with the larger world.  We don’t do enough looking at our uncertainties and vulnerabilities, sometimes choosing as an alternative getting angry at others—which hinders real understanding.  Steve Almond, in the book Bad Stories, asserts that’s true because we take our grievances seriously but not our vulnerabilities.  In the 2017 essay “Facing the Furies” (found in the collection Call Them by Their True Names:  American Crises and Essays), Rebecca Solnit frames it this way: “. . . more often, lashing out is a way to avoid looking inward. A 2001 study by Jennifer …

My 2018 Year-End Reading List

As 2018 draws to a close, I’m sharing this list of the books I read over the past twelve months.  Since returning from sabbatical early in 2016, I committed to reading more, and to seek out a wider range of works beyond my normal histories and biographies. Here are the treasures I found on my reading shelf this past year. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I began the year with a work of fiction. In this at times perplexing yet ultimately satisfying novel, Saunders builds off the fact that in February 1862, just a year into the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln’s 11-year-old son Willie dies of typhoid fever. It is known from contemporary accounts that the President went several evenings to stay in the crypt with his son’s body in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery. Saunders takes that bit of knowledge and turns it into a rich story populated with dozens of spirits who reside in the Bardo, which is the Tibetan Buddhist name for a transition period between death and rebirth. Tears …

Connections

When I was a freshman in college, I waited tables at a local restaurant and bar in Nashville. Waiting tables is hard and humbling work, which I highly recommend.  Once you’ve experienced it you’ll forever be mindful of 1) how you treat wait staff, and 2) how to tip properly.  When I was leaving at the end of the school year, the manager, Bill, and his sister Ruth invited me over for a drink.  At the end of the night, Ruth gave me a hug and said, “Have a good life!”  This was the pre-Facebook/email/Instagram days, and she meant it as a heartfelt farewell to someone she’d probably never see again.  I stuck that sentiment in the back of my mind. But to paraphrase folksinger Arlo Guthrie halfway through the 17-minute-long Alice’s Restaurant, this isn’t a post about waiting tables. This is a blog post about the emotional and intellectual value of personal connections. One of our staff members had her final day at the National Trust coincide with the last day of our 2018 …