A Little Late to the Party: Thirty-Seven Years Late

PyromaniaI am an avid record collector.  I do not have nearly as many records as some of the people in the groups I frequent.  But I have about 600 albums, mostly from the 70s and 80s, with a decent variety. Admittedly, my collection has a decided slant toward Progressive Rock and (what would now be called) Classic Rock.  But this blog is not about my collection (perhaps a topic for another time) it is about one recent acquisition: Def Leppard, Pyromania.  This album purchase has caused way more reflection than probably any one album should, but more on that later.

I grew up in a small town in Northern Michigan, Gaylord.  Many of my friends and I were in Kindergarten together at North Ohio Elementary.  Literally, we grew up together. Our parents worked together, knew each other from Rotary, attended the same church, had business dealings together, or sat in my mom’s hygienist chair at some point (also a potential topic for another day).  Such is life in a small town.  We entered 5th grade, not knowing that the next four years would change everything.

Middle School was the point where South Maple Elementary, and a handful of Elmira students, joined together into one larger school.  Still, we were a fairly close-knit group.  We had attended birthday parties, cub scouts, and hunted for blueberries at the State Park together.  5th grade served to strengthen our bond.  We played marbles (yep, I’m that old), kick ball, and Star Wars, with our action figures, at recess.  Growing up in Northern Michigan gave us plenty of opportunities to stage various Hoth scenes from The Empire Strikes Back.  During 5th grade, we participated in our first science fair, “voted” in our first mock Presidential Election, and had our little hearts broken by our first crush.

You see, we were growing up, with all the experiences that entails.  We were still kids, but also something else.  They took all the girls out of class to talk to them about their changing bodies, the guys got no such similar education.  The girls came back very silent holding a brown bag.  There were whispers of what was in that bag, but none of the boys knew for sure.  We wanted to be “older” but maybe “not yet”.  I remember a situation where one of our teachers (the name is being withheld because he is totally guilty) berated and humiliated a female member of our class for not knowing the answer to a question.  I remember vividly that it was Halloween.  She was dressed as a baby and had a pacifier and a doll under her arm (both of which were probably much more recent in her past than she, or any of us, would want to admit).  She looked every part the helpless child he reduced her to.  The humiliation I felt for her is still palpable.  But I kept my mouth shut because we didn’t question authority and as long as he went after her, maybe he wouldn’t notice I hadn’t done my homework, again.

detentionIn 5th grade I got my first “pink slip”, my first detention, and my first outrageous injustice.  I could write a blog on each of these, but I will choose to move forward as I have already ruminated on 5th grade longer than I had planned.  I started 5th grade with all As and finished it with all Cs.  It caused enough of a crisis in my home that it was decided I would be better served in the small Baptist school across town.  I can’t say that I was against the idea or went fighting and screaming, but it certainly proved not to be a stellar year in my educational experience.   When I returned to public school in 7th grade, everything had changed.  We were in a new school building, new students had joined our cohort, and we were all 12 months older.  When you are only 12, that’s a sizable amount of your nascent years.  My original friends were still there, and we quickly reconnected, but I had missed important bonding experiences, including 6th grade camp.

One other change was not for the best, our maturation had a seedy underside.  The jokes and kidding were becoming increasingly sexual in nature.  Just two years earlier, a changing woman’s body, caused furtive and uncomfortable glances.  Now we openly joked, teased, bullied, and harassed one another in ways that still cause a deep sadness within me.  My own sojourn in the Baptist school did not stunt my growth in this area and I was an all too eager participant.  We knew enough of biology to participate in a very adult conversation but did not hold nearly enough maturity to understand the ramifications of what we spoke.  I remember some girls in 7th grade “pretending” they were pregnant.  For some reason they thought being sexually active without protection was cute.  It was a lot less “cute” when a girl in 8th grade left school and the word got around that she had become pregnant and was going to live with relatives (there was no progressive ideas about teenage pregnancy in Northern Michigan in the early 80s).

By 7th and 8th grade, we had discovered pop culture.  Previously we had a passing knowledge of music and trends, but mostly it was influenced by older siblings or, maybe still, our parents.  Now, as fully grown consumers, we claimed it as our own.   Billy Idol, The Police, and Duran Duran were staples on the radio and became the soundtrack of our adolescence.  We quoted our favorite movies, which we had all seen.  Having only one theater, with only one screen, meant that when the big movie came to town, everyone saw it, usually on the same weekend.  War Games, The Outsiders, and Christine were ubiquitous in our conversation, and became the basis for our story lines in Creative Writing class.  This is when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal hit Northern Michigan.

August 27th, 1983, on the third leg of their North American Tour, Def Leppard came to Castle Farms in Charlevoix, Michigan.  Overnight, everyone was a fan.  Well, everyone but me.  You see, one of the things that happened between 5th and 8th grade is that my home life became more and more insular.  Part of this was due to restrictions placed on me following my own poor decisions.  But it was also due to a crystallizing of a Christian sub-culture that my family was increasingly a part of.  I am not criticizing these parental decisions, raising kids is tough and we all do the best we can.  But the end result was that I partook less and less in the common culture of my friends.  Secular Music, Dungeons & Dragons, and Halloween were all prohibited and Christian Rock, Youth Group, and Harvest Parties took their place.  As everyone bought the Def Leppard album and wore the concert t-shirts they had purchased, I realized that there were people who were “in” and there was everybody else.  And, I was not “in”.

I had my own bands of 1983 that I would put on the turn table and drop the needle, but 1982they did not provide a touch stone with my friends.  I showed the same devotion to these bands as anyone else did, it was just my private fandom.  I wouldn’t say I was ostracized, I just felt a bit marginalized.  As 8th grade, and our middle school years, came to a close we went to Mackinac Island as a class, the last time we would ALL do anything together.   One of my classmate’s parents owned a house on The Island (as we called it).  Some students were invited to a house party; I was not one of them.  It would certainly not be the last time I was left out of a party.  In fact, by the time I was invited to a party, during my senior year, I no longer had any desire to fit in.  I don’t think I missed out on too much.  One of my best friends in High School developed a fairly serious alcohol problem by graduation.  He was dead at 21 in a car crash.  While I never heard for certain, I am pretty sure alcohol was involved.

I do not begrudge my upbringing.  I turned out alright, and I side stepped so many pit falls and difficulties of my teens and twenties.  After High School, I had an 18-month failed experience at Michigan State before getting married, switching schools, and, largely, checking out of my teenage years.  By the time our ten-year anniversary came around, I was living halfway across the continent contemplating a Doctorate, which I completed before twenty years had passed from high school.  Today, I am still married to the same wonderful woman (sometimes despite myself) and I have three amazing kids.  There is not much room, or time, for regret.  But, when nostalgia hits as I dig through the bins of a used record store, I still feel a loss for when we were all just kids growing up in Gaylord: no trenchers, no metal heads, no preppies, no jocks, no burnouts, no geeks, just kids.   As we all close in on 50, I am reconnecting with many of the people I grew up with, thanks to the magic of Facebook.   I am finding out that none of those teenage divisions, that seemed so important, are really worth a damn.  Why did we ever let petty tribalism come between us?  And the more important question: have we finally learned our lesson?

So, I am 37 years late, but I finally bought it . . . Pyromania by Def Leppard.  Can I come to the party now?

A Tale of Two Bloggers, or Why Don’cha Come ‘Round Here No More?

I am not really two bloggers, only one. But I do have two blogs, this one, where I pontificate about social, philosophic, and worldview musings that pass through my brain; and another where I share poetry and fiction. So, the question is, why did I, seemingly, abandon this blog?

The last blog I posted was my open letter to Hillary, nearly two years ago. Sadly, she did not take my advice and we ended up with Trump. It would be natural for one to assume that my silence is some form of response to the political results of 2017 and any in-congruence I might be feeling. That would be a plausible explanation, but not entirely true. The reason for my absence is actually far more simple, and far more complex.

You see, I had writer’s block.

That’s not to say, I had nothing to write about. I had plenty of things to write about. It would also be false to assume I quit thinking about the world around me or how to address what I see in a meaningful literary fashion. In fact, I have hardly stopped thinking in the last two years.

It’s really very simple, I had writer’s block.

Webster’s second definition for block is “obstacle”. And that is pretty accurate. I have experienced an obstacle in writing. And this obstacle has been difficult and painful to a person who tends to have a lot of thoughts, pretty much constantly (have I mentioned that I likely have ADD? . . . I’m too old and tired to include the H). My writer’s obstacle has robbed me of something that tends to give me a great release and some form of satisfaction. I don’t imagine that tons of people read my blog, but just getting my thoughts out is cathartic. So, if there are no lack of thoughts why not write?

Did you miss that I had writer’s block?

The source of my obstacle is this: I have been paralyzed by HOW to express my thoughts in a way that won’t be misunderstood and can encourage others to think deeply. I seem to be living in an alternate universe where there are only two positions on every topic and I increasingly don’t see how I fit with either pole. We have boiled this down to a simple litmus test that require yes or no answers to very complex questions.

Do you believe the Bible to be literal?

Should there be abortion?

Are you in favor of the 2nd Amendment?

Should pot be legal?

Are you left wing?

Are you right wing?

Are you dismayed by the state of popular music today?

Okay, that last one is actually easy to answer.

I can give simple answers to each of those questions which would label me as left or right leaning. But, the true answers require a conversation about history, values, faith, human development, literary theory, and pluralism (to name a few). As my brother, also a blogger, pointed out: Life is complex and messy (https://benkohns.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/nobody-knows/). You can’t truly know my position on any of these questions without taking time to get to know me.

I have friends, whom I am very fond of and I greatly respect, on both sides of the spectrum. They can answer some of these questions very definitively and without a lot of explanation. I do not begrudge them their certainty, but it highlights my struggle. How do I explain to someone how I am wrestling over issues which they believe to be self-evident? Will people understand me? Will they question my commitment to some deeply held ideal? Does anyone even read my blog?

Because of these unanswered questions, I had writer’s block.

About a year ago I was working on a blog about plurality and certainty and passed it to my brother for proof reading (apparently, I post some things when the ink is still a little too wet). He took away exactly the opposite of what I was trying to say. So, I shelved the blog and it never saw the light of day. I was concerned that what I wanted to say would get lost in the noise of my clumsy attempt so I went back to writing poetry. I often turn my attention to poetry because it is my own form of parable creation. I am able to conceal as much as I reveal.

During a recent job review, my boss said I needed to worry less about what others thought and just focus on doing my job to the best of my ability. He had lots of nice things to say so I was not bummed by this. I was, however, shocked by how accurately he saw me. Worrying about how I am perceived by others is my regular companion. What if people think I have strayed in my faith? What if I admit that, on some positions, I have a lot in common with my post-Christian agnostic friend (Hi Tabre)? What if people question my commitment to others? What if people found out about my personal failings in life and my marriage?

When you have been in the public eye, to some degree, you learn to be guarded and have public positions and personal positions. I have gotten over some of that and I no longer care if people find out I like heavy metal. Up the Irons! But I still struggle about how much of myself to share.

Recently I have felt that I am not being true to myself if I do not ante up, in some fashion, concerning the inner struggles that lead me in directions which feel very natural to me, but may be counter intuitive to others. Perhaps it’s the philosopher in me. In education, we believe that students asking questions is a good thing, because if one student asks it, others are thinking it. It stands to reason, I am not alone in my thinking, and perhaps my writing can help someone wade through the quagmire of modern culture and society.

Should I deny or hide my inner thoughts just because it upsets or makes others uncomfortable? Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms, when asked to recant his writings said “I cannot, I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen”

So, I am back as a blogger. I will not always be understood. I will not always find agreement. But if I can promote some civil discourse on topics that, for ages, have been unsettled, I have successfully followed my conscience. God help me, Amen.

Up Next: What Ever Happened to Alithia?

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Hillary,

By now you have likely heard that my vote is up for grabs.  I know you are shocked and I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you before I posted the blog, but, you know, we are both so busy these days.  The internet has been on fire since I posted my blog earlier.  No doubt one of your staffers ran onto your campaign bus and told you Michigan is back up for grabs, the conservative hot bed that it is.  That reminds me, I’m heading over to Michael Moore’s for a cook out this weekend.  What goes better with patriotic self-loathing, Budweiser or Coors?  You know what: I’m going to pick up some Molson.  Importing Canadian is probably something he would appreciate.

Hillary and meBut I digress.  Yes it’s true, for the first time in forever, including the 1988 election, the last time Michigan voted Republican, my vote is for sale.  You can put away your pocket book, this isn’t Chicago.  My vote can only be bought with principles.  I know it’s a crazy idea.

First of all, let me assure you, I am not looking for you to become suddenly prolife, repeal Obama care, or turn down donations, although telling that Soros guy where to stick his Euros would get my attention.  Realistically, since you are a democrat, expecting you to turn your back on the platform of your party is not going to happen.  If I wanted that, I would vote Trump.

What I am looking for is someone who will lead all of us as Americans.  We come into a deeply divided election cycle and we face tough times ahead.  I understand how a pluralistic democracy works and I won’t get everything I want.  I realize that our system of helping people manage the health care costs was broken and needed to be fixed.  By the way … I’m still paying over $200 a month for my daughter’s meds that she can’t go without… this is a selfish plea, but can you do something about that?  Executive order?  A little cash on the side?  Take over the drug companies? … you know I’m only kidding.

I know that we don’t live in 1950s America and expecting everyone to hold my set of values is not fair to those who disagree (I’m sure you read my tolerance blog too  … could you give me one like? … it would really boost my readership).  But I am looking for someone who recognizes that we conservatives exist and sometimes change is hard.  I am looking for someone who is sympathetic to people of religious conviction and understand that sometimes we make choices that are out of step with modern culture.  You know the whole in the world but not of it thing.  Every piece of legislation is not going to go my way, every executive order will not be one I agree with, and every Supreme Court decision will not seem fair or just to me.  But, an ounce of humility and a sense that we are doing the best we can with an imperfect system would go a long way.  Quite simply stated, be my president too.

Second, I know you are a lifelong Methodist.  I have bounced around a lot, denomination wise, but I have never really left Methodism.  John Wesley’s assertion that the world was his parish always struck me as close to the heart of God.  We have to have compassion and reach out to those who are lost and in need of help no matter where we find them.  The “big tent” theology of the Methodist church has arisen out of this concept.   I think this is a great mode of operation for governing in a richly diverse country. The problem is that many of us who are more conservative in our thinking have found ourselves pushed out of the tent.  Big tents need to have room for everyone.  When people feel they don’t have a voice, they become louder.  Explains a lot doesn’t it?  Can you commit to reaching across the aisle and working with the Republicans … including the Tea Party?  I know, it’s a two way street, and I will hold them responsible if they do not meet you half way.  I am only asking you to lead by example.

As I look back in history, this is something Bill was pretty good at.  I know, you remind me every time we get together that I didn’t vote for Bill … twice.  But history has shown that he governed left of centrist.  He didn’t push personal agendas, he paid attention to polling data (some would say too much), and he worked with the Republicans.  Let’s not get into the blue dress.  I can only imagine the ice he felt in the bedroom was ten times worse than the heat he felt from Congress.  I’m not asking you to be Bill, I’m just asking you to show that you know how to compromise in order to move the country forward.

Third, and this one is novel, be willing to say I screwed up.  The two most powerful words in the English language are I’m Sorry.  I’m sick of politicians who double down and circle the wagons when things don’t work out, and I don’t think I am alone.  Just say Hey you know what?  Going into Iraq was a bad idea. Or Maybe we should have been more honest about what was going to happen to people’s insurance plans. Or (this one might hit too close to home) I miscalculated the threat in Benghazi.   I know, I know, I don’t understand politics and that would be political suicide.  Did Shakespeare write, in Julius Caesar, Better to lose a limb than sacrifice the republic? Well if he didn’t my brother or daughter will correct me.  And besides, he should have written it.  So, if you have to lose a little political capital to keep us united, that’s a price I’m willing to have you pay.

And last, please stop with all the executive orders.  We have a pretty good system of division of powers and limited federalism.  Certainly, the wheels of democracy move slow, but that’s by design.  There is tremendous strength when consensus arises from the people rather than by fiat.  I don’t have to tell you that the power to govern is derived from, the consent of the governed.   I am looking for someone who understands, once again, that governing is about serving the people.  And sometimes that means saying, I am going to let this change happen organically because then it will truly be the will of the people.  I think we have all forgotten that in our desire to see our personal agendas advanced.

I’m not saying you got my vote.  I just wanted to outline to you, friend to friend, how you could get me to consider Hillary in 2016.  Be better than politics.  I think we are all waiting for a leader who will show us that the cause that unites us is greater than the issues that divide us.  Well, enough of my prattling on.  I know you got stuff to do.  Give my love to Bill and Chelsea.  And this time around, please don’t seat me at the same table as Alec Baldwin at the inaugural ball, he’s insufferable and arrogant, and have you seen the picture of him going around the internet of him shoving down a hot dog?  However, sitting with the members of Fleetwood Mac would be cool.

Have a good day and go Bulldogs!

Your friend,  Jonathan

Decision 2016: What’s a Conservative to Do?


I do not like to write about politics.  It is one area where people are almost certain to attack you for having your own thoughts, while misunderstanding what those thoughts actually are.  So, I have avoided this topic for some time, but now find I cannot any longer.

just-say-noEarly on in the election cycle I declared with certainty that I would never vote for Trump.  Of course, I never believed he would get the nomination, and I would not be faced with maintaining that pledge.  Now that he is the presumptive nominee I must consider my options (limited as they are in our two party system).  But rather than debate the merits and demerits of our, what would appear to be, fall choices, I will present why I must stick by my pledge of “Never Trump”.

There are several reasons why my vote, regardless of how I pull the lever this November, will not be for Trump.  I admit these are assumptions and opinions on my part; they may not be identical to others, but that does not make them any less important to me.  Alexander Pope was dead on when he wrote, several centuries ago, Our judgments, like our watches, none go just alike, yet each believes his own.  So, in the spirit of Pope, here we go.

  1. I do not perceive him to be a moral man.  Now, before anyone tells me that he who is without sin should cast the first stone, I understand that we have all sinned, and I am certainly no exception.  But, I am also not striving to gain the highest office in the country.  I think we should seek to elect leaders who at least have aspired to be above board in their interactions with others and humble in their shortcomings.  Humility and politics do not often go hand in hand, but that is the candidate I am looking for.  Donald Trump has a public record of business deals and personal issues that would indicate his underlying ethics are formed by personal self-interest.  That is not something I look for in a public servant.
  1. He does not share any deeply held ideologies that are important to me. All of us have litmus tests we use to determine whom we will vote for.  One says: I will never vote for a pro-choice candidate, while another says: A pro-lifer will never get my vote.  One citizen declares: My candidate will be tough on terrorism even if it means treating all Muslims the same, while another pledges: We cannot give in to fear and become what we oppose.  I will not spill ink defending one position or another.  People have valid reasons why they hold to any particular way of thinking.  But one thing is certain: I can choose to vote for candidates who align with deeply held beliefs that are important to me.  Donald Trump does not share my concerns on many topics. 
  1. He has no filter when he speaks. A friend of mine stated once that when she hears Trump speak it makes her want to kick puppies.  While this may seem extreme, it harbors some of the same feelings I have when hearing his “cringe worthy” proclamations. I do realize that this is exactly what draws many to him as a candidate.  He doesn’t play by anyone else’s rules, doesn’t kowtow to political correctness, and really doesn’t care what YOU think.  I understand that this can seem refreshing in comparison to candidates who say one thing but do another.  But for me, I want a candidate who can show restraint, won’t get into a mud fight with a reporter, and understands that a wise person can be known by what he or she does not say. 
  1. He gives every indication that he is sexist and racist. The Bible states that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Regardless of your view on divine revelation, I would think most people agree that if you listen to someone long enough, you will find out what they truly believe.  I won’t dredge up the horrible, demeaning, and inappropriate things Donald Trump has said about and to women.  It is not a matter of opinion; it is public record.  There are practically entire YouTube channels dedicated to the topic.  In addition, he has never back pedaled from those statements.  Sometimes he declares “Not true”, which seems ridiculous when we have videographic evidence in full context.  I have yet to see a moment of contrition where he realizes the hurt his statements can cause and vows to change.  I think, honestly, he knows he is sexist and just doesn’t care. 

    I am actually more concerned about his racial views because I believe he is oblivious in this regard.  He has made outlandish statements which have been (I think correctly) interpreted as racist.  He then comes back and tries to frame his words and prove to us that he is not racist.  The only problem is that his rebuttal only further calcifies my opinion. I would classify his view as “paternal racism”.  This occurs when someone tries ardently to convince you that they are not racist and, in fact, care very deeply about other races.  This attempt is made by presenting examples of where the individual has assisted people of another race.  This may be compelling to some, but to me makes it clear that they do not see the other race as equal.  When Donald Trump declares that he loves Hispanic people and employs many of them in his hotels, I see a paternalistic statement and not one of equality.  I could give numerous racial statements from our country’s past that would mirror this sentiment, but I fear people would misunderstand and think these are my positions.  Let’s leave it at this; I have yet to hear Donald Trump give an adequate statement which would lead me to deduce he is not sexist and racist. 
  1. I don’t think he has a clue about how government actually works. I have heard many platitudes and grandiose schemes from Donald Trump.  He has declared many times that things would be different if he was president – and of course – America will be great again.  But I don’t see a cogent plan.  I don’t see a rationale.  And I certainly don’t see any sign of conciliation that could lead to consensus.   He is coming from an insular business world where he reigns as the despotic emperor who can slam his fist on the table and declare: You’re Fired!   In government, if the president thinks the Speaker of the House is an idiot, guess what? … She or he is still Speaker of the House.  I’m curious if he knows the process of how a bill becomes a law or exactly when, in that process, he thinks a judge signs a bill.  Again, many love the fact that he’s an outsider.  But being president requires particular and unique skills.  We could argue whether or not one president or another of the recent past had those skills, but lack of skills in one does not mean we should stop looking for it in another. 
  1. I refuse to carry the banner of the Republican Party at all costs. One very good friend comes from the liberal/libertarian bend of things.  We rarely agree about anything political but we respect each other and enjoy the dialogue.  Over the years I have defended conservatism against his charges of greed, sexism, and racism (he actually simply called Republicans evil but I have chosen to boil it down a bit).  If Donald Trump is presented as OUR candidate, I cannot defend the party against that charge any longer.  Does that make me a democrat?  A libertarian?  Something else? I don’t know, but I have always abhorred the assumption by my favorite brand (be it Coke, Subway, or NBC) that I will simply continue to consume what they offer because I am nothing more than a member of the sheeple (sheep + people = sheeple).  I for one can stand up and say, No… I won’t buy New Coke (if you are under thirty you have no idea what I am talking about).

I think this is the clearest I can present my reasons for saying Never Trump.  Some of my conservative friends have asked me: Can you vote for Hillary?  I don’t have the answer to that at this time.  I would say she also does not share some important ideological beliefs that I have, and she is about as honest as other politicians . . . which is to say . . . not very.  I have long contended that if you can’t handle more than one email account, you might find being president fairly demanding.  But I don’t hear her utter sexist and racist comments, she certainly understands how government works, and she knows when to speak and when not to . . . I think it’s a prerequisite for staying married to Bill.  That puts her ahead on the score card.  I guess I will see how the next six months pan out.  The one thing I know for sure, I don’t care what your watch says, mine says it’s not time for Trump.

The Intolerance of Tolerance: Arguing for a proper understanding of tolerance

2BvbQTolerance is the clarion call in a world that seems to be blowing apart at the seams.  In the past six months, the news has been littered with stories of individuals and groups who have decided they cannot, or will not, live with people with whom they disagree. The motivations seem to be racism, religion, economics, and others.  Many want to point to one cause or another and then determine that if we can root that out, we can eliminate the scourge of violence.  Others have looked at the behavior of intolerance and decided that is what needs to be eradicated.

Educating intolerance out of humanity is definitely the step I would like to see.  However, what does it mean to be tolerant?  What I see passed off as tolerance is more of a laissez-faire approach of “oh well, live and let live.”  You are free to believe whatever you wish, simply allow me to believe whatever I wish.  While this approach can reduce conflicts between ideas, since ideas become nothing more than an ice cream topping decision, it also leaves us with a rather poor view of the individual value of those around us.

Believing that world views, opinions, and ideas are on the same level of what color shirt you wear preserves the importance of your personal choice while diminishing the choices of others.  This occurs since the worldview of others has no bearing on you or your life.  We are led to believe that this is a wondrous milieu of human experience, when it is actually a pale substitute for true human interaction which could help us all grow; what the Bible refers to as “iron sharpening iron”.

So, if true tolerance is not simply letting others be, then what is it?  The dictionary defines it as: the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with. Of course, we remember from school that it is bad form to define something by the word itself (or in this case the root word), so what does it mean to tolerate?  Again, to quote from the dictionary: to allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.

At this point the idea of tolerance should come into view.  Tolerance occurs when we come in contact with something we disagree with but choose not to prohibit or interfere, simply because we disagree.

From this vantage point, tolerance requires several steps.

  1. First, I must judge something to be discordant in some way. Here is where tolerance differs from mere allowance of preference.  If I say I tolerate your choice to put caramel topping on your ice cream you might, correctly, accuse me of being hyperbolic.  Before I can be tolerant I must first judge an idea, activity, or behavior to be contrary to my own.  For me to say I tolerate people who share my viewpoint is rather ridiculous.  I can only enter into a position of tolerance if I first say “I believe you to be wrong”.
  2. Second, due to the fact that I have evaluated ideas, activities, or behaviors to fall outside what I consider to be acceptable, I must make a conscious decision to not interfere with another’s adherence or exercise of those beliefs. If you have read my blog before, you are aware that I do not think interference includes dialogue.  Talking about why we have deeply held differences is not prohibition (while dialogue is not the focus of this blog, I do believe that dialogue must occur with respect, open minds, and a sense of value – further I realize that what passes as dialogue is often simply two sides yelling at each other).
  3. Thirdly, tolerance requires me to act in accordance with my decision to not interfere. I cannot be tolerant if I am actively working to limit the free exercise of thought.  However, it also does not require me to suddenly declare that all ideas, activity, and behaviors are now acceptable.  To do so would counter the first step in the process.
  4. Lastly, tolerance does not apply when the harm to others outweighs my right to think differently. I admit this is a “sticky wicket”, however, I believe there is a basic human obligation to evaluate certain worldviews and declare “we will not allow this to flourish”.  We owe it to one another to not simply turn a blind eye to worldviews which enslave and subjugate others.

My view of tolerance allows me to live together in a pluralistic society where I not only value the input of others, but I also do not require them to be something they are not, simply to participate in society.  At the same time, my view treats with respect those  who I disagree by not relegating their deeply held beliefs to mere preferences.

To teach that tolerance is a type of universalism where we can all hold hands and sing kumbaya is utopian and not very realistic.  Furthermore, it is not functional once we come into conflict with people who hold to a very different set of ideas.  When we view tolerance as the assent that everything is acceptable (eg. beyond a moral gradation), it makes tolerance itself, intolerant.  Because, the only option is for everyone to agree and short of that to force upon those who disagree actions that require acceptance.

Tolerance is not the belief that all thoughts are equal, tolerance is the celebration of the importance, weight, and value of dissenting ideas.  Is it easy to value the humanity and freedom of people with whom I stridently disagree?  Certainly not, but as my former graduate professor, Dr. Lints, said, “few things worth doing are ever easy”.

What to Do About Oregon: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Learned to Love My Guns

monkey-hugging-a-gun-600x450Before I begin, some full self-disclosure.  I was born in the North Country where gun ownership is ubiquitous and hunting is a season.  I myself own a shot gun. I keep it at my parents as my wife is very uncomfortable with firearms in the house.  I was surprised when I moved out of my rural upbringing and found out most schools do not have opening day of deer hunting season off.  I probably knew people who did not own guns … I don’t know who they were, but I assume there were a few.  The only people I knew who died by gun shots were self-inflicted.  I potentially knew one convicted murderer (his conviction was later overturned so I won’t mention his name), the weapon of choice was a chicken rotisserie skewer.  Incidentally the murder took place during deer hunting season which means a loaded rifle was probably readily available.

On many issues I would probably be considered conservative.  I am a constitutionalist who taught government for a number of years.  The Bill of Rights most certainly protects the INDIVIDUAL’S right to possess guns.  BTW, the purpose of that right was not written to maintain a government military, for the purpose of hunting, or to insure you can protect your family.  The purpose of that right was so that the citizenry can protect themselves against a tyrannical government (editor note. Not everyone reads the second amendment in this way, however, I contend that historical context should over rule our current understanding of a “militia” to insure a “free state”.)  This is distinctly American as the Revolutionary War began when the British tried to confiscate the guns of the colonists, fearing a public uprising and the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution at the instance of the States to keep the Federal government in check.  So I do sympathize with those who fear a federal government trying to take guns from individuals.  You would be in good company with Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and many others.

My gun bearing friends are saying “right on” and my progressive friends desire to eviscerate me at this point.  But hold on.  This blog is not a pop piece for the NRA or the Republican Party.  This is a call for common ground.  If you were not incredibly saddened by the events at the community college in Oregon, one might question your humanity.  The fact that these events happen at any amount of regularity should shake you to the core.  If school buses were spontaneously exploding at 6 month intervals killing our youth, you would (or should) demand action.

Now the script has flipped and those who want to see guns regulated are telling me to “preach it” and those in favor of unrestricted gun ownership are calling me all sorts of sailor suitable names.  But this is exactly why nothing gets done.  When these events happen we retreat to our respective corners and throw verbal stones at each other trying to entrench ourselves in our ideologies.  I found it humorous that Ted Cruz accused President Obama of politicizing the situation in what I could only describe as an attempt to politicize the situation.  We seem so quick to blame someone for the shootings.  My best guess is that by doing so, we hope to shed blame from our own hands.  (If the NRA is to blame, then as long as I oppose the NRA then I am blameless or If they had just allowed concealed carry permits this could have been stopped, it’s those damn liberals fault).

A little research lesson.  Finding causation is incredibly difficult, correlation is easy.  What can we correlate to these events?  Generally speaking, school shooters are males, in their twenties, have a history of mental illness, and use guns (the last point is kind of like pointing out that there is a strong correlation between water and drowning).  At one point we thought we could identify a pattern of bullying, or violent games, or being an outcast.  That is becoming an increasingly untenable position to maintain.

However, just because causation is difficult does not mean we shouldn’t look at the correlational evidence and suggest interventions that would alter the outcome (in this case school shootings).  In my mind there is a lot of Poly Anna thinking on both sides of the debate. If everyone was packing this wouldn’t happen (Tombstone anyone?).  Schools should be gun free zones (Because murderers always follow the rules?).  The fact that the opinions on this issue are so well entrenched means that this will be an exceedingly difficult issue to solve.  But, there are issues that need to be solved regardless of the level of difficulty.

Let me reiterate, I want to suggest we find a common ground.  Let me propose one.  We the people, seek to end school shootings now and forever.   There, was that so hard?  If you don’t agree with that statement … I don’t want you reading my blog anymore.  Currently the goals seem to be “protect the right to own guns at all costs” and “advance a repealing or infringement on the second amendment”. These are potential aspects of solutions, but they should not be goals in this particular debate.

I am not saying finding a solution is easy.  But I do want to suggest this problem is too important to not do that hard work of solving it.  Can both sides put down their posters long enough to say “killing students is bad, let’s do something about it”?  Will everyone get what they want? Probably not.  But that’s how we govern.  I do not pretend to have the answer.  Should we restrict guns?  Should people have better access to mental health?  Should we ban males from schools?  Should we target people in their 20s for random searches?  The research would suggest any of these could be the answer, it is also possible none of them will solve this malady.  I am not an expert on school shootings; I would imagine there are additional correlations we may want to look at.  But don’t we owe it to ourselves to look at all the correlations?

Coming together to find a solution means giving up our sacred cows and truly “putting everything on the table”.  I suspect the answer, that will suit the peculiar history and culture of the United States, will lie in the messy details.  Maybe I’m now the one who is guilty of Polly Anna thinking, but that is the republic I envision.  The candidate who will stand up and commit themselves to common ground goals rather than partisan solutions gets my serious consideration.  I’m still waiting.

Up Next: What is Tolerance?

Words Have Meanings


reb•el, noun, ˈrebəl/
a person who rises in opposition or armed resistance against an established government or ruler.

Slave, noun, slāv/
a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them.

New flash: words have meanings. I know, this thought is staggering to some, but I have studied it in an in-depth manner for the past five minutes and found that it is true. Words have meanings. I will let that sink in.

Recently, Meryl Streep came under fire when she would not identify herself as a feminist in an interview, choosing to be a humanist who supports equality. This was frustrating for feminists who wear the badge with honor and see Streep as a champion, playing strong female roles for pretty much her entire career. It was at best a slight, at worse a slap in the face to these feminists who look up to her. I don’t think anyone who is familiar with Streep’s work would think of her as anything other than an ardent supporter for women’s rights. So why the uproar from the feminist community? Because, words have meanings.

Not long after, Meryl Streep was seen, along with her Suffragette costars, wearing a t-shirt with the following quote from the character she is portraying: I would rather be a rebel than a slave. In response, some in the black community lost their poop (I try to keep this G rated). How could white women wear a t-shirt even suggesting that woman not having the right to vote was in any way analogous to what black people went through as slaves? And how did a PR person not put together that being against slavery and being a rebel (a.k.a. a supporter of the Confederate States of America) are oxymoronic? One could point out that the origin of the quote came from a British suffragette who had an entirely different historical context for those two words, however, wouldn’t that just further my point: words have meanings.

I have been ruminating on this blog for some time but was missing the perfect foil for a launching point. Thank you, Meryl Streep. I have been attempting to teach this concept to my kids since they were very little (I am not sure how successful I have been). It has been my contention that people of influence use words carefully and thoughtfully. Don’t use words like hate for something as trivial as mushy peas, save it so that it can have its full affect. In addition, develop a good lexicon of words that can be used: hate, disdain, abhor, disgusted by, loathe, passionately dislike . . . make your words count because words have meanings.

In George Orwell’s ground breaking book, 1984, Orwell recognizes the power of words and their meanings. He introduces the concept of Doublethink where the totalitarian government says one thing but mean another. Many have pointed to the way society has altered language in a way to hide or obscure what we are actually talking about. War time language is probably the easiest place to see this. We talk about “casualties” during war instead of “deaths”. We “experience collateral damage” rather than “kill civilians”. And, a jet “delivers it’s payload” instead of “dropping a bomb”. We have gotten so used to this mode of talking about war that we hardly realize the switch in language anymore. The war department waged a war on language (primarily during Vietnam) and won. Why did they bother? Because: words have meanings.

More than a hundred years ago, Nietzsche wrote about the reevaluation of values. About turning values on their ear and making what is good into what is bad and vice versa (many a modernist cling to Nietsche’s thought with glee missing the point that he was also praising the rise of militarism when war could once again be seen as valiant). Nieztsche rightfully saw that this was a war of language. The one who controls the meaning of words, controls the value of those words. He then encourages the übermensch (trans. overman but more often superman) to wrest the control of language away from those who are weaker and claim it for himself (sorry ladies, but Nietszhe was a bit of a chauvinist). In controlling meaning, one can control values; in controlling values the übermensch can align the world to his liking. Once again: words have meanings.

As a sometime philosopher and constant lover of language, I become alarmed when I see the meanings of words absconded and reinterpreted to fit a particular agenda. Or framed in such a way that limits our ability to use a word (or in Meryl Streep’s case not use a word). I worry about our sanitization of language in a way that eliminates our power to use words effectively (such as removing “lynch” from our vocabulary as it may be inflammatory to some people). I understand that words have meanings, but they also have context. They have life within the sentences where they exist.

When I read Meryl Streep’s shirt I was caused to think deeply about what her shirt meant in terms of feminism and women’s suffrage. I was not immediately offended by the verbiage that was used. But I was challenged to think about how denying 50% (I don’t have the current census figures so forgive me if I am off by a few points) of the population the right to vote keeps them in a state of servitude to those of us who can vote (full disclosure, I am a white male). I understood the strong language and the extremism. But it was the extremism that helped it make a point. Would it have had the same affect if the shirt had read “I would rather have the right to vote than not vote”? I probably would have said… well, no kidding, and moved on. It is the same way that Black Lives Matter makes me think of racial equality, Pro-Life and Pro-Choice makes me weigh human sanctity and personal freedom, and the mere mention of Columbine insists I confront violence. I am not offended by the fact that words have meanings. Instead, I am spurred on to greater thought by those meanings.

I am an advocate of dialogue and debate and I see it slipping away. It seems we can have no real discussions without someone become offended, incensed, or personally outraged. Can we regain the importance and meaning of language? Can we regain the concept of context? Can we sit at the table and talk to one another about issues that matter? I think we better before words lose all meaning and become only a means to an end.

Up Next: What to Do About Oregon: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Guns

Swimming With Mr. Dibbs


A 2.0 student can know more than a 4.0 student.

Grades don’t determine intelligence, they test obedience.


If you have been following my blog you know of my proclivity to surf the Facebook news feeds as well as my general opinion of the pearls of wisdom that can be found there  The particular gem appearing above won the award for the stupidest thing I had read that day.  At the same time, I was curious who Earl Dibbs Jr. was.  Was this the opinion of an educational activist who was railing against a system that categorizes students based on an arbitrary assignment of numerical value?  Was it a cultural commentary opined by a minority bemoaning the fact that so many young men of color are shut out of the halls of higher learning?  No, best as I can tell, Earl Dibbs Jr. (aka Granger Smith) is a country music musician.

As a musician myself, I do not make it a practice of criticizing other musicians.  But I will make an exception here.  Country music is famous for line dancing, drinking beer, and letting Jesus drive your car.  Moving the needle on educational policy?  Not so much.  So, why Earl Dibbs Jr. felt it was his responsibility, nay, his duty to weigh on the validity of grade point average, I may never know.

When I first began teaching, in the previous millennia, I started out with a group of impressionable 5th graders.  I quickly learned they were not as impressionable as I thought; as some of them insisted on arguing the finer points of whether or not Lansing was truly the capital of Michigan (they were certain it was Detroit… never mind that I grew up in Michigan).  This led to my wife sharing with me one of the truisms of the universe: “Never argue with a fifth grader.”  Good advice that I have done my best to hold to ever since.

We can now add to this list of universal wisdom:  “Never try to expand the thinking of an individual who posts the tweets of a country music star on their Facebook page.”  Now, before you say… certainly, an individual with a Doctorate and twenty years in education would know better?”  No, apparently I don’t.  I have long believed I have a duty to correct stupidity wherever I find it.  This coupled with the fact that I knew this youth and thought he would at least take my words to heart, led me into dangerous territory.

Here was my response:

Here is my issue. I’ve known obedient students with high gpa and obedient students with low gpa. I’ve known rebellious students with high and low gpa. You are correct gpa does not NECESSARILY measure knowledge. But it often measures effort. It can conversely measure lazy. It certainly can measure compliance. It can measure ability to obtain and reproduce content knowledge. It often measures application of abilities. And sometimes even obedience. But obedience alone will not get you a high gpa. Now if a person chooses to be disobedient because he or she thinks gpa is irrelevant, than it is also measuring something else. How do I know so much about factors of gpa? Because I failed classes in college for being lazy, uncompliant, unwilling to study, and flat out ignorant. You see, it’s hard to obtain knowledge when you never read your text. I finally realized I desired better for myself and I applied myself. There you go, that lesson was free. @DRKOHNS

Perhaps I was naive to believe that my words would fall on anything but deaf ears.  I was informed by the young man, who made the original post, that I could keep my opinions to myself and not “shove them down his throat.”  He believed he could learn simply by reading and learning from life.  He questioned whether or not I was deserving of the title doctor. And, finally, told me that if I had as much education as I claim, I would know that the Earl Dibbs Jr. quote was true.

Sigh… Yes, I walked into that and probably got what I deserved for believing I could use a Facebook post to enact real change.  However, I don’t actually want to cry in my Herbalife shake about the seeming injustices of Facebook wisdom.  Instead, the occurrence caused me to reflect upon post modernism and the potential dangers of self confirming interpretive communities.

What had happened is that I had stumbled into a community where the philosophical wisdom of a musical artist was valued far above education and experience.  In fact, my twenty years in education and advanced degrees resulted in opinion while Earl Dibbs Jr. espoused truth.  In researching for this blog (yes, I actually do research before I write) I found a whole world of Dibbs wisdom via his twitter account.  He mostly shares precious pearls related to drinking beer, shooting things, diesel trucks, and reasons to drop your girlfriend (such as she doesn’t drink beer, shoot things, or like diesel trucks).

For some time modernists have been holding on to metanarratives and rejecting the concept that truth can be found wherever you want it to be found.  However, as the world has become simultaneously larger and smaller, the emerging culture has found it increasingly harder to believe that the Western/Modernist way of thinking is the only way to think.  This leaves our culture in a delayed adolescent stage where we have discovered that Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny (the pantheon of bringers of good things) don’t really exist, and wondering what else our parents have lied about.  The enormous sky of existence, once held up by the sure hands of those older than we, is now falling.

So, like middle schoolers, we seek out people who share our love of musical artists, sports teams, clothing designers, or patent disdain of everything.  In so doing, postmodern individuals have sought to bring meaning to chaos and make their world a little smaller once again: we call these interpretive communities (more on interpretive communities in a future blog).

My fear is that at times an interpretive community can have a tendency to do little to challenge beliefs, expand horizons, or suggest one might be on the wrong path.  If one were to follow Earl Dibbs Jrs. Wisdom to its fullest extent, I would imagine it would find the individual drunk and single, having shot their own truck, after dropping out of school …. Oh with George Strait as President.   This might be someone’s view of utopia, I’m hoping for a little bit more in life.

If we only seek knowledge that fits our narrow beliefs and understanding.  And only accept the truth that lends credence to our behaviors.  We find ourselves swimming in an ankle deep pool of our own making.   In the case of the young man mentioned above, Earl Dibbs Jr. gave a rational to his lack of effort in academic pursuits, and provided a narrative that turned his lack of effort into a virtue as one who stands against the blind obedience of the sheep.  One will rarely find themselves drowning in such pools.

I, however, prefer to swim in oceans, or at least Great Lakes.  In this deluge, hardly a week does not go by that I am not challenged to swim a little harder and think more deeply about one issue or another.  Sometimes I abandon my previous position, sometimes I confirm it, other times I fine tune it.  But the currents of thought have become my friends rather than my adversaries.  I encourage you to join me for a swim.  If you know Earl Dibbs Jr., bring him along, tell him to bring his water wings.