While I’m not exactly an overly ambitious Tweeter or Facebooker or Google+-er (are those still around? pardon the joke at Google’s expense …), I do engage in some minimal social media and have noticed some things. I do value the improved ability to stay in touch with current or lost friends and the communication value is certainly almost limitless. However, I find the discourse on social media is not always the most conducive to free expression.
Please, if anyone out there disagrees with me on this, let me know! I’m sure many of you have remarkable examples of how a social media platform, such as Twitter, has allowed you to truly, freely express yourselves, but I wonder if you’ve witnessed any of the downsides? Because our words and thoughts are so openly visible, I think there is something of a tendency to shy away from some forms of expression.
Take politics, for instance. I have personally known stories of people receiving forms of discrimination or retribution in their workplace after freely expressing an opinion on a sensitive topic such as abortion or free trade or immigration or even which presidential candidate(s) they support. Does fear of such treatment curtail truly free expression? Back in the days before Twitter etc, I’m sure similar things happened, but at least in a non-social media world you could decide with whom and when you wanted to share what.
Or an example from my own experience in sports fandom. I’m a fan of football (American) and baseball. That’s mostly it. I don’t know much at all about soccer (although I am curious, it seems so popular it must be great!) So I read another Tweeter’s opinion that described how sportscasters for soccer often take the role of mere spokespeople in favor of the teams they report on (as opposed to a lot of sportscasters for baseball and football, who mostly seem to be unbiased reporters, having opinions, but not biased in one way or another – I hope Skip Bayless is reading this, he should learn what a real reporter does!). So I merely asked this person if these soccer sportscasters had any financial stake or interest in the success of a given team? (a casual question, since I don’t know the system!). This person angrily told me “not to ask pointed questions lest I offend someone.” Really? So if I can’t ask a pointed question, how can we have real, open discourse that will enrich and educate all of us? If I’m afraid of offending someone by a mere question, I should be more afraid to offend some more people by making an actual statement!
Maybe I’m overreacting, and I hope one of you more social media-savvy friends out there can point me in the right direction and give me some more confidence to express myself. But as it is, sending out messages to “anyone out there” seems like a risky way to express oneself …. Unless of course you’re not afraid of offending anyone, which I hope most people are and one of you out there will encourage me to be!
Thanks for listening (ie. reading). Tweet me @ErikDWeis !!!! And I look forward to having free discourse on any topic with you!!!
My book of short stories is now available for free download at Smashwords ..... A collection of varied short stories that range from a fictional account of Byron's prisoner of Chillon, a totalitarian allegory set within a factory, a conceptualized description of baseball, a daring robbery caper in an historic Scottish castle, a futuristic advancement of Dante's Comedy, and a whimsical skit in an English club.
We all have various, often illustrious, stated aims when we sit down to write or tell other people about our writing. All of us want to “express ourselves” and “open our minds/hearts” and “contribute to meaningful discourse” …. And these are indeed noble aims! I share them myself as I think all of us who want to write do.
My reasons for desiring to write are no less illustrious. I confess that part of the reason I want to write is not only to converse with others, but to place myself in that conversation.
Yes, not a puny word! Immortality. Mankind has pined for immortality for eons. It is from this yearning to escape death that arises our ancient embrace of religion. A religion that promises us a form of life after death (albeit without much proof of such a thing, although that’s another discussion for another day ….)
While our physical human form is indeed transient, what survives of human physical presence is music, art, words. When I put words on a page (or a computer screen!) I am putting down a part of my mind. It is not my whole mind, but a bit, a moment’s thought. Beyond conveying a story or an idea, my deep-seated yearning to write is to leave part of my mind here on Earth after I’m gone. My desire to write is to express my mind not only to humans of the present, but of the future.
If my words are one day read by someone 200-300 years from now, I feel that I am, in a sense I will never appreciate after I am gone, living again. Part of me, those words and thoughts in my head, my feelings, my ideas, the music of my sentence and paragraph structure, will be living again.
When we look back on human history, think of how few individuals (rather than peoples or nations) are really remembered. Think of the thousands who marched in Alexander the Great’s armies? Who do we remember? One man, at the top (and perhaps scholars can spout off the names of a handful of generals).
The same happens with composing and writing. Who remembers the millions who have listened to Beethoven or Mahler? Who remembers the millions who have read the works of James Joyce? No, we remember the composer and the author.
In saying I want immortality, I mean I want to be a part of that ageless tradition of human thought. Not that I aspire to actually be in the highest ranks (such as Joyce or Vonnegut or Shakespeare), but rather when I write I want to be a part of the myriad human minds that have left their words – often anonymously – to posterity. To be a part of that growing group of minds which have expressed themselves not only to their contemporaries, but their near and distant descendants. I want those future beings to know me, in a partial sense.
I write not for fame or lucre. I write because I want my words to be read and heard and felt and … in a way …. I want to be there with my readers 200-300 years from now.
Beethoven’s Op. 49 piano sonatas are generally considered to be simple pieces. Both No. 19 and No. 20 are in two movements, and by most pianists are considered to be rather elementary works. Beethoven himself may not have thought much of the No. 20 sonata, as it was likely written about a decade before its publication, among some of his suppressed early works.
So when I say that I gave up playing the piano because I hit the challenge of the No. 19 sonata, I’m not exactly tooting my own horn as a great pianist who was tackling a monumental piece. I was about 10 or 12, I think. By my own admission, and my mom’s frustration, I practiced little and seldom. My parents had gotten me private lessons in my home, we had a beautiful baby grand to practice on …. And I just never found the patience to do it.
Moreover, my inability to tackle this basic piece, which was completely owing to my lack of dedication to hard work, was worsened by my love of the beauty of the work itself. While it is simple, it is a delightful sonata. Artur Schnabel also contributed to my surrender – the Viennese pianist’s recording from 1932-35 amazed me with his technical brilliance as well as keen ability to capture the ebbs and flows of the thematic emphasis which Beethoven had tossed back and forth from the treble to the bass lines. I heard the beauty that he created and only felt dismay – I would never be able to play it this well, never.
I always think about this as a great loss when I listen to this piece today, years and years later. There is a pain in the mature mind to look back at one’s own inability to seize an opportunity as a child. I had a piano, I had lessons, I had a love of music – I just didn’t have the drive or patience to practice (at that age). The same way we look back on all the classic literature we explored in Cliffs Notes in high school, instead of really reading. If I had done my work at age 10-12, I would be able to play this piece to myself today. If I had read my assigned reading at age 16-18, I wouldn’t still have Ulysses on my ongoing list of books to read.
Our sense of perception and valuation grows as we age. At 10-12, all I wanted to do was watch afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons. Only now do I realize the value I could have gained by spending just an hour a day sitting at that piano fondling the keys. Only now do I realize what I lost. And only now do I listen to Schnabel’s rendition and realize that we shouldn’t ever stop what we’re doing since someone before us has done it better (I’m no Shakespeare, but if I don’t write just because I won’t achieve his sonnets, I’ll never find value in my own thoughts and words). But in listening to Schnabel and reading Shakespeare, we aspire to greatness in our own playing and writing. We should find inspiration, not dejection, in those experiences.
But as my sorrow on listening to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 19 persists, I am luckily reinvigorated by a realization that my loss is not permanent! I can buy a piano, I can buy lessons (I still know how to read music, so I could probably pick up the basics of the piece myself first). Don’t let disappointment at what we lost of a prior time curse us today. We cannot let it.
I should buy a piano. I should buy some sheet music. I should listen to Schnabel. I should sit down and play.
In reading Francis Bacon’s 16th century essay, Of Friendship, I was struck not only by the potential benefits of friendship he espouses, but by the lack of those benefits, due to the lack of real friendship, in our world today. While I – like most of us! – truly do enjoy the fruits of our technological world, where we can rapidly connect with others and capture information almost instantaneously, there is something to be said of the tight bonds between individuals we have lost.
Aside from our close family members, who do we connect with truly and deeply anymore? Friends have become, in the physical sense, folks we go out to dinner or a baseball game with, idle times with speckled, brief conversations. With few exceptions, we do not share our inner thoughts and feelings with friends. We send them Tweets, we “Friend” them on Facebook, we send moderately complete emails, but we don’t truly connect.
I agree with Bacon that “a natural and secret hatred, and aversation towards society, in any man, hath somewhat of the savage beast.” No doubt, many social media aficionados will proclaim that our Twitterverse and Facebook friendships are creating a larger sphere of social interactions than we ever had before. They’re correct, we can indeed communicate and interact with a very wide swath of humanity by these technological means. The numbers of people who can read my words quickly on this blog are far more than I could reach in the old days of mere written or printed words. I can send blurbs of my thoughts to hundreds on Twitter, and to “friends” and colleagues instantly by text messaging.
But really, what is the value of these rapid, trite interactions? Bacon almost seems to have foreseen the internet age when he wrote ”a crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.” No love. There is no love in a blog, in a Tweet. No love between two people.
Real friendship is a real connection, an opportunity to open the heart. “You may take sarza to open the liver, steel to open the spleen, flowers of sulphur for the lungs, castoreum for the brain; but no receipt openeth the heart, but a true friend; to whom you may impart griefs, joys, fears, hopes, suspicions, counsels, and whatsoever lieth upon the heart to oppress it, in a kind of civil shrift or confession.” Except for certain – often pleasantly verbose! – emails you don’t wish to read at work while your boss is in the room, our trite internet interactions are mere flitting flies compared to the conversations between real friends we very seldom have today and which no doubt were far more prevalent in Bacon’s day, or even in the pre-internet 20th century. I’m sure my parents know their college friends far better than I know mine, and I’ve no doubt exchanged way more emails and texts and Tweets than they have.
Bacon describes benefits of friendship, really benefits of honest conversations with true friends. “This communicating of a man’s self to his friend, works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs in halves. For there is no man, that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less.” In the modern internet age, I don’t feel we ever communicate ourselves to the same extent as Bacon is describing, and this lessens the effects on our joys and sorrows. Proudly – and arrogantly – proclaiming to our myriad Facebook “Friends” that we ate dinner at some fancy Chicago restaurant or saw our beloved New York Mets win or got a promotion at our fancy Washington law firm is not a deep discussion of the real nature of our joys that increases them. Likewise, you seldom see Facebook posts proclaiming getting fired or divorced, and so these sorrows are merely kept inside, or imparted by too-brief soliloquys to uninterested listeners. The therapeutic effects of friendship which Bacon describes are sorely lacking in our modern communication.
The utility to our awareness of both ourselves and our surroundings is also lacking in perusing our Twitterfeed or sending 140-character texts. “For friendship maketh indeed a fair day in the affections, from storm and tempests; but it maketh daylight in the understanding, out of darkness, and confusion of thoughts … he tosseth his thoughts more easily; he marshalleth them more orderly, he seeth how they look when they are turned into words: finally, he waxeth wiser than himself; and that more by an hour’s discourse, than by a day’s meditation.” While no doubt many of us have had such conversations with coworkers and thesis advisors, the ready and frequent benefit of such conversations with friends, that would enhance the cogency and relevance of our ideas, is sorely lacking in today’s world.
How can we remedy the loss of true friendship in our internet world? How can we capture at least some of the life lessons and benefits of friendship described by Sir Francis? I guess I’m not really sure. And I don’t think we can completely bring back such interactions in our rapid-fire, rat-race, text-happy, Twitter-crazed maelstrom of data and blurbs and angry, impersonal diatribes. Perhaps a commitment to spending more time with each other, outside of just office events and orchestrated reunions, is one way. Perhaps on our Facebook accounts, we should rely less on quick posts and “Liking” each other’s statements (which means nothing) and turn instead to the real message feature, where we can write as much as we like. Real, honest emails is a similar avenue. But have we lost some of our desire for these interactions? I fear we may have. We don’t want to message or email our friends, we seldom even want to talk to them (we’d rather text than talk). I find that sad, but perhaps it’s part of the path forward. Forward toward what, I’m not sure, and when we read Bacon’s essay, maybe we can harbor some nostalgia for the old ways that were, in the days before the nifty Twitter feed, in a way better.
Was introduced to a ambitious nonprofit venture by a group of Croatian readers, intent on providing a community where folks from all over the world can converse on literary interests. It's called CitajMe.com (Read Me). I encourage all readers to check it out. This kind of venture is a breath of fresh air in a world that is sustaining too few brick-and-mortar bookstores and transitioning to an age in which readers must converse and share on the internet. I salute Denis Vukosav and their staff on this ambitious project.
Francis Bacon's essay, Of Great Place, provides a tight and fitting set of lessons for development into a strong and well-thought-of worker in any area of endeavor. Here is the essay, along with a set of lessons I derive from this work.
MEN in great place are thrice servants: servants of the sovereign or state; servants of fame; and servants of business. So as they have no freedom; neither in their persons, nor in their actions, nor in their times. It is a strange desire, to seek power and to lose liberty: or to seek power over others, and to lose power over a man’s self. The rising unto place is laborious; and by pains, men come to greater pains; and it is sometimes base; and by indignities, men come to dignities. The standing is slippery, and the regress is either a downfall, or at least an eclipse, which is a melancholy thing. Cum non sis qui fueris, non esse cur velis vivere. Nay, retire men cannot when they would, neither will they, when it were reason; but are impatient of privateness, even in age and sickness, which require the shadow; like old townsmen, that will be still sitting at their street door, though thereby they offer age to scom. Certainly great persons had need to borrow other men’s opinions, to think themselves happy; for if they judge by their own feeling, they cannot find it; but if they think with themselves, what other men think of them, and that other men would fain be, as they are, then they are happy, as it were, by report; when perhaps they find the contrary within. For they are the first, that find their own griefs, though they be the last, that find their own faults. Certainly men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves, and while they are in the puzzle of business, they have no time to tend their health, either of body or mind. Illi mors gravis incubat, qui notus nimis omnibus, ignotus moritur sibi. In place, there is license to do good, and evil; whereof the latter is a curse: for in evil, the best condition is not to win; the second, not to can. But power to do good, is the true and lawful end of aspiring. For good thoughts (though God accept them) yet, towards men, are little better than good dreams, except they be put in act; and that cannot be, without power and place, as the vantage, and commanding ground. Merit and good works, is the end of man’s motion; and conscience of the same is the accomplishment of man’s rest. For if a man can be partaker of God’s theatre, he shall likewise be partaker of God’s rest. Et conversus Deus, ut aspiceret opera quae fecerunt manus suae, vidit quod omnia essent bona nimis; and then the sabbath. In the discharge of thy place, set before thee the best examples; for imitation is a globe of precepts. And after a time, set before thee thine own example; and examine thyself strictly, whether thou didst not best at first. Neglect not also the examples, of those that have carried themselves ill, in the same place; not to set off thyself, by taxing their memory, but to direct thyself, what to avoid. Reform therefore, without bravery, or scandal of former times and persons; but yet set it down to thyself, as well to create good precedents, as to follow them. Reduce things to the first institution, and observe wherein, and how, they have degenerate; but yet ask counsel of both times; of the ancient time, what is best; and of the latter time, what is fittest. Seek to make thy course regular, that men may know beforehand, what they may expect; but be not too positive and peremptory; and express thyself well, when thou digressest from thy rule. Preserve the right of thy place; but stir not questions of jurisdiction; and rather assume thy right, in silence and de facto, than voice it with claims, and challenges. Preserve likewise the rights of inferior places; and think it more honor, to direct in chief, than to be busy in all. Embrace and invite helps, and advices, touching the execution of thy place; and do not drive away such, as bring thee information, as meddlers; but accept of them in good part. The vices of authority are chiefly four: delays, corruption, roughness, and facility. For delays: give easy access; keep times appointed; go through with that which is in hand, and interlace not business, but of necessity. For corruption: do not only bind thine own hands, or thy servants’ hands, from taking, but bind the hands of suitors also, from offering. For integrity used doth the one; but integrity professed, and with a manifest detestation of bribery, doth the other. And avoid not only the fault, but the suspicion. Whosoever is found variable, and changeth manifestly without manifest cause, giveth suspicion of corruption. Therefore always, when thou changest thine opinion or course, profess it plainly, and declare it, together with the reasons that move thee to change; and do not think to steal it. A servant or a favorite, if he be inward, and no other apparent cause of esteem, is commonly thought, but a by-way to close corruption. For roughness: it is a needless cause of discontent: severity breedeth fear, but roughness breedeth hate. Even reproofs from authority, ought to be grave, and not taunting. As for facility: it is worse than bribery. For bribes come but now and then; but if importunity, or idle respects, lead a man, he shall never be without. As Solomon saith, To respect persons is not good; for such a man will transgress for a piece of bread. It is most true, that was anciently spoken, A place showeth the man. And it showeth some to the better, and some to the worse. Omnium consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset, saith Tacitus of Galba; but of Vespasian he saith, Solus imperantium, Vespasianus mutatus in melius; though the one was meant of sufficiency, the other of manners, and affection. It is an assured sign of a worthy and generous spirit, whom honor amends. For honor is, or should be, the place of virtue; and as in nature, things move violently to their place, and calmly in their place, so virtue in ambition is violent, in authority settled and calm. All rising to great place is by a winding star; and if there be factions, it is good to side a man’s self, whilst he is in the rising, and to balance himself when he is placed. Use the memory of thy predecessor, fairly and tenderly; for if thou dost not, it is a debt will sure be paid when thou art gone. If thou have colleagues, respect them, and rather call them, when they look not for it, than exclude them , when they have reason to look to be called. Be not too sensible, or too remembering, of thy place in conversation, and private answers to suitors; but let it rather be said, When he sits in place, he is another man.
And here are my lessons, taken from Bacon:
1. As Bob Dylan so correctly exclaimed, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody.” As we achieve great stations in life, we appear to rise, but we also become beholden to our position, serving those above us (for there is always someone above us, whether in nominal position or influence), serving our institution, serving the requirements of our own exalted position, and serving the challenges of our enterprise.
2. We become slaves to our situations, even our situations of great accomplishment and accompanying wealth and greatness. As we rise to great position, we become fully absorbed in that position and don’t see to our own person.
3. With great power, comes great responsibility. (from the pens of Voltaire and Spider-Man). With responsibility, freedom of action is limited. Thus with power, we lose freedom.
4. We strive through challenges to achieve a position where we are blessed with new and greater challenges.
5. Our fault is we cannot be content and happy with our own thoughts and opinions. We desire affirmation by borrowing the opinions of others.
6. We rush to harp on what we dislike and loath about the world around us. We are slow to look inside and discover our own failings.
7. To think good thoughts, for ourselves and others, is but idle fancy, for these thoughts and intentions stay only within the mind. We must have place and position to turn those good dreams, thoughts of goodness and thoughts of good actions, into actual action. To do actual good, rather than to think or dream of it, is the goal of our good thoughts and desires.
8. Make a list: take the people you admire and the people you don’t. Make a list of their good traits and bad traits. Now, make a list of your own good traits and bad traits. What you do well, what you do poorly. What you have mastered and what you have to work on (some things seriously work on). The most important thing about these lists is to be brutally honest with yourself. Do you write well? Do you write poorly? Why? Do you speak well? Do you speak poorly? Why? Only with an honest assessment can you turn this list into a tool to drive improvement. And you use the list of others’ strengths/weaknesses as a guide for your own.
9. Be consistent. People should be able to expect good things from you, on a consistent basis.
10. Don’t be demanding.
11. Be honest when you err.
12. Assume and be confident in your rights, your rights to your position and your actions. Be confident in your right to be in your place, to be doing what you are doing. Assume your rights, do not demand them.
13. Welcome advice, support, and counsel from others. It is overconfident and arrogant to shun advisors.
14. Be punctual, be available to others, do what must be done in a timely fashion.
15. Do not only avoid corruption in yourself but shun bribery from others. Avoid not only corruption, but any actions that could lead to the suspicion of corruption. For what others think of your conduct may be as important as your conduct itself. Be honest and forthright when declaring your actions, do not hide your intentions or moves. For this leads to suspicion of corruption.
16. Be severe, but not rough.
17. Ambition produces aggression. Authority produces a settled, calm demeanor.
18. Respect and honor those who came before you, for if you do not, you will not be respected and honored by those who follow you.
19. Call upon your colleagues when they do not look to be called, rather than ignore them when they want to be called.
Although the general US presidential election is some months away - lucky! since the Republicans have to spend a lot of time finding a quality candidate and the Democrats have to spend all their time perseverating on their casual sure-pick - I've been pondering again the Electoral College system.
To be clear, I totally understand why the authors of our Constitution framed the electoral process for President in this fashion. It made sense. The notion of a free-for-all pure election based on individual votes must have sounded crazy and dangerous. It was huge and unwieldy, a mob mentality could rally around a candidate and there would be no dividing line - no barrier - between a massively popular although untenable President being elected by "the masses" without a structure in place to make sure responsible leadership and government was maintained for the country.
The smaller and larger states, no doubt, also had their reservations about a free election. The larger states wished to maintain their proportionately larger share in the electoral process. The smaller states, with a smaller population, didn't want to have their voice proportionately diminished.
Now, my difficulty with the process. I have lived in both "Blue" and "Red" states (terms, by the way, I do not like, since they are more restrictive of free thought and expression by their inhabitants - as if a conservative view in New England is shunned, as is a more liberal view in the deep South). Likewise, I feel that every person in the electorate - every person who votes, that is, since many do not exercise their right to vote, sadly - has a viewpoint that should be respected and valued. Not just valued as an opinion or intellectually, but valued by the electoral process.
Our democracy thrives on the principle of majority rule. Whether in state or federal legislatures, the majority (of some proportion) holds sway in making decisions. This should occur both in terms of legislation as well as election of legislators. I feel that this should apply to our chief executive as well.
Obviously, majority does rule for election of the President, as the person winning the most Electoral College votes wins the election. But I feel that the polarized political landscape of our "Blue" and "Red" states drastically diminishes the individual's role in the electoral process - again, every viewpoint and vote should be valued.
If I vote "Red" in a Blue state, or vice versa, I feel - I think we all would feel - that our vote is .... to use a harsh word ..... useless! Why spend my time voting for McCain in Connecticut or Obama in Mississippi?! Setting aside the potential that a person winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college would lose the election (hello, Mr. Gore), my chief objection to this system is the devaluation of each voter's say in the process of electing our highest government official.
Here are some linkes ot articles about the US Electoral College:
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