Author Archives: Joe Langen
What Are Friends For?
I value the friend who for me finds time on his calendar, but I cherish the friend who for me does not consult his calendar.
I was thinking the other day that we tend to take friends for granted. We expect them to be there when we need them, to understand us and support our efforts.
I realized that all friends are not the same. We have acquaintances whom we greet when we see them. We usually know each other by name, briefly comment on the weather, sports or other shared interests and go on about our business.
Another group of friends consists of people with whom we may go to events, share tools or help out with major projects. They are not in our lives on a constant basis but seem to show up when needed, sometimes without being asked. We expect these friends to be aware of our needs and help out when they can. We do the same for them. We tend to be offended if they ignore our needs.
We have close friends who know more about us. We share with them the major struggles in our lives and expect them to know how we feel about most things. Even if our opinions do not agree, we expect them to respect what we think, as we do for them.
There is another level of friendship whose members have come to be known as soul mates. They know us better than we know ourselves. They can act as our conscience and can tell us things which would cause offense if we heard them from someone else. They are almost part of us and can sense what we think or feel.
These four types of friendship develop from acquaintanceship to deeper relationships over time if we let them. Some people don’t allow themselves to have many acquaintances, if any. They routinely ignore others’ attempts to share a friendly hello and make it clear that they do not want to share their lives with anyone. After a while people stop making the effort and leave them to their isolation.
We can return friendly chatter and keep our involvement at that level. Or we can begin to share some of ourselves and take an interest in others in return. As we discover what we have in common, interests grow and deepen. Again we have a choice of how much we are willing to share.
As we get to know and trust casual friends, they may eventually join the circle of our close friends. We know they will be there for us when we have a major crisis and we are there for theirs as well. We share deeply in each other’s joys and sorrows and sometimes seem like part of each other’s families.
Soul mates do not seem to be chosen. I don’t think we pick people out at any of the three previous stages and decide we would like them as soul mates. It just happens over time. It is almost as if we allow these people into our brains and emotional centers so that they become part of us. I don’t think everyone has a soul mate.
Many people are not comfortable sharing enough of themselves to allow this level of intimacy. No matter how many friends we have, it is our job to treasure them and let them know we appreciate them, as well as being there for them when they need us.
- What do you expect from your friends?
- Are your expectations realistic?
- Do you expect more from your friends than you are willing to give?
- Do your offer your friends the best you have?
- Let your friends know how much you treasure them.
Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon
Woke, Asleep or Clueless?
Manny Otike recently wrote an article in Democracy Guardian, GOP’s Antiwoke Jihad is Lazy Politicking. Republicans of an antagonistic bent have taken to casting anyone with liberal leanings into their imagined barrel of idiots, worshiping “wokism” as they they do with adherents of Critical Race Theory.
Let’s make sure we are clear about what we are discussing. Otike defines Critical Race Theory as “an academic framework that explains long-time racial injustices“. He defines Woke as “a word from African American Vernacular English otherwise known as Ebonics. The term woke was more recently adapted to mean awareness of racial and social injustices.” Now Woke is an umbrella term used by a militant faction of Republicans to deride any liberals they find objectionable. They blame on it anything they do not like in American society which rankles them.
As an example, these Republicans blame “wokism” for recent bank failures rather than the high risk loans formerly regulated by law until Trump ended the regulations which governed such loans.
DeSantis and other Republican politicians of his ilk bunch together under the term “wokism” things they do not like about American society. They are working hard to ban books, discussions or even the mention of racism or sexuality in schools, especially when it deviates from their standard of relationships deviating from their norm of one man and one woman. Also no mention of abortion is tolerated and they are working hard to ban it nationally regardless of the circumstances.
The anti-woke crowd is against open discussion, especially in schools, of just about anything they dislike and label “wokism.” They are against anything which does not fit into their anti-woke agenda. They expect their adherents to accept their simplistic biases as the last word on anything controversial. You don’t need your brain. You will be told what to think. Mantras take the place of any reasonable discussion. If you want to join this group, prepare to check your brain at the door. You don’t need to think. You will be told what to believe.
What We as a People Must Do About Anarchy
This is the last of my posts inspired by Adrienne La France’s article The New Anarchy published in the Atlantic. Today we will consider what we must do as a nation. You may have noticed that I have not mentioned Trump yet. Let’s do that now and get it over with. La France has this to say: Political violence in America unfolds with little organized guidance and is fed by a mishmash of extremist right-wing views. It predates the emergence of Donald Trump but Trump served as an accelerant. Trump made tolerance of political violence a defining trait of his party. No commentary is necessary. In periods of decivilization, ordinary people fail to find common ground with one another and lose faith in institutions and elected leaders. We are a very diverse population. In my opinion, we have benefitted from our diversity. To a large extent we have incorporated the strengths of divergent immigrant populations and forged a new culture of our own. Yet there are still people from various races and beliefs some of us have trouble incorporating despite our best efforts. There are no simple or easy ways to respond to political violence. LaFrance suggests developments which might lead to less violence:
- Holding perpetrators to account is critical.
- Improved economy.
- People getting tired of living in terror.
- Facing down those who use the language of democracy. to weaken our democratic system.
- Rebuking the conspiracy theorist who uses the rhetoric of truth-seeking to obscure what is real.
- Unmasking the terrorist who claims to love freedom.
What to Expect from Our Leaders Regarding Anarchy
This is my third post on ideas presented by Adrienne LaFrance in her Atlantic article The New Anarchy. These ideas center on what we can and should expect from our leaders with regard to the threat of anarchy.
The author states that leaders in all parts of government must point out the dangers and single out perpetrators. She also states that violence must be confronted where it takes root, in the minds of citizens.
She sees it as the responsibility of our leaders to help us see when we going off track and undermining our civilization by attacking it violently and ultimately destroying the framework of our civilization.
I agree that violence does not just appear of its own accord. It begins with faulty perception of what is required to improve our way of life. There are people trying to take every opportunity to gain advantage at the expense of others and use power for their own priorities rater than for the good of our country. We will look at who this includes and what to do about them in more depth in the next post.
So where do these leaders come from? Some are interested in what is best for our country and for all of its citizens. At the other extreme are individuals who gain power through money where they buy influence or trade favors for electoral advantage.
We can’t just wait for leaders who will work in the best interest of our citizens. It should not be a surprise to find that our leaders end up in positions of authority and power through our votes.
We can elect protectors of our national values or people who use power for their own ends regardless of our needs. In that sense, the leaders we have are the result of how we vote. We all have responsibility for who our leaders are when we go the polls. We will look more closely at citizen responsibility in my next post.
Anarchy or War?
This is another post stimulated by Adrienne La France’s article, The New Anarchy in The Atlantic. She stated that violence in America, which was at a peak just before World War I, “temporarily quelled the violence.” I had never heard of such a thing.
I wondered what the connection could be. How could a world war cause a reduction in domestic violence. The only explanation I could think of is there is a thirst for violence in any given society and at least in a good proportion of its citizens. War can satisfy this thirst.
The author offered her opinion that part of the explanation was that those inclined toward domestic violence left the country so they would not be subject to military draft. This suggests to me that at least some people preferred to engage in antisocial violence rather that participate in the officially approved violence of war.
I thought back to times in my life when I might have been disposed to violence. Once when I was in middle school, I recall having had a bully in the neighborhood who terrorized me as well as anyone else who crossed his path. It finally reached a point where I felt called to action. On the way home from school he made a taunting comment to me. I tackled him into a snowbank, and stuffed as much snow into his shirt as I could. I never had any further trouble with him.
My friends and I developed a game in which we tied each other up and bound the person involved to a tree. Then we waited to see how long it took for the person to work his way out and get freed.
Once we wondered how long it would take for a girl to work her way free. We tied a girl’s hands behind her back. Much to our dismay, she became frightened and ran, slipping on some stones and scraping her face. This was the dumbest thing I had ever done and it took quite a while to be seen as human again.
After eighth grade I went to a residential seminary where violence was frowned on. Just my luck to attract another bully who took to making fun of my mild obesity with rather original names he created for his pleasure and my mortification. I plotted for some time ways to get him off my back. Somehow his behavior came to the attention of the priests in charge and soon he was on the bus back home. That was the last time I had trouble with bullies or needed to plan how to deal with them.
I have had a very peaceful life since then. My father and two of my uncles always seemed to be raging about something, but no violence erupted, at least that I saw. I had three other uncles who were models of peace for me. My most peaceful uncle became a priest. I never saw him as anywhere near violence. I learned at his funeral that he had participated in the battle of the bulge and that exposure to violence does not always lead to adopting violent ways.
Challenge Yourself to Share Your Love
You don’t choose your family.
They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.
Morals used to mean principles by which people lived. They were ways to make sense of the world, ourselves and our relationships. Morality was a word bandied about in this year’s election, but what does it really mean? I remember hearing a fair amount of talk about family values during the campaign without much explanation of any particulars.
When I listened closer, I did not hear much about what families, parents or children should do. Most of the focus was on what people should not do, such as abortion and gay marriage. This position implied that outlawing such practices would improve the quality of family life.
Even in families which profess strong adherence to a religion, there is still significant difficulty with infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, abuse and other problems. It does not appear that religious affiliation will always assure family harmony.
While the bible documents humanity’s struggle to come to terms with itself and with God, passages from the Bible have been used to justify genocide, war and many other destructive acts. It seems all too easy to forget there is a God who loves us all equally. Sometimes we are tempted to think we have special favor in God’s eyes and others are lesser beings.
Over the years, many religions have become institutionalized and fearful of growth. The end result can be a rigid set of rules, commanding what believers can and cannot do. At times, it seems there is more concern about the rules than about finding God. Some people appreciate a well defined path to salvation, absolving them of having to think about their path. Others have challenged tradition and forged their own way to God, sometimes being shunned or even executed for their efforts.
In the biblical story of the Magi, we learn about three wise men following a star in the heaven, avoiding entanglement in political intrigue and discovering Jesus, surrounded by animals and shepherds. There is something peaceful about this scene transcending traditional religions.
While moral guideposts can be helpful, we also need to look into our own hearts to see what lies there. What is important to us? Are we using the gifts God has given us to improve our lives and those of others whose lives we touch? Are we living what we believe instead of just professing our beliefs?
Spirituality transcends religion and connects us with God as well as with each other. In O Henry’s story, The Gift of the Magi, two spouses gave up their most precious possessions to enhance each other’s lives. It turned out that the things they gave up for themselves and bought for each other were less important than the love behind their choices. Our love for each other is the greatest gift God has given us. It is up to us to find ways we can share this gift with each other.
- What does family mean to you?
- Do you think of family rules or family love?Selection from my book
- Do you th aink some people are more deserving of love than others?
- How do you decide this?
- Would feeling loved change a person for the better?
Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available from Amazon.
Thoughts on Anarchy: Its Causes
Adrianne LaFrance wrote an excellent and thoughtful article called The New Anarchy in the April 2023 issue of The Atlantic. I would like to comment on several points she made over my next few posts.
She writes that the conditions that making a society vulnerable to political violence are complex but well established:
- highly visible wealth disparity
- declining trust is democratic institutions
- a perceived sense of victimhood.
- intense partisan estrangement based on identity
- rapid demographic change
- flourishing conspiracy theories
- violent and dehumanizing rhetoric against the “other”
- a sharply divided electorate
- and a belief among those who flirt with violence that they can get away with it.
LaFrance does not state how these conditions were determined to be essential for societal vulnerability to political violence but seems to imply that are self evident and commonly accepted. If we look carefully at what goes on in the lower levels of our society, we can see all of these factors at work in creating decay and chaos in our social structure. This is not the only time in our history or in the history of other societies.
Next we will look at an interesting conundrum.
If we look at what has been happening in the past few years, we can see the presence of all of them. It seems to me that there may be other factors as well but her list gives us plenty to think about.
All of these factors have not arisen by chance. Over the course of time, we have demeaned and marginalized each other and not taken seriously the needs of all our citizens. Those left by the wayside have been most prone to suffer from the factors mentioned and to fall prey to anger about being left behind.
I know I said goodbye not so long ago and did not expect to be posting here again. In the past few weeks, I have received quite a number of likes for the posts I have made about my relationship with politics. I found it confusing, overwhelming and depressing.
Maybe I overreacted. I do not consider myself any kind of expert on politics and do not see myself as having any great insights into how to resolve the political conflict our country currently faces. What I do have is my bunch of concerns about where our political squabble are leading us and what they portend for the future of of our country and for the world.
I have decided to resume posting here and hope to share with you some possibilities for understanding our conflicts and ways we might be able to get past them and live in harmony. Please join me.
My next few posts will be my reaction to Adrienne LaFrance’s article in The Atlantic, The New Anarchy.
Listening to the Sound of Silence
Everybody should have his personal sounds to listen for- sounds that will make him exhilarated and alive or quite and calm. One of the greatest sounds of them all-and to me it is a sound- is utter, complete silence.
I haven’t been watching much television lately but I did a few nights ago. Earlier in the evening I survived a breathless used car commercial featuring overlapping shouts. There was no space between sentences and little chance to process anything being said. I think the point was to get people excited about buying a car with no time to consider the decision rationally. Later in the evening I watched a new show about a group of men going to a Benedictine monastery to reassess their lives. They were to spend six weeks there and live as the monks did.
One of the chief features of monastery life is extended periods of silence. The point is for the monks to have time to listen to God and to their own thoughts. The men were invited to try the monastic way of life. When I was younger I spent several years living in a monastery. I found myself thinking back to the times when I had periods of silence built into my daily routine.
I don’t think I appreciated silence then. I was young, restless and brash. Silence was a time when I couldn’t be doing something useful. There have been many times in my life since then when I have wished to have some silence to gather my thoughts and consider the direction of my life. I had forgotten that I have a choice of how I spent my time that I could choose to have all the silence I wanted. Instead I chose to immerse myself in the cacophony of everyday life.
There is a line from the movie Cabaret, “What Good is Sitting Alone in Your Room?” What good is standing in a forest, by the seashore or in a silent snowfall? We all enter this world alone and leave it alone. Silence gives us a chance to keep in touch with the person we are between birth and death. Being alone does not necessarily mean being lonely. The alternative is to rush headlong in whatever direction the crowd is going, even if we are in a pack of lemmings headed for a cliff.
What would it be like if every person in the world took time to be alone? What would happen if everyone listened to their thoughts and then shared them with each other? What if we all listened to each other as we shared our thoughts? Most of us are in a hurry. I wonder how many of us think about where we are headed or what we will do when we reach our destinations.
- Choose some time today to be with yourself in silence.
- See how hard it is to shut off the outside world.
- See if you can be comfortable just being alone with yourself.
- Listen to hear your dreams, hopes and fears.
- Later tell someone you care about what you learned.
Selection from my