A Few Things on My Mind in the Three Hours Since I Awoke

For some reason, humans seem to have a hard time accepting the fact that different cultures can have radically different world views. We tend to think the way we were taught to think and perceive the world is the only proper way. Other perspectives—those at odds with our own—are strange or wrong or evil or unusual or otherwise weird; only our way is natural and normal and reasonable.

An example of this clash of cultures can be seen in the reaction in our culture to the fact that a small percentage of Koreans eat dog meat. As far as I can tell, eating dog meat is not a common practice and it is in decline, but it is done. To be fair, the practice of eating dog is diminishing in part because of the reaction of people in the Korean culture to the concept. But it is done. And, in my view, it is not barbaric. But I do find it unappetizing and I loathe the idea of breeding dogs as sources of meat. The reason for that loathing is attributable in large part to my upbringing—my culture.

The same sort of cultural reactions can be observed when discussing different forms of society and government. Many in the Western world insist that democracy is the single best form of government (even though we do not live in a true democracy and probably do not understand what it is). The very idea of communism or socialism is abhorrent; we’ve been taught that communism and socialism are “evil” forms of social control (as if democracy as practiced in the U.S., along with its ally, capitalism, are pure and absolutely fair).

My point is that we are taught what to believe. Our values are etched in our minds from an early age, carved in the folds of our brains in ways that seem to prevent other values from being given even a consideration. While I understand and appreciate being taught a foundation of good values, locking the mental doors to conflicting values is an ugly mistake. By insisting our system of government and our social order are the best ones, we degrade others systems; either explicitly or implicitly, we label them inferior, something to avoid. Is it any wonder, then, that people readily react negatively to other cultures in general? Anything different is bad; anything that looks like us is good.

If I could change the world, I would. I most assuredly would.

***

My wife got out of bed around 4:00 a.m. I followed about half an hour later. We’ve both been awake since then; she with her tea and me with my coffee. She’s reading. I’m writing. We took a break for breakfast, though, which was a welcome respite from the keyboard.

She toasted two large pieces of black bread and spread goat cheese on them. While she was toasting the bread, I was peeling and smashing the meat of an avocado. She spread the avocado on top of the goat cheese. I put a pinch of Kosher salt on my piece of avocado and goat cheese toasted black bread. It was exceptional. If we had more avocados and more goat cheese, I would have more. But we don’t. So I won’t. Alas. I’ll say it again. Alas.

***

Leaf litter covers many of the roads and driveways around us. The recent record low temperatures can be blamed for the earlier-than-usual leaf drops, I suppose. If I can muster the energy later this morning, I will go outside an blow leaves off the driveway and the front porch. I need to tidy up just a bit in preparation for a gathering at our house on Monday afternoon. Several members of the writers’ club and a few spouses will come over for a read-around and a wine and hors d’ouvres reception. The numbers will be small. I expect only 10-12 people, including Janine and me. That’s about the maximum workable number for a read-around, in my opinion.

***

Yesterday afternoon, we went to XPlore Lakeside, the restaurant occupying the space once occupied by Last Chance (which is defunct). They had a special going between 3:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.; a hamburger, fries, and a draft beer for $10, at the bar. Janine and her sister and I decided to give it a try. It was well worth it. Good burger, good fries, and our choice of any of about six or eight draft beers. Most of the beers were from Arkansas breweries (only one tap had a big name beer; Michelob). Each of us chose a Skullcrusher IPA from Bubba’s Brews. I like the bar at Xplore. It’s the sort of place I think I could hang out every day. Drinking beer and eating hamburgers. And gaining weight. And listening to the sound of the arteries in my heart clog with clots of cholesterol. Maybe not every day.

***

I think I wrote a year or so ago about my months in years past of “doing without.” I’ve talked about a reprise of the project. I want to do more than talk about it. I want to do it again. When I tried to explain it to people, the feedback I got, for the most part, was “Why do it? Why put deny yourself anything? Why put yourself through it?” Though I tried to explain it was to test my willpower and discipline, with the objective of improving both, they thought the idea was silly and pointless. I disagreed. I disagree still. I believe it’s time again to test my willpower and discipline. I think it’s time to explore aspects of myself that haven’t been adequately explored lately. So I’ll begin planning my months of “doing without.” And I’ll write about them here, assuming I don’t drop the ball like I did a year or so ago when I said I was going to resurrect the project. Not this time, though. This time, I’ll follow through.

***

In what might be related in some form or fashion to “doing without,” I’d like to begin another practice/project in which I will, on a regular basis, do something unexpected for a stranger. Nothing big. Maybe offer to return a grocery cart for someone who’s putting their groceries in their car. Stop to help someone whose car is stalled or has a flat tire. Stop and clear debris from the roadway when I see something blocking a lane of traffic. Help someone struggling to carry a load of boxes into the post office. None of these sorts of things are out of character for me, but I’ve noticed in recent years that I haven’t done them as frequently as I once did. And I’ve noticed, too, that I’ve sometimes made deliberate choices not to do something to help even when I felt I should. When I’ve made those choices, I’ve felt guilt for giving my convenience a higher priority than someone else’s needs. Maybe I’ve just grown lazy. Whatever it is, I want to overcome it. That lazy bastard is not who I was and I don’t want him to become who I am.

***

Obviously, my mind has been switching gears at breakneck speed this morning. Maybe some meditation is in order. I can feel the muscles in my arms and shoulders; they are tight. I can feel tension in my neck. A massage right now would be just what the doctor ordered. But since there’s no masseuse handy, I’ll try something else. Meditation or tea. We’ll see.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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