Saturday, June 27, 2020

A Dog's Eye: The Good People

Jack Johnson sat on a beach (presumably), strummed his guitar, while singing Good People and asking where they'd all gone. In Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! the Patrician, speaking to Sergeant Vimes, says "I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people.You're wrong of course. There are, always and only, the bad people." No doubt, he would have repeated those exact words to Jack to correct him of the erroneous belief there are any good people.

There are good people, right? You think you're a good person, and you think your friends are good people. That adjective even applies to some of your family members.  But what happens when the same person is described as 'good' by one person, but 'bad' by another person? Who's right? The fact good people sometimes do bad things is also problematic. The inverse is also true; most bad people are capable of good deeds. It starts to get very messy when you think along these lines, and the only solution, which is to find an objective measurement of goodness, is even more difficult to swallow.

Jack Johnson laments the dearth of good people, suggesting, somewhat naively or perhaps idealistically, that there used to be more of them. The Patrician, on the other hand, doesn't believe there are any good people. Is this simply a difference of opinion, or can we determine who is wrong and who is right? Country singer Luke Bryan wrote a song called Most People are Good and despite being quite a sappy tune, I think it represents the majority view. However, the majority view and the right view are not always the same thing.

When the question is 'is so and so a good person?', a much more realistic response is 'it depends'. A person's goodness is demonstrated by what they do, and to a lesser extent by what they say. We can only judge this goodness through our direct experience or the experience of others. Naturally, these views are coloured. They are not even remotely objective. Assuming we think it is necessary to have one, does an objective measurement of goodness exist?

Jesus was often tested by the religious people of his time, who wanted to justify their own behaviour by tricking him into supporting what they did and said. Jesus famously called these people whitewashed walls and hypocrites, among other things. On one occasion, a young lawyer came to ask Jesus a question. He began by addressing Jesus as Good Teacher. I'm sure he only meant to be polite and respectful (Luke Bryan's defence), but Jesus seized on the opportunity to teach the man, and everyone listening, a very important lesson. Jesus replied,'Why do you call me good? God alone is good.' (Mark 10:18)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes one of the ancient prophets when he says 'there is no one righteous, not even one...there is no one who does good, not even one.' (Romans 3:10-12)

God alone is good. Compared to him, everyone is bad. Many people don't like this. They don't accept it. It's too unpalatable and it's based on a fairy tale. That's fine. I'm not telling you what to believe, but accepting it does provide a realistic framework within which to view and understand the world we live in. As far as popular culture's opinion of human nature goes, it seems Pratchett's Patrician is closest to the mark. In such a world full of bad people, accepting there is a God and that he is good offers real hope; life sustaining hope.The Patrician forgot to mention that.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

RelationDips: peanut butter and jelly

On a recent edition of the hugely successfully, internationally syndicated radio show, Over the Fence with Trev and Dave,  I had to fly solo, so I chose to honour my missing radio partner by examining lists of top male duos.

To my surprise, or perhaps complete bewilderment would be a more accurate term, two food duos appeared in the first list I found. Whilst, I can't dispute that peanut butter and jelly (what we call 'jam' in Australia), and burger and fries are excellent food pairings, I was perplexed as to how they made it on to a list of male duos. I'm pretty sure food is asexual, or gender neutral or whatever. Clearly food is even more important than male duos.

The inexplicable listing of peanut butter and jelly, and burger and fries on a  list of top male duos, did, however, get me thinking about food combinations and relationships. There's a sweet and savoury thing going on with many food pairings. There's a sense of complementary tastes and sometimes textures which make these combinations work for some people. I must emphasize some people, because not every thinks cheese and Vegemite is a good match up...for example. In fact, this might not be anywhere near as delicious or as popular as Vegemite and cheese fans make out.

People often say they don't like certain foods or particular combinations of foods. Excluding people who have not even tried the thing they say they don't like, people who say they don't like certain foods often have a hard time saying why. They might use terms like it's too sweet, which makes sense if the person is not a sweet eater, but is baffling if they are. I do this. When offered a Vietnamese style sweet, lovingly prepared by my wife, I rejected it on the basis the taste was too sweet. (I did have an issue with the texture as well, but that wasn't the main issue.) I love sweets, yet I rejected the sweet my wife made because it was too sweet.

Time to get to the bottom of the margarine tub. What am I talking about here?

  1. Saying you don't like food you haven't tried, is the same as judging a book by its cover. In other words, we avoid getting to know some people based on very superficial opinions which may be quite misleading. Relationships of value are deep wells, not footpath puddles.
  2. Saying we don't like a food because it is too sweet, too sour, too salty or whatever when we generally love that kind of food reflects the conflictedness** of our inner natures, which in turn we carry into relationships, with predictable results. Relationships of value recognize, accept and deal with conflict in the kitchen and on the dining table.
  3. Saying a particular food combination is wrong because we think it's a horrible, unnatural confluence of foods is like saying people who aren't alike, shouldn't be together. Or worse, people who don't look right together, don't belong together. Relationships of value are always, in some significant sense, complementary.
Most people not only need food, but love it. Likewise, relationships provide sustenance for our souls, and a huge amount of pleasure when they are healthy. Whether other people can see it or not, there is only one valid question about the relationship, irrespective of what it looks like (or tastes like -that sounds a bit odd). Does this relationship bring out the best in both people? To put it another way, is this relationship a blessing to those in it and those around it?

How would you describe your most significant relationships in food terms? Peanut butter and jelly? Beer and prawns? Ice cream and hot apple pie? Please don't say Vegemite and cheese.

*Over the Fence with Trev and Dave is on Darwin's 97.7FM, Monday nights from 7-9pm.

**conflictedness is not a word according to the spellchecker, but I dispute that.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

The Mirror: Wonder

Great movies sometimes appear from nowhere. You never hear anything about them before they are released, when they are released or after they are released...nothing; until you notice it among the many films to chose from on Netflix. You're looking for a family friendly film for Saturday night at the movies and there it is.

Starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson who are both perfectly cast, Wonder is the story of a boy who has a misshapen face courtesy of countless surgeries to help him survive the consequences of a rare genetic disease. Auggie is home schooled until it's time for him to start middle school, and his parents decided he should join the 'mainstream.' It's not an original story. Mask comes to mind instantly, but there are many stories of children and adults with deformities and/or disabilities who have to overcome fear and prejudice as they attempt to live normal lives. Wonder, in my opinion, stands out from the crowd.

"You can't blend in when you were born to stand out."
(Via's words of encouragement to her brother, Auggie.)

Beautifully written and acted, Wonder was a moving and inspirational film experience for all of us. We laughed. We cried. We raged at injustice. We rejoiced with acts of bravery and kindness. When so many films celebrate darker, nasty aspects of human nature and behaviour, Wonder shone the spotlight on what is great, what is excellent and praiseworthy.

I particularly enjoyed the way characters loved with actions. In fact, for Auggie's friend Jack, and Auggie's sister's friend, they chose to demonstrate they they were sorry for what they had done, and that they loved and cared about their friends, by doing something. Beyond words they demonstrated love. It was very powerful.

They were too may great lines in the film to list them all, but here's a couple that stuck in my mind. Auggie's dad tells him that when he was wearing his mask all the time, he missed seeing his face. His says, "I missed that face. That's the face of my son. I love that face. I want to see that face." Auggie's mum tells him he's not ugly, he's beautiful. Auggie complains that she is only saying that because she is his mother. "So because I'm your mother, my opinion doesn't count? she says. "Right," says Auggie. She counters, "It's because I'm your mother, my opinion counts the most."

I highly recommend Wonder as a film which celebrates goodness, kindness and bravery. I dare you to watch it and not be moved, deeply moved.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Twenty five...too easy

Social media trends come and go in whirlwinds of popularity bandwagons. Somebody films themselves doing something, calls it a challenge, attaches the deed to a cause and posts it on one or more social media platforms, running it up the proverbial flagpole to see who salutes. The sought after salute in this case, is for the viewer to:

  1. Like the video and share it.
  2. Film themselves doing the challenge and share it.
  3. Nominate another person to do it.
  4. Make a donation to the cause.
In July and August of 2014, the Ice Bucket Challenge went viral in support of Motor Neurone Disease. It is now officially an annual event, but subsequent incarnations have not matched the phenomenal $220 million (estimated) raised with the initial Ice Bucket Challenge which simply involved having a bucket of ice water dumped over the head of the participant.

The No Make-up Selfie Craze was attached to the cause of cancer awareness by Fiona Cunningham in 2014. More recently, a men's mental health challenge, of unknown origin, involving raw eggs, sugar, salt and beer has attracted some criticism because of the relationship between mental health issues and alcoholism.These are just a few examples.

There has been a flood of challenges in 2020, most of which are not attached to causes, but are simply one solution to filling the amusement vacuum created by the COVID-19 lockdown. You can read about this trend here

The push up challenge is one I am participating in courtesy of being nominated by my friend and Over the Fence co host, Trevor. I even filmed one of my sets in the studio. I've noticed a couple of my other Facebook friends are also doing the challenge which involves doing 25 push ups everyday for 25 days. I've been mixing up the locations a little for interest and also lately adding some push up variations. Suicide prevention and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and PTSD are the targets of this campaign and the reason why Trev and I are involved is because it's right in the pocket in terms of one of the major themes on our radio show
which is health. Over the Fence is a radio program for men on Darwin's 97.7FM: our tag is "talking about stuff that matters to men". We strongly encourage men to talk about their problems, so we see the push up challenge as a natural extension of this. We are also Movember activists.

As I write this, I have completed 18 days of the challenge, albeit it with a forced break in the middle due to illness. Although for me, it hasn't gained the traction I hoped, I have enjoyed doing my bit whilst keeping fit. If you get nominated, can I encourage you to go for it, or even just kick it off yourself.