This past week in the United States has been stressful, for everyone, and because my synagogue school students are part of that everyone, I wanted to focus on teaching a lesson that would reassure them, somewhat, that there are areas of their lives where they really do have some control. And, because I love teaching Yiddish words, the lesson for this week was: what does it mean to be a mensch?
Mensch is a Yiddish word, from German, meaning “human being,” or a person of integrity and honor. The opposite of a mensch is an unmensch, a person treating others cruelly and without compassion, as opposed to the word ubermensch (Nietzsche alert) which is usually translated as “the superman,” someone who is superior to other humans. The word Mensch has gathered a lot of associations in American culture (bearded, male, Jewish) but it really means a person who is…
Have you ever found yourself glued to the television or following a particular news story, your attention laser-focused on the outcome of the event? Focused as if your life depended on the result or even as if you could influence it? It’s this last belief that I want to address.
It all began with a genuine interest in the dumpster fire that is our president. I then found myself refreshing the news site every few moments to ensure that I had the newest and freshest updates. Events were moving so fast that I couldn’t afford to turn my attention to other things because my attention was needed! The end result required me to stay focused.
Or so I believed. So we all believe to a certain extent.
Some scientists believe that humans have an innate tendency toward religion. I think that it is less about a higher being than our collective ability to influence the world around us. Essentially, an inherent faith in the power of belief or a belief in the power of faith.
However, I believe that this instinct is more a group focus than a religion. We believe that our attention on an event can influence that event. I call this the Attention Effect. It is similar to the Observation Effect in Quantum Mechanics, where “the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon.” The Attention Effect is the belief that “the focused attention of the observer on the phenomenon can influence the phenomenon.” Not only can we change the phenomenon by observing it but can consciously change the result.
“We must have Faith” is another way of saying this. But rather than focusing our attention or faith on a diety to influence events, we have sidestepped the need for a diety with belief in our own ability to directly control events.
The secularization of society has redirected our faith away from religion to other outlets. The news cycle, the drama of social media, sports, the stock market, and currently, in my case, politics need our attention and influence to move in our favor. We have convinced ourselves that we can nudge the events by watching by paying attention.
In my case, politics is much like watching sports. I couldn’t afford to miss a single play because the entire game may hinge on that one moment. I needed to Pay Attention! Because of the Attention Effect!
Rather than a diety, society has turned our superstition to other things. Our institutionalized faith is now focused on the news cycle, sports teams, politics, or a celebrity’s love life. Our attention has been siphoned off, bottled, and monetized. And, yet, still has no effect on events. None…Nada…The same nothing as always. But marketing and capitalism have conspired to give us the warm fuzzy feeling of participation and accomplishment. But it’s illusory. Yes, we participated in a cultural moment, but that moment will ultimately be lost in the static of every other cultural moment.
The hours I spent focusing my attention did not accomplish, influence, or earn me anything.
In the meantime, my novel isn’t finished, I have not mastered German, I still can’t play Crazy Train, and all my goals of youth, of last year and even yesterday are unaccomplished, sacrificed on the altar of attention. If Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci or Shakespeare had had access to the internet, we wouldn’t have the masterpieces they created because they would have been too distracted to do the work. Their attention would have been needed, nay demanded elsewhere.
So, the next time you find yourself glued to the television or the internet for no constructive purpose, TURN IT OFF. Turn it all off and walk away. Get some work done. CREATE!!
I took this photo on a trip to Austria years ago and it’s always been one of my favorites. Just a loyal dog waiting patiently for his owner.
What a great dog!
This would never be my dog. My dog would have run away or followed me into the store or taken off into the store without me. Anything but what a good dog would do, such as this very good dog is demonstrating.
I don’t have a dog, but if I did, he would be an asshole. That’s just the kind of dog parent I am.
What do we do with them now,
these new dead? Where do we put them?
How can we keep them company
in the remaining earth,
too full already with our living—
Christ, with our dead?
How do we launch their ashy bodies, newly furnaced,
into the fiery ocean or the stream
chugging along in useless concrete basins,
scooping whatever’s left between the seams
of the old junker driving back to truth,
an empty house, and an open server?
There is so little left for us to do.
Each day is mildly different—
death stays the same, remaindered
from the very first to fall
among the unmourning vegetation
or drift in silent waters towards a soul.
And like a closing sale, all things must go.
More importantly, must go somewhere.
Hence the teeth-white matrices
of soldiers’ graves fanning the freeways,
the McDonald’s arches flecked
with a thousand crucifixions,
When I was growing up, I remember adults telling me that farting wasn’t ladylike. This statement was lost on me. What the hell does that mean? Ladylike? Isn’t farting frowned upon by everyone? Is there someone you know that can fart in public, and it’s completely acceptable? I want to meet this person. Better yet, I want to be this person.
You wonder how I ended up on this subject. Let me tell you! First, I need to tell you some stories from my past that will help to build some understanding. Each story is like a building block to the end of this squirrel-like thinking of mine.
When my stepdaughter Kyra was about three years old, we went camping. This was the first time that we took the kids camping, so it was an new experience for all of us. We were in a parking lot of the campsite…
I absolutely agree with this writer. I am a former Christian and could never understand the focus on locations and buildings. Economically, it works best that way, but that does not benefit faith at all.
My favorite lines:
“- there is no one waiting for you there.”
“Because at that point, he is simply not answerable to you anymore.”
The winter exposes the bones of the landscape,
the skeleton of the world.
I have cried at the table because the meal
brought me back to who I used to be.
It was easier to put a dog down when I was younger;
now, my proximity to death scares me.
I took pictures at her funeral to prove
to HR that these were actually bereavement days.
My mind blurred as I read his poems.
I wanted the words to bend one way
and they didn’t. I wished he was drunk.
Listening to Tupac’s “Brenda Had a Baby”
and I cried at the lines, “She didn’t know
what to throw away and what to keep.”
How the fuck did he know that?
That’s fucking sad and brilliant.
And while I was meditating,
I forgot to breathe in.
I exhaled my life out through my nose.
I will be so happy when the currency
of the flesh is no longer at war
with my internal life,
but that might be the GIANT exhale.
The loss of that tension might
equal the loss of drive.
Letting it all go.
Letting it all out.
Forgetting to breathe
Jason Fisk lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has worked in a psychiatric unit, labored in a cabinet factory, and mixed cement for a bricklayer. He was born in Ohio, raised in Minnesota, and has spent the last 25 years in the Chicago area.
I have kept quiet up to this point on the Black Lives Matter protests. I fully support the protests and have not been quiet about that at all. My social media shows that clearly. But I have hesitated to add my voice to the cacophony of voices available on the topic. I am an educated white male and didn’t feel that it was my place to say or do anything other than provide silent support. This movement does not need a white savior but should be lead by those who have needed the voice for so long. They should get the attention and the platform and the focus. My experience is so removed from the pain and crushing scrutiny our neighbors endure every day of their lives, that I was not sure I had anything at all to add to the conversation.
However, as a writer, I have a talent and an audience that many of the voiceless of this movement have no access to. A friend of mine pointed that out. She said that writers have an obligation to be the voices of the voiceless and to speak to our audiences in a language that the movement may not be able to speak to.
So, from the view of a white man on the privileged side of the tracks: Protest!!! Grind it all to halt. The system we have is not working and must be rebuilt. But you can’t do that while you’re still clinging to the old. I know this will alienate or freak out many of my relatives and readers, but I’m okay with that. I would rather be alone on the right side of history than hang out with the losers on the wrong side.
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that All Lives Matter. But you can’t really say that the system works that way and until it does, the system is broken. When a white criminal and a black criminal receive vastly different police interactions and prison sentences. You cannot say that All Lives Matter. When the police routinely choke and beat black youths. You cannot say that All Lives Matter. A police officer pulling their gun should be the very last resort in any situation, not the first.
If you actually believe that All Lives Matter, then you should be in the streets protesting too. Because our justice system does not believe that All Lives Matter has demonstrated that time and time again and again and again.
It will only stop when we as a nation demand that All Lives really do Matter, every one of them. That is not what we have today. And that is why I support all of the protests.
My wife, Sheri, and I went hiking this weekend. We hit two different trails around St Louis. One we had used before and explored a new one. We enjoy hiking because it’s a mix of exercise and nature. I’m not a fan of staring at a wall or an idiot box while exercising. In fact, I would usually prefer the blank wall if given a choice. However, since it was a beautiful summer day we chose to go hiking. We even saw a very young fawn still with its spots and was able to get rather close. The mom was nowhere to be seen and at one point the little one was calling her, so we scrammed.
Anyway, we shared the trails with a number of people, both on foot and mountain-bike. But everyone was so completely lovely and polite, stepping off the path to let others by and greeting each other. It was a nice change from the usual city-people grump we experience.
Sheri commented on how polite people were and I said that assholes don’t hike. Upon reflection, I think that is generally true. Her is my proof: Hikers are usually nature lovers. Nature lovers are usually very empathetic people. And empathetic people are generally very polite due to their empathy. Therefore, nature lovers are generally very polite and caring people, i.e., assholes don’t hike.