Thursday, November 23, 2006

About Apple Pie

As American as apple pie.

For decades, apple was the top-selling pie. But then bakeries scaled down the size. They offered an 8" pie.

And apple was no longer the most popular pie.

It turns out apple is America's most popular compromise pie. When you had to buy a big pie, everyone could agree on apple. But when it was possible to buy two smaller pies, other flavors edged out apple.

And thus it always is. People want choices. The complacent conclusion, "Apple is America's favorite pie," is now open to consideration of other factors. Did apple reach the peak because apples keep much better than other fruits? Thus allowing them to be accessible pie material more months of the year? Or was it just the compromise factor?

Before Bill O'Reilly gets wind of this and starts with the "War on Apple Pie," I must say apple is a fine pie. It is simply not my favorite. All it means is, after years of compromising, people want to enjoy other pies.

When they have the means, people make choices.

What I'm getting at is a celebration of diversity. Freedom is the ability to make choices. Yet, sadly, there are always elements in society who fear and reject choices. It arises out of a reluctance to actually take the responsibility for one's choices. What if no one likes your choice? And, so what?

There's no comfort in the fact that we are pretending.

The recent mid-term elections were a clear indication of how people act when given the choice. For years we have been told that "All Americans agree" on recent policies, and those who do not are a small minority who shouldn't be listened to. And so some Democratic strategists fell for that, and encouraged candidates to be more like the majority party. Which is stupid.

It's like giving people a choice between apple, apple crumb, and apple raisin. In this election, it was candidates who were clearly different that had the competitive advantage. Because people wanted a change in policy. If it isn't offered to them, they cannot choose it.

Because when you offer apple, apple crumb, apple raisin, and strawberry rhubarb, all the people who are tired of apple go for the strawberry rhubarb.

So on this Thanksgiving, let's be thankful we have choices. As you choose turkey breast or the drumstick, mashed potato or yams, or all of the above, remember:

It's not a feast if there's no choices.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tipping: An Index to Character

There are many shortcuts to ascertaning someone's character. My grandmother was a big fan of the "pinkie ring" school of man signals. (Hint: Men who wear jewelry are insecure and a little bit lavender, per Grandma.) Men tend to like the hard-to-get woman, according to folklore, because no man wants a woman who's "easy." But there's one I go by that applies to everyone.

How they treat people they don't have to be nice to.

"Nice" is a put upon word, often evoked by the bystander neighbors who have belately found out the "nice" young man next door has been stashing dismembered prostitutes in momma's basement. But "nice" is also a valuable word, no matter how many times a psychopath uses it to fool others. "Nice" is what we all should strive to be. Because without a generous helping of "nice," the world as we know it would cease to exist.

That's why I am such of fan of clear moral directives disseminated by every possible authoritarian source. When hate speech, such as so frequently spouted by Ann Coulter and her ilk, are allowed to become a winked-at source for behavior, we all lose. Because there is no end in sight. It's easy to hate our enemies, but that leads to atrocities. We have to be "nice."

We have to be good to those we have no reason to be good to.

Because that's the essence of humanity, isn't it? What makes a person human is debated roundly by many philosophers, but in daily life it comes down to knowing it when you see it. Letting the person with one item ahead of you who have more items. Acknowledging competing points of view and looking for common ground. Recognizing humanity even when it doesn't take a form exactly like you.

Empathy, in short. Maybe you've led a life of exceptional privilege and ease, or have come to that point from a different state. You don't have to be someone who is struggling with identity issues, or poverty, or just a pile of recent bad luck. No one is so privileged that they were not once behind the eight ball, no matter in how small a way that turned out to be. Empathy is the ability to imagine across gender, social, monetary, or circumstantial divides. To realize, "there but for the grace of God, go I." And then, in a great act of humanity, treat that person the way we would want to be treated.

It's the mark of being a good person.

It's the insecure person who takes advantage of a situation and takes more than they are entitled to, because they don't want to ever think that they would be in a positition where they must depend on the kindness of strangers. They don't trust the kindness of strangers because they know they would extend no kindness to anyone they don't have to.

Their world is raw power, and they enforce it.

And that is simply wrong. They are not acknowledging the kindnesses that got them where they are. They'd like to think there were none. That gives them a world where everything is under their control. And there is no such world.

So mark them out. Where ever you may be. Call them on it. Let them feel the withering heat of humanity's expression.

Because the dignity you save, may, one day, be your own.