Friday, April 25, 2014

Do not knock.

Sophomore year of college I discovered a book called Diet for a New America, by John Robbins. Robbins was heir to the Baskin-Robbins chain, but before he took the reigns, he wanted to see where BR's dairy came from first hand. He discovered the grim realities of factory farming and decided to forsake the family business. His stories immediately inspired me to change my dietary leanings and delve into the world of animal rights literature, philosophy, and activism. I wrote several papers on animal rights for classes, printed up essays I'd found and shared them with others, left pamphlets at cafes around town, even protested (gently and respectfully) a fur shop and rodeo. The strangest part of this expedition was the opposition I found in the Christian community I was a part of. I was on a campus that declared Jesus the Prince of Peace, but any time I even mentioned I had recently gone vegetarian/vegan I was hit with waves of confrontation. I had found a new way of living that meshed perfectly with the ideas of the figure-head of my faith, but those around me just wouldn't have the same epiphany I had.

When we had the sweet-baby-cake-O'-wheat a few years ago, we had issues with solicitors knocking on our door and throwing wrenches in our newly-found routines. After visiting a friend down the street, we stole her idea and put a colorful sign on the door that said:

 Please, no soliciting. Sleeping baby inside. If we do not already know you, DO NOT KNOCK.

Last summer that sign wore thin and fell off. Luckily, our picture window lends me a heads-up so I can see them coming. Though I feel like a jerk about it because our baby is older now, I've taken to just not answering the door. They usually leave a pamphlet rubber-banded to our door explaining how I need their cable services, lawn-care services, meat-delivery services, or church services, etc. More often than not, it's a local church trying to gather a constituency. This struck a conversation with a neighbor, she said, and I'm paraphrasing: If they truly believe we'll be condemned to eternal torment in Hell if we don't embrace their belief, I guess I respect that they're reaching out and trying to save our souls. I just don't want to be interrupted by strangers, no matter their agenda.

As I found all this AR literature I was also making a case to present to other believers that the animal-concern was also a faith-concern. Aside from what I deemed ethical responsibilities to "do justice and love mercy," I remember talking to my dad on the phone about the story in Genesis where god gives man the freedom to eat animals after the fall, the story every voice of opposition would site. The point I argued was this:
After the fall, Eden's paradise was no longer an option, so god allowed humanity to kill after they'd turned their backs on innocence, it was a concession, not god's ideal. And if we're to be praying for life here to be "on earth as it is in Heaven," surely Heaven is god's ideal and free from concessions. Thus, if "the lion will lay with the lamb," how can we willingly take up the knife here, but pray for the opposite? Isn't that prayer hoping to re-establish Eden?
It's a solid argument, and one that opened him up to vegetarianism as a faith-based way of life. Two points for the boy! But even though I felt completely comfortable arguing this to other believers, even my father, the Minister, arguing my faith itself to non-believers always left me feeling inadequate.

My Genesis argument (stolen from greater thinkers) exists in the theoretical realm. I would never have tried to convince someone who didn't believe in the Genesis story in the first place that any of this was a legitimate reason to consider vegetarianism. Believers have already accepted the Eden story, whether as allegory or literal, and the fall of man is ever-present at the pulpit. But for me the very reason to find this argument and transmit it was inspired by tangible and unequivocal evidence about animal practices. However, the need to save souls from eternal condemnation draws inspiration from a few passages, and one very colorful (and terrifying) final chapter, in one very disputed book. What allows people, with only their faith in the stories of an ancient book, to feel comfortable claiming they know what happens to everyone's souls after death? The other extraneous reasons aside (the way, the truth, the life, etc.), this is the brass-tacks reason why people are knocking on my door and leaving flyers inviting me to their church barbecue next Sunday. It's in the book.

Last week, a few days before Easter, an elderly customer approached me at work, this was our exchange:

Lady: Oh there's Aaron!
Me: (thinking: do I know you?) Hi there!
Lady: That's such a good biblical name! 
Me: (thinking: oh noooo...) It is? 
Lady: You didn't know that? 
Me: No, I did. 
Lady: I belong to a nice church, would you like to come with me Sunday for Easter?
Me: No thanks.
Lady: Well, that's disappointing....

After a final greeting, smiling through my teeth, I professionally turned my cheek. No matter how condescending I perceive her to be, she's simply trying to reach out, the only way she knows how. Several deep breaths later, I let it go, because it doesn't matter. She has her views, I have mine.

No matter how clear the evidence is, people want to accept information on their own terms. Whether it's the effects of our cultural-dietary-habits, or the knockers' offer of eternal paradise, no one wants to be interrupted by someone else's agenda. I toned down my rhetoric years ago, partly from dissolution, but mostly because I see the grey areas in life a little more every day, allowing the Golden Rule to be my rule of thumb.

Change and inspiration must come naturally through relationships that are unfettered by agendas. Though I think my motives from once-upon-a-time were righteous, my methods were innately wall-building. It seems clear that no one wants to be cajoled, argued, persuaded, pushed, reasoned, or guilted into a different point of view, even if it's smothered in bbq-sauce. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

By the power of Greyskull...

A few nights ago I watched an episode of TED Talks: Life Hack, hosted by Amy Cuddy, entitled "Your body language shapes who you are." The gist of it, warning: spoiler alert, Cuddy says her research shows that not only can your mindset affect your body language, but you can trick your mindset by changing your body language. They found positive and negative changes in brain-controlled-body-chemistry based on "powerful" and "powerless" body language. She argued that as little as 2 minutes of "power-posing" can trick your mind into being more confident in stressful situations. Fascinating stuff right? At a friend's house for dinner last night I joked with Candy asking her if I looked powerful as I sat sprawled in a chair, legs slung open, and hands cradled behind my head? She responded with: "uh, you look kinda yucky." Had I sat that way for 2 minutes though, I may have convinced myself to be more powerful in the conversation that followed. In conclusion, Cuddy put a twist on "Fake it til' you make it" changing it to "Fake it til' you become it!" She scientifically proved that simple changes in how we hold ourselves can make big differences in how we see ourselves AND how others see us.

I've never been much of a powerful-sort of person. I like to joke that my sister is the Alpha-Male of our family. Perhaps it's simply my chemical make-up. Amy Cuddy explained that higher Testosterone levels tend to create the need-to-succeed, while low Cortisol levels allow for easy stress management.  If high testosterone levels and low cortisol levels are found in powerful-leader-sorts, maybe I'm somewhere in the middle on both. Or perhaps it's the examples before me: my father tending towards diplomacy and compromise, my mother assertive, or even aggressive at times, and I just lean towards the former. Or maybe it's passages like "the meek shall inherit the earth" that resonated with me early on. Probably a combination of these, and then some, as it usually is.

I can count on one hand the amount of times I've felt powerful.

I hate that word: powerful. It has so many negative connotations in my mind, as I'd imagine it does to most left-leaning thinkers. It's been ruined by those who abuse it. Power-hungry, Power-tripping, Power-mongering...okay the last one I haven't actually heard, but it's a feasible extension of the others. They all make me think of Skeletor. But if I subtract those feelings I have around the abuse of power I can see it more clearly as the feeling that comes with standing firm in what you believe is right. What is right is subjective of course, but the feeling that comes with boldly representing it can still exist even if you're in the wrong.

Maybe a week after it opened, my dad and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I was hesitant about seeing it as a new release because I generally hate crowds at theaters and was worried a crowd would ruin my final experience of the final installment of Chris Nolan's grande Bat-dream. Low and behold, the previews run and 4 aisles ahead and 10 chairs to my right, a woman sits with her cellphone outstretched, with maximum screen brightness, like she's far-sighted and the miniscule words on her device are only readable at arm's eyes can't not see it. But it's only the previews. My heart has faith that surely, surely, this woman will put her phone away and partake with us in the most important movie of 2012. She doesn't. We're on an airplane meeting Bane for the first time and I'm rage-sweating over this illumination in my periphery. (Why I care so much is something I'm working on, but I'm sure you can relate.) I lean over and tell Dad: "I'll be right back." In my calmest tone, I say to the woman: "Your phone is making it hard to watch this movie. I'd really appreciate it if you put it away." Trembling, I walked back to my seat. After a moment, she put it away! I suddenly felt the air conditioning applying itself to my skin, and, with the exception of the way Bane's voice was mixed, enjoyed the rest of the movie! When that phone was out of sight, I wanted to raise my magical sword and yell:


It's a rare moment when a confrontation allows me to speak my mind clearly. Granted, I had practiced what I was going to say probably ten times before approaching that woman, but still. Usually I intend to speak my truth, but the stress of the situation makes me bobble words and stumble making my case. And then I daydream about how sweet it would've been if I had just said this-or-that. I've spoken before of the need to be or feel right. I wonder if this feeling of power comes to most of us only when we believe our stance is righteous? Do those who seem power-hungry believe their attempts are righteous? Could this be the difference between making some of us lions and some lambs? At what point does one choose to become Skeletor over He-Man? This is delving near the topic of good and evil, which is way bigger than I could ever handle. 

My old MySpace account used to have the quote, self-written, (yes, I quote myself sometimes): "live and let live while keeping your spine in tact." All power-poses aside, I am hungry for those moments when my spine feels forged of steel.