Friday, January 13, 2017

Worthy Aspirations.

Well, we survived the holidays, at home and at work. At work I'm responsible for ordering all the cold produce. The holiday season is a big deal for grocers, we project record numbers and with luck, often surpass our hopes. This was my first holiday at the helm and boy did we move a lot of your traditional holiday fixins. I was prepared. I stared long and hard at last years sales numbers, we had enough and not too much. But no one mentioned anything about the weekend following Thanksgiving. Given that no one said anything about it I assumed we'd have meager sales and anything leftover from the holiday would carry me a ways. Not so. The following Sunday was a whopper! I came in Monday morning to nearly completely empty shelves, my gut sank. All week I played catch up.

I've noticed is there is one crucial factor in the ordering that helps me refill the shelves quickly: shame.

The first two days I waited for our delivery to come in and, after stocking it, then did my best to 'predict the future' (as I like to call it) based on what is there and what is not. This is the typical procedure. However, I quickly realized that I would come in the next day only to find empty shelves. The following two days I came in to see empty shelves yet again and immediately started amending my numbers, first thing, while those shelves were still bare, while that shame of failure was still present, breathing down my neck and tapping into a lifetime of feeling like I don't measure up. I'm being a little dramatic, after all, it's just groceries. But still, I take pride in what I do, I care. Perhaps it was only a matter of time and my slight increasing of the numbers just needed some days to even out, but at the moment I'm convinced that if I had attacked the numbers those first couple days while the empty shelves wept right in front of me, I'd have turned the section around much quicker.

Change only comes when it's motivated by experiences that create feelings.

There's that saying, which a quick google search says George Santayana coined: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. What I'm wondering is if we are condemned to repeat the past because we cannot possibly feel what those who experienced that past felt?

Recently we've seen the surge of a belief system that used to be kept in the shadows and basements of our culture. Namely, the "Alt-Right" movement, more accurately known as white supremacy, publicly represented by Richard Spencer. I wrote about Spencer in my last post when he'd stated his separatist agenda in a National Public Radio interview, shortly after that he made headlines as the keynote speaker in a much condemned white supremacist gathering at a Maggiano's restaurant in Washington D.C. where reporters caught footage of him and others Nazi-saluting and shouting "Hail Trump." How is this possible? Grand stage, front page, white-fucking-supremacy is not just rearing its ugly head, but trumpeting its presence. (Yes I see the pun in there, but I'm trying to take a higher road.) Well, there are many answers I'm sure, perhaps one of which is that those who experienced and defended our country against arguably the vilest expression of fascism the world has seen are mostly dead. In 2013, 600 World War II vets were dying every day. Last summer the great Elie Weasel died, which shed light on the estimate that barely 100,000 Jewish holocaust survivors live today. Those who lived through the nightmare of what fascism can become are nearly gone. Seventy five years after the atrocities of the Holocaust, how can my generation or my child's generation feel that pain? Reading, listening, discussing, sure, these help, but the evolution of these separatist, or as Spencer calls them, "Identitarian," ideas are keeping up with the times for swaths of people who can sparsely feel the damage they have caused.

When our kiddo was born in 2011 we had mixed feelings on vaccines. My wife and I, if I remember correctly, both agreed they needed to happen, but the pressure of the timeline was menacing. Being new parents inclined to feel our kid was more of a special snowflake than every other child who'd ever existed, we gingerly dipped our toes into vaccinating. DTaP, for Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis, was the first administered. We knew the common rule given by our general practitioner was that when a kid is sick, the way to tell it's more serious is when it affects their behavior. We'd dealt with some sicknesses, freaking out at every inconsistency as new parents do, but she'd never seemed different before, until this vaccine was in her system. After two days she was back to being herself as we knew her, but it scared us for a moment. We've heard horror stories. My best friend has an autistic and cognitively impaired child whom he and his wife believe took a severe and irreparable downturn after a round of vaccines. But the science in general doesn't show evidence that vaccines and autism are related. In early 2011, eight months before our beloved was born, articles were popping up explaining Andrew Wakefield's original paper linking the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR) to autism was now considered fraudulent. But the fear still resonated. Knowing and feeling the sting of what could be, even if it could now be broadly considered un-linked to its cause, allowed our trepidation to preside.

Last night I was asked why I'm vegetarian. In my sophomore year of college I read John Robbins' Diet for a New America, which is his first hand account of what the animal industry looked like. As an impressionable twenty year old the picture he painted grabbed me, and still seventeen years later gives me enough reason to stay vegetarian. Once upon a time I was zealous and impassioned about the topic to a fault. I gave speeches, pamphleted, protested, debated in public places, generally spent a lot of energy alienating people for their dietary habits. I have a general feeling of embarrassment thinking about those days, mostly because age has dulled my fervor and need to have everyone be as I am. Adulthood since has focused on introspection and pulling away from an outward voice that puts me at odds with those around me who believe differently. As I explained my reasons last night I found myself instinctively falling back into some of the language I used to champion, and it felt strange.

How do feelings evolve with age? What allows some feelings to persevere and others to leave? How do we reconcile feelings with cognitive reasoning? Can we truly feel what others have felt? Is empathy actually what we need to develop compassion for others? What does history say about history repeating itself? What past did the Jonestown followers fear they'd repeat? As I ponder these sort of questions with you the only North Star I have to fall back on, words woven into my bones, 'do justice and love mercy.' I might add, 'seek evidence' as well, but I've been listening to a lot of 'Waking Up' with Sam Harris podcasts lately.

Worthy aspirations.

(image stolen from here.)