Perception vs. “Truth”

What to say without saying anything? These days that’s a challenge. Elephants in the room etc. What I will do today is write briefly about perception and “truth.” The latter must, of course, be in quotation marks because it’s elusive and subjective and, sometimes, viewed as just self-serving perception. Strictly speaking, “truth” is the knowledge of things that are, that were, and that will be. I’ll leave that to another realm.

The Japanese director Akira Kurosawa made a film in 1950 called Rashomon, based on an earlier short story, “In a Grove.” You can watch the movie via the link for free or read the story—which is quite short. The former, considered one of the best films ever made, lasts 88 minutes. Then you can feel like you’ve done something important intellectually even though you won’t know the truth any more than when the thing began.

The plot is based on people trying to solve a murder. A samurai has been killed and his wife raped. She can name her attacker, but exactly who did what to whom is never resolved. We see different versions of the same story, but the versions are actually quite different, unlike movies that are simply from different points of view: Vantage Point, Citizen Kane, He Loves Me…He Loves Me Not. Three personal favorites. The last one is French, with Audrey Tautou in what might best be described as a surprise role. I’m sure there are many more movies that I don’t know.

Now for a word about mysteries and detective stories. Trying to find the “truth” motivates them all. A resolution involves solving the crime. That seems obvious. The reason we the reading and viewing public loves them so much is that order is restored. The British crime writer P.D. James puts it clearly: “What the detective story is about is not murder but the restoration of order.”  We like that, we need that, we crave that. We don’t always get that.

Had I the time and inclination, I could at this point launch a discussion of the differences between the samurai (as murdered in the movie) and the ninja (as two of the grandsons like to imitate). Here is a summary, but I doubt it will be anything new: high class, armored, stylish, honorable, loyal versus low class, deceptive, secretive, mercenary. Warriors versus assassins. (No need to mention this to said grandsons who love Naruto. If you see little boys running around with their arms stretched behind them, he’s why.)

Perception, then, is not reality. It is, however, everything. You may perceive events in one way while someone next to you sees things completely differently. It may none of it be “truth.” The discovery of the same may never happen. Don’t let the lack get you down. Act honorably and, if possible, not just to avoid suspicion but even the possibility of misinterpretation or misunderstanding. Somewhere in these pages I’ve advised people to think first. Still holds…dare I say it?…true.


Moon Landing

Ah, the 1960s. Last week I saw the wonderful Apollo 11, a new documentary about the moon landing in July 1969. Rotten Tomatoes leads with a review that calls it “(e)difying and inspiring in equal measure.” For the first 20 minutes, I could barely keep from weeping although explaining the reasons would take longer than you’ve got. We planned it, we accomplished it, using slide rules and thinking caps. My slide rule had some use in high school physics, not much since, but it is a treasure; read the NPR-linked article if you do nothing else with this post. Thinking caps are not real yet or are they? Regardless of how we got there, it was a heady time, 1969 and the film.

The space race was exactly that—a competition. The truth is, however, that only Americans have ever walked on the moon’s surface. The last trip was in 1972. If there is a trip as soon as next year, Americans will be planning it and implementing it, with a smaller budget that before and, probably, less public interest.

Now, listen to this song from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd: “Who Can I Turn To?” or read the lyrics here. The first line is “Who can I turn to when nobody needs me?” and the last two: “With you I could learn to, with you what a new day/But who can I turn to if you turn away?” I hope you’re wondering what I left out (nothing) or what does this mean anyway? (Also nothing.) It rhymes, but it doesn’t make sense. What is incredibly remarkable, if you watch Anthony Newley sing the song, is that after his performance, Ed Sullivan introduces from the crowd David Merrick, the Broadway producer of the era. Newley drops to his knees. Amazing display of…? (Yes, you do know Anthony Newley; he wrote the words to Willy Wonka’s songs.) I found it disturbing.

So this is a longer and more circuitous path than usual. I’ve been concerned with all the announcements for the US presidency lately. Not with the candidates so much—that’s perennial—but with the applause in the background. Gone is the inspiration of the moon shot. Missing is the sheer brilliance of engineering and foresight. Remaining are the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd: You can find someone who will approve of anything. It means nothing.

Probably you read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is high school or college. You can here, too. The story is, well, challenging, and she received lots of mail. Of particular concern to Jackson were the letters from people who didn’t think it was fiction or who thought it shouldn’t be. Its last line: “’It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,’ screamed Mrs. Hutchinson. And then they were upon her.”

I’m not running for president. Perhaps you have considered it. Perhaps you should if you haven’t. Or not. My point is that just because people will clap when you talk, that means nothing. Watch those who don’t know this. Watch them carefully.



It’s been said that yesterday’s iteration of Daylight-Saving Time (that’s the correct way to say it) is a solution without a problem. We’ve just passed 100 years last November of falling back and now springing ahead. Change is difficult, so on we merrily go, solving nothing.

Mostly, we have problems that lack solutions. My topic is not time but the most difficult issue of our day: polarization. I wrote first—many months ago—about my idea for On This We Agree. That initiative didn’t get initiated partly because I threw my support behind Better Angels, an organization trying to unite us by bringing reds and blues together. I’ve yet to make a meeting because of scheduling conflicts. They have scheduled a convention for June 20-23 in St. Louis. I’d offer to be a delegate but expect the uncanny coincidences to continue.

My new focus comes as a surprise, to me as much as anyone else, I’d expect. Recently, I was asked to participate in the Dallas Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square. We’ve met once formally this year, attended an introduction by the minister of Royal Lane Baptist Church, and come together with Faith Forward Dallas to welcome a group of graduate students from a German organization called KIgA sponsored by the World Affairs Council; the students are all studying some sort of bigotry, mostly anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. The Council is amazing but hard to describe. It’s important to attend an event. A great start would be this week when members from many faith communities offer programs and refreshments from 11:30-1:00 at Thanks-Giving Square. Register here.

What is most remarkable about these people—in the three times I’ve been in their company—is that they know each other and care for each other. There is no debate, no argument even, and certainly no proselyting. Understanding that each offers a different perspective does not seem to be a problem. When Almas Muscatwalla, chair of the council, offered a conclusion to the graduate students’ visit, I was stunned by its clarity: There are three areas of interaction, she said, Policy, Relationships, Actions. We didn’t have time to discuss it, but she is eminently quotable. I’ll get to that later. So as I understand it, there is an issue, there is our relationship, and there is our action. The three do not need to intersect.

Let me quote Almas again. She says in her bio that she believes “there are only two purposes in life: worshipping God and serving humanity.” Here’s the cool thing. That’s what I believe, too. In fact, there is a verse in the Book of Mormon that says it clearly: “And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (Mosiah 2:17) I was happy to find this common ground.

Studies showing that happiness is related to spirituality abound. Here Time Magazine writer Bryan Walsh states that scientists don’t know why there is a connection, but it’s very real. It’s not just community or prosperity promises or faith in the unseen. People who look outward and upward tend to be happier. The Dalai Lama has a best-seller called The Art of Happiness in which he observes that “unhappy people … tend to be most self-focused and are often socially withdrawn, brooding and even antagonistic.” Sounds pretty polarized, doesn’t it?

It is a myth that religion has caused more wars than any other factor. This article presents viewpoints from three believers and an atheist. Perhaps to us that myth finds voice because of events like 9/11 (committed by religionists) and violence against groups targeted for their religion (in Pittsburg in October.) These days, when religion is largely missing from public life, it’s possible that secularism has become its own dividing cause; here David French describes the problems.

Without being a Pollyanna, I offer my new council as a new place to consider the world. If Muslims and Jews, Christians and Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists can put down their differences and work for humanity, I see a better future than there might be otherwise. I’ve written about hate. Now I’m writing about hope. It seems much more powerful.

For the Girls of Laredo

Part One: It was a warm day, perfect for sanding the 8-foot long farm table outside. Inside, the dishwasher wasn’t working in spite of four visits from the repair man. He was back for the fifth time. I am allowed to sand, so the work was afoot when the man—whom I’ll call Jose—asked what I was doing.

“Oh, just sanding. They needed a new table and Mariah built this so we need to sand and then stain it.”

Jose admired it. Encouraged, I added that she had also built the three-piece entertainment center in the living room (which he had seen), beds and chests of drawers (which he had not). Of course, I bragged the entire matter up as well as I was able. Then Jose was quiet, stunned I assumed, by the grandness of my descriptions.

Then he said: “The girls in Laredo don’t do that.”

It was my turn to be a bit stunned. “I suppose they could,” I replied, weakly. His wording remained with me.

Part Two: My background has been in teaching and social work, areas in which women predominate: In this country 77% of teachers are women, 82% in social work. This detailed chart shows the range in its entirety, from preschool and kindergarten teachers (97.5%) on the high end of the spectrum to heavy vehicle mechanics (0.5%).

These days, dynamics are shifting. For the first time, in 2017 more women matriculated in medical school than men. For veterinarians, this article: “Veterinary Medicine Is a Women’s World.” The same is true for law school, though there are fewer practicing female lawyers than male. (Any comment would be catty and possibly an affront to my male lawyer friends, so I will refrain. You’re welcome.) Dentists are at about 47%, but, dramatically, this is up from 1.1% fifty years ago.

Part Three: I happen to know several women in jobs or professions usually dominated by men. Perhaps that word “dominated” is too strong; perhaps “populated” is more descriptive. These women include Mariah the furniture builder, a symphony conductor, a plumber, a director of an international architecture firm, an emergency management coordinator. One hears of others: the Southwest Airlines pilot Tammy Jo Shults who landed a badly damaged plane in 2018 and a transplant surgeon who pioneered the first uterine procedure in Dallas. I expect to find many more. Here’s the interesting thing about the chart posted above—yes, there are only ½% of heavy vehicle mechanics, but that means that 1015 women actually do it. I want to include them.

Opposing viewpoints: I’m not good at thinking of counterarguments so appreciate those who make them. One person suggested that I interview both men and women who have interesting jobs. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not my intended audience (everyone would like that series) and would take a lot of work (my purpose is simpler). Someone else suggested that this overlooks the ordinary woman in the traditional career, the “real heroine.” That’s not my vision either, though that would be a worthy exploration as well. Let me see if I can frame a statement of purpose.

Statement of purpose: The girls in Laredo (and any other town in the country) know about traditional jobs like teaching and social work. They also know about other jobs that—in the past—were less commonly held by women, in medicine and law, for example. What they may not have considered are careers in which very few women are working currently. What are the challenges, the rewards in those areas? If we must work, we should know our options. They might surprise us.