It occurred to me the other day that I might be some sort of a geek. That I really didn’t make the connection until now is puzzling. After all, we are known by the company we keep.

It should have been obvious. My friends have all been nerds or geeks of one type or another. Through the years, lots of my pals have been theater nerds. In high school, my bestie was a major camera geek. One room mate was and probably still is a railroad geek. Another room mate was and is likely still an electronics nerd. As time has gone by, I’ve been friends with political wonks and activism geeks. A couple of friends are computer geeks. There have also been a few meteorology geeks who have appeared in my life.

A few of my friends have been geeks about various things at different periods of their lives. I think of them as serial geeks. People might categorize me as being a serial-geek. In many cases, my friends’ obsessions rubbed off on me. In hindsight, becoming different types of geeks has been like going through various rites of passage. However, if pressed to categorize my overall inner geek, I’d have to say I’m a philosophy nerd, because philosophy has fascinated me ever since high school days. My passions generally do not get other people fired up.

I had not embraced the idea of being any type of nerd or geek because the labels have had such negative connotations until fairly recently. The decades-old stereotype of nerds and geeks encompassed people who are unstylish, conventionally unattractive, and socially inept. In the past, when thinking of geeks, we envisioned socially awkward intellectuals. The most famous popular parody of an intellectual geek is Jerry Lewis’ character in the movie, “The Nutty Professor”. In other words, geekdom had been seen as a negative place to be.

During the past few decades, geekdom has been redefined, probably by the geeks and nerds themselves. Geeks aren’t only defined by outward signs like pale complexion, plastic pocket protectors and Scotch tape-repaired eyeglasses. Geeks seem to be everywhere we look these days. Lots of these geeks are social icons or are at least fairly cool folks.

There are plenty of people who are popular culture geeks. One of the most enduring types of geeks are Trekkies–people who are obsessed with “Star Trek” culture. The program has long appealed to nerds and geeks. Many Trekkies have felt they are on the margins of society. My ex-boyfriend, another serial-geek, was a Trekkie for many years. While I appreciate “Star Trek” shows and the original characters, I don’t go overboard over the shows to the extent that he did.

The term, geek, has evolved away from its old definitions. A geek is no longer the outcast, awkward teen. The new geeks are the sports geeks, military geeks, music geeks, video game geeks, computer geeks, and many others. The new geeks are folks who are wildly passionate about their obsessions.

I’ve always been attracted to the rebellious folks, the oddballs, quirky people, and geeks. They are good people to know. I’m finally knowing myself by the company I keep.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes director, actor, comedian Adam McKay. “I think there’s a tendency to think geeks and nerds are just sweet guys that were picked on, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’m certainly not like that, in a lot of ways.”

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Solo …Floral Friday

It’s been a busy, hectic week, so I have been craving simplicity. This urge has carried over into the week’s project ideas. I want something sweet and simple yet still sophisticated. I also wanted the visually interesting floral elements to be as eye catching as the containers.

A basic, garden variety chrysanthemum framed in slender leaves graces the richly colored Royal Haeger “onion” vase. This arrangement best demonstrates the ideal I wanted. I could have stepped with this, but a slight itch for complexity popped up.

The yellow Gerbera daisy in the yellow Shawnee planter is a more complex solitaire than first envisioned. I kept adding more elements until the pot was full. In spite of the project’s complexity, the two yellow elements keep the visual effect simple.

Blending simplicity and elegance resulted in a tropical display. The textured, golden glass department store vase holds a large Hawaiian Protea King bloom. A simple array of large leaves adds just enough extra visual interest.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Henri Matisse. “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”

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Opportunism Knocks

While skimming the news headlines of the day yesterday, the word “opportunists” popped into my mind. I then wondered how it came to be that we have so often allowed individuals who have demonstrated a conscious will to take advantage of circumstances to harm the general public.

The propensity to trust people who have little or no regard for principles nor the consequences for others is not limited to politics. We stumble across these individuals in many fields of endeavor. They show up as individuals with narcissistic behavior in interpersonal and corporate relationships. There are other opportunistic groups like less than ethical non-profits, and certain religiously affiliated organizations.

Opportunism is easy to spot once you’ve encountered it a few times. If people’s well-being is lessened or degraded by particular actions, an opportunist has had something to do with those actions. We think of opportunists as people who believe that the ends always justify the means.

The most skilled opportunists masquerade as altruists. This opportunism is often disguised as some sort of moralistic crusade. I came across this old quote by President John F. Kennedy that sparked further contemplation: “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” We could interpret this quote in the conventionally positive way as seeing difficulty as an opportunity to provide benefit for all others. What we usually forget is that opportunists see dangerous situations as opportunities to take advantage of others’ misfortunes.

An opportunist uses inauspicious scenarios for her or his own self-centered purposes, while an ordinary person has altruistic motives or at least wishes to benefit others along with her/himself. A non-opportunist is inspired to act by win/win outcomes.  Meanwhile, an opportunist is inspired to act in favor of win/lose outcomes.  With opportunism, there will always be people who are harmed.

What is it like to succeed by using opportunity in positive ways that are unfamiliar to the opportunist? Ralph Waldo Emerson alluded to altruistic action in this verse:

“To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children,
to leave the world a better place,
to know even one life has breathed easier
because you have lived,
this is to have succeeded.”

It is through remembering there are other kinds of news-makers who are not opportunists, that my hope for humanity is restored.

There are people who are not tempted to harness intolerance in order to benefit her/himself and a select few. There are people who do not exploit situations in order to reap windfall profits. There are a great number of people who do not lie in order to deceive their followers and believers. There are people in the world who don’t believe their personal opinions are absolute truths. There are people who do not stir up trouble in order to gain power and profit.

There are actually people who do not take advantage of our inbred faith in the goodness of others and shun personal gain.

I retain some hope that more people will see through the schemes of opportunists. Someday, perhaps the major news-makers will not be the opportunists and we’ll learn more about the altruists.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Nelson Mandela. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

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To Manifest

It’s still springtime for us in the Northern Hemisphere. We think of this portion of the year as the time for new beginnings and fresh inspiration. Many construction projects and creative ventures are started in the spring. We might think of this time of the year when wintertime planning begins to manifest.

Even if we are not starting construction of a building or a highway, we might be in the opening stages of some other creative venture. Some people open new businesses or are motivated to expand hobbies. What has been brewing in the mind starts to take shape this time of year. The new projects or schemes have a better chance of taking place when we are enthusiastically devoted to our commitments.

On the other hand, a person might still be stuck in daydreaming mode, thinking about new goals without having done anything about her original plans. So springtime might be a good time to reassess goals and analyze why they seemed worthy in the past. This is the time of year to end the procrastination. It’s time to get to work so the plans can manifest into actuality.

Leonardo da Vinci

At any rate, to manifest something, we have to prioritize the material realities of our lives. Specifically, what sorts of tools do we have or need? Can we go it alone, or will we need to hire assistants? Do we have sufficient money to carry our plans to fruition? Now is when we’re most pragmatic and are not afraid to get our hands dirty in tasks.

This is when focus is imperative. It’s time to assemble what we’ve been thinking about in the past.

“The word is a force you cannot see, but you can see the manifestation of that force, the expression of the word, which is your own life.”–Don Miguel Ruiz

An ideal for many of us is the Renaissance man (or woman). During that historical period, art, literature, science, and philosophy manifested because of the thinking and work of people like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, Miguel de Cervantes, and Niccolò Machiavelli. They dared to think outside of the then current Zeitgeist, culminating in works that are still relevant today.

We can be inspired by the works of great minds of the past to help us manifest our own great dreams. What will you manifest?

The Blue Jay of Happiness once again quotes author, philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. “Human rights will be a powerful force for the transformation of reality when they are not simply understood as externally defined norms of behavior but are lived as the spontaneous manifestation of internalized values.”

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In Dialogue

Today’s post about dialogue dovetails with yesterday’s meanderings about civility. This is because civility is largely dependent upon fair, honest communication. In discussions about social norms, policy, and so on, all affected parties need to have a say and to be heard. If only one solution to a problem dominates, there is no dialogue. If there is no authentic dialogue, resentments build and civility suffers.

The history of the United States shows that when free speech is hampered and open dialogue is crushed, the population at large suffers. During the years when free speech flourishes and open dialogue is encouraged, the nation grows stronger. This is because dialogue is at the core of the democratic-republican system. In a nation that is comprised of people from every conceivable background and culture, the democratic-republic form of governing is ideal. Without dialogue, governance devolves into brutish rule.

In my opinion, our democratic republic is undergoing its current constitutional crises due, in part, to the lack of civics education in our schools. Too many of us are unaware of the intricacies of the Constitution. This is why it is easy for demagogues to cherry-pick passages out of the document in order to justify their claims.

Learning about the nuts and bolts of our nation and encouraging honest civic mindedness and critical engagement should once again be an important goal of our educational systems. People who can exercise discernment, engage in honest, structured debate, and participate in the national dialogue are better able to ethically, fairly function in society. To arbitrarily bar certain groups from the dialogue injures our core value of civility.

“Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice.”–Harvey Milk

The late Harvey Milk understood that when individuals and groups are not allowed into the discussion, misunderstanding and bias strongly color the outcome. When all concerned parties participate in the debate, greater understanding enables more equitable outcomes.

One of the goals of a democratic society is to achieve the greatest good for all citizens. Founding father James Madison also understood that there is an insidious danger he called “The Tyranny of the Majority”. Madison and his cohorts understood the wholesomeness of majority rule. However, what might seem proper for the governing majority might be harmful to people of minority status.

With dangers of the Tyranny of the Majority in mind, Madison and his fellow travelers authored a Constitution that contained checks and balances. This vital ingredient helps to ensure that the rights of the majority and the minorities are safeguarded. In other words, dialogue is a Constitutional right. When the democratic republic works properly, the majority runs the show but not at the expense of harming minorities.

To sum up my short monologue about dialogue, I think that in order for our nation and society to thrive, we need to remember that all citizens, regardless of demographics, are equally entitled and should be equally empowered to shape our society. Dialogue needs to be more than pretty words, we need to practice what we discuss in open and fair dialogue.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer/philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. “Dialogue and education for peace can help free our hearts from the impulse toward intolerance and the rejection of others.”

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More Thoughts About Civility

“Oh, if only Congress could pass a law that encourages civility in our country!” That’s what my young friend Jonathan exclaimed when I reminded him that May is National Civility Awareness Month. I couldn’t help but reply that one of the most uncivil bunch of people in the nation wouldn’t dream of passing a law, no less a congressional resolution governing such behavior.

Jonathan smartly countered my argument, saying that Congress and the President routinely tell us to behave in ways they would never consider doing themselves. I had to agree with my friend on that point. There is a whole lot of “do as I say, not as I do” in the current regime. As a matter of fact, it seems like civility is becoming an endangered concept in America and much of the world.

It’s not that civility is just bric a brac, elaborate mannerisms. Civility is the mortar that holds civilization together. Civility is a vital ingredient of a healthy democratic republic. Today’s severe loss of civil behavior is terrifying to anyone who has been paying close attention to the mood of rank and file Americans lately. What is terrifying to people like me is how the rules of society and civility are being obliterated. If one studies the history of great empires, we often see that they fall when civility is undervalued. When civility becomes scarce, it is almost impossible for it to return to health.

“Politeness and civility are the best capital ever invested in business. Large stores, gilt signs, flaming advertisements, will all prove unavailing if you or your employees treat your patrons abruptly. The truth is, the more kind and liberal a man is, the more generous will be the patronage bestowed upon him.”–P. T. Barnum

Civility is simple to define, so it should be a simple matter of noticing when it is lacking in a society. Civility is the recognition of respect and consequent respectful behavior towards all people, period. When people understand that everyone has dignity inherent to being human regardless of religion, ability, race, sexual orientation, gender, and age. Apparently, civility is simple to understand yet is not easy to implement these days.

It comes down to something I harp about quite often–mindfulness. If a person is fully mindful about others, it becomes obvious that others deserve the same degree of respect, empathy, and dignity that one has for oneself. Think about it. Mindfulness is the practice that never stops yielding wonderful results.

“We are losing sight of civility in government and politics. Debate and dialogue is taking a back seat to the politics of destruction and anger and control. Dogma has replaced thoughtful discussion between people of differing views.”–former New Jersey Governor, James McGreevey

This is not to say that civility cancels out critical analysis nor disagreement. Civility is the calm, reasonable manner in which we share our political, religious, and other personal opinions. If we disrespect those with whom we disagree, we are being uncivil. Mindfulness about behavior is about noticing when a discussion is beginning to run out of control with screaming, yelling, interruption, patronizing, disrespect, and threats. Such behavior should be noticed as alarm bells. That is when the wisest thing to do is to agree to disagree.

It would be great if we citizens could seek out intelligent, wise leaders who work to find common ground among Americans instead of using the politics of divisiveness to further themselves for political and financial gain. America is in desperate need of people who embrace civility, along with constructive ideas, thoughtfulness, and kindness to others regardless of political and religious opinions.

Before it’s too late, I hope the nation will have a serious dialogue about the importance of civility. We seem to be at a critical, dangerous place that our strong differences could cause irreparable harm to the country and our way of life. This must take place across the religious and political divides. Now is the time to begin the process.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actor Steven Weber. “I know it’s sappy, but I bet there’s a market for civility and niceness out there that, while probably not as titillating as a junkyard scrap between shirtless adversaries, it’d sure be healthier.”

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Happy May Ray Day

As long as I can remember, I have not been a lover of the outdoors. It’s not that I dislike the great outdoors. I love to visit our national and state parks. I even like to walk the local hiking trails. The thing is, the outdoors is not my personal default place to be.

Being a fair-haired redhead, I’ve always had to take extra precautions in order to spend much time outside. There is sunscreen to apply, the wearing of caps, knowing where to readily find shade. Plus, the fact that I’ve suffered two scary bouts of heat stroke, make spring and summer outdoor living less pleasant.

This fussy attitude about sunshine and me began when I was an eight-year-old boy. Dad brought his best friend and me to Gavins Point Dam near Yankton, South Dakota for a day of boating on the reservoir. Since our familiar, water-resistant sunscreens were not invented until I had reached adulthood, the best sunburn preventative was primitive suntan lotion. You probably know where I’m going with this.

The combination of intense midday sunshine and its reflection off of the lake’s water caused me to get a severe sunburn. There were no shade trees in the immediate area of the dam, so I had to sit in dad’s non-air-conditioned Buick with all of the windows cranked open. With the hot afternoon air blowing onto my skin, the ride home was Hell on wheels.

After arriving home, mom scolded dad for not paying close enough attention to my physical reaction to the Sun. It was one of the very few times mom ever yelled at dad. I was brought to the family physician so he could offer advise about how to care for my sunburn. The doctor told mom to bathe me in tepid water and apply an ointment that he prescribed. When the ointment was used up, mom was supposed to apply Noxzema skin cream onto the healing skin. (To this day, whenever I see a blue jar of Noxzema, I think about sunburned skin.)

There were other sunburn incidents throughout my childhood and youth, so I’m a bit gun-shy about hot, sunny days. These experiences greatly contributed to my lack of affinity towards the spring and summer. I’d rather stay inside a darkened room with the air conditioning running. I need a lot of motivational self-talk or a yard to mow in order to spend much time outdoors at this time of year.

This aversion to hot sunny weather is why I force myself to celebrate National May Ray Day each year. Since I love holidays, today’s commemoration might be sufficient motivation to go outside and take in the heat, the humidity, and the mosquitoes of Northeast Nebraska. This is all dependent upon whether or not we have a sunny day. If the clouds continue to build, I could be celebrating “May No Rays Day” instead. Of course, I could just follow my contrarian personality and spend the entire day inside my little house.

By the way, the origin of National May Ray Day is attributed to Richard Ankli from St. Joseph, Michigan. He invented the commemoration to honor his brother Ray. Ray’s birthday is May 19th. If you know somebody named Ray or Rae, make sure you greet them with, “Hi May Ray!”

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes President Jimmy Carter. “It is good to realize that if love and peace can prevail on Earth, and if we can teach our children to honor nature’s gifts, the joys and beauties of the outdoors will be here forever.”

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