Thursday, July 25, 2013

207. 'I wanta be' moments are rare

Bull Durham, the 1988 baseball classic, is known for its quirky look into love, life and minor league baseball. Mired in the depths of this quick and witty dialogue are a couple of social ideologies. The most obvious is the contrast between the hard-working wily old veteran and the na├»ve rookie who possesses lots of “God-given,” talent.

As veteran Crash Davis explains this injustice to the rookie, “You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You’ve got a Hall-of-Fame arm . . .”

For baseball fans, the movie is loaded with fun quotes and eccentricities about the majesty and “religion of baseball.” As a college baseball player at the time, my teammates and I had lots of fun reenacting the highlights of the movie, “You know what that makes you? Lollygaggers!”

However, as I have gotten older, it is a quote near the end of the movie by Davis that sticks with me.

Through his jagged career, of which he only spent “the 21 greatest days of his life” in the major leagues, Davis endured to set the minor league home run record.

After he sets the record, he immediately quits baseball and returns to his love interest—who throughout the movie shares her theories about life.” He says, “I got a lotta time to hear your theories and I wanta hear every damn one of 'em... but right now I'm tired and I don't wanta think about baseball and I don't wanta think about Quantum Physics... I don't wanta think about nothing . . . I just wanta be.”

It is the words, “I just wanta be,” that sticks with me. It is a moment of complete contentment—a moment of peace with one’s self. It encapsulates the accomplishments of the past and sets aside the quiet anticipation of the future. It is often the end of a journey. Any regrets have been reconciled and there is solace with how it all came to an end. It is a self-acknowledgment that the journey is over—and nothing else, for the time being, matters.

I think “I just wanta be,” moments are rare in one’s life. They need not be moments of grandeur; they can be the end of a personal journey or endeavor—or maybe even heartbreak.

For some, it may be graduating from school or college, the moment when your child gets married, or maybe, like Crash Davis, at the end of a career. It might be completing a project, winning a championship or even checking something off your bucket list. We get to decide individually.

I can identify perhaps a couple of “wanta be” moments. Winning the Lorain County Open racquetball tournament, after a year of concerted training, was one. I remember the calm satisfaction I felt after winning—and knowing it was because I worked so hard for it. I wanted to just go home and let that moment—that calm—last forever. Passing the First Year Law School Exam was probably another—even more so than graduating from law school itself.

At Baldwin-Wallace College, I missed a “wanta be” moment after I completed my senior thesis presentation to professors and students. A terrifying requirement for graduation, I had agreed to a game of racquetball a couple of hours after the presentation. It was a worthless endeavor . . . I was physically and emotionally absent. I just “wanted to be,” and should have been.

Regardless of the personal “wanta be” moments during our lives, I think the goal is to be in a “wanta be” moment at the end our lives. That is, to have that moment of peace and be able to rest satisfied with our lives—the wonderful moments celebrated, the difficult moments reconciled.  To have done the things we wanted to do, whether it is the diligence of a bucket list or the freedom of spontaneity.

While none of us will probably live the perfect life nor we will leave the world as we would like it—we can strive to be fulfilled with our efforts and contributions.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

206. Kitten killer was a coward

Like many people, not only in Lorain County, but across the country, I was appalled at the shooting of five kittens by a North Ridgeville Humane Officer. I was emotionally sick and angry for about a week. For those who endear themselves to any sort of animal compassion, the event is unconscionable.

At this point, there is no reason to revisit the incident itself. Many people have shared their feelings of outrage (or support) over the event. I will add though that I was just appalled at the cowardice exhibited by the police chief and mayor in their reluctance to discipline the Human Officer— his poor judgment was inexcusable.

North Ridgeville has changed its policy on feral cats, basically acting like a child and essentially saying, “If you don’t like the way we do it, then you can do it yourself.” The city will provide traps for residents instead of responding to calls. Responsibility and accountability is apparently as fleeting as the cats themselves.

The entire occasion has been a source of embarrassment for the city—one that will be known for some time as the place where they needlessly shot five harmless kittens.

The issue that everyone should support is the capture and spaying or neutering of feral cats. The rate of reproduction for feral cats can be overwhelming. Had that family in Ridgeville caught the “momma” cat and had her spayed before she gave birth to a litter of kittens, none of this ever would have happened.

We can be so shortsighted in our perspectives.

Although the vicious hissing of six ounce kittens is laughable, it does lead us to another underlying issue of this story. Human beings continue to be intolerant of the natural world. We’ve sterilized our lives so that many favor the eradication of all natural inconveniences—whether it is the grubs that eat our lawns, deer that cross our roads or the local residence of feral kittens. We don’t tolerate bugs or odors or hissing either. We’re a “kill everything” society.

For us there is a place for animals—in zoos or parks. And in cartoons, videos and cute chain emails. Our compassion is so selfish that we even often mistreat our pets—asking them to lie in the corner or be quiet until we command otherwise. That other, “wild animals,” are abused should not come as a surprise.

And, of course kittens hiss. When you are a six ounce kitten living amongst human beings and other potential predators, what other measures of protection do you have? Using the hissing of the kittens as justification for their execution is simply ignorant and absurd.

Finally, many people have responded that, “it’s just a few kittens, who cares?” They argue that there are more important issues to worry about, like drugs, jobs or the poor— and that the entire discussion is a waste of time (and media attention). The argument of relativeness is a weak one—one that can be made in almost any situation based on one’s interest or perspective. After all, I might respond that those people are just a human being, one of seven billion on the planet—and suggest they get over themselves.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

205. What is cognitive dissonance?

In response to a recent column I wrote about Rob Portman’s change of perspective on gay marriage, a reader wrote to me and noted that it was a case of “cognitive dissonance.” As these things sometimes work out, I was thinking about that psychological conflict when I saw a tweet from someone who noted that a greyhound rescue group was raising money by having a “meat raffle.”  He termed it as “cognitive dissonance defined.”

I’ve often used the word “disconnected” to describe the situation in which competing ideologies are not consistently considered. However, I realized that this isn’t completely correct. Disconnected applies in the sense that there is a lack of connection between two ideologies or when there is a failure in the understanding of one or both ideologies. But when there is understanding of the competing ideologies, and yet there is an inconsistency between beliefs and actions, the proper term is “cognitive dissonance.”

Cognitive dissonance is really about conflict and the anxiety that results when “simultaneously holding contradictory or incompatible beliefs.”  This, of course, is manifested in the inconsistency in one’s beliefs and actions—such as Portman suddenly supporting gay marriage.

The difference between cognitive dissonance and being disconnected is subtle, and not mutually exclusive. Being disconnected may be a result of a lack of understanding, and therefore, without the recognized conflict necessary for cognitive dissonance.

When such a conflict arises, and it is not necessarily unusual to have competing cognitions, how is it resolved?

As referenced in Wikipedia, “The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.”

In a famous Aesop tale “The Fox and the Grapes” a fox comes across some grapes he wants to eat but cannot reach them. To resolve the conflict, of wanting the grapes, but finding them unattainable, the fox rationalizes that the grapes are probably sour or bad and does not want them. He reduced his internal conflict by criticizing it and altering the existing cognition.

Like the tweeter I mentioned, I recall a similar experience with cognitive dissonance and an animal rescue group. The group was organizing a golf outing in which the dinner included steak. I wrote the director about the conflicting ideologies—how could they be killing one animal to save another? I asked if it really would be too much to ask that supporters of the animal rescue group give up their steak for one day.

The director of that group used a different sort of justification and noted that we live in “a largely rural, agricultural-based county” and that this was “a pragmatic decision.”  He tried to turn the cognition into sour grapes—the end justifies the means?

The resolution of cognitive dissonance is basically an exercise in reconciling conflict. And disconnect is a practical, although sometimes dishonest, approach.

This approach is highlighted by Jonathan Saffron Foer, author of Eating Animals, and blogger Mark Hawthorne in the debate over eating meat.

Foer notes that “disconnect” is easier than facing the cognitive conflict created in the desire to eat meat. “We have such a resistance to being hypocrites that we would rather be fully ignorant and fully forgetful all the time,” he wrote.

Likewise, Hawthorne explains, “One theory of cognitive dissonance holds that it is not the result of people experiencing dissonance between opposing cognitions; instead, it surfaces when people view their actions as conflicting with their self-image. For the meat-eater, this means not wanting to see themselves as contributing to animal abuse; they would rather not hear the truth than think they are selfish and cruel.”

For many, cognitive dissonance is about getting through the moment. It is the rationalization and justification that finishes the sentence, “I know it’s wrong, but . . . “

Life is full of competing values and difficult decisions. The value of cognitive dissonance is not in exposing hypocrisy, rather it is about learning something about ourselves—our beliefs and values—and considering and realizing some sense of consistency.