Monthly Archives: May 2013

Hugs Can Mean So Much

The summer of ’92 my world changed unhinged.  My parents were traveling in San Francisco for a weekend and I enjoyed the respite of freedom while staying at a friend’s place.  On the second day of their holiday my mother phoned unexpectedly.  Her words, brief and to the point (or so I remember): “Gwendolyn, your father had a massive heart attack and died.”  My knees buckled.  I gripped the phone and sought out a chair for balance.

My fourteen year old self desperately tried to maintain a degree of stoicism.  I adored my father, and the reality of his absence relentlessly echoed at every turn in my childhood home.  Pacing from room to room I was surrounded by the evidence of his existence and dreams: books piled on the nightstand half-way read, his favorite foods untouched, a new computer barely used, travel guides marked for the following year, clothes never to be worn again…

I can only recall feeling the need to “deal” with the practical.  It hadn’t occurred to me to mourn.  What was mourning for a fourteen year old anyway?  Instead, my reaction manifested in a brewing anger.  I demanded unequivocal silence from my emotions.

Sophomore year of high school began, and I remember getting ready for the first day shadowed by an air of fear and hope that no one would feel sorry for me.

When searching for my locker early in the morning I bumped into my Freshman English teacher in the hallway.  She immediately extended her arms wide and I ran into them without hesitation.  It had been a little over a month since my father’s passing and I had not shed a tear until that moment.  With my cheek resting on her shoulder the bottled up pain unleashed.  This woman, this wonderful woman, simply embraced me and allowed me to release a turmoil I buried deep within.  My carefully stowed rage finally found some semblance of peace.

Just last week I crossed paths with that English teacher.  It was a glorious day, for I had the chance to thank her for that precious moment.  She offered me love and support when I absolutely needed it, when I was blind to such a need.  Our hug lasted for a brief moment in time, yet I can still feel the power of that gesture as if it were yesterday.  Hope, security, and care radiated through her and helped me find some footing on tumultuous terrain.

Cheers to the people who extend a loving embrace, and cheers to the opportunity to say “Thank you.”


Being Polite: Some Help From Kant

“The cashier is not part of the cash register,” my philosophy professor declared as she explained Kant’s principle of autonomy.

This simple yet clear example from my undergraduate years echoed in my mind as I waited in line at Subway this afternoon.  A young lady in front of me snapped at the man putting her sandwich orders together.  Arms crossed, phone in hand she blurted,  “Um, I want more pieces of turkey on that one.  You have more on those other two.”  He checked his work and looked at her uncomfortably.  She pressed, “That one only has four slices. Those have five.”

He gave a friendly smile and pointed to the sandwiches to show that they were in fact even: “One, two, three, four.  One, two, three…”

Cutting him off, she huffed, “Okaaaaaay.  I get it.”  Then she returned her attention to her phone.

Kant’s principle of autonomy states: Treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, never a means only.  According to Kant, because human beings are rational, autonomous agents, their humanity must be respected.  One cannot “use” another or treat a person as a tool.

This young lady in front of me, however, behaved as though the employee existed solely to craft her sandwiches.  Judging by her demeanor, she believed him to be a “means only.” There was no hint of “please,”  “thank you,” or sense of graciousness in her tone. Cue my frustration!

One might reply, well she wasn’t aware that she was doing this.  Indeed!  That is the point!  The lack of consciousness is precisely what makes the scene problematic.  A person is more than a cash register!

My philosophy professor did employ grander approaches to exploring Kant’s principle, but the one that stuck was this very real means of using it in day-to-day life. For many jobs the work environment extends beyond the employer and employees to the interaction with customers or people of other businesses.  As a patron or customer one is essentially part of another’s work environment.  That is, when you go into a store or restaurant, even though you are not working, you are participating in someone else’s work day.

Just a friendly tip: turn off the phone, take the music out of your ears, and see the person with whom you are interacting.  Smile and take a moment to know that you are part of their work day.  The worker has a dream, a family, looks forward to the end of her/his day.  She/he is more than a servant.  The cashier is not part of the cash register!


I Enjoyed Iron Man 3, But…

I enjoyed Iron Man 3.  I was entertained.  I found Ben Kingsley delightful (and, truth be told, I was giddy when I found out he would be in it).   Plenty of scenes induced white knuckles, serious breath holding, and laughter.

But…

Upon leaving the theatre I felt a slight pang of disappointment.  Was it the acting?  No.  Was it the action? No.  In fact, the film really was good fun.

But…

Iron Man 3 contained the basic formula for Blockbuster madness: a great cast, charming dialogue, and explosions galore.  What was this “something” that it left out?

I realized the film lacked a “moral” to the story.  Superhero films engage audiences on more than an action/entertaining level.  They often provoke and affirm a value towards moral behavior. In the first Iron Man, for example, Tony Stark underwent a character transformation that highlighted a reorientation for “Right” and “Justice.”  Initially he indulged in a purely hedonistic lifestyle and when confronted with the dire consequences he chose change.  That moment of transformation was part and parcel to being “super.”  One could argue his evolved approach to business took on a John Stuart Mill-esque Utilitarian calculation for “higher pleasure” to bring about the best consequences.

But…

This film presupposed an acceptance of “hero versus villain” as a sufficient formula.  Where was the “Ah-ha” moment for Stark here?  Yes, watching the development of the Iron Man suits captures our attention, however these really are not what make Tony Stark interesting as a Hero.  For the superhero, the moral compass serves as the driving force and the abilities (or suits in this case) are a vehicle for expressing a character. Iron Man 3 seems bereft of authentic purpose and personal growth.

What are your thoughts about the movie?


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