The best advice given to me many years ago when I started teaching had nothing to do with my discipline, English. Rather, a former mentor insisted on the necessity of having a sense of humor.
I have passed that advice on to younger colleagues over the years. It is impossible to survive daily contact with teenagers for any prolonged period of time without lightening up a bit when they actually act their age. Not seeing the humor in many of their predictable shenanigans is a prescription for disaster.
I have been thinking about that lately in light of the shenanigans of an older, presumably wiser group of individuals, politicians. The presumption of wisdom itself requires a light dosage of salt. Actually, politicians and teenagers have quite a bit in common. Having arrived at that conclusion, it helps me deal with the silliness that characterizes our national discourse these days. Were I not able to see the light side of the embarrassingly childish behavior of Congress these days I might have given up the ghost of citizen participation long ago. My present hope is that this too shall pass and at some point in time sanity and maturity might just gain the upper hand. In the meantime, a survival strategy requires taking things seriously while at the same time ducking the shadows of despair and continuing the climb, as did the inhabitants of Plato’s famous “The Allegory of the Cave,” towards the light.
A few weeks ago my wife, Sandy, and I attended an informational meeting for future volunteers at The Farmers’ Museum here in Cooperstown. As part of the process, one has to fill out an application form, provide references, have an interview, and then await the results of a BACKGROUND CHECK. One can see where I am going here. Frankly, I have undergone so many background checks in my lifetime, one more matters little and if one looks on the bright side, perhaps something I do not even know about myself might be revealed. Hey, if the Greek notion of knowing thyself still holds, I do not mind a little help at all. There are times when I am as much of a mystery to myself as I am to others. I have little to hide, so check away. I figure after the countless times over the years my passport and drivers license have been checked, if I am still free things are looking pretty good. The lovely irony here is that in order to weed a garden or two a few hours a week and, perhaps have minimal contact with tourists, a background check is required. I am all for it. It makes absolute sense. That leads me to the recent defeat of the latest attempt to require background checks when purchasing a gun.
Isn’t it ironic, actually downright silly that on the one hand people’s backgrounds are checked probably hundreds of thousands of times a day for loans, job applications – the list is too long! But when it comes to guns, which of course do not kill people, background checks are an anathema to so many. Equally ludicrous is the fear of some sort of national gun registry. The bipartisan gun control bill that failed specifically prohibited such a registry. Just think of the registries we already have. Last summer I chatted with a wrangler at Glacier National Park in Montana. She described the incredibly involved application process to become a summer wrangler taking tourists on trail rides every day. Needless to say, her background was scoured. She did not seem to mind.
I could ride the silly trail endlessly. The demagogic gibberish one hears daily is ripe fodder for any number of comedians. Thank God for them; they keep us sane. The narcissistic ego nourishing behavior of many politicians would be pleasantly entertaining if they could only shed their messianic complexes. There are some good, honest, hard working politicians out there whose moral compasses are at work for us – all of us.
A retired senator recently opined that we might just get some things done in Washington if her colleagues actually worked a full week. Perhaps we could start there and require the blokes to work five full days a week. We pay them a hell of a lot of our money and get far too little for it. But they sure got those airport delays solved quickly! How many must die before we realize, like it or not, we are sisters and brothers and one another’s keepers?