Category Archives: manners

STUPIDITY AND BELLIGERENCE

You’re driving down the highway, minding your own business, when some knucklehead talking on a cell phone and driving a tank cleverly disguised as a SUV almost runs you into a ditch.  You scream insults and floor your accelerator in an effort to catch up with the offender.  Pulling alongside the tank-driving nincompoop, you offer the one finger salute while shouting at the top of your lungs about how difficult it must be to drive such a large vehicle while one has one’s head shoved so far up their own ass.  As you begin receiving the return volley you notice your SUV (which, in your opinion, is much smaller than a tank) has almost run two motorcycle riders into the same ditch.  And so it goes.

Common courtesy and common sense appear to be two of the least common commodities in existence.  In a world where people forever complain of the lack of consideration and forethought exhibited by their fellow man, it is amazing (but not surprising) how often those doing the complaining are the biggest jerks of all.

The vicious circle of stupidity and belligerence is enduring and apparently without end.  Somebody does something stupid that affects you, you respond in kind out of malice, tempers escalate and the next thing you know someone has a bullet hole where part of their heart used to be.  Two wrongs don’t make a right but they do occasionally make someone dead.

Fortunately, extreme cases such as the one mentioned immediately above, while not uncommon, are not the rule.  Garden variety stupidity is plenty irritating enough.  Lazy shoppers that won’t walk an additional 10 feet to put a buggy in a parking lot cart corral.  Young “artists” that love to decorate every square inch of a building’s outer surface with spray painted graffiti.  Smokers that throw their lit cigarette butts on the ground as though the world is their personal ashtray.  Gullible…oh, for crying out loud… what’s the use?  This could go on for days.

Unintentional stupidity happens and preemptive stupidity prevents nothing.  Before you rise (or sink) to someone else’s cognitive lapse, stop and consider for a moment the ultimate repercussions of your actions.  Life ain’t fair, but your acting all bellicose ain’t gonna make it any less so.  Stop it!!

©Billy Red Horse

AN APOLOGY FOR THE OLD WAYS

“The good old days.”

This phrase has been known to send eyes rolling and elicit sighs of quiet exasperation for decades.  Are the “good old days” really all they are cracked up to be?  In my estimation, maybe.

Probably, even.

When I allude to the good old days, what I speak of is not based on a nostalgia for the world in which I grew up.  Trust me, the ‘80s, ‘70s, and even ‘60s of my own youth were really not all that worthy of being pined for again.  No, what I am speaking of are the Times before I was even born.  I remember seeing the photographs in history books.  I remember as a child hearing stories from those older than me who spoke of the much simpler days of an earlier era: the ‘50s, ‘40s, and even earlier.  As an adult I have often watched movies from the ‘40s, ‘50s, and early ‘60s, seeing a world in many ways markedly different from today.  (Be advised: I labor under no delusion that the silver screen representation of any given moment in Time is ever a complete or even remotely accurate depiction; such representations do, however, leave clues.)  Those bygone eras had a certain innocence and character which I find most appealing.

Though they are but evanescent memories from my past, I want to say some of the Old Ones of my youth were 80 and 90 years of age and, thus, had personal recollections of Life as far back as the late 1800s.  Times then were different and, in many ways, better.

Manners, decorum, accountability, dignity, and resilience seemed to be far more in evidence and in vogue.  The importance of the family structure was still recognized and fostered, and hard work was seen as both a responsibility and a reward.  In short, values were valued.  Yet even more than these things, there was something which was a defining characteristic of those bygone days: an unflagging sense of optimism and genuine hope for the future.

Despite two world wars and a massive long-term economic depression, there seemed to be a pervasive expectation that the bad was going to eventually become good and the good would only get better.  I know I haven’t observed such an expectant and genuine positivity in the world around me in decades.  This is what has been missing for so long and what we must reclaim if we are to extract ourSelves from the current myriad of predicaments which we have created.

It could be argued that our grandfathers and great-grandmothers were, in their youth, simply naive and ignorant.  I would argue pointedly to the contrary; I say it is WE who are betrayed by our naiveté.  Our ancestors understood and accepted things which are perilously close to being discarded absolutely and lost in perpetuity by we who live today.

Present-day society has an unfortunate tendency to wait for an outside influence to “fix stuff” and set things right.  Instead of looking to politicians or some other messianic enterprise to put conditions in order, it is well within our capacity to cast an investigative glance rearwards and rediscover what it is we have lost that can make the Present the “good old days” once again.

I will close this short apology by stating that I am not a Luddite.  I have no desire to be without climate controlled buildings any more than I wish automobiles, computers, telephones, or air travel to vanish.  I don’t at all support a homogeneous culture nor do I advocate for a compelled monolithic form of religious expression.  I say we must cast off the Life-negating aspects of culture, regardless of their vintage, and nurture the Life-affirming aspects to give rise to something truly better.

An admirable goal of a transcendent humanity is to seek to continually refine and positively develop the Self (and consequently the community) while cleaving to the traditions and conventions which have been Time-tested and shown demonstrably effectual.  A forward looking optimism should never go out of style.

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*I will assume that readers of this blog are possessed of an above average intelligence and a commensurate ability to discern intent; even so, considering the present zeitgeist of pervasive social outrage and engineered melodrama, I will state explicitly the following:  I do not for one moment suggest that Jim Crow laws, unsanitary living conditions, monopolistic robber barons, or any of the unpleasant human relational dynamics of Times past should in any way be applauded or pursued as worthy of reclamation.

That this disclaimer needed to be included is a sad commentary on our present Times and an ironic reinforcement of the general thesis of this essay.

©Billy Red Horse

The Company You Keep

Be conscious of your associations.  Rightly or wrongly, people will judge you by the company you keep.

If you have worked to build in others a confidence in your integrity, your abilities, your understanding, and your kindness, be careful not to damage that confidence through the absentminded or indiscriminate interaction with or association to those that might not themselves demonstrate the same concern and diligence you have cared enough to cultivate.

Such dubious associations need not be confined to the material world to foment pernicious or even devastating repercussions.  In this age of instantaneous virtual interaction, in the eyes of many, if it’s on the Internet, it MUST be true.  We now live in a world where, to one degree or another, everyone finds themselves in a glaring spotlight.

Even the very best work you do will no doubt be questioned by some, challenged or outright discredited by others, based in no small part on the associations you have or the attendant views you advance.  Don’t give the cynics and naysayers more fuel for their spiteful fires by handing over to them the very materials which they will use to immolate you.

The most universally regarded currency we share in our relationships with others, whether they be close at hand or half-way around the world, is the reputation that precedes us.  Our credibility is both our cachet and our cash; if your credibility is important to you, you would be wise to guard it jealously.  Nothing is worth a needless and easily avoidable aspersion to one’s good name.

It is never in poor form to take the high road.  It is never questionable to demonstrate manners and decorum.  It is never suspect to repudiate distractions and focus on that which matters. It is always wise to think before acting.

Remember: the world is watching.

©Billy Red Horse

Dignity

I speak often of the importance of basics. The consistent and energetic application of Life’s fundamentals are the surest way for a person to stand out among their peers, to be an example to others of what is possible, and to set the table for the personal experience of Joy, day in and day out.

Perhaps the most basic element a gentleman should seek to cultivate is a sense of personal power. The power of which I speak is evidence of Self-awareness, of Self-confidence, and of competency. A singular trait of the legitimately powerful is an abiding and unshakeable sense of dignity.

A man possessed of a genuine dignity is able to be calm in the midst of chaos, to be unfazed by the slings and arrows of antagonists, and just by his very presence is able to serve as a guiding light in a sometimes dark world.

The dignity of which I speak is unmistakable, evident whether a man is dressed in a bespoke suit, driving a miniature circus car and wearing full clown regalia, or standing naked and exposed as the day he was born. Dignity is not beholden to circumstance or to condition. This is how you recognize it whenever it is present.

Like most things in Life, dignity can be inborn or it can be cultivated. It should be reassuring that the latter is far more common than the former. How, then, do we generate and sustain this Magical capacity?

Competency and confidence are essential. Those who would deflect their own dignity are apt to point out that they are imperfect and, perhaps, beneath a deserved dignity. Fortunately, dignity has no need of perfection. In fact, it is in the acceptance of one’s imperfection where dignity can find its most fertile soil for growth. Discarding the fruitless pursuit of perfection frees one to focus on the real and achievable work at hand. Be honest in one’s assessment of oneSelf and one’s limitations and strengths. Get better every day. This is how it’s done.

Which comes first, dignity or competency and confidence? The equation is not linear but is circular. They each build one upon the other.

I can say much more on this and, at some point, I shall. For now, this is enough to be getting on with. In the meantime, nurture your own dignity, demonstrate it in your Life for all to see. Let it be such that strangers will address you and say, “I don’t know what it is you’ve got, all I know is that I want it!”

©Billy Red Horse

Expectations

Expectations can be problematic.  Because of the challenges inherent in expectations, there are those who label them as “bad” or “undesirable” and suggest that, as such, they should be jettisoned in their entirety.  The fact is that expectations (in their purest expression) are neutral and have have no ethical component or character, one way or the other.  The difficulty with expectations comes when we are attached to the way in which these expectations must be realized or fulfilled.  “Any deviation from the way I expect things to be is painful and unacceptable.”  Indeed, this perspective truly is fraught with peril.  Another point of impingement is when we impose our expectations on others without their knowledge or consent.  This, too, is a sticky wicket.

A meritorious and efficacious expression of expectations is to consider them to be not unlike routes.  Think of it this way: you have a destination in mind.  You have a good idea of where this destination is in relation to your current position and, in order to move toward this destination, you plot a course that will take you there.  This course may be the most direct, it may be the most scenic, it may be the most leisurely or any of a number of possible permutations.  This course is your expectations.  The problem arises when it is thought that there is only one “right” way for the route to be followed, only one way to reach your destination.  If there is flexibility in your expectations (your course), then you have options and are not attached to outcomes.  Flexibility leads to discovery.

There is usually more than one way.  Expect it…

©Billy Red Horse

Tend Your Garden

There is but one Element that constitutes the entirety of all existence in the Manifest Universe, and that Element is Energy.  Energy is everything and everything is Energy.  Even with a never-ending supply of this omnipresent stuff of Creation to be had, there are those that still somehow manage to dilute it, to weaken its situational efficacy, to squander both opportunity and promise.

Consider a certain aspiring gardener.  Our novice wishes to be the warden of a small but thriving garden box of miniature roses  He prepares the box with the finest soil appropriate for what it is he wishes to grow and then fixes within its confines several of the most healthy bare root bushes he can find.  The box is then set in a place of prominence where the Sun will fall on it in just the right amount.  Pure water and plant food are added as needed and then Nature is trusted to work Her magic.

For the first week or two, the incipient roses are tended daily.  Any invading weeds are winnowed and, being a forward-thinking and conscientious chap, our gardener lavishes all this attention from a place of Love.

Then something happens.  After a few weeks, the daily tending becomes every other day, then every three days.  The more Time that passes, the less attention the box of roses receives.

Finally, one day the gardener is taken aback by the sad state his once thriving box of roses has achieved.  “Why has this happened?” he asks.  “What can I do to remedy this situation?”  After careful consideration, he settles on a plan.

Rather than redouble his efforts to nurture the now neglected roses by tending more diligently to this first box, he acquires a new box and populates it with . . . tomato plants.

Again, Time passes.  Tomato plants follow roses, then bonsai trees follow tomatoes; and so the proceedings go, box after box, on and on, one after another after another.

And what of those like our gardener?  Are they lazy?  Hardly!  Their inattentiveness cannot be ascribed correctly to laziness; the very fact that so much effort is, Time and Time again, expended in creation of an ever-lengthening chain of enterprise is irrefutable evidence to the contrary.  Lethargy is not the culprit; a lack of focus, the absence of diligence, and a dearth of patience is.

So many are like a butterfly flitting from one flower to the next, chasing thoughts or undertakings or dreams, constantly in motion but seldom given to abiding long enough for an agreeable denouement to be experienced.  Sometimes, the thought process is “this didn’t work right away so I’ll try something else” or “this sort of worked, but I think I’ll try something else” or “this worked really well but it could have worked even better, so I think I’ll go try something else.”  Distraction and boredom are the enemies of focus and follow-through.  Knowing when (or if) something should be dispensed with is one thing; effectively aborting a still-viable potential is something else entirely.

To see a thought through takes Time.  It takes more Time still for complex things or endeavors to bloom in their fullness and to grow into the totality of their Beauty.  It is nothing short of foolish to give something less attention than it requires only to then express subsequent frustration or bewilderment that this something is now found wanting.

Tend your garden.  Nurture.  Persevere.  Acknowledge.  Respect.  Focus.  Repeat.  Then plant something new.

©Billy Red Horse

Manners

What is it that separates humans from animals?  This is a question I have mulled often over the years, but revisited more intently in recent months.  While there are certainly many differences which can be observed, there are two distinctions which I would class as primary.  Firstly is the degree to which humans are capable of abstract thought.  Though members of the animal nation demonstrate a rudimentary (by human standards) competence at abstraction (witness crows and simians that can use tools, for instance), it is the depth and breadth of the human ability to abstract which has led directly or indirectly to every technological breakthrough and artistic statement in the whole of the history of our species on this Planet.  The second trait distinguishing homo sapiens from all other life on Earth is our capacity for impulse management and civilized interaction which I refer to simply as manners.

The human ability to abstract can be considered a calculating and cognitive left-brain process. Our capacity for manners can be seen as a function and emotional component of the right-brain.  Each attribute serves as a compliment and counterpoise to the other.  As our ability to abstract continues to develop, so too does our capacity to interact with and influence our physical surroundings.  And it is the degree and the extent to which we evidence our manners that demonstrates the progress of our evolution both culturally and as individuals.  It is in manners where is displayed our highest refinement as a species.

It should be understood that the manners of which I speak are not merely some perfunctory etiquette, behavioral mores observed solely to facilitate routine coexistence.  Manners, as postulated here, go much further and speak more to a genuine and expressed dignity that demonstrates a profound appreciation of and respect for Life, Self, and Others.

Over the course of recorded history, the development of these two attributes have more or less paced one another in a dance of give and take with, generally speaking, neither outstripping the other by very far for very long.  It could be argued that the Golden Age of our twin natures was from the mid-18th century until the dawning of the 20th.  By the start of the 20th century’s second decade, something began to change.

Fast-forward to the present.  Technology rules the day.  If there can be consensus that our abstraction and its now ubiquitous computerized offspring has taken such a commanding lead, even a cursory appraisal would suggest that the continued development and utilization of manners is currently, at best, stunted or, at the worst, regressing at an exponential rate.

As technology has advanced to its current state of the art, we find ourselves able to communicate with one person or, potentially, millions of people instantaneously around the world with no more effort than is required to tap a few characters into a keyboard and then press SEND.  We have come to use these products of our abstraction as a means to debase our manners.  The root of the problem, however, is not with the technological fruits of our left-brain intellect per se; technology is just the vehicle.  The conundrum that is the assault on manners arises from a deficiency in and of the very manners that are themselves under assault.

The present vector of our faltering manners is one that self-sustains and self-proliferates.  The attrition of a refined Lebensweise and cultivated self-expression is a consuming and spreading fire that with enthusiasm adds fuel to itself.  Essentially, withering manners are contagious and pathological.

Twitter, Facebook, Google+, internet chat forums and the like have become contemporary virtual equivalents of the parlor or drawing room of old, but very often playing host to precious little of the civility and decorum customarily exhibited in those antiquated chambers.  In these incorporeal analogs, modern discourse has been reduced to the inorganic limit of 280 characters or to digitized photos and cartoons regularly overlaid with snide paralogisms.

The technology that facilitates this widespread interaction has the added simultaneous effect of fostering the monolithic comfort and impulsive daring of anonymity.  This implied and inferred veil of anonymity provides copious opportunities for the drive by insult and the spiteful zinger, which are but two of the manifestations of a waning sophistication.

Even should a factual personal profile be posted and no alias ever used, there is still the inherent element of being one step removed and thus at least marginally anonymous.  It is in the incubator of anonymity where bad manners are most likely to breed.

This is not to say that anonymous animosity is the sole source of unchecked impulses and less than elegant interaction in the virtual world.  Often, ignorance or a distorted perception as to the clarity with which one’s message is presented and/or will be received is at fault.  Many honest and sincere attempts at self-expression and the communication of heartfelt ideals are derailed by poorly considered and ill-mannered assertions.  What the author/poster imagines to be insightful, witty, and clever is more often inciteful, snarky, and mean-spirited, which results in doing absolutely nothing to forward dialog or civil debate. Ultimately, no one’s mind is changed and the trenches of division between contrasting positions are only dug deeper.  The only ones to consider and applaud such a post are those who are already in agreement with the author’s position, thus, an opportunity for constructive discussion is effectively jettisoned in favor of what could be interpreted as nothing more than a display of tawdry and caustic self-satisfaction.  Regardless of whether the boorish dispatch springs from animus or ignorance, the result remains the same.

It is a matter of course that what we express should be important to us; if it is not important, then what is the point of expressing it at all, beyond the shallow satisfaction of hearing or reading our own words?  It is, however, critically important to be aware that, due to the nature of the way humans communicate, how we express is equally as important as the sentiment itself.  For the mannered person, there must be integrity and consistency between intent and expression, between thought and deed.

As an extreme example, consider that I can say to an acquaintance “you are important to me,” but if I do so with loathing in my eyes or a measure of acid in my tone, then what I say is and always shall be overridden and overwritten by the way I say it.  This was a lesson yours truly learned the hard way.

In the early days of the internet (way back in the mid-1990s) I created and maintained a personal web presence that could be considered a forerunner to the contemporary blog.  In expressing my opinions there, I was crass, inconsiderate, impudent, immature, and ill-advised in my approach.  It saddens me very nearly to the point of shame when I consider the times past when I displayed the grace of an ogre, the tact of an ingrate, and the skillful means of a halfwit when trying to share an opinion or convey a truth.  I have since often wondered how many people discounted what I had to say simply because of the way I chose to say it.

Fortunately, the virulent nature of my ignorance did not prove itself to be incurable.  Over time and with much contemplation and reflection, I was reminded that I was a teacher of a discipline (Zen) that extols the merits of, among other things, reasoned interaction, peaceful coexistence, and the enduring certainty of cause and effect, that is, the inevitability of Karma.  I recognized the gravity of the fundamental proposition that, even in something as apparently anodyne as a personal editorial, what I gave out would be inextricably woven into the fabric of that which would return to me, very often multiplied.  It took much longer than it should have but, through the years, I managed to find a mature and mannered voice in spite of myself.

Lest there be any confusion, I do not discourage anyone from sharing an opinion, any more than I suggest that opinions themselves are bad things.  It should also be understood that I do not call for the evisceration or abandonment of one’s heartfelt positions or passions on any given subject.  To presume that passion and well-mannered expression are mutually exclusive is to presume in error.  To have manners is not to quash or otherwise enfeeble one’s passion.  The interesting irony is that a restrained passion is often the more powerful passion.  Certainly a well-mannered passion enjoys the greater prospect of receiving a fair hearing.

I now strive continually to carry myself with the comportment and grace, that is, the manners, of a respected elder.  Sadly, in this effort I do not always succeed.  I can, however, say with a clear conscience that any lapses I experience are unintentional and are no longer the product of intent as they so often were in the past.

Bad manners breed worse manners.  It is fortunate that the converse is also true.  As with all things in Life, that which is given energy is that which grows.  It is a simple matter to restore a more balanced equilibrium and bring our right-brain manners back into parity with our left-brain abstractions.  We have a choice.  Be nice!  Think before pushing the SEND button.  Let this new (old) perspective become “viral” and spread, not only in the virtual world, but in the real world as well.  It is the evolved and civilized thing to do.

©Billy Red Horse