Sunday, October 18, 2009

Dishonoring the Power of the Word "Honor"

“To honor” is a verb applied to one deserving admiration for strength of character and/or good deeds. Why do people today throw it around as a term to apply to anyone who died, regardless of his/her character or the circumstances of the death?

I’m looking at a news article using “honored,” “honoring,” and “honor” multiple times to recount the death and funeral of a seventeen-year-old boy killed in a car accident as the passenger of a drunk teenage driver. The accident occurred at 1:45 a.m., in a wealthy suburb, long past the legal curfew for underage teens. The driver was reportedly drunk enough that his three passengers could easily have recognized that getting into the car with him posed a danger to them and any other car they encountered. The kids all attended one of our area’s most highly ranked schools, so they were presumably educated about drunk driving, probably with some special presentation at school involving a smashed vehicle and a tear-jerking reenactment of a fatal crash. In other words, not one kid in that car, even the now dead one being “honored,” had an excuse for breaking the law and the hearts of family and friends by 1) being out driving after curfew (the laws were created to protect kids, after all!); 2) drinking alcohol; and 3) getting into a car driven by a drunk.

And we “honor” the dead boy WHY?

“Mourn,” yes.

“Grieve,” certainly.

“Memorialize,” of course.

But “honor”? Was he an admirable asset to his community, a promising scholar, a selfless do-gooder, a pillar of strength for his family? The article says only that he was a surfer, that kids deemed him “funny and a good friend.” Either the journalist left out some very important details to show why he was worthy of “honoring,” or the journalist and all those quoted in the article who used the verb “to honor” in some form have misused, and indeed desecrated, a term that ought to be reserved for the worthy, not just the dead.

Death doesn’t make you honorable. Life, and good choices, do.

I sympathize with the mourners who feel the needless loss of a young man’s life. I really do. Especially with his parents, since I have precious teenagers of my own.

I am not negating the painful love and loss endured by the people at the funeral. On the contrary, I am calling attention to it, to the fact that his death is about pain and loss. Not about honor.

This seventeen-year-old boy’s funeral was deemed by one interviewee in the article as “a celebration of his life.” I see no cause to celebrate the probable misguidance of an irresponsible kid who died due to his own bad choices, pitiable and tragic though that may be. I do see a cause to mourn. And to memorialize, to prevent similar mourning in the future.

By “honoring” a kid for dying in a drunk-driving accident in which he was an accessory to his own manslaughter, we become accessories ourselves—to the denial of responsibility that will lead to the next drunken killing. Let us honor, instead, the power of words, used appropriately: their power to teach by implication.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Little Alliterative Commentary on Idiotic Idioms

All Litter Rationalized
By Susan L. Lipson

“My bad!” they say,
Moralizing minor mistakes,
Like leaving litter lying,
Forgetting familiar faces,
Dripping dirty dishwater,
Clumsily creating clutter,
Erroneously erasing email—
Instilling immorality in innocent interactions
by saying, “My bad.”

Whatever happened to “Oops—sorry”?

Monday, September 7, 2009

On Truth

What is Truth, really? Does it exist independently of perception? To paraphrase the philosophical question about the sound a falling tree makes in a forest: If a truth shows itself, but no one is there to perceive and record it, how can it exist or be shared? I do not believe that truth can exist independently of perception any more than sound exists without an ear to hear it. Furthermore, one ear might perceive the sound of a dropping tree as a crashing death, while another hears it as a soft thud marking a natural cycle; the same applies to our perceptions of truth. Thus, Truth appears to be a relative concept.

Given this philosophical theory of relativity (I nod to Einstein here), I have concluded that truth exists only in the intersection between all of our ideas. In other words, in a Venn diagram of disparate beliefs, the section where our circles overlap is the closest thing to “absolute” truth we can find. Ironically, humans have based most of our world religions on relative truths declared by prophets who received their “revelations” while alone, without numerous witnesses to corroborate and establish an intersection between their relative perceptions of the so-called “revelation.” Why do we accept one person’s perception as a basis for our beliefs? Why do we accept that someone else would be closer to God than we are, as if our own search for truth is unnecessary and meaningless because of some preexisting hierarchy of closeness with God? Are we so sure that our search for truth would only reveal the same truths revealed to some lone prophet from another time, culture, and spiritual place? Or are we lazy, satisfied to have let someone else’s search set precedents for us, without daring to overturn any outdated ideas of the “lower courts” by bringing our contemporary thoughts before the most Supreme Court of all?

In imagining this common view of a hierarchical access to God—through prophets and priests, popes and pastors, rabbis and imams, monks and nuns—I see a mathematical factor tree, with the individual believer viewed as the lowest common denominator. And then I think: but the individual, best represented by the number 1, is part of the top tier of every factor tree. Isn’t it “absolutely” true that 1 multiplied by any and every number equals itself? I don’t think that particular truth is a matter of perception, is it? One is the most important, closest factor of all. You can find it in any Venn diagram of factors, too.

The Venn diagram can thus illustrate figuratively that we, as factors in the calculations of Truth, are all One. Our Oneness is the common thread that connects each to the other. Therefore, we all should have the same power in the equation resulting in Truth, if we seek the intersection of ideas, rather than focusing solely on our own.

My goal as a person, and as a writer, is to share my perceptions, my truths, with the hope that others will find an overlapping point between their views and mine, and then share their findings with me, so that we can move closer to Truth together. That is how writers and readers come together, and how person and person come together as People.