My old friend Ted Wachtel, when he first approached me to write articles for his “Building a New Reality” website, said I would bring a curmudgeonly perspective to BANR. When I think “curmudgeon,” I think Ambrose Bierce, H. L. Mencken and Andy Rooney, so I guess that puts me in pretty good company. However, the only thing I have in common with these literary beacons is Rooney’s eyebrows.
I never thought of myself as a curmudgeon. Hell, when I was younger, I thought of myself as quite liberal; but as I grew older and saw more and more, my bark grew thicker, I guess. So I’ll start with what Ted calls a restorative practice—the one that affected me most—and Ted played a great part in it. He did not know it, but he was never far from me, even though almost fifty years passed us by.
Ted and I were fraternity brothers in Ohio, and he was starting his last year as I began my first. My first two years were difficult for me, as my father was a soldier stationed in Germany, and my large family was with him. When we had long weekends, spring and Christmas breaks, even summers, all of my friends went home. I stayed in an echo chamber of a house built for 87 guys, and there were times when I was the only occupant. I could have gone to stay with grandparents in Cincinnati, but daily mass and evening rosaries wore on me, and I just festered.
At the start of my sophomore year, I did something I had never done before, or since. I stole a laid-aside jacket…stole it from Ted. There was no way I would not be discovered, and I was. I did not need the jacket, but I took it anyway. I cannot begin to defend the theft, I just did it. Maybe I just wanted attention.
The details have dimmed now, but Ted put his arm around me and told me to forget it. That, I could not do. From that day forward, until even today, whenever I approach a moral or ethical crossroad, I think of that moment, and I have based my decision on what I thought Ted would do. That’s as restorative as it gets. It shaped my life, and he never even knew it until last year.
I’m a skeptic more than I am a curmudgeon. I want to believe in “Truth, Justice, and the American Way,” but sometimes I feel that the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is a freight train closing fast.
In his book, ‘Dreaming of a New Reality’ — a 2013 prequel to BANR — Ted related a story of the worst school ever: when some visiting ball player stole a sandwich from the home team’s lunch spot, and all the kids sat down in a circle, made him feel bad and got him to pay for it. In my high school, he’d have been gang-stomped for crapping in our nest. You do that in your school; don’t do that here.
Sortition sounds wonderful at first glimpse to me, randomly selecting our lawmakers by lottery, and ditching politicians. And then I see that Katy Perry has more followers on Twitter than anyone in the world, and 39 of the top fifty Tweetsters are actors, musicians, ball players and TV celebrities. Justin Beiber is #2, and Lady Gaga has more followers than the President. (Jeez—don’t let me get going on the Trumpster and Twitter.) The gene pool can be pretty damn shallow when you think about who might be selected for lawmaking.
I’m a skeptic, but I listen. I have never unfriended anyone for disagreeing with me. Argue with me. Throw ideas at me instead of darts or fists, and some might stick. (Others, I’ll hit out of the park.)
I think kids need direction and discipline. I think their ideas should be heard and honestly considered, but I don’t believe in their empowerment. The beauty of children is that they want to learn. Feed that hunger! I don’t think it takes a village; I believe it takes parents.
And I think a student who attacks a teacher has crossed the line and is beyond the pale. Circles and public humiliation cause shame and anger as much as they produce positive results, and they just remind me of campers singing “We Are The World” with s’mores on their breath.