What I want you to know. Which is everything.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Can Jon Stewart Change America?

You can fall in love with your own idea of common sense. Maybe the nice thing about being a comedian is never having a full belief in yourself to know the answer. So you can say all this stuff, but underneath, you’re going, ‘But of course, I’m fucking idiotic.’ It’s why we don’t lead a lot of marches.

Jon Stewart

You know how someone will say something so profound and yet, obvious at the same time? I've always been a big fan of the Daily Show and of Stewart and this is a prime example of why. He gets people and the tendencies of people and recognizes most of it to be bullshit. Because it is.

I've been thinking a lot lately about belief and why people believe what they believe. Also, what is believing? Politics, religion, education and just about any other topic under the sun (except for Math, I guess) is subject to interpretation and "belief." But, what is belief in something other than the way you see and interpret the world? If I believe in Jesus that is not to say that I saw him with my own two eyes resurrect from the grave. Just like I cannot claim to have tested the Polar Ice Caps to determine through factual study that global warming is real.

But we look at the world and we make a decision. Am I going to believe in global warming based on what I do know to be true? Am I going to believe that Jesus was God and therefore the true Messiah that the Bible says that he is? My decision to believe these things or not is based on my experiences and my attitudes as well as the facts that I can see and touch.

As Jon Stewart has wisely stated, though, problems arrise when we forget how we arrived at these decisions. They were perhaps logical, but perhaps emotional choices, primarily and not quantitative conclusions that were arrived at through mathematic reasoning, such as "1+1=2." We fall in love with our own ideas of what is logical and what is "common sense," as he puts it and we start to regard anyone who thinks or concludes differently as idiots or evil.

Stewart attributes the ability to laugh and doubt one's own common sense as being an idiot. But, the ability to step back and see the possibility of fault, even if we cannot see the fault itself, is wisdom, not idiocy. And, it's not an attribute reserved for clowns and comedians. We all have the capability to recognize the possibility of wrong thinking.

As I stated in an earlier post, however, people (particularly those who are "in love with their own idea of common sense") will view my admission of doubt in my believes as a weakness or evidence of flakiness. So, sure, I guess we want to be careful who go around revealing our inner-most doubts to. I wouldn't bring it up in a job interview, for example. But, we are currently living in an America that has people burning Qurans, going to war on false pretense, bombing buildings, bombing themselves, protesting the freedoms that we hold dear as Americans to worship where and how we like. We are living the most intolerant times of my lifetime from the perspective of respect for other views, on a very large scale. And the worst part is that our political sphere seems to be locked in a pendulum swing of inneffectiveness. How can we fix our problems if we're not willing to work together? Legislators need to legislate. Reporters need to report. Journalists should keep politicians honest and accountable. I think this is Stewart's primary objective when he targets the media and politicians. And, if Stewart's masterful execution of the pointed satire is of no effect, I'm not sure what else will do. Hopefully, it can act as a spark that ignites a flame that lights a larger target and can possibly set in motion a chain of events that leads to cooperation, understanding, and maybe we'll finally move forward and be a nation that leads again.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Talking About Myself

Last May I began working on my Master's Degree through on an online program. Online is certainly NOT the best way for someone like to me to get an education. There are deadlines and readings to do, and no one to be accountable to, except yourself. When I was in undergrad at ACU, if I stepped into my acting professor's class without having read that night's chapter of whatever acting book we were using, he would make sure that I was shamed and left to feel like a failure. It sounds very cruel, but it worked for me. To his credit, I don't think he was doing it on purpose, I just think he was genuinely annoyed and disappointed when one of his students--a student who was chosen to join the university's theatre program over other's who had auditioned and been denied a spot--neglected the opportunity to take full advantage of the knowledge and instruction for which s/he was granted. I didn't think of it that way at the time, but as an educator, now, I get it. I've made enough high school students cry to know that I can have this same affect on my own students when they disappoint me. But, if there is one thing that have learned during my seven, going on eight years in the classroom, it's that to he who expects and demands greatness, greatness is given. That's not an easy credo for someone like me to adhere to. Most of the time I take a very "to each his own" sort of mentality. If you don't want to do something, who am I to try and force you. Who am I to try to make you feel guilty for choices that are yours to make. But, you can't produce plays with a mentality like that. There must be commitment and accountability and people should know when they are not living up to their end of the bargain, either in word, or simply by dismissal.

But, like I said, this goes against my DNA. I like to think of myself as a pretty forgiving person. People have told me that I have given too many chances to some kids, who continue to disappoint, and take advantage of my leniency. I think I've learned to deal with students like this in my own way, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't, but despite how far I have still to come, I feel I'm a lot harsher than I was as a brand new teacher.

But, I digress. As I said, I understand and appreciate the necessity to keep people accountable to outside entities. However, the online educational environment does not keep you accountable. The only time they ask you for anything directly is when you have to pay your bill. The reading is completely on you, as is the weekly assignments and online discussion boards. So, the only thing that keeps me moving along, at times is the desire to not waste the money I spent on the course. That and the knowledge that the program that I'm in is not a start and stop kind of deal. It's an intensive 18 monther and if I drop a course or sit one out, I would have to start over.

But, every time I sit down at my computer to work on my course I feel a great deal of anxiety. I'm not sure why. I am always able to push through that anxiety and my current GPA (highest of my lifetime) attests that I am capable of the workload. When I am finished with the work at the end of each week I feel such relief and contentment, you'd think that I would want to work because I would want to feel that feeling again. But, I don't.

As I have learned from my first class in the course (I'm now in my third) everyone has a different style of dealing with life. Some people are very future oriented and some live in the here and now. I would have to be a "here and now" kind of person. I plan because I have to and convince myself of eventual outcomes, being very careful to work toward future goals, but if I give into my natural tendencies, I would only take on projects on whims and deal with everything as it comes. Sometimes this mindset works for me and I certainly think that it has it's benefits, but often it can be troublesome. This is especially true when you are in charge of something like a high school theatre program, in finances, or when going to the beach. Spontaneity may be the spice of life, but planning has got to be the bread and butter, the meat and potatoes and the rice and beans. It's what fills you up; sustains you. That was a hard sentence to type. Because a) I know it's true and b) that's not me.

So, why did I begin a Master's Degree program knowing full well that it was the program that would give me the greatest chance of success?

First, I've always been willing and ready to talk about myself to the world and to let them into who I am and what's going on in my head. Not because I think that I'm so great, but because I truly believe that the more we know about each other, the more we can know about ourselves. So, when I talk about myself, I'm not being narcisistic, I'm just helping you get to know yourself. It's probably why I began blogging in first place. Lately, however, I've realised that people tend to take things you say about yourself and use those things to judge you or treat you according to how they interpret your words. For instance, if I say to someone that I am not a future thinker, but live in the "here and now," someone will take that to mean that I'm never going to plan and that they have to stay on me about things. What I perhaps didn't mention is that I've been dealing with this aspect of myself for a really long time and I've managed to get a grip on it, and make pains to plan and get things done, despite my natural tendency to resist planning. In other words, I know my faults and I do what it takes to correct them. It's perhaps this realization that has caused me to blog a lot less in recent years.

The second and more obvious reason that I decided to take an online degree program is that it is the most practical way for me to get my master's degree as a working dad of a 9 month old. I don't think that I would have reasonably been able to leave my wife and kid at home after being at school until 5-6 o'clock at night to attend classes until 10, wake up at 6 a.m. every morning and still be a decent teacher/director/father/husband. So, it made practical sense.

So, what was this? Just an excuse to bitch about how busy and stressed out I am? Maybe a little. More than one person has told me that I'm complaining a lot lately and not being myself. So, I figure that I it's better I unleash that onto the interwebs than onto my collegues and friends. And, hopefully...maybe...I helped you, the reader learn a little bit more about yourself.