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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Up at Night

Here's a few thoughts from the erratic and unpredictable mind of your's truly.

1.) Coincidentally and apropos to my sister and BiL quick visit this weekend, Nicholas Kristof's column this week speaks to the increasing cost of the Afghanistan war (which has seemingly sneaked under the mass media's attention/distribution unlike that costly health-care bill that actually serves the citizens of this country but was apparently going to bring this country to it's knees). My BiL flies F-16s for the US Air Force and from what I can tell, he's quite good at it.  He loves what he does and gets a boy-like excitement when he talks about pulling Gs, flying, weapons, lasers, bombs, etc.  I remember asking him what he liked most about flying and he replied simply, "Because once you get above the clouds, the sun always shines."  

This week his training including dropping live bombs on old trucks as target practice in the remote areas of Alaska.  This training is vitally important to his success as he soon will be deployed to a location still classified.   I was teasing him about the cost of his job on tax payers, the million dollar plane, the $50k live training bombs, just the sheer cost of fuel itself! Mind blowing.   His job fits exactly into the conversation that Kristof's article address.

The piece points out, the amount of education that could be provided not only to the citizens of the United States but also the children of Afghanistan is truly staggering (i.e. the cost of just of just one soldier for a year is equivalent to building 20 schools in Afghanistan and that cost of 240+ soldiers could pay for the higher education program for all of Afghanistan).  Now, don't get me wrong, I see both arguments for the defense spending and the agrument for domestic programs. And I am so grateful that my BiL risks his life to serve in the US AF.  But I have to ask the same questions a Kristof asks, "...isn’t it time to rebalance our priorities?"   

2.) I listened to an old episode of RadioLab this weekend.  The topic was lying.  The lies we tell each other, pathological liars, and most interestingly, the lies we tell ourselves, or self-deception. The end of the episode ended with this quote:

"The people who are the happiest are the people who are lying to themselves more.  The people who are the most realistic that actually see the world exactly how it is, tend to be slightly more depressed than others...Depressed people lie less.  They see all the pain in the world, how horrible people are to each other, and they tell you everything about themselves, what their weaknesses are, what terrible things they've done to other people, and the problem that they are right. And so maybe it the way we help people is help them be wrong.  It might just be that hiding ideas that we know to be true, hiding those ideas, from what we know that we know are to be true,  we need those ideals to get by. We're so vulnerable to be hurt, we've been given the capacity to disturb, it's a gift."

While the quote's context is more generic in application, I've thought a lot about this in the context of faith, interpersonal relationships, grief and perception of beauty.  How often so we tell ourselves all is well, or everything is ok? Moreover, at what point do we acknowledges reality or truth as mere deception of reality to create a false blanket of comfort or hope?  Then, what's so wrong in living with false security if you never find otherwise? And even if you do find out other wise, so what?  Then you were just wrong?  Moreover, who defines another person's truth in which their framework of happiness is constructed?  I could go on, but this I found this idea of self-deception linked to happiness quite intriguing.

3.) I'm reading AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India. It's kind of a downer but I picked it up at work in order to attempt to humanize what people on the team are attempting to accomplish.  In the Forward, authored by Amartya Sen she begins with, "Human ordeals thrive on ignorance.  To understand a problem with clarity is already half-way towards solving it.  Confusion distorts individual behaviour as well as social action, and ignorance of the effectiveness of social intervention contributes greatly to the resignation, fatalism and ultimately callousness."

While this is presented in the framework of the present-day AIDS epidemic, I was struck particularly by the universal application of this idea that perpetuating ignorance that creates cyclical consequences both personally and socially.   I was reminded how my ignorance of other cultures, people, lifestyles, belief systems, etc. often limits my behavior, not necessarily in a malicious way, but in a conservative self-conscious way.  I don't consider myself a particularly callous person but perhaps, the lack of engagement with others, based in ignorance and misuderstanding, leads to the perception of callousness.  This I want to change. Not sure how, but I will.

These are the things that keep me up at night.  Well, these and what am I going to wear tomorrow.


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