Civil Discourse

“Whatever happened to class?” – Catherine Zeta Jones (Chicago)

I recently witnessed a group of people being very rude to one another, over something that probably didn’t warrant such aggression or hostility. The incident itself was relatively brief, and only some not-so-nice words were exchanged, but I believe it to be systemic of a much larger problem: People nowadays don’t seem to know how to engage in civil discourse anymore.

Civil discourse is when two or more people have a disagreement, but are able to resolve it without resorting to shouting, insulting, rudeness or hostility in general. The problem I’m seeing is that, when a disagreement occurs, many will jump straight to being angry. They will skip any sort of “formality” involving manners or civility and instantly become annoyed. The way I have always understood it, is that if you want a positive reaction from people or a positive outcome from a situation, you must approach them/it positively. This is not to say that forcefulness and willfulness are not needed, because they are, but they must be tempered with objectivity. If you approach someone who is bothering you and immediately call them an idiot, you are unlikely to get anywhere at all. Instead, if you start with, “excuse me…” or “would you mind terribly…” that shows that you at least are willing to look at a potential disagreement from a reasonable point of view.

Now, it is entirely possible that the civility and sincerity you attempt to show others may not be reciprocated. If that is the case, if you feel being more forceful or asserting your opinions more harshly would be of benefit, then go ahead and try. However, if the disagreement erupts into an argument, then the questions you have to ask yourself are, “is this worth it?” and “what is at stake?” Some people simply are rude — this is a fact, and there is very little chance of that changing. So it is simply not worth it to expend the energy to try. You might as well bash your head against a brick wall for all the good it will do you. What you have you understand is, backing down or abandoning an argument is NOT a sign of weakness. Knowing when to accept defeat can be a sign of strength. If the only thing you’re risking in a disagreement is potentially bruising your ego, then let it be bruised – it will heal.

Another thing to consider is the other person’s position. Are they in the wrong? Are you perhaps being overly sensitive? What is the other person doing that is bothering you? Can you look past it or live with it? Everyone has their own little eccentricities that will bother someone, and some people try very hard to be bothered. What you have to consider is how flexible can you can be. If you can look past whatever the issue is and live with it, or better yet, accept it, it will help teach you tolerance and dealing with your problems rather than stressing over them.

My basic point is this — life is too short to be angry all the time or irritated with everyone. Before you go off half-cocked on an issue, consider how important it is to you, how important it may be to others, and most importantly, try and keep a cool head. If you have a problem with something or someone, try to deal with it in a calm and reasonable manner. Everyone has disagreements; it’s natural and encouraged. But if you can utilize civil discourse when you have a disagreement, I guarantee you — everyone involved will be better off for it.

Optimism, Pessimism, and Realism

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”  – William Arthur Ward

I’d like to talk a little today about what I perceive the differences (and similarities) to be between the optimist, the pessimist, and the realist. We’ve all come across each kind of person — the unerringly hopeful optimist, the down-in-the-dumps pessimist, and the “middle-ground” realist. I, myself, believe I fall into the realist category and I will explain why later. Let’s talk about the others.

Let’s start with the optimist: The dictionary defines optimism as, “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” While this is certainly a more preferred social attitude than the pessimist, optimists have been accused more than once of being naïve or ignorant of the way things are because they choose to see a different better picture than others. They believe that the world is a genuinely good place and that in the eternal conflict between “good” and “evil,” that good will win out in the end. This is a fine belief and it’s one that many people hold. It keeps their spirits high, their faith in humanity remains unshaken, and it’s likely they have a positive self-image. However, when one views the world through “rose-colored-glasses” they often don’t see the “cold, hard facts” that they need to see in order to interact well in society, either because they don’t see them, or they choose not to. Some optimists will believe anything they hear, read or see as long as it goes along with their positive viewpoints on life. Granted this is probably a bit of an extreme, but it is feasible that an optimist can be taken advantage of because they wish to believe in the good they choose to see in everyone. This can lead to trouble if the optimist finds themselves in the wrong situation where their unwavering positivity meets with inevitable negativity that does exist in the world.

Negativity is the domain of the pessimist. The dictionary defines pessimism as, “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, or problems.” Being the exact opposite of an optimist, the pessimist sees only the bad side of life and generally expects the worst of any scenario. However, this is not to say that pessimists are ALWAYS unhappy people (although it can be typical). It could be the case that due to unfortunate past experiences, they go through life always expecting the worst because that’s what they’re used to and have been exposed to all their life. It is not atypical that the pessimist, after being exposed to the better sides of life could become an optimist, or perhaps more likely – a realist.

I consider myself to be a realist, so if you will forgive the conceit, I will proceed with my explanation according to my own personal experiences: Realism is defined as “interest in or concern for the actual or real, as distinguished from the abstract, speculative, etc.” Basically meaning that realists tend to view the world from a more “practical” point of view. It is my perception that realists are often viewed as pessimists because their viewpoints tend to contradict those of the optimist. While the optimist generally believes in the positive and favorable aspects of life, the realist will sometimes disagree taking the stance that we live in an unpredictable world that can be as bad as it is good. While the optimist realizes that there are situations, people, and incidents that are by definition bad, they tend to focus on what positive elements can be taken from those incidents. The realist will usually acknowledge (and accept) those positive elements but they will also focus on why bad things happen, i.e. – there are bad people in the world/stuff happens/life isn’t perfect, etc. Where I don’t think the realist receives enough credit is when they encounter the pessimist. Realists can disagree with pessimists just as much as (if not more so than) the optimist. While the pessimist sees only the negative, the realist will try to explain that, yes, bad things happen, but this is not en evil world, there is good here, you just have to know where to look for it.

People can and will take advantage of others. It is in their nature to do so. However, I do not believe people are inherently evil/violent/bad. I think when emotion takes hold, things are said; urges are acted upon, sometimes with negative consequences. But in the long run I am of the belief that most people generally do not enjoy being harmed or bringing harm to others. Most of us are just trying to get by with what we have. And therein lies another difference between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” People who “have” I think, tend to be much more optimistic about life because they have things that others don’t so they don’t really have a reason to be miserable. The “have-nots” don’t have the things that others do and spend much of their time wishing they did. This can sometimes lead to having a pessimistic outlook on life, i.e. – why do they have everything and I have nothing? It’s not fair!

As a realist, I firmly believe that life is not fair, but I also do not believe it to be un-fair. I realize how much a contradiction that is, but life IS what you make it. If you put forth the effort and give a care to how you live, it’s likely you eventually succeed. It may not be right away, but with the willpower and initiative to make your life better, you will prevail. If you don’t care how your life ends up, it honestly will be hard for others to offer you much sympathy. It’s difficult for many people to care about your life if you don’t yourself.

Being Yourself

Sorry I haven’t written anything in a while. I’ve been busy with a new job (yay!) as well as miscellaneous other things and really haven’t thought much about blogging, but I’m back now and will try to churn out more stuff on a somewhat regular basis.

I’ve been thinking a lot about judgments, opinions, and thoughts we have about others we don’t know, or even do know. We’re often told not to make judgments about people based on what little knowledge we have about them. However, I believe that such an act is human and essentially un-avoidable. There are a few of us who can genuinely look past the exterior and see nothing but a fellow human being, and that’s great. But for the most part, we do make some snap judgments about people based on first impressions. This might be important when applying for a job or going on a date, etc. But in the long run, the only person’s opinions that should have any impact on your life are your own.

However, and this is important – this is not to say that you should never give a thought to what ANYONE thinks of you. You should probably dress sensibly, have good basic hygiene, and give others the impression that you at least care about yourself. The catch is though, that there’s a fine line between caring for yourself and caring what others think of you. If you take the effort to insure that you are comfortable with yourself, that is enough. You can make other smaller steps as well, such as a new haircut or style, or wearing khakis instead of jeans. Giving off the impression of professionalism will give others the sense that you are confident and mature — two personality traits, which are indeed important in today’s world.

It’s when you start caring about what EVERYONE thinks of you that you have a problem. When you expend great thought and effort in pursuit of becoming what others WANT you to be, you eventually lose track of who you were in the first place. Everyone has a different opinion, and if you try to live up to every single opinion or expectation of everyone you encounter, you will never be successful. It’s even worse in this modern day of celebrities and fashion, coupled with pictures in magazines, which aren’t even real. No one can look as perfect as the people in those pictures because not even those people in the pictures are that perfect. Airbrushing, digital editing, and PhotoShopping are at their height, and there are many people who take great pains to make themselves as physically “perfect” as they can. Not only does it cost them a fortune, but it takes a serious physical and mental toll as well. When a person tries to make themself perfect and don’t succeed, they can lapse into depression, begin to depend on substances, and if it gets serious enough — kill themselves, all in pursuit of a fantasy.

Speaking from my own experiences, I have been incredibly fortunate to have never given much thought to what others think of me. The way I see it, there are far better and far more important things on which I can expend my energy. And was I bullied, and made fun of when I was younger because I refused to conform to the “standard”? Absolutely. But you have to realize bullies do what they do because they themselves are insecure, so they have to inflict that insecurity on others to make themselves feel powerful. When you give in to the pressure, it tells others that they have power over you, and many will not hesitate to exploit it. This is why it’s so crucially important to stay firm in the face of adversity and remain true to yourself, even when who are is objected to. And one of the best ways to avoid that is to find a group of friends who accept you for who you are, and will never question, pressure, or otherwise inflict doubt on you because they’re as happy with who you are as you should be.

My basic message is this: part of living your life is feeling socially accepted. While I have stressed that it’s better not to expend much thought on how others view you, you won’t have to if you can find even a few close friends to share your life with you. And true friends will always accept you for who you are, not for who you try to be. Spending all your time trying to be someone else is a futile practice. Not only are you lying to others, you’re lying to yourself. Even more important — is to avoid trying to become as flawless as the pictures of celebrities and other famous people we see every day online and in pop-culture magazines. Many of them are digitally edited to the point where they’re not even realistic anymore. So trying to achieve that “standard” is not only obscenely expensive, it’s potentially dangerous.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “to be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

“Rush” Movie Review

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

So, I just saw the Ron Howard movie Rush, which is based on the real-life story of the 1970s rivalry between Formula-One racecar drivers James Hunt from the UK and Niki Lauda from Austria. I have to say, going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. I went with my brother who is a film major, and his taste in movies usually differs from mine. But after having seen it, I have to say…I really liked it. It was fast-paced enough to keep it interesting, pithy enough to be amusing, and dramatic enough to ensure that the characters weren’t just 2-dimensional.

The film starts out with narrations from both Lauda and Hunt, detailing how they met and how their fierce rivalry began.

Hunt, played by Chris Hemsworth (Thor), is a brash, care-free playboy type who seems to have everything; wealth, good looks, women, and most importantly to him — popularity. Hunt is driven (no pun intended) by the love of his fans. He points out that the only thing he really knows how to do is drive racecars, and to live every moment as if it was his last.

Lauda, portrayed by Daniel Brühl (Inglorious Bastards) is very nearly the exact polar opposite from Hunt. Being all about business, all Lauda appears to care about is results, and he’s willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to achieve them. Humorless, blunt, and determined, Lauda attracts little popularity with his anti-social demeanor, even among his team-mates. But it is his determination that puts him in the lead on the racetrack.

After coming in first-place in several races with Hunt coming in second, the world begins to recognize Lauda (who was initially thought to be a rank amateur who bought his way into the big leagues) and the spotlight shifts to him and away from Hunt. This change in publicity causes Hunt to lose his major sponsors, and essentially puts him out of work. After weeks of wallowing depression, drinking, and estranging himself from his wife and his family, Hunt is finally offered a deal and a chance to get back on the track. However, his relief is short-lived as the now hot-shot Lauda wins nearly every race, and even resorts to petty semantics (such as calling Hunt’s vehicle illegal). And as the months wind down to the Grand Prix, Lauda pulls further and further ahead in points leaving Hunt in the dust.

Then, as fate would have it, in a highly-debated race with dangerous conditions, Lauda’s car spins out and bursts into flames, leaving him with burns all over his body. Though seemingly at death’s door, Lauda returns to the racetrack a mere six weeks later to attempt to make up for lost time. It is here that the relationship between Lauda and Hunt begins to change. Hunt feels chiefly responsible for Lauda’s accident as he insisted the race that caused his injuries go forward despite Lauda’s own warning that the conditions were too dangerous to drive in. And a mutual respect is born out the initial rivalry between the two drivers. Lauda accepts Hunts apologies, but assures him that though he may be, in part, responsible for the accident that scarred him, he was also responsible for getting him back in the car. Lauda’s determination to finish the World Championship and settle the rivalry was the one thought that kept him going.

When the day of the Japanese Grand Prix arrives, Lauda only trails Hunt by 3 points. However, like the race that injured him, the track conditions are extremely dangerous with torrential rains and heavy winds, but the race goes ahead as scheduled because of the media coverage. Throughout the race, Hunt holds a consistent lead, despite a few close advances from Lauda. But after only two laps, Lauda concedes the race, stating that the championship title is not worth his life. He proudly watches Hunt cross the finish line and solidify his position as the World Racing Champion.

While celebrating his victory, Hunt encounters Lauda once more, who urges him to focus on the next season of racing. Hunts responds by expressing his desire to continue racing, but also that all the success in the world is worth nothing if you can’t celebrate it and have fun. In the end, both Lauda and Hunt had as much to learn about themselves as the other. Lauda finishes the film saying that Hunt had nothing more to prove to anybody and one of the few men he had come to respect.

Obviously, the main part of the film is about racing. The relationship between Lauda and Hunt is indeed secondary but as the movie progresses, that’s all right. The racing scenes are exciting and fast-paced, with several different perspectives, probably the most notable being the first race that Lauda participates in after his accident. And when he not only finishes that race, but comes in third-place (something no one expected him to do), there’s actually a genuine feeling of contentment among the audience — it’s almost one of those moments when you actually want to stand and applaud. The musical score (done by Hans Zimmer), also adds a great deal to the film. So, while this film may have been about the rivalry that put two men at odds, it’s also about the friendship and understanding born out of the initial mistrust and dislike they had for one another.

So, in summary, I thought Rush was a very good movie. The character development was solid, the acting was genuine, the racing was exciting, and the effects were quite impressive. I’d give this film a solid 7/10.

Common Spelling & Grammar errors

All right! This has been nagging at me for a while. I realize I’m just one guy, but I need to do something. Just because it’s the Internet doesn’t mean that we need to slip into a general sense of laziness. So, I’m here to set the record straight regarding a few grammatical errors I’ve observed more than twice while browsing online. (*cough*Reddit!*cough*)

Let’s start with something simple: “Its” vs. “It’s”.

“Its” is a possessive pronoun. This form of the word is used when referring to something that someone or something has. A good example might be, “every dog has its day” or “the site needs to update its information.” This is what sets it apart from “it’s” because “it’s” is simply a contraction like “didn’t” or “let’s.” You use “it’s” when you want to say, “it is” or “it has”: “It’s mine!” or “It’s been a good day.”

So quite simply, if you want to talk about something that belongs to something or someone, i.e. – something possessive — use “its.” If you want to want to shorten “it is” or “it has,” use “it’s.”

Now, let’s work on “Then” vs. “Than.”

“Then” is time or sequenced-based. You use it when referring to events or things that happen. Example: “I’m going to the store then I’m going to go home,” or “I have to take out the trash then do the dishes.” Use an “e” when talking about one thing coming after another — Use an “a” in “than” when comparing something to something else. Example: “He is older than she is,” or “It is hotter now than it was an hour ago.”

Use “then” when talking about a sequence of events, and use “than” when comparing things to one another. I know they are homophones (sound alike, but they have different meanings), but it’s important to know the difference.

Moving on: “Your” vs. “You’re.”

This is simple and is probably more of a spelling issue, but it’s still important. “Your” implies ownership. Use it when talking about something that belongs to someone. Example: “This is your half,” or “I need to know where your house is.” Conversely, use “you’re” when you want to say, “you are.” Example: “You’re crazy!” or “When do you think you’re going to get here?”

Again, these are two homophones, but there’s a world of difference between stating ownership with “your” and combining “you are” with “you’re.”

This is a very common mistake: “There”, “They’re”, and “Their.”

“There” is obviously used when talking about location – “Tell me when you get there.” Easy enough, right? “They’re” is simply a contraction of “they are.” — “They’re going to go to a movie,” or “They’re about to close the store.” Like “your,” the usage of “their” implies ownership. Example: “That was your half…this is their half,” or “That’s mine, and this is theirs.”

Basically, “there” = location. “They’re” = “they are.” And “their” = ownership.

Finally, this is a confusing one. So I can understand why it’s often not used properly, but I’m going to do the best I can to explain their usage: “Less” vs. “Fewer.”

“Less” is used when whatever you’re referring to can’t be counted — for example: “There needs to be less furniture in here.” You can’t count furniture, and there’s no plural. So, when the subject of your sentence can’t be quantified, you use “less.” When the subject can be counted, or there are many of them, use “fewer” — “There needs to be less furniture in here…we need fewer chairs.” Chairs are furniture, but they’re separate objects. There are many chairs, so they can be counted.

However, there always seems to be lingering exceptions to the rules for these two words, and there are too many to list here. Basically, if you can’t count it and there’s no plural of the word, use “less,” and if it can be counted and there are several, use “fewer.”

No one ever said the English language was easy. Even for native speakers, it’s often difficult. But we also have to be diligent in our spelling. Just because the Internet offers a certain amount of anonymity, doesn’t mean we should become sloppy and careless in how we spell words. It just looks bad you say something like, “I’ll be they’re in 10 minutes,” or “Let me borrow you’re bike.” I realize these words sound the same as their counterparts, but we need to be watchful of how we write these words so that we make sense. Practice, practice, practice! You CAN do it if you put your mind it!

“The Secret World of Arrietty” film review

The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese-style animated film, which is about two young people’s struggle to survive and cope with challenges bigger than themselves — figuratively for one, literally for the other. Since it is technically a Disney movie, and understandably mild in terms of any potential action or excitement (it is of course rated G), it was disappointingly short and lacked a great deal of plot development. So while most assuredly family-safe, there were, unfortunately, story details left open and even in some cases ignored. My personal favorite top 3 movies are Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Howl’s Moving Castle. All are films that Hayao Miyazaki has been involved in making. And while I still consider The Secret World of Arrietty to be a Miyazaki film (even though he only co-wrote it as opposed to directed or produced), I feel it just doesn’t make the cut.

First we meet Sean, a 12-year old boy who has been driven out to the country by his aunt, to the house where his mother used to live as a little girl. It is also revealed that Sean has an extremely weak heart, and will soon have surgery. The purpose of the journey is so young Sean can get some peace and tranquility before his operation.

Then we are introduced to Arrietty and her family. Mere inches tall, these “little people” are introduced as Borrowers. These Borrowers live a life of secrecy and subtlety. As Arrietty has “come of age” (14) her anticipation for going on her first “borrowing” has mounted to near unbearable levels. Quite adversely, her mother who habitually frightens herself with fears that her only daughter will be “eaten by the cat” or “squashed like a bug” doesn’t like the fact that Arrietty is so eager to venture outside their home, which is actually situated under the house floorboards. Arreitty’s father, a seasoned Borrower, insists to his wife, that Arrietty is a strong girl and must learn how to take care of herself. To that end, he takes her along on a Borrowing.

It is here the film meets its first (albeit minor) snag. What they term as “borrowing,” might also be termed as scavenging or even stealing. Whenever their “supplies” run low, the Borrowers must venture outside the confines of their domicile to grab items they need: sugar cubes, tissue sheets, etc. While it is made clear the Borrowers never take anything that will be missed, it is still taking. Borrowing implies whatever is taken is eventually returned, however this is clearly not the case. But it also implied that a single sugar cube can last a year or more. So they are not thieves but they are extremely wary of Humans and avoid making it appear that anything is out of place, lest they risk revealing their presence. It is here that yet another obstacle is hit upon.

While Arrietty and her father (who are out borrowing while the Humans are asleep) attempt to remove a sheet of tissue paper from its box, Arrietty is spotted by Sean who lies awake in his bed. Panicking, Arrietty accidentally drops the sugar cube she had been carrying as she and her father make themselves scarce, leaving Sean wondering if he was dreaming or really saw tiny people in his room. It is as this point that we are made privy to the fact that there may once have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of Borrowers, however because of the danger of “Human curiosity” they have either died or moved elsewhere. Unfortunately, this latent and rampant fear of Humans the Borrowers seem to carry with them is never truly explained; only that Humans are, by nature, curious, and dangerous because of it. I believe this is a somewhat crucial plot aspect that could have been explored more deeply, but was simply left on the sidelines.

When Sean leaves the dropped sugar cube out for the Borrowers to re-collect, Arrietty’s parents make the decision to move, as they cannot stay in a house where the Humans know of their presence. However, the existence of an extremely ornate and detailed dollhouse, which was built by Sean’s grandmother (apparently FOR the Borrowers), begs the question why Arrietty’s descendants have shared the house for so long with Humans if their being there was suspected all along. This point is further illustrated by the character Hara, the house’s caretaker, who seems to have always believed little people live in the walls and floors of the house but has never been able to prove it.

We discover that while Arrietty does not want to go against her parent’s wishes, she also believes not all Humans are bad and chances re-returning the sugar cube and revealing her existence to Sean. She informs him that she and her family will soon be moving away from the house, as any further exposure could potentially mean their deaths. Sean finds this upsetting and informs Arrietty of his condition. Explaining that he has “accepted fate” and believes he is the one who is going to die. Contrarily, Arrietty tells him she has lived with the belief that you can never give up hope and must continue to fight with all your strength to survive. It is shortly after this brief encounter that Hara finds and captures Arrietty’s mother, suspicious that Sean knows of them and has been keeping it a secret. As an added precaution, she locks Sean in his room, so he will not be able to interfere with her plans.

Again, plot details are left out here. Though it is clear that Hara wishes to expose the Borrowers, and believes them to be little thieves, she seemingly does not intend to harm them, even though she calls a pest control company and requests they “trap the pests” in the house. She keeps Arrietty’s mother in a jar as insurance, but still it is extremely unclear if she only wishes to show them to the world or profit by their exhibition.

Discovering her mother’s capture, she risks turning to the only person who might be able to help her. Sean gladly obliges and consoles the fretting Arrietty. Discovering his door to be locked, He climbs out his window and with Arrietty’s help, unlocks the window in the neighboring room and searches the kitchen for Arrietty’s mother. Hara, of course confused as to how Sean has “escaped” his room, attempts to cover up her plot. While Sean distracts her, Arrietty locates and frees her mother. Shortly thereafter the pest control arrive and the audience is treated to a fairly amusing scene where every attempt Hara makes to reveal the Borrower’s existence is foiled and she is simply made to appear a senile old woman who has simply “gotten into the sherry again.”

The final scene is Sean and Arrietty’s tearful farewell. Sean explains that he believes now that he will live through his operation, and that his heart is strong because Arrietty is in it. As a token of her thanks and friendship, Arrietty gives Sean her make-shift hair pin. Sean woefully accepts her explanation that their moving is for her family’s own safety and in the final narrated sequence, Sean explains that a year later (obviously implying that he did live through his operation), he returned to the area and was pleased to hear reports of neighbors saying various objects around their homes has mysteriously “gone missing.”

In summary, The Secret World of Arrietty seems to not be so secret, as nearly all the main human characters hint that they know at least something of their existence, even if they’re just rumors. And while there are certainly amusing and innovative aspects of the story (in one scene, Arrietty’s father climbs to a high surface using double stick tape strapped to his hands and feet), and clear positive-sounding messages that life is sacred, there are gaping holes in the plot that could have been explained more fully, and some plot points that seemed to be ignored completely (for example, where did the Borrowers come from? If they feared Humans so much, why do they choose to live in such close proximity to them?). So while undeniably Disney, it didn’t measure up to several other films Hayao Miyazaki has been involved in making that I personally have really enjoyed.