In G—- I Do Not Trust

I don’t often read Walter Williams, an Op/Ed columnist whose column appears in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I find his mind closed in to even the slightest hint of liberality. So I usually just skip over him.

Walter Williams

But recently a headline on his column, “In Greed I Trust” caught my eye (see Richmond Times-Dispatch for January 12, 2012).

I was horrified, and hoped, in reading, to find the headline inaccurate. Alas, I did not.

The question which prompted the column was, “What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done?” His answer: “people trying to get as much as they can for themselves.”

People are motivated by self-interest, and in many cases people are able to do amazing things–raise themselves from disadvantageous circumstances, create new products that are useful to society, get an education, even marry the person of their dreams.

But greed, or getting all that’s mine, is not an unmitigated good. It often leads to hoarding, and unethical behavior and injury to others who get in the way.  Bernard Madoff understood greed. No one is left a good outcome in that case.

Care for the other, paying attention to the needs of our fellow humans, is required in order for society to function. Self-interest is important–people who fail to care for themselves fare poorly in life, generally–but other-interest is also important. Both, in balance, are marks of an emotionally healthy person.

In that sense, one can claim that caring for others is also self-interested, and that is true. But greed and caring for others do not mix well.

Greed is selfish. The only thing I can trust greed to do is to lead to a breakdown of the social fabric.

And that is not good for any one.

Pay Close Attention

I really like my iPhone 4s, but there are moments when I think it may be too smart for me, or its own good.

I texted Jonathan this message this morning, “Picked up your mess.” Fortunately, I noticed the message right after I sent it, and sent a correction. The correction was simple: “meds!”

As the messy one in our home, I do not anticipate ever having to send a message, or even offer a comment, to Jonathan about his mess. Jonathan does not do mess.

But this mix-up got me thinking. How many times have I communicated with a confusing or inaccurate message–not because of an active editing function (which I appreciate much of the time) on my iPhone, but because I simply was not clear?

Email is famous for this. People write what we think is clear, and someone reads our message in an entirely different way. I don’t if any global wars have started over emails, but I know lots of smaller conflicts have been instigated or given more life because of emails. Communicating emotional content via email is simply too dangerous in most situations.

I worry about this when I send out weekly pastoral messages, too. I often try to communicate something important (even sometimes some emotional content), and I realize that it could easily be misunderstood.

It is difficult to know how 175 different people will read it. Of course, the best course in any situation where we are offended by someone’s statement is to ask them to explain what they meant.

I know one thing about this incident: I need to slow down a bit, not just with my phone, but in life. I can  utilize new technology but I need to be careful in using it.

I caught the error before Jonathan did, and he responded with humor. But not everyone will feel that way, especially if it is something far worse (a couple of times I have caught this editor trying to “fix” my bad typing–still getting used to the touch screen keyboard–and creating a word I would never send in a message).

So maybe the iPhone is actually teaching me a lesson: pay close attention, messages are important.

Slap My Hand!

Voting may get more difficult in Virginia, if State Senator Stephen Martin has his way. 

What Martin wants to do is to change the law so that voter registration cards may no longer be used as an acceptable form of identification at the polls. He says he is worried about fraud, and wants to make sure everyone has to produce a picture ID. “I think we should know who’s voting and that there is no fraud involved,” he says.

State Senator Stephen Martin

Of course, there is no evidence of fraud in Virginia elections. So you’d think we might leave well enough alone. If it ain’t broken . . . .

But there are others around the country–pretty much all Republicans–who join Martin in raising the concern about fraud–despite the absence of much evidence of fraud in U.S. elections. Some are seeing what they perceive to be a trend across the country: creating a demand for photo identification to vote.

Who are the ones most likely to be negatively affected? The folks who don’t have photo ID. And who is that? Mostly poor people.

And which party generally gets more votes from poor people? The Democrats.

Could it be that Republicans are trying to keep Democratic turnout low?

Oh, slap my hand for thinking such diabolical thoughts!

A New King? Please!

On this day set aside to honor Dr. King, I am reminded how bereft we are of leaders of his stature. We really need the moral compass he provided.

The strongest voices in our nation these days seem to belong to those whose primary values focus on money–getting more, keeping what they have, avoiding paying taxes. We need a counterweight of the sort provided by Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am particularly struck by the absence of religious voices that speak with the authority he commanded.

Jonathan and I were at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fairfax Saturday afternoon and evening to hear Rev. Mark Kiyimba, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Uganda, speak about his work against misogyny and homophobia in his country. He did not speak in the magnificent cadences of Dr. King, but he spoke with the same moral power and clarity. As I listened, I thought, “Oh we need him and others like him, we need a new Dr. King in this country.”

What struck me about Rev. Kiyimba is something that was always clear about Dr. King. He is a serious man, a faithful man who thinks for himself, a man who thinks with God as his main adviser. He does not consult polls, he does not let himself get caught up in seeking publicity for himself but he strategizes about how to get the message of peace and justice a full and fair hearing.

Of course, there will never be another Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We cannot, and should not, seek to duplicate him. But we need a new King for this time.

A Good Pot of Beans

I made a pot beans last night. This is not unusual for me–I make a crockpot of beans about every two weeks. I truly enjoy rice and beans and eat them a few times each week.

But something changed. I did not use tomatoes.

Actually, let me be more specific. I made a pot of red kidney beans and did not use tomatoes. Jonathan can’t eat tomatoes these days–some skin problems are made worse by tomatoes–so I am not cooking with them.

It has taken me some time to wrap my mind around making soup and beans and stuff like that without tomatoes. For some folks, it would be like having breakfast without a doughnut or bacon, or having church without hymns.

Frankly, for several months I simply avoided red beans and kidney beans, because I could not imagine not including tomatoes. I just made other beans–navy and Great Northern beans, split peas, lima beans, etc.–and pretended it did not bother me. I like all of them, too, but finally I realized I need to face red or kidney beans without tomatoes.

They turned out well. I used a lot of seasoning, more than I used with tomatoes. It was actually fun paying more attention to seasoning (and it helps to have a husband who really knows spices and has a refined and sensitive palate!).

I think I am being taught a lesson–again: namely, that just because we’ve never done it that way before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try something new.

Will I ever learn this, really?