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  1. The Bystander 25-October-2009

    I know this is too long and it probably isn't going to make much sense to anyone but me, but this has been swimming around in my head for a couple of weeks and I needed to put some order to it. For what it's worth I have about 100 of these discussions going on inside my head at any given moment, so if nothing else this story is a good representation of what's going on in my head even if it appears that I'm in a coma. And is probably why I never sleep.

    We rarely get to decide when any given place or time is the right or wrong place at the appropriate time. And regardless, we have to play the hand we're dealt. And sometimes we are dealt a really bad hand in a game with very high stakes. Unfortunately, in life, we can't fold.

    In poker though all you lose is stuff, and even if you're playing for stakes greater than cash, you know that before you sit down to play... It's a choice. When you're in the middle of a traffic accident, you do your best to keep yourself and others safe and you help until the professionals get there. The police do the paperwork, the ambulance does the medical work, and the tow truck driver carries off the scraps. It's all very tidy. Life just isn't like that.

    In a moral crisis, there is no 911. It's all you, and it's not a single event like a traffic accident or a few hands of poker. If you happened to be a bystander that witnessed a traffic accident, and you just stood and watched without lending help, it all still works out about the same in the end. Someone else will call 911, the police will still get there. Everyone knows the way to the hospital. Maybe you had your kids with you and didn't want to put them in harm's way by stepping in. Maybe you were just scared and didn't know what to do. There are lots of reasons you might not act.

    In a moral crisis though, the affects of you acting or not acting will define you, and those affects will cascade through time good or bad. There is no pause button so you can stop and think things over, you can't fold, and you can't dial 911. If you act you may lose everything and if you don't act you may lose everything. And often, by choosing to not contribute to the solution of the problem, you become part of the problem itself. And even though you may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, history will remember you for what you did or didn't do. I think people assume that by doing nothing they've dodged the spotlight.

    I think that too often people focus on the outcome. They think, "Well I can step up and fight this, but it's probably not going to change anyway, so why even try?" And therein lies one of the biggest failings of humanity. The outcome affects only one incident. The fight is what will change the world in the long run. And since most people don't stand up and fight, the world doesn't change. And since the world doesn't change, it keeps getting worse. And it keeps getting worse because that one incident everyone thought they could dodge by doing nothing, actually spread and harmed even more people because nobody wanted to fight.

    Since I'm at such a loss to find the right analogy for this story, I'll use wildfire even though in practicality I really don't know much about it. I guess I see the Bystander as the "Unseen Moral Firefighter"... When a wildfire threatens to destroy homes, the firefighter still goes in and gives it his all, even if the odds are insurmountable. And he may go in knowing that the closest 3 houses are doomed anyway, yet fight the fire in order to save the remaining 200 homes that the fire is quickly approaching. He sees the fire as a living, growing entity that has to be stopped. And I'd bet there are times that the firefighter comes out of a wildfire losing part of himself as well as some of his brothers in the fight, only to have the fire eventually put out by a heavy rain. Then was his fight completely in vain? No. It wasn't. Not in my book anyway, and we'd all be puzzled beyond imagination if the firefighters did nothing but stand and watch, hoping for rain.

    Yet nobody seems very shocked if the Bystander just... stands by idly. Is it because we don't want to be judged if one day we stand by and do nothing? Is it because we don't see the moral wildfire that spreads each time the Bystanders do nothing? I really don't know. There are lots of things I don't know.

    But I wrote this all out because I've been struggling with what to teach my kids, and sometimes it helps to just sit down and write. Sometimes it doesn't. And I think that what I've learned by writing this is that in a moral crisis, doing nothing may be just as much a crime as the initial crisis itself. And it may seem completely pointless to put up a fight anyway, since the outcome seems concrete no matter what you do or don't do.

    But while the fight may not change the outcome of the crisis, and history may see you as the fool that died because he stood his ground in the face of an unstoppable wildfire... what matters more than any of that is how you feel about *yourself* when you're looking back at the devastation the wildfire did after it's all said and done. The houses may all be lost in spite of your fight, the fight may have taken good men and women, and maybe this fire truly was unstoppable.

    But none of that devastation happened because I sat back and did nothing. The devastation looks the same from the air regardless of how hard I fought it, but the fact that I fought it is what will let me make peace with the devastation. Even though the outcome of that one event was still the same. I may not have changed it... but it didn't change me either.

    So while history will record the final outcome of any given single catastrophic event, while recording very few of the details of what happened leading up to the final outcome... the true test that life was handing us was what took place inside the Bystander that stood by compared to what took place inside the one that stood his ground and fought unimaginable odds.

    And I guess what I want my kids to know is that I really don't care about the outcome of their battles so much as how they feel about how they fought the battle. If you feel like you did the right thing and that you did all you could to change the outcome, yet the outcome was the same in the end... you still passed a critical test that life handed you.

    Life is more often likely to test your character than your fighting skills. So even if you don't swing a killer right hook, you passed the test the moment you balled up your fist, even if you didn't knock anyone on their ass when you swung it.

    And similarly... if you choose to look away in the face of a moral crisis, you have not only failed the test of character, but you have doomed many others after you to becoming engulfed in the wildfire that you didn't fight.

    But once you've seen it unfold, you're in it no matter which path you take. Ignoring it doesn't free you from the responsibility of it, and even if you happened into it by no fault or choosing of your own, you're still in it.

    Cheers from ThreeFiveZero
  2. The Whole is Greater than the Sum of it's Parts 07-August-2009

    So the first thing I did today was google this. Turns out the whole world is completely missing the boat on this particular topic and has decided to use it as a way to motivate cubicle dwellers to play nice together at the office. Yet another way Corporate America heralds, invites, and in many ways catalyzes the end of humanity. Another story...

    But this story is for my kids. Honestly I think it's just the summer that has them at each other's throats lately... so much time together, day in and day out anyone would begin to bicker I'd think. Nothing some time apart won't cure, and since we're doing the divorced/2-homes thing that's relatively easy to do. That's plan 'A', but is only a first resort out of convenience. Plan 'B' needs to be a little more complex, I think.

    I love 'The Incredibles'... Until today it was just a favorite movie. Who hasn't fashioned himself the Superhero Dad in hiding at some point, right? I drove around for an hour or so trying to come up with just the right analogy to go with this story and didn't, couldn't, may still yet, but as of now I think this will have to do.

    A while back Sophie said to me, "Daddy, Bubba and I fight too much, I think we should move to different houses." We weren't in the car, but it was still what I refer to as a 'Stop the Car' moment. That kind where Dad doesn't care where we are or what we're doing, he just *has* to give us some sort of babbling lecture!!! This one's important, Baby. I tried really hard to save this family, but it turns out even a Superhero can't save some things alone. Worked for Mom and Dad, right, so why not just get separated from my brother? This is one of those times you can't be upset with your child without being upset with the example you set that she's following. So I knelt, as I do on one knee so she's 'my size', and said,

    "Baby, your family is all you've truly got in this world and it's the only thing you can count on. If you give it up at the first sign of trouble, you're giving up on yourself as well. I know you're too young to understand this, but if you ever need your Bubba, or he needs you, and the two of you are quarreling or he hurt your feelings last Tuesday or you/his or whatever, you promise me you'll always pick up that phone when he calls, OK? He'll do the same for you, and if he doesn't answer, you call your Daddy and God himself better stand aside if you need us. Promise me, Baby?" And I made Ezra make the same promise, even though I know they didn't really get it. Someday they will.

    At the end of The Incredibles, they finally got their act together and worked in unison to defeat the bad guy. They had a lot of trouble getting there, but when it mattered, they had each others' backs. And standing alone they would have lost the battle as well as each other. The flexibility is useless without the force to throw it, the force field is twice as deadly in motion, the shape shifter is helpless with no one to catch him once he breaks free, and when it all comes down to the massive explosion at the end, the force field isn't the only thing holding that family together. Their whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

    Ezra was the first born and because of that he was the fire that tempered his Father. I was just wild and unfocused energy before he gave me direction. I accomplished some amazing things before I was Dad, but those things were all so very misguided and lacking purpose. Sophia taught me that the heart of even the Warrior can be melted with song and innocence. Angela taught me that sometimes your best friend can also be your greatest enemy, and you should be wary of knowing the difference, or declaring any one person either or both... I'm not certain just yet that you can have a worst enemy who is not also your best friend, and/or a best friend who is not also your worst enemy. But I'm confused on a lot of things so that probably doesn't mean much...

    Ezra is all the things that a Dad hopes for in a Son... Little League and Cool Cars and philosophical discussons... he is undoubtedly both blessed with all the things I pride myself on, as well as cursed with all the things I curse about myself to this day.

    Sophia is Sugar and Spice and everything nice, Beauty that tames the Beast, the song that sinks ships, and the bold and daring defiant slap across my face when I'm wrong. She makes me question my previously concrete belief that humanity is doomed.

    And let's not forget Dad. I've been Superman and I've been Lex Luthor. I've been both Mr. Incredible and the guy he was in the cubicles, which fittingly enough I can't recall the name of. His name in the cubicle role was irrelevant. He learned that he didn't belong there. That's all we need to know. But my kids need to know that Dad can bring down buildings when he needs to, he can stop a speeding train even if only barely and on his tippy-toes, and he can cut up dinner at the table even though it may not be as poignant as he might have hoped. Undeniable though in any case... Dad's got their backs.

    And then there's Angela. I have yet to decide what lesson I'm supposed to learn from Angela. As my X-Wife, I of course want to paint her as the Villian, yet it was my synergy with her that created the two lives that now guide my own. She isn't all bad, even though it would be easier for me to believe that she is. I rarely take the easy way. All Villians are driven by a passion, and you can believe that their passion is fueled by insanity if you choose, but the truth is that there is at some level genius in there as well, or the Villian would never soar to the height of such. Petty thugs remain unseen by history. The greatest Villians rose to greatness whether or not they were truly misguided, but they did in fact rise to greatness. Angela will hold a place in The Rigdon History books regardless of which path she chooses. I'll try to save an hour or two before I take my last breath to let you know which she chose. I foresee that as a very busy day though, so don't hold me to that... But today I'm writing for my kids.

    One day Sophie will call her Brother to bring the strength that has escaped her in trying times. Ezra will bring the strength of 10 men and the fury of a Brother with a Lil Sis whose heart is shattered. Because that's what he's good at. Dad'll bring the truck and the shotgun, because well, that's what Dads do... One day Ezra will call his Sister to cry because she is the only person aside from Dad that has ever seen him cry. And she will instill in him hope to try again, whatever part of life failed him that day. Because that's what she does, and what she's good at. Dad'll bring pizza that night, and sit in awe of his Baby Girl's gift of finding life and hope in the ashes... Dad has high hopes that both kids will one day call him at 2am to come change a poopy diaper and sit with a crying baby because Mom and Dad are at their wits' end after days without sleep. And Grandpa Scott'll be there as fast as possible, because that's what Dads (who hope to one day be Grandpas) do... but what we must all know is that whoever calls whomever, we/they'll be there. Quickly. And you all thought those rollover family cell phone plan minutes would be useless!!!

    So tonight we'll watch The Incredibles, after which I'll read this story to my kids and hope that at least some small part of it sinks in. Violet would not have survived without Dash, and Dash would not have survived without Violet. Ezra may survive without Sophia's soft heart to temper him, but he'll be a Better Man if he heeds the lessons that soft heart of hers sees that his own may not... Sophia will survive without Ezra's quick temper to protect her, but she'll be a Wiser Woman if she heeds the lessons that tempter teaches her about who to trust and who not to trust.

    Dad is still amazed at all he has learned thus far from his children, and is anxious to find out what else they can teach him. But they all will be better off with and for family, and their whole as a family will undoubtedly be greater than the parts that comprise it. Undoubtedly, Dad is a better man with them than he was before them, or would he be without them.

    Cheers from ThreeFiveZero
  3. Oak Trees and Prairie Grass 09-June-2009

    I lost a good friend recently. It happens. It made me think of a story though that I've wanted to write for a long time but haven't really found just yet the perfect analogy to go along with it. This will have to do for now.

    Prairie Grass has no choice but to grow where it can, because it just doesn't have the potential to be more than it is, and it has to survive outside the shadows of the Oak Trees it shares the prairie with.

    Blades of Grass come and go, they flourish in fair weather, they die off quickly in drought. They look really nice on a sunny day, each just like all the others, very consistent. Their roots are shallow and their lives are short. If one is nipped off, eaten, or otherwise lost, another quickly grows back in its' place. Barely noticed. The Oaks in that same prairie though outlive the grass by such a far margin that, to the grass, the oaks must seem like rocks or mountains, for the most part unchanged throughout the entire lifespan of a blade of grass. The Oaks weather the storms and the droughts, good weather and bad, and flourish for a very long time, much slower and more stable, with vastly deeper roots. When lives seek shelter they don't even consider the Grass, they flock to the strong stable arms of the Oaks. Then quickly run off to the grassy field again when the sun comes out. Problem is that, when an Oak falls, nothing grows back in it's place for a very long time and the loss is unrecoverable. Whatever catastrophic event felled the Oak did so permanently. It won't stand back up and recover when the sun comes out. Another oak will take what must seem like an eternity to take the place of the lost one, all the while countless blades of grass come and go. The grass doesn't even notice. The only things that will notice are those that can tell the difference between an oak and a blade of grass. And really very few things will be able to make that distinction, no matter how insignificant the Grass is to them or how essential the Oak was to their survival. That distinction is lost on the larger majority of the Prairie.

    The Oak's roots are deep, and it's loss is felt for a very long time. The stump left to mark the spot where the Oak once stood is there long after the log that fell from it has been forgotten. Still deeply rooted, but no longer supporting majesty. What was once a towering thing of beauty turns to dust and all of the root structure that once supported the Oak remains with nothing to feed it, and nothing to feed from it. In the clearing around the stump the grass will quickly flourish in the sun that the Oak once absorbed and further erase any evidence that something greater than the grass once stood there. But the roots that supported that Oak will be buried there for a very long time before the stump turns to dust.

    So an Oak Tree couldn't be Prairie Grass if it wanted to be, because of course it is what it is and an Oak is what it was destined to be. Prairie Grass is too shallow to realize that the Oak's existance was a nobler thing, and likewise, it couldn't become an Oak Tree even if it wanted to. Both held their places and responsibilities in the bigger picture of the open prairie.

    So I suppose there's nothing wrong with being Prairie Grass or Oak Trees. If there were no Oaks, the Grass would have nothing to pale in comparison to. And if there were no Grass, the Oaks would be as indistinguishable from each other as the blades of Prairie Grass are.

    But if you want to stand for something, be remembered long after you're gone, and make a real and lasting impact on the bigger picture of the open prairie, you have to be an Oak Tree. The price you pay for all of those accomplishments is that you have to be willing to live with the stumps that are left behind on the rare occasion that an Oak falls. Maybe the Prairie Grass is truly better off. I honestly don't know.

    What I can say though is that some Oak Trees grow where chance or fate or destiny lands the acorn. Some Oak Trees are carefully and strategically planted. The Grass is scattered wildly with little will or thought. Be very selective where you plant the Oak Trees that you plan for. Grass will grow anywhere and any time. In fact you're likely to get really tired of cutting the Grass. You're going to miss that Oak Tree.

    Cheers from ThreeFiveZero