Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chicken George and an Ostrich…

I took the family out for dinner tonight.  We ended up at a new Japanese hibachi grill at City Center North (don’t remember the name).

Lauren had an excellent filet mignon.  Done right, that’s pretty hard to beat.  It was done right.

I ventured off the beaten path (one of my favorite things to do at a new restaurant) and tried ostrich mignon (for real).  Surprisingly (to me), it was more expensive than anything except the kobe beef.  I don’t know if that is because of the quality of the meat, or the scarcity of supply.

I anticipated it would be like chicken.  I was wrong.

It went on the hibachi a deep red… looking more like liver than chicken or beef.

It was very good.  More flavor than beef.  I thought it tasted a little like bison… with a hint of a sharp, gamey flavor.

If I had to do it again I’d get it a bit more on the rare side.

Overall, I’m glad I tried it.  It’s something different… and it was very good.  And now I’ve eaten ostrich.

It was the first time for Holly and Sierra to have the chef come and prepare the food at the table on the hibachi.  Our cook was spectacular.  Lots of flair and a great sense of humor.  The girls got a real kick out of his skills and personality.

Fun times.  Big bill.  Won’t happen again for awhile.

Okay… that’s the light part of this post.  Since I haven’t posted in a few days I have to give double-duty tonight because I’ve been anxiously waiting to post this next bit (the Chicken George part).

2 days ago I finished “Roots” while I was on my snowboard vacation (videos still to come).

First… Fabulous book.  A very stirring insight into a part of our national history that I think is ridiculously mishandled in school.

I look at the stupid books Andi has to read for high school and it doesn’t make any sense.  While some have great value, a shockingly high number offer absolutely zero value to Andi or her life.

It seems like she has to read and discuss them simply because they’ve always read and discussed them.  I don’t think they’ve changed the required reading lists in at least 25 years… since it’s the same list I had in high school.  And I’m not even kidding… it’s the *exact* same list.

Now, I know books like The Odyssey and The Iliad are supposed to be classics.  And maybe there are excellent reasons why they are not only required reading, but a significant portion of the school year for freshman English.  But I don’t see them.

Maybe I’m an ignorant troglodyte, too far removed from traditional education to get this.  But I think it’s a waste of precious time during a crucial period of Andi’s life to read “classics” like those.

Especially when there are books like Roots that are not only excellent reads… but have the potential to change feelings and beliefs so powerfully.

Why not make a book like Roots required reading?  Yes, it would probably ruffle some feathers.  It might make some people uncomfortable.  But isn’t that a huge part of the value?

It’s a book that caused me to feel different about myself.  I feel different about our history after reading it.  It opened a space for me to ask myself (and Lauren) some hard questions after reading it.

It created value in my life.

It’s sad enough that, statistically, most Americans will never read another book cover-to-cover once they’re out of school (it’s true).  That’s pathetic.  And I think at least some of that has to be because kids aren’t exposed to meaningful books that move them.  Books that challenge beliefs.  Books that make a difference.

Why can’t we do that?

I think “To Kill a Mockingbird” can move a teenager.  But Homer?  Give me a break.

And instead of the watered-down, dumbed-down, politically-corrected version of slavery they teach in U.S. History 101 (and that I learned), these kids should at least have the opportunity to be moved to tears by the harsh reality of slavery.  They should face the sickening truth of slave life head-on.  And they should definitely get to openly discuss the moral issues that are present, even today, in de-humanizing *any* person or class of people.

Okay… enough about that.  Just know that I think our educational system is way (way, way) off track in what they’re teaching my kids.  The more I learn what truly matters in life, the more I’m horrified at what passes for an education.  But that’s another post… or three.

If you haven’t read Roots, you deserve to.  Especially if you’re willing to steep in it a bit more than the average book.

What would I have done if I lived back then?  For something that is so obviously morally repugnant, would I have had the courage to stand up and be not just a voice of reason… but one of revolution?  It’s easy to sit here 200 years later and say “of course.”  But if it were that easy, how did it ever even start?  How did that first foothold of gross immorality get established?

The common opinion (at least it’s what I was taught in school) is that because they were judged as less-than-human, blacks were treated as nothing more than property… as perhaps a step or two above livestock.

After reading Roots, I can’t agree with that theory any more.  That explanation treats slave owners and society as simply being ignorant… having a deficit of knowledge or understanding.  Which is complete crap.

I think the opposite is true… it’s not that blacks were treated as property because they were thought to be somehow less-than-human.  It’s that people were forced to de-humanize them in order to justify immoral behavior.

And if you don’t think that same moral challenge is squarely before us today then you’re nuts.  And blind.  And ignorant.

And that’s why I really question how “easy” it would have been to not just reject slavery… but to passionately fight against it as the abomination it is.

Because even today humanity does way (way, way) too much de-humanization to justify our immoral behavior.  It might not be on the same obvious, black-and-white (pun intended) scale as slavery… but those same moral issues (and our responses to them) are at the heart of war.  And pornography.  Often religion.  Sometimes politics.  Economic and social classes.  And, unfortunately, racial and ethnic dis-integration.

And we like to think we’ve kicked that immorality to the curb.  That it’s something we don’t have a problem with.  And we’re wrong.  Horribly, devastatingly, sickeningly wrong.

But you have to go deeper than slavery to see that.  I couldn’t have seen it without the story of Roots.  Seen how humanity re-defined humanity to justify.  To soothe conscience.  To even proclaim with righteous indignation the superiority of an outrageously immoral action and lifestyle.

And it’s not just that we did it.  It’s how easy we did it.  How comfortable that lie became.  How it became “true” simply because we said it was true.

That’s how powerfully we fool ourselves.  And we’re frighteningly good at it.

Perhaps I’ve made no sense at all in this vitriolic post.  If you get it, congratulations… you’ve read between the lines and I appreciate that you made the effort to do so.  This isn’t about slavery, or history, or the guilt of a white, middle-class American man… it’s about how easy it is to fall into the trap of de-humanizing others to justify our wrong and selfish actions.  And reading a book like Roots really brings it into sharp focus.

Think about your reaction to the following groups of people… Terrorists.  Muslims.  Democrats.  Republicans.  Mormons.  Communists.  Nazis.  Illegal immigrants.  Smokers.  Alcoholics.  Abortionists.  Prostitutes.  Murderers.  Rapists.  Environmentalists.

I could go on for a long time.

And the point isn’t whether I agree or disagree with any of the people named.  Some of them do terrible things.  Some of them are just people who believe differently than I do.  Some of them are simply passionate about their beliefs… that I may or may not share.  And some of them are so far removed from my beliefs and lifestyle as to be barely recognizable as descending from the same species.

But that does not give me the right to de-humanize them, to see them as anything less than another person.  My brother.  My sister.  If you’re so inclined, even a child of God… or whichever deity may be meaningful to you.

And it’s freaking hard to overcome.

Because we must de-humanize.  Make them somehow less-than.  Else we could never justify the waging of war.  Or our judgments.  Our punishments.  Our disregard.  Our scorn and contempt.  Our self-righteousness.  Our arrogance.  Our ignorance.

Think we don’t still struggle with slavery?  You’re wrong.  It’s morphed and shifted and redefined itself.  It changed shapes and colors and size and boundaries throughout the years.  It’s hardly even recognizable anymore.  But it’s there.

And it’s one of the epic struggles of humanity… maybe even THE defining struggle of humanity… to overcome the separateness and difference that we “see” in our minds with the paradox of unity and diversity that we “know” in our hearts.

And, if humanity has mastered anything in our time on this earth, it’s not technology.  Or science.  Or spirituality.  Certainly not economics.  Or relationships.  It’s our stunning capacity to justify our actions.  To tell ourselves a story.  And believe it.  Not because it’s true… but because we must.  Because believing anything else would reveal to ourselves our weaknesses and abhorrent selfishness.

We tell ourselves these irrational stories not because we’re ignorant.  But because we’re selfish.  And we would rather believe a lie (especially one where others will support our justifying tale) than change our behavior.

The good news is, seeing and acknowledging this seeming trait of the human condition is a good portion of the battle.  Awareness is crucial to overcoming.  Mastery starts with something so simple as recognition.

I’m excited for that.

I think Dad would be proud.  At least I hope he would.  We often wandered to the edges of this discussion after 9/11.  Poking and probing at the dichotomy of sacred patriotism and de-humanizing justification.  Good talks.  Deep talks.  Hard talks.

Privately, Dad felt different than most.  I think maybe I’m experiencing now some of what he felt back then.  I wish I could talk to him about it more.  He had a knack for helping me to clarify my feelings and insights into something more solid than a maverick idea rattling around somewhere on the borders of my ignorance.

So I’m sorry that I couldn’t express this more clearly.  My inability to write what I feel is aggravating and frustrating.  Words fail.

I am a passionate, emotional man.  Roots caused me (or, more accurately, created a space for me) to really ponder how I am afflicted with this challenge.  It’s difficult for me to express the scope of what I feel.

I love it when a book does that… transcend the words and the story.  Challenge me.  Change me.

Roots did.