Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bad attitude about morning television

All the networks and cable news outlets have a weekday morning show dispensing wake-up potpourri between 5 and 9 a.m. – an amalgam of hard news and ditsy features of the now-Brian-will-go-outside-and-wrestle-a-gator variety. The hosts sport what the networks like to call ‘a morning personality’: chipper, wide-awake and maybe just a little goofy.
Scenes I’d like to see on A.M. TV
Scene One: Jungle Bob comes on-set with his animal du jour, a Burmese ferret. Uh oh, the ferret’s loose. He’s trying to bite a cameraman. Now he’s after Jungle Bob who seems unconcerned: “Nothing to worry about. He’s more scared than aggressive. OW! DAMMIT!” An assistant grapples the gnashing ferret as J. Bob hobbles to a seat: “I’m okay, I’m okay. He’s not used to television.” Oh, really? We thought he had a union card.
Scene Two: The host has been teasing an upcoming segment for fully an hour. “You’ll want to stay tuned. We’ve learned that the world is coming to an end but first here’s homemaker Betty Kitchens with her recipe for noodle casserole.” Chirps Betty, “It’s perfect for those pre-apocalypse parties. Festive but not too fussy.”
Scene Three: Matt Lauer interviews me.
MATT: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?
ALAN: Oh, well let me think. Probably the Lindbergh kidnapping.
MATT: Very funny. But we’re hearing that you’ve done bad things.
ALAN: Everybody’s done bad things.
MATT: You admit it! What one factor turned you into a bad person?
ALAN: Sometimes I fantasize about strangling journalists.
MATT: You’d like to strangle me, wouldn’t you?
ALAN: (nodding) You, Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Grace. Look, I’m confused. In the green room everyone was nice to me and there were pastries and juice. Then the lights go up and you turn into a werewolf.
MATT: That’s my job.
ALAN: Character assassination?
MATT: Finding the truth.
ALAN: The truth isn’t all bad. You have a rotten attitude.
MATT: So do you, pal. Listen, you want to go for martinis later?
Scene Four: Stoner the Weather Guy finally goes over the top. “I’m a serious journalist, not some weather vane rooster on top of a barn. I hate the weather – all of it! You think it’s some kind of picnic, standing outside in a typhoon? I hate the weather!... No, no, leave me alone.” And they haul him away, ultimately to be with Willard Scott in a place where the sun always shines.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Striving for humbleness – and falling short

Meek? The faith expects me to be meek? Let’s take a quick look at the U.S. culture: The American Dream; the Greatest Generation; Super everything; megachurches. America is all superlatives! And I’m supposed to be meek?
Maybe humility is a more accessible virtue. I’ll try humility. Why? Because I’m tired of being aggressive/assertive/opportunistic/upwardly mobile in panting pursuit of success. (By the way, The American Dream is also The Swiss Dream.)
Maybe there’s another measure of success. I sense it sometimes when I lost an argument to a civilized adversary. Oddly, I come away enhanced. I can now say, “Valid point,” to a worthy opponent. I can even say, “I don’t know,” and it’s a relief to argue not to win but to learn.
Herewith a few phrases that have taken my conversation halfway to humble:
“On the other hand” – an irresistibly facile transition. Acknowledges point A while opening the curtain to point B.
“A C-note for your thoughts.” – Quiet people can be irritating. It’s fine to be a person of few words, but in social situations the idea is to express oneself, i.e. talk. Reticent speakers need to be drawn out, like butter. Occasionally you meet one who doesn’t want to be drawn out and they just glare at you. Or, as one clever introvert put it, “I’m not quiet; I’m just dull.”
“Credit where credit is due.” – Usually it’s me to whom the credit is due and I am loath to give it to anyone else. This is probably a character flaw.
“I hate to use the R word, but I was wrong.” It’s tricky to be humble and witty at the same time. If this little joke is unappreciated, you may have fallen in with dullards.
“I see your point.” – A tidy conversational confection that acknowledges without committing. Excellent as a response to “Shut up.”
“Got time for a cup of coffee?” – Always say yes. If it doesn’t go well, guzzle the coffee and leave. But I’ve watched difficult people become engaging under this premise. Please, never tell anyone in word or manner, “I don’t have time for you.”
So how about humility’s underlying assumption: that I’m no better than anybody else. Recently I was talking to a prison inmate and I recall thinking that I’m a better person than he by any objective standard ever devised. On the other hand he was forbearing and contrite and I arrogant. And I went away musing over Kipling’s hymn to classlessness, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”
And I realized that humility was a thing of the spirit and had little to do with what one had or had not achieved. So anyway, I’m not humble now and may never be. It is, however, worth a try.
[For more of the same, visit Alan’s blog,]