Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Don't Read Until December 25

Don't read this article until December 25.  Just kidding.  For whatever reason I've been thinking about Christmas lights over the last few days.  I wish I could explain how my mind works.
Image result for Christmas lights knot
Little knot...
Every year over the Thanksgiving holiday I have a date with Christmas lights.  It doesn't seem to matter how hard I try to spool them properly, I invariably wind up with, shall we call it an opportunity to demonstrate how good I am at untying knots?

That's not true, actually.  Through a strategic combination of the original packaging (which were plastic spools) and a supply of zip ties, the lights are seldom tangled, and they are fairly simple to unwind.  We've been at this a while.  I know what I'm doing.  I think that's why my friend Jonathan calls me "Suburban Dad."  Because all those things suburban dads do...I do them.

Image result for suburban dad
I stand corrected.  If I ever go out to mow
the grass dressed like that, shoot me.
I digress.  We spent as little as possible on our Christmas lights, and we have not replaced them in years.  They're beginning to wear out on us.  So instead of a big tangled knot of lights each season, I more typically wind up with a couple of strings where half the lights aren't working.  Which brings me to my favorite Christmas song (the clip below is supposed to start right at the moment that made me think of this, but if it doesn't you can skip to 2:33):

That's right.  One goes out, they all go out.  Well, on our strings when one goes out about a third of the string goes out.  Things got critical a year or two ago when I ran out of spares (which I am proud to say I had kept and used!).  So I pulled all the bulbs out of a third of one string, used my precious zip ties to bundle the useless sockets together, and began using those as spares.  Very MacGyver, really.  I've done it so many times I have a process, and it actually goes fairly quickly.  Still, I have to believe we aren't far from needing new lights.

The electrically inclined among you will no doubt know why they all go out when one goes out.  It's because the bulb is part of a circuit.  When the filament in the bulb breaks, the circuit is broken, and there is no flow of electricity to light the other bulbs.  That means the bulbs are wired in series.  If you are fortunate enough to own some of those light sets where they stay lit even if one is out, that string is wired in parallel.  It requires more material, and as such costs more.  Like I said, we pay as little as possible for our lights, so........

There is actually a perfectly reasonable explanation for my thinking of Christmas lights just shy of St. Patrick's day.  I've been thinking about the current social and political acrimony and wondering how we might get out of it.  Or at least try to understand why it is.  I was talking with Michele the other day about why people hold the beliefs they do.  At one point or another, I suggested that perhaps one reason people believe the way they do is that if they admit error in one instance they will be forced to admit their entire system of belief is potentially flawed.

In essence, if one belief goes out, then they may all go out.

That's a scary prospect because we aren't talking about Christmas lights anymore.  These are beliefs of consequence, near and dear to the heart.  These are the core of who we think we are based on our entire life and existence to this very moment.  Changing one small belief, tolerable.  Changing our entire system, unthinkable.  And so instead of being open to a change of mind or a change of heart, we dig in even deeper (which like a bluff pushed too far in poker often forces us to double down even if we know we have the losing hand).

That's why it's hard to admit when I'm wrong about something.  Not so much because that one thing matters, but because it means I might be wrong about a whole host of things.  If you and I remember an event differently, admitting I was wrong is scary because it means all my other memories might be similarly messed up!

It might be better to think of our beliefs as wired in parallel.  It's possible to be wrong about one thing and right about another.

If you'll pardon the pun (even though I do intend it), thinking of beliefs in parallel allows us to unplug some of the most contentious questions of faith.  We can debate creation and evolution if we don't imagine that our entire system of belief is at stake.  Because it isn't.  Alas, most of the time these debates wind up framed as all-or-nothing, winner-take-all.

Which reminds me of a series of commercials for Direct TV:

All of which is another way of saying this: if we are to have meaningful dialogue about anything, we have to enter with flexible hearts.  Alas, flexibility is in short supply in these days of hyper-polarization--and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight.  There's nothing I can do about that.

There is, however, something I can do about me.  I can seek flexibility in my own heart and embrace it.  As St Francis said, I can seek to understand rather than to be understood.  Just in my little corner of the store.  I can admit it's ok to be wrong.  Maybe even more difficult, when the chips are down and I've really dug my heels in, maybe I can admit that I am wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I like your Christmas lights analogy to our belief systems. Thanks for putting so much thought and effort in your blog. Thought provoking!