Month: October 2012
I recently let my wife talk me into going mountain climbing with her and some of her Korean friends. Read more here.
I’m not an especially religious person. I was asked to leave my mother’s church when I was 12 or 13 because of my infuriating tendency – – in the eyes of the southern Baptists in my home town – – to question everything. After deciding at that tender age that the Baptist faith was too confining and narrow minded, I tried a lot of religions and cults, even flirted with the idea of atheism, decided I was really agnostic (read undecided) and that Buddhism was the philosophy of life most closely attuned to my personality.
I’ve never questioned the possible existence of a supreme being or some higher consciousness in the universe, I’m must not sure of its nature. When I was in Vietnam in 1968, though, I witnessed a situation that leaves a lot of unanswered questions, but also confirmed my middle of the road philosophy.
I was in an outfit that did behind the lines recon missions; a highly dangerous undertaking as the enemy knows you’re out there snooping around, and doesn’t much like it. One of our teams, while on a mission, was attacked and one of the members got separated from all the others. Poor guy wandered around the jungle for four days, occasionally encountering VC or NVA soldiers, including one incident when he and an NVA guy were on opposite banks of a stream getting water. Funny thing is, being out there all alone, wandering around like a lost sheep, he was never shot at. The guy at the stream just stared at him for a few minutes, nodded, got up and walked away.
We finally stumbled across him with a search team; or maybe he stumbled into them. Weary, hungry, and befuddled, he was otherwise unharmed. The whole thing, though, set me to thinking. I still wasn’t sure about the whole God thing, but the fact that this guy, with his dark skin, round eyes, and tightly curly hair had survived that long in enemy territory when the bad guys had a bounty on the heads of each of our recon guys, made me think that there was such a thing as miracles. Who or what generated them, I wasn’t sure, and it didn’t really matter. What it did for me was to peel away any cynicism I’d been coated in, and leave me open to the possibility of good things happening even when conventional wisdom says you’re screwed.
I dropped in on my friend Becca’s site today – and she claims she forgot to be funny; but, I peed my pants laughing at her lame attempt to not be funny.
I mean, really, what’s unfunny about frizzy hair? Maybe my efforts to grow a goatee? Could be. You see, it keeps coming in in patches, so instead of looking like a sinister scientist who’s creating life from dead body parts, I look like a goat who’s been in a fight with a weed whacker.
Seriously, though, I’m trying not to get ready for Halloween, and that’s scary. See, my wife thinks its neat to stand by the door and hand out candy to grubby little crumb snatchers from up and down the block who give you the evil eye because your candy’s so cheap, and who insist on trekking across your newly sodded lawn. You want to yell at them, but since you already have a reputation as the neighborhood Grinch, and your wife’s standing behind you with hands on hips and a stern expression, you just stand there and smile – well, more like a grimace.
Becca, you think you know hardship? Let me tell you hardship. Try getting up in the morning and finding nothing in the pantry but half a jar of peanut butter but no crackers, and you forgot to put a can of beer in the fridge, so the beer and peanut butter breakfast you planned to eat is with whole wheat toast (gag!) and warm beer (the English will pay for this indignity). When you’ve faced the problems I’ve faced, talk to me.
I could go on and on; but, my neighbor accuses me of going on and on too much, so I won’t. Oh, wait; there is one more little problem I just have to share; my wife asked (well, ordered really) me to pick up Trick or Treat candy the last time I went to the store – and, don’t you know it, I forgot. She thinks its in the pantry. I have just over a week to figure out how to sneak out to the store and sneak the damn stuff back into the house. Curses!
I hate Halloween. Bah, humbug. Oh no, wrong holiday. Doesn’t matter; hate that one too.
When I was a kid, I remember reading somewhere an article about the ‘Talented Tenth.’ This was a theory that said basically ten percent of the population was responsible for most of society’s progress while the remaining 90% was sort of ‘along for the ride.’ I have to admit that my observations as I matured didn’t do much to contradict that belief; that is, until I started looking more closely at how people behave.
After five decades of watching people in societies around the globe, under all kinds of circumstances from almost idyllic peaceful circumstances to the stench and bloodshed of war, I have come to the conclusion that the ‘Talented Tenth’ theory missed it by a bit. My observations, admittedly anecdotal rather than scientific, have led me to believe that people in groups tend to fall into a Gaussian distribution (so called for German mathematician and physicist Karl Gauss, who popularized its use to analyze astronomical data), otherwise known as a Bell Curve or normal distribution because of its graphic shape. Basically, in a normal distribution, the highest point in the curve, or the top of the bell, represents the most probable event or situation, with all possible occurrences equally distributed around it, creating a downward-sloping line on each side of the peak.
So, how have I observed people to sort themselves out in the normal distribution? Like I said, it’s not empirical data, but it seems to work out to a ratio of 20-60-20. That is, 20% on what I call the ‘good’ or ‘productive’ side, 20% on the ‘bad’ or ‘dysfunctional’ side, and the remaining 60% evenly distributed in the main or central part of the bell. I guess you could say we 60% are the ballast that keeps society on a somewhat even keel.
Now, on the ‘good’ side, we have the Einsteins, the Michelangelos, the Mother Theresas, and others who come up with the new, bold ideas; who go where no one has gone before. These are the people who make things happen for the betterment of the whole society. On the ‘bad’ side, we have the Hitlers, the Jeffrey Daumers, and the idiots who change lanes on the beltway without signaling, cutting in front of cars so close they cause them to stamp on their brakes, creating massive traffic snarls and sometimes causing fatal accidents. These are the people who take guns to school and use classmates and teachers for target practice before turning the guns on themselves.
While the ‘good’ side of the bell is busy trying to help society progress, the ‘bad’ side is constantly trying to pull it down. You might think that leaves those of us in the middle 60% at the mercy of geniuses and madmen; but, you’d be wrong. Like the ballast in a ship, we serve to keep things from going too far in one direction or another. The geniuses are often so deep in their vision of the future, they fail to solidly ground themselves in the present. We dullards of the so-so 60% keep them grounded in reality. At the same time, our outrage when the ‘bad-siders’ go too far helps to keep society from descending into total chaos.
As far as I know, no one has seriously studied this phenomenon. If they have, I’d be interested in seeing the results, just to see how far I am off the mark. But, I think that if one day this is ever studied, my theory will be somewhere in the neighborhood of the reality. After all, under the rules of normal distribution, it should be somewhere near the middle of the bell.