Friday, December 25, 2009

On Being a Good Host

The older I get, the more I wonder about family dynamics. I've had a number of people over the holidays tell me that I'm a big grinch for not being more excited about Xmas and opting out of my family's "new traditional" Xmas Eve festivities. Said people obviously have some different kind of dynamic than I do; either that or they're really enthusiastic masochists.

For example: I've always felt that when you throw an event at your home that you should take into consideration the needs of your guests. If you're having guests who're Muslim, you might not want to have bacon on every item that you're serving at a dinner; and likewise if you're having a guest who is intolerant to wheat or milk, you make sure that you have alternatives for them so that they can enjoy the food too.

Consider for a moment the fact that my youngest sister, H, is a vegan. She's actually quite allergic to milk and milk products too... not just a "choses not to eat" them sort; so you can't go "oh well, it's baked in, she'll never know", milk products will make her physically ill. She’s been at least a vegetarian for twenty years.

My middle sister (E) hosts our family Xmas eve get together every year after taking it over from my parents a number of years ago. It used to be a cold buffet of yummy things—my dad being a gourmet hobbyist—served on my mom's good china. Just a nice evening of gorging ourselves with family. So currently, the new tradition is to go to E's house for Xmas eve instead.

So, a number of years ago (when I was going through my vegetarian phase) we went to one of E's Xmas eve dinners and arrived to discover that the only things that weren't meat on the menu were pickles, cheese, and crackers. That night we drove the short distance back to my mom's house and made tabbouleh just so that we had *something* to eat that weren't just crackers and pickles.

Fast forward now to the present: Yesterday afternoon H called E's house to ask if there was something they'd like her to bring to the Xmas eve festivities, they told her that there wasn't *anything* there that was vegetarian so she'd better bring something to eat for herself.

Seriously… “we’re not serving anything you can eat, you might want to bring something”.

What the hell kind of hosts invite you to a get together and then don’t provide any goodies that you can eat?

We had a good laugh about it over the phone when I talked to H this morning, but really I think that’s so completely rude that I’m pretty flabbergasted about the whole thing. It’s not like she’s someone that they don’t know well enough to realise that she’s got dietary “needs”, even if mostly they’re voluntary they’re still perfectly valid. I chock it up to some people being really egocentric so that they don’t see the needs of people around their immediate little circle of family; but it’s pretty sad when your own sibling doesn’t even fit in there too.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Does criticizing one extremist mean that you're not 'tolerant'?

A banana sparked a conversation that would later turn into a “religious tolerance” issue for Nim and I at work.

“You know that bananas are used by creationists to ‘prove’ that Creationism is true,” she said as she peeled one during our first break of the day. “They think that because bananas seem to be designed to fit into the human hand, that they prove intelligent design theories.”

“Well a lot of things fit into the human hand,” I said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that they were designed to do so. Maybe we evolved to be able to handle them.”

At lunch, one of our co-workers wanted to know what our banana comments were about.

“There’s that Kirk Cameron guy who is trying to promote a ‘special’ copy of Darwin’s Evolution of Species with a 50 page forward that connects Darwin with Nazism and mysogyny and a host of other things trying to prove that he is a Bad Dude. Trying to equate Darwin with the Nazis and crazy stuff like that,” said Nim.

“Who’s Kirk Cameron?” said co-worker. Oh, how we date ourselves.

“Kirk Cameron was on a TV show called Saved by the Bell back in the 80’s and turned fundie in the 90’s,” said Nim.

“So what’s the big deal?” said Co-worker.

“Well, they were passing out this book with a foreword that is based on faulty research and erroneous assumptions about what evolution really is all about,” said Nim. “It’s stupid.”

“It’s ridiculous. They’re their own worst enemies,” I said, chowing down on a slice of Santa Fe Chicken. “There are a lot of Creationists who believe in Darwin’s theory and they think the guy’s nuts.”

“On the other side, look at Richard Dawkins,” said Nim. “He’s pretty extreme and he’s an atheist.”

“I think, though, when any belief system steps out and tries to assert its rights, you’re going to have that,” I said. “The pendulum always seems to swing out to the extremes.”

The conversation turned after that and was forgotten in the throes of pizza consumption. At least until we got an email entitled “Religious Tolerance in the Workplace”. Now I’m going to paraphrase what it said, because I don’t have it in front of me:

Nim and Bravewolf,

It has come to my attention that you were emphatically speaking about Creationism during lunch today. You were calling Creationism “ridiculous”. There was a Creationist present who, obviously, was not up for debating their religion. Naturally this caused them some embarrassment.

These are basic social skills and this has no place in the work environment. We want all of our workers in Company X to feel comfortable and nonthreatened.

I hope you will act more thoughtfully in the future.

Signed, Your Immediate Boss

Now, the ethics of immediately assuming we were at fault aside, what’s wrong with this picture here?

Well, first, I believe that we were definitely skirting a line by talking about religion in any context. That is a given and we’re not planning on doing it again. It’s bad juju all around and we have fully apprehended that.

Our main problem with this issue is that, without bothering to talk to us, someone went up the line and complained to our supervisor, giving a completely different context to our words. This is a danger when you introduce religion, politics or sex into a place where there are likely to be varying opinions, so, again, I’m stating that I realize that our choice of subject had a great deal to do with what happened.

However, I was under the impression that the first step to resolving a problem was to approach the people in question and ask that the offending behaviour stop. This wasn’t done in our case. Because if it had been, this blog post probably wouldn’t be written. It would have gone something like this:

“Hey Brave, Nim, I’m afraid that your conversation pushed a few buttons about my personal beliefs and I’d rather you not bring that up at work anymore.”

“Damn, we’re sorry Co-worker. We weren’t intending to offend you and it won’t happen again.”

Because that is generally how adults operate. We might feel that this coworker is being a little sensitive about their religion and we’ll make mental notes not to introduce controversial issues around them in the future but they have the right to have their comfort level respected and that’s just fine with us.

Of course, now that we know that there’s someone who will go over our heads over a casual conversation in which we express a negative opinion of someone who vaguely shares their belief system (fundamentalists and mainstream believers usually are so different in their approaches to their religion that they may as well not be even lumped in with each other) is likely to do so about other things. So we wait and wonder.

It’s interesting that while I was vaguely uncomfortable with the MSN status saying “Smile, Jesus loves you!”, I didn’t make a big deal about it. Why? Because it wasn’t a big deal and I chose to take those words as a general wish of good will, not an aggressive proselytization attempt. Apparently we weren’t given the same courtesy and certainly weren’t given the benefit of the doubt by our supervisor before the official letter came down. It’s a valuable lesson to know for the future.

Tentative Title

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Post (American) Thanksgiving Ponder

Every year around this time, and for weeks beforehand, the media is overrun with articles and blogs about ethical eating and OMG is that a free-range turkey? Even the episode of the Simpsons that I watched the other night touched on the issue when poor Marge tried to feed the babies in the toddler play group some non-PC cookies (I think they had trans-fats in them).

I have seen a really large amount of articles lately dealing with food that either directly or indirectly disparage the morality of people who consume animal products (flesh or otherwise). The rationale here is, I believe, that if you consume animal products then you are thoughtless for not considering the plight of the animal or you are downright immoral for knowing and not caring.

The irony here is that many people who eat animals do very much care about them. Many of us have pets, many of these pets also eat animal products. I've been told that I could feed my cat a vegetarian diet, but honestly, cats are not evolved to eat nothing but plant based food. Hell, people aren't even evolved to eat nothing but plant based food. However, I don't have the sense of self-importance that's required to tell anyone else what they should or should not be putting in their bodies. Eat what you want, it's your life.

My personal beliefs about food? Well, I think that just like every other animal on the planet, we evolved eating a certain array of foods over hundreds of thousands of years; adapting to each new type slowly as we discovered them. Many experts in the filed of human evolution think that animal proteins, especially ones like brains and marrow, were strategic additions to our food supply that let us evolve big brains that let us make our own menu choices in these modern times.

I hope that when given the option, most people will choose to purchase humanely raised and slaughtered meat, but it's not always an option in every price range. More importantly, just because we might be eating eggs or honey or (heaven forbid) a steak.. that doesn't mean that we're not MORAL people.

Morality doesn't come in a set-in-stone rulebook. Morality has a similar basis for most people, but in very few cases is it an identical rule set and just because you follow a particular set of rules doesn't mean that anyone who doesn't have a copy of the same rule book as you is some sort of cretin. So, if someone doesn't follow the same dietary restrictions that you do they aren't automatically some sort of evil monster... they're just different than you. If you want to change their mind, try having a civil conversation with them about it instead of wallowing in egocentricism.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Second Coming of Cocker

Woman sees cocker spaniel named "Jesus" in iron:

Original Story

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Qapla! Or...not.

I am a huge geek and love Star Trek. However, in the alternate universe where I have children, I cannot imagine wasting the time and effort to see if they can learn Klingon. It's kind of like making sure your child is well versed in Defence Against the Dark Arts with his balsa-wood-and-hair-from-the-family-dog wand instead of enrolling him in judo. Except for that whole speaking-the-language-of-the-country-you-live in-is-pretty-much-required-to-survive thing.

Post, The First

Yeah! The first one!