Few things have stuck in my brain like childhood memories of public school. I have spent a good portion of my life in buildings owned and operated by the local school district. However, most of the knowledge I acquired during that time had little to do with actual academic pursuits. Going to public school didn’t teach me to love reading or make me think math is fun. Instead, it taught me how to deal with the most complex and unpredictable things in the world: How to live with human beings.
This point is illustrated by the name of the institution itself. People go to Culinary School to learn about cooking. They go to vocational school to study different kinds of vocations. It makes perfect sense that people go to public school to learn about the public.
As a child in school, I didn’t realize the countless days I spent there were designed to acclimate me to life in our society. Looking back, it is much more obvious.
Public school is full of rules that seem pointless. “Don’t whistle in the hall,” and, “Only one person at a time in the bathroom,” and, “Don’t wear hats in the building,” are all commands that seem to do little toward helping a student actually receive a diploma. Most students just follow them because it’s not worth the trouble to fight.
Where else but in public school do you have to follow meaningless protocols just to get by? Unless you are a hermit in the woods, the answer is everywhere. F.or the rest of your life. Public school helps us to get used to this when we are young, saving us from perpetual frustration later on.
While it helps us to deal with the ever-present and sometimes arbitrary authority of the civil world, going to public school also teaches us about more mundane interactions with our peers. Public school is where we learn how to share. It is also where we learn that some kids would rather fight and throw tantrums than try to be nice.
These kids do grow up, but they never change. The children who fight and throw tantrums become adults who fight and throw tantrums. They can make your life miserable, but you have already learned from public school that the best way to deal with these people is to ignore them. Besides, its not so bad when you know the nice kids are still out there, and have probably grown up to be nice adults.
Which leads me to what is perhaps the most important lesson public school has to offer on life as a human being. Going to school for so long teaches us that many things change, but others stay the same.
Every first day of school seemed like a grand and unprecedented experience. New teachers, new classmates, and new topics of study make a child think they have come a long way from the previous year. Yet over time we get used to the new teacher, the few new kids begin to blend with the ones we’ve known forever, and most of the year is really spent going over things that were already taught in previous grades.
Public school shows us that we should neither lament the past nor fear the future. Nothing ever really goes away, and whatever challenges occur in the future are probably not all that different from things we’ve already done before.
Public school has much to teach us about life and other people. Still, I could never blame a kid for wanting to be homeschooled.
The people had been gathered outside of his house for days. Old grandmothers seeking protection for their children. Young, brash men who, despite their allusions of bravery, were too afraid to face their problems without him. Representatives from all walks and ways of life were there, camping on his front lawn as if celebrating some patriotic, summer holiday. It was a pleasant and happy atmosphere. It would be better if they went away.
The people outside didn’t want him. They didn’t care about his skills adjusting the pH level of soil, or encouraging pollinators to visit the plants that needed them. No, the people outside were only here because of his reputation. You do one incredible thing, and no one will ever let you live it down.
He leaned out the window, a repeated motion that took a toll on his aching joints, and yelled at the mass of people outside.
“Leave me alone! I’m not a Vampire Hunter! I only killed the one. And that was just because he kept digging up my garden!”
He could yell until his voice was hardly a whisper, but it would do him no good. The people would still be there, begging him to face their monsters, and tromping all over his flowerbeds.
“Cultured” is a word used to describe a person with refined manners, taste, and a good education. This means culture ought to be something anyone can acquire. However, when people talk about, “getting culture,” or, “being cultured,” what they really mean is participating in things you have to pay for. Being cultured is a status symbol, and money is status, even if you pretend like it isn’t.
The more expensive the event, the more cultural prestige is attached to it. Spending a small fortune on expensive concert beats seeing a band at a local bar. Stealing music for free off the Internet provides no cultural prestige.
Another example. Going to see a play is at the pinnacle of cultural prestige. The more the tickets cost, the better. Going to see a movie in the theatre is considerably less prestigious, but is still a cultural activity. Since TV is free for many people, staying at home and watching it is not culturally prestigious at all. Even if you are watching PBS. Unless you called in during their fund-drive, it simply doesn’t count.
Going to see a free event, like a play or concert, is quaint or fun or rustic or many other positive things. But if you want to be cultured, you’re gonna need to spend some cash.
Despite our intelligence, humans are just another species of animal. One of many on the planet. Besides tools or language, or perhaps as a result, humans have a particular way of moving around. Instead of darting from place to place like our brethren in the animal kingdom, humans walk with a calm confidence.
Even the most stressed out person walks with more focus and self-assuredness than the calmest wild animal. This is because wild animals are afflicted with perpetual paranoia. There is no simple trip to the watering hole, for there is danger everywhere, and opportunities to exploit before some other type of animal gets there first.
Humans have neither of these worries. We revel in danger, and have clearly already outcompeted everyone else.
Humans walk around Earth like they own the place. But what is more interesting is that we are not the only ones who possess this attitude.
A good dog, a dog who has been raised well, strolls across the planet with the same confidence as a human. Compare the way a dog walks to other animals, or even strays of its own species. Dogs do not constantly look over their shoulder, or dart off in crazy tangents, or any of the other neurotic behavior displayed by wild animals.
Like humans, dogs walk around like they are the owners of the Earth. Everyone else is just a guest.
This poses several questions. Did dogs learn this confidant attitude from us? Or did we learn it from them? Or, over many generations of companionship, did we pick up the trait from each other?
The world is a scary place, full of unknown traps and dangers. But like all scary things it is not so bad with a trusted friend.
Maybe it would be good for birds and squirrels and all the other wild animals to get out more, hang out with creatures that are different from them. If birds and squirrels were friends, like dogs and humans are, maybe they wouldn’t be so afraid all the time.
TV talk show hosts and guests are rude. Whenever they come back from commercial, they are always chatting it up, having a great time with some private conversation the folks at home can’t hear. It doesn’t bother me that they are laughing at little, secret jokes. But if they were nice and polite, they would be listening to the band. The audience at home has to watch commercials, and the audience in the studio is paying attention to the rude host and guests, so who is listening to the band?
Why do TV talk shows even have bands if no one is going to listen to them?
It seems for many the value of a person is directly proportional to how much they exert themselves. People are socially rewarded by working late, or picking up heavy things without help, or ingesting substances until they are sick. This attitude is explicit in the phrase, “those who work hard play hard.”
That means, if I choose to only work a moderate amount, I should still be able to play a moderate amount.
“In the beginning, there was nothing.” This was probably pretty nice. Nothing to do. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to not do, or not worry about. No time or space to muddle things up, or things to be muddled. Empty and boring and peaceful. Then the Universe had to come along and destroy nothing, not just with something, but with everything.
It was a perfectly good void, until God ruined it.
The future is a time of opportunity. Who knows what success and fortune might come? The funny thing about opportunity, though, is that while it can lead to achievement, it can also result in terrible disappointment.
When facing these types of risk/reward situations it is popular for a person to say they are, “steeling themselves,” for the coming trials. Of course, this phrase refers to the solidity of steel.
A steel blade can smash against all kinds of things and not lose its shape. In the same way, when we steel ourselves we are preparing to face disappointment without falling apart. More important than its toughness, though, the phrase refers to how steel is made. It doesn’t start out invincible. It has to go through a process in order to get that way first.
When making steel, the alloy is often heated up to extreme temperatures, then immediately submerged in water to cool it down. In a nutshell this allows carbon atoms to move around more easily and mix with the iron when the steel is warm, then locks the atoms in place when it is cooled down, making the steel stronger.
This process is called tempering. Without tempering, or when tempering is done incorrectly, the steel cannot achieve its potential. It will become brittle and easily broken; countless hours of work rendered useless.
Like steel, human beings can also be tempered. No, this does not involve dropping people in boiling water and then throwing them in the freezer in order to develop bulletproof skin, although I think the Defense Department might be working on something like that.
Rather, humans are capable of tempering their emptions, which can be more brittle and easily broken than even the most poorly forged tool. When facing an opportunity that can really pay off, but could also end in miserable failure, it helps to go through a process of emotional tempering.
In this process, one goes from really excited, to more subdued, to really excited again, and so on. Like carbon atoms in steel, this tempering allows little bits of confidence to spread around, and then solidifies them in place. Not even the meanest comment or most disheartening failure can shake the confidence particles from their new position, allowing a person’s emotional state to remain in tact through a tough situation.
A well-tempered sword, like a well-tempered person, might not be able to break through absolutely everything, yet can stand resistance without being broken itself.
Of course, if I had the option, I would rather be a lightsaber than a solid steel sword.
A lightsaber can simply slice right through anything, and it doesn’t need any tempering at all.
One of the most fascinating things about the Indian subcontinent is its caste system. The caste system is a method of organizing people into a social hierarchy based on their family history and occupation. At the top of the system are the Brahmins: religious authorities that serve as the rulers of Indian society, like priest-kings. At the bottom are the Untouchables: people who deal with garbage and other forms of human waste. The Caste System is thousands of years old and has had a profound impact in India to this day.
Although India is currently in a period of rapid industrialization and economic growth, it is still a place characterized by squalor and despair. This is, in part, a result of the Cast System. Indian society is stuck in a backward state because it does not respect the people who deal with trash and toilets. They have yet to learn that janitors are the secret lords of advanced civilizations.
Being a janitor is like being a member of an elite secret club, similar to the Templars, the Free Masons, and the Illuminati. Janitors pull the strings behind the scenes, keep everything in working order, and know the people of their respective societies better than anyone else. Janitors make decisions that impact the lives of everyone who ever needs to go to the bathroom.
But there is more to being a janitor than determining the scent and color of urinal cakes.
Janitors are privileged to the true knowledge of human nature. Archaeologists study cultures of the past based on the things they threw away. Janitors use the same technique to learn about people of the present. You can tell tall a lot about people by what they throw away. What they care about. What they don’t care about.
In the past few years it has become popular for activist individuals to crusade against how wasteful our society is. This is not news to the janitor. In fact, even the most informed and environmentally conscious person would be shocked to learn the true extent of our wastefulness. It is the janitor’s sacred duty to hide the scope of the crisis, in order to keep the population calm and avert panic. Just like the government officials who do everything they can to keep the imminent alien invasion under wraps. (But don’t worry about that.)
Many philosophers and great thinkers have struggled with the question, “What is a person?” Janitors know the answer, but they don’t tell anyone because they know it would offend the masses. All human beings, from prince to pauper and everyone in between, are nothing more than walking messes waiting to happen.
Many people think janitors belong to a lower caste, like the Untouchables in India. Actually, the opposite is true. All people are but children in the eyes of the janitor. Children that need to be cleaned up after.
I will probably be kicked out of the janitor’s guild, or worse, for revealing these age-old secrets. But it is no matter. The highest offices should only be held temporarily. Despite the secret power and influence of the janitor I certainly don’t want to empty trashcans and clean toilets for the rest of my life.