Friday, December 12, 2014

 

The Horror of Christmas (A sermon preached to myself)



This is the season for endless warm and fuzzy Hallmark channel movies about Christmas. You know the ones that star Dean Cain, Richard Thomas or even occasionally Tom Arnold. My wife really likes these type things and so I sit there and watch. Occasionally these movies surprise me; and we’ve seen a few that are pretty good but mostly I watch them because my wife wants to and so I do my best to enjoy them. Occasionally we run across one that is interesting such as “The Christmas Box” but generally I enjoy them because Kim does and I enjoy sitting with her. Most of these movies can be subdivided into two broad groups. There are the slightly more risqué remakes of “A Miracle of 34th Street” and the often bizarrely reimaging of the Charles Dickens’ novel, “A Christmas Carol."

The ones that really bother me are the Miracle of 34th Street remakes. These often try to deify Santa Clause for adults and just drive me nuts. I am not talking about movies like “The Santa Clause” 1,2 or 3 with Tim Allen that are obvious slapstick comedies but the sort of “Sleepless in Seattle meets Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” kind of thing. The plot is always the same; an incognito Santa gets stuck in Miami, Omaha or Seattle and loses his magic only to regain it just in time with the help of a hot divorcee with two kids. There is always an evil boss who wants the hot divorcee to work on Christmas day for free. Often there is a miserly landlord or grumpy parent involved somehow. The movie has to include a hopeless choice of either paying the rent or not having money for the new X-box 36000-b49 video game system with a 60 inch flat screen that her two somewhat rebellious but actually very loving, non-materialist despite their Christmas toy list children really want for Christmas. Most of the time there is an unrecognized boyfriend who is a sympathetic lawyer/doctor/auto mechanic/Plumber that lives next door or works with the hot divorcee but can’t tell her of his love because of some silly reason that is only there to move the plot, what little plot there is, forward. Occasionally the potential boyfriend is Santa himself who is town wife hunting though why a woman would want to marry an overweight old man who never shaves, always wears the same clothes and only works a couple of days a year is beyond me.  After about 15 minutes of watching one of these is it any wonder I am dreaming of reruns of Magnum P.I., the Rockford Files or Mission Impossible?

Other than the Santa’s miracle movies a lot of the others are remakes of the Charles Dickens novel, “A Christmas Carol” Often I find these to be at least entertaining from a literary point of view because I can sort of snicker at the lack of creativity, and marvel at the lengths to which the famous story can be stretched at the same time. After watching one of these the other night did something strange, I picked up a copy “A Christmas Carol” and reread it. I read it as a child and due to the many movie adaptations I know the story well but I had never read it as an adult. I do not think that I understood the story as a child because; before I read the book I had seen the movie. I knew how it ended.  It is important, I think when reading a story the first time to not know the ending. So, when I read the story as a child, after seeing the movie with George C. Scott as Scrooge, I missed the point. “A Christmas Carol” is a horror story. We view it as a happy tale because we know the ending but imagine the emotions, the reaction of the original readers in Victorian England.  The book is frightening. This is both figuratively and literally a dark tale. The whole of the story until the very end is set at night. Scrooge lived in darkness because as he himself put it “darkness is cheap”. He kept his offices barely lit and barely warm and he lived in a dark, cold house. I missed the obvious metaphor as a child. Scrooge’s physical environment mimicked his spiritual condition. He liked it dark. It allowed him to not look at himself.

The movies seem to always focus on the ghost that came after Marley but to me Marley is the scary one because is the only one that that was human. He is also the one that Scrooge argues with. Notice that Scrooge, at first refuses believe in the supernatural. He tells Marley “You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than the grave about you.” This is Scrooge the scientist, the materialist, the modern man speaking. Denying the existence of an afterlife is the first defense of sinners. It is only when the ghost of Marley “raised a frightful cry” that Scrooge fell to his knees in belief by saying; “Mercy! Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?” There is a useful lesson here that is hard to learn. Often times those who live in willful sin are beyond the reason of kind words and gentle reprimands. In fact, they may be beyond the reach mortal help. Marley was only just able to do it from beyond the grave. We are all, all of us, to some degree Scrooge. We live in denial of our sin. We want to be in the dark where we don’t have to look at it.  We need to confront our sin and need of salvation before it is too late for us to emotionally do so.

But, like Scrooge who answered to his dead partners name and kept his name on the door we are also Marley. Year by year we forge our spiritual chains. Link by link our chain grows longer binding us to an eternal Hell both on Earth and after death so we like Marley can say; “I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” The horrible thing about Marley’s statement is that he isn’t being punished by God. He took up his punishment of his own free will. He didn’t get what he deserved, he got what he wanted. God didn’t condemn Marley, not at all. Marley got what he wanted and that adds a deeper meaning to the old proverb; “Be careful what you wish for.”

As I thought about these things I was struck by the fact that in many ways the story of the first Christmas is a horror story as well. We know the story well and thus know the ending but none of the original cast of Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi or King Herod did. Think about them a minute, from their perspective and from the culture they lived in.

Think about Mary who became pregnant without being married. This was a capital offense in Judea even if the punishment was not often carried out. At the very least she could have been relegated to the life of a prostitute or possibly a servant in wealthy family’s house. This was a scary moment for her. Imagine living in that culture and telling your parents you were visited by an angel who informed you that you were going to become pregnant by God; would you believe your daughter if she told you a tale like that? How scary was this for her parents?

Think of Joseph and the indignity, the gossip, the snide comments, perhaps the lost business he must have endured. We are then slightly misled by the King James translation because at this time there was no such thing as a hotel, or inn. When Joseph took his heavily pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census he would have stayed with relatives because that is what people did at that time. He and Mary were refused the hospitality to stay in the house, possibly because they knew he had moved up his wedding date because Mary was pregnant. Joseph and Mary were rejected by his family. How horrible! Joseph was a good man who compassionately married his fiancée even though she was carrying a baby that was not his and was ostracized by his extended family.  I guess that Scrooge had some relatives in the linage of David who would have said; “Are there no prisons or work houses they can go to?”

Think of the shepherds in the fields. Here it is not so much the translations of the New Testament that fails us connotatively as it is the depiction of angels by Baroque and Renaissance artist who emasculate them by turning them into fluffy little cupid’s. When we read “They were sore afraid!” a better colloquial translation would be; “They were so scared they peed their pants.” They were so scared that the angel had to comfort them and tell them they were not about to be punished or killed. Their reaction was the same Scrooge’s when Marley’s ghost began to wail and rattle his chains.  

Think of the magi. Imagine traveling all that way with those gifts at that time. What a frightening, horrific trip that would have been. Bandits roamed the trade routes. Getting lost was always possible in a time with poor maps and long distances between towns. The trip to see Jesus was a scary, perilous one.

Think even of Herod. How frightening must the magi’s message have been to him? He was so frightened he had all the children below a certain age killed in a particular town to prevent a challenge to his throne.

Think of the families of the children Herod killed. What a gruesome tale.
Think of the way Joseph and Mary had to flee with the baby Jesus to Egypt. How hard would it have been for Jews from rural Palestine to live in urban Alexandria?

Through all of this Joseph and Mary were not forgotten by God. Just as Scrooge is confronted by his nephew in the first pages of the Charles Dickens story we see the hand of God throughout the Christmas story protecting and shielding, aiding and strengthening.
We see the compassion of Joseph who listened to the angel in his dream and married Mary. In doing so he preserved her reputation and gave her standing in the society. He may also, as said above have saved her life. Joseph for his part received assurance from God that he was doing the right thing.

Perhaps to help her parents and family deal with the situation Mary left Nazareth and went to stay at her much older cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant with the child that would become John the Baptist. The NIV describes what happened when Mary entered Elizabeth’s’ house this way in the Gospel of Luke 1:39-43; “At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Can you imagine the encouragement that must have been for Mary?

At every step in the horrific events leading to that first Christmas God provided hope, salvation and refuge. It may not have been what any of the people involved thought would happen but God was not going to let his plan be derailed by an overly moralistic society, unsympathetic relatives, cowardly shepherds or a psychotic king;  though all of this horror was born the hope of world, the Prince of Peace.

Think about the previous year. What have you gone through? You have a choice. You can like Scooge and Marley choose to live in the dark and cold so as to close out the unpleasantness or you can let God reveal the Prince of Peace in your life.       

Monday, June 09, 2014

 

How not to do something; or education should not involve misleading students

This image has been a prominent post on several Chinese social media sites for the last several days. I don't actually know if this really happened or not. What is disconcerting is that the education establishment in Hong Kong is screwy enough that something like this is believable.

Without looking at the corrected, second  image below can you answer this question in 20 seconds or less?




I understand the need for standards in education. I understand the desire of parents and schools for their children to receive a quality education. I also have, evidently unlike a lot of the principals or troglocrats in the EMB some training in pedagogy. The problem is that this is a logical reasoning and spacial location question where the picture is upside down. It isn't a counting problem but one which requires thinking skills beyond the level of most 5 year-olds.

When you turn the question over it makes sense as a question about counting


If you want to see if a 5 year-old child can count to 100 you don't ask question with the data upside down and backwards. It doesn't matter how much time they have to answer the question unless you are teaching children to read numbers that are backwards and upside down. This question was inappropriate because if you look at the research on brain development you'd know that children do not develop the ability to think abstractly until about age 11 - 13 so this question would be almost impossible for a 5 year-old to answer.  The area of the brain that thinks abstractly is not functioning yet in a child that young.  

I worked in Hong Kong schools for many years and was constantly frustrated with people setting test questions that looked like this.  They want to make sure that they get children that are intellectually gifted, or they think this sort of stuff shows how academically rigorous the curriculum is in that school. What it really shows is that they don't know what they are doing. The issue should be does the child have the basic skills needed for the grade level not can the test setter trick the children with with tricky questions beyond the child's' ability to comprehend.
 
Worse the question itself is dishonest.  To simply ask "What parking spot # is the car parked in?" implies that the information viewed is essentially correct and misleads students into not looking for problems in the presentation.  If this had appeared as a logical reasoning question in a test for an older child it might serve some value, assuming the question was rephrased to something like;  "There is a problem with the picture below. In order to identify the space the automobile is parked in you must first identify that problem. What is the problem and what is the number of the space the car is parked in?" For questions like this to have any meaning the person setting the test needs to inform the test taker that there is a problem with the question and that figuring out that problem is part of the answer.


Notice, I haven't even complained about the poor grammar in the question. It should have the word "number" spelled out and not use the "#" symbol. But that is a minor issue compared to the other things wrong with this question.

If this was really a question  on an entrance exam for a 1st grade place in a HK school then the person who set that test is little better than a pedophile because they are not testing the ability to count but simply torturing little kids for the fun of it. 

I hope that this is actually some sort of joke that didn't really happen.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger with some training in pedagogy  



Monday, June 02, 2014

 

Leaving Hong Kong

It is funny how things work out sometimes. 

In January of 2012 I took what I thought would be a single contract with the University of Guam. I had been in Hong Kong since 1997 and it was home and I planned to return there. The contract with the UOG was an opportunity for me to more from secondary to tertiary education and I had hoped to be able to return to Hong Kong in three years with a job in one of the universities located in the Pearl of the Orient. I have lived in Hong Kong for almost 1/3 of my life, and it is and probably always will be my home town.

When I left for Guam I sort of put this blog on hold as I viewed my time here as a temporary interlude, a three year working vacation. I was also somewhat tired of the blog. It seemed that despite my best efforts most of the post had been revolving around local Hong Kong politics and I didn't like that. Politics tends to make me angry and I don't really like myself when I am angry. So I needed a break


But things change. The US changed its tax laws so that it is more difficult for US citizens to live over seas. I did well in the job here. I also realized I am old enough to slow down. So here I am three years later about to sign a second contract.  The really pretty-looks 35 years younger than she is-super intelligent- funny- caring-Chinese wife and I just purchased a nearly 1600 square foot house near the UOG. It needs renovation and like most of the typhoon & Earthquake resistant architecture here looks like a machine-gun bunker on the outside with the concrete walls and flat concrete roof. I don't know that we will be here 20 years but I think we will be here a while


Guam is an interesting place. It is sort of like the US 40 years ago only poorer and more Catholic. Sort of like South Texas or Southern California but with less crime. The tourist side of the island pretty and green but the area around the university is rather run-down and dilapidated. Guam is small, about the size of Hong Kong Island but far flatter so lots more useable land and with only 140,000 or so people far less crowed. With only the crudest mass transit you have to have an automobile here. Guam is, compared to many places in the US rather expensive. For instance, we could have gotten a similar house to the one we bought here in Houston for maybe 1/3 as much. Alternately this house would have several orders of magnitude more in Hong Kong

Guam is not a place we probably would have chosen to live for a variety of reasons but here we are.  It is too far away from both my family in West Texas and our daughters' family in the UK. Most things are expensive here. Hong Kong has a much greater variety of foods at far lower prices, especially fruits and vegetables available than Guam every could.

So why stay here? Well, inertia is part of it. It is easier to stay than move and here we are. It is also a good place to transition back to a US that has changed beyond recognition since I left in the mid 1990's. I can't really go back to North Texas or Alabama. Those places have changed so much since I left that I would be an alien in the place I used to live. Better to be an alien in an unfamiliar place. Guam is also close enough to Hong Kong that friends and family there can visit without a huge expense in either money or time. It is only a 5 or 6 hour flight so week-end visits are easy enough. 

Despite all of the issues with Guam I am enjoying painting the spare bedrooms, mowing the yard and planning the renovations for the house. Having banana, mango and macadamia nut trees in the yard is nice. Being able to fish on the weekends is nice. Not having to deal with the Hong Kong air-pollution is really good.

When I was a child I once heard a man, I can't remember who, say; "Everyplace, if it is a free society  is a good place to live but maybe not good in the way you are used to." I think whoever that was that said that was probably a pretty wise person. There are lots of good things about Hong Kong. There are lots of good things about Guam too.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The blogger who used to be from Hong KOng  


Sunday, September 08, 2013

 

The Three Stooges


The blogger Burt Prelutsky recently wrote “Every day in just about every way, the world keeps getting spookier. Not necessarily in a Stephen King/Dean Koontz kind of spooky way, but more in a Three Stooges nonsensical sort of way.[i]  Perhaps it is just that in modern places like Hong Kong we are increasingly reliant upon technology that we don’t really understand or perhaps it has always been that way and we were too young, unobservant or busy to notice. It might even be a combination of the two.

A last option, one less comfortable to think about is that it isn’t the world that is becoming nonsensical but us.

Upon reflection it seems that the world has always been pretty much what it is. Rocks and trees and birds and bees and the whole mélange[ii]  that comprise nature seem to be pretty much the same as they’ve always been, at least in the last million years or so. Maybe it is people that have changed since I was a child.  The nonsensical thing is we don’t look any different but we are different; though I am not sure we are better for the differences.

You do not have to be very old to remember people not needing to have security gates in front of their doors or alarms on their automobiles; many people can remember a time when manners were the normal mode of behavior. It wasn’t a simpler time, just less electronic. It wasn’t a more innocent time because we all, every one of us, were beset by the same temptations faced by people today. It was a time when the world made sense.  Some of this is just growing older because I think almost everyone looks back on their childhood or youth as a golden-age. But, there is more to it than that.  

Perhaps the world appears nonsensical to us because we engage in nonsense. The Three Stooges are funny precisely because they react to events in socially, psychologically and morally nonsensical ways. The eye-poke, the pie in the face the saw across the ears are only funny because as much as we might want to act at least occasionally by poking an eye or throwing a pie we don’t. Our laughter is a nervous, hand over the mouth laugh while looking to either side, hoping that nobody else knows what’s in our heart.

We have all felt the appeal of the criminal. We can all secretly agree with H.L Mencken who wrote that:"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats (iii)" 

The late Mark Heard put it less humorously  when he sang; 

"Now and then the criminal in my skin lets out a sigh
He'd like to think he's innocent
But he cannot tell a lie
Truth is like a knife
And I'm crying again (iv)"

We may not throw pies at people as retribution for insults real or imagined but we do, at least sometime really wish we could.  Worse we sometimes act on those dark thought if not completely. There is a pirate in everyman desperately looking for his pistol, cutlass and parrot.  Most of the time we seek to repress these alter-egos. We all, everyone of us want to believe we are good people but, our deeds and motives betray. Deep down we are all crying not again but continually.

This is, I believe the actual font of what we perceive as a nonsensical world. We see the good, we do not do it; sometimes even when we want to. We desperately want to be good people even if we don't believe in absolute good. What we are left with is not so much moral relativism as  moral comparisonism. We know our flaws but at least we we are better than "X" or don't do "Y" or we tell ourselves that our intentions are good and hope that is enough. At the minimum we can say "I followed the rules."

When we cheat, just a little; when we get ahead by moral sleight of hand we have shown why we need the ethics and morality we were taught as a child. It is morality, ethics and culture that allow us to see that the world makes sense.  When we deny the evil before our face we make the world a nonsensical place. Maybe, we don’t need to simplify our lives as the psychologist are so found of telling us so much as to reform our lives. Maybe we should remember words like dignity, respect, courtesy and manners. Maybe we should make a better effort to live ethically. Maybe we should examine how we treat each other.  Maybe in doing so we’d be able to make sense of it all. I doubt it would make life easier.


Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger will try not to poke you in the eyes like Moe



[i] http://www.burtprelutsky.com/2013/09/at-sea-in-leaky-rowboat.html
[ii] a mixture often of incongruous elements
iii http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/h/hlmencke109903.html 
(iv) http://mhlp.rru.com/crying_again.html

Sunday, May 12, 2013

 

Losing Weight

For the past couple of weeks I have been following the 5/2 diet.

I've lost over 10 pounds and plan on losing a lot more with this system.

As I've gotten older it just seems that I've really had a hard time not gaining weight and that bothers me. I don't mind the balding, the wrinkles or the gray in my beard but I hate looking like a Santa in training.

It isn't like I don't exercise, I do since I don't drive I walk or ride a bicycle everywhere I go.

What I like about the 5/2 diet is that unlike other other diets I feel that I control the diet and not that it is controlling me.  I don't have to worry about counting calories, measuring or keeping track.

The diet works like this. I eat whatever I want for five days. I don't go all glutton or pig-out but just eat. Two, non-consecutive days a week I fast. Just water, tea maybe a diet soda. I start my fast after dinner of one day and go until dinner the next day without eating.  Technically the guy promoting this says eat only 600 calories on the fast day but I can't do that. If I eat I eat more than that. So I just fast for two non-consecutive 24 hour periods each week. Unlike what nutritionist at least use to say, I don't spend 1/2 the day at a buffet the next day.

The fast are short enough that i don't get lethargic at work. Because I start after dinner the first 8 or 10 hours I am either not hungry yet or asleep. The only meal that is difficult to skip is lunch the next day.

If I stop will I gain the weight back? Probably but once I get to the weight I want i can just keep it at that level with a fast every other week or so.

Anyway, it is workign for me

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who wants to lose 50 more pounds
 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

 

Why bicyclist despise motorcycle riders



Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger with Several bicycles

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

 

The Gifts of Odysseus


There are many different ways to think about ancient literature. It can be taken as a poetic form of history as Heinrich Schliemann[i] did when looking for the city of Troy. Especially if it is very old, and comes from before the invention of writing it can be seen as a form of mass entertainment that was recited in a theatre. Ancient text can also be examined linguistically[ii], anthropologically[iii], psychologically[iv], theologically[v] or from how the work is perceived historically[vi] and probably any number of other ways to help us later day readers understand how language developed and to provide clues to how ancient people lived and what their cultures were like or just simply in understanding the work involved.   Sometimes, or so it appears to me, all of these things are true. As could probably be expected one also finds proponents of less esoteric readings of ancient text. These would see The Odyssey as simply an adventure story that reflects the culture and mores of the society that produced it; what might be called the “Hollywood” version of ancient tales; just stories, just entertainment, nothing deep and nothing wrong with that. Lastly modern scholars sometimes attempt to re-write or rework classics to better fit modern sensibilities or themes whether that is Post Modernism[vii], feminism[viii], or whatever “ism” is the scholar’s preferred soap-box issue or to make the heroes of ancient literature progenitors of whatever political or philosophical persuasion they are advocating. It seems that sometimes lost in scholarly debate is the simply question; “What did the original hearers or readers take away from this work?”

Perhaps the most obvious example of way in which modern scholars can continually re-plow the fields of classic literature for new intellectual crops is The Odyssey. Even its name has become a euphemism for all sorts of things. Lost in the wealth of often very interesting research into this work is the observation that it was probably not simply a poem but a work of moral literature. It is not simply an adventure tale. The purpose was not just to entertain but help the ancient Greeks know what being “Greek” meant. But what are the moral lessons that Homer wants us to learn? To find the answer to that question it is necessary to understand that the poem is not merely account of the adventures and misfortune of Odysseus but what his son Telemachus can learn morally from the trials and triumphs of his father. Indeed, an argument can be made that main character of the Odyssey is not Odysseus but his son Telemachus and his growth towards manhood.[ix] This would explain the non-liner plot in the poem. We are given a clue to the meaning of this poem by looking at the names “Odysseus” and “Telemachus” which mean “Trouble” and “Fighting Man” respectively. Even a cursory reading of The Odyssey reveals that Odysseus is a very different man emotionally and intellectually when he returns to Ithaca than the man who left so many years before. The gifts of Odysseus to his son are the lessons learned by the father and passed along to the son with the mediation and help of Athena so that the son does not become the man named “Trouble” like his father. When this theme is understood the organization of the poem can be seen as intentional.

The Odyssey while longer and written to a different audience bares some striking organizational similarities to the book of Job in the Bible. Both are about powerful men who are brought low by supernatural forces in order to teach them important lessons and who are then restored to their former prosperity once the lesson is learned; importantly both Odysseus and Job need to learn the same lesson that they should not trust solely in their own cunning, power or wealth but should be grateful to God or gods for their success. Where the works differ is in the use of time and secondary lessons. Job suffers a single trial for which he has no explanation and turns to his counselors for an explanation. Odysseus survives a series of calamitous adventures that each should teach his son something. Unlike Job there is seldom a counselor to explain it to Odysseus and he has to figure it out himself. Also unlike Job the lessons Odysseus learn have much more to do with how he should live than simply faith in the supernatural that while not as important in some respects are vital to helping Telemachus avoid the mistakes made by his father.
  
When we first meet Odysseus in the Odyssey he is on an island owned by the nymph Calypso where he has been for seven long years. He is there involuntarily because Calypso is keeping him as her love slave. While the terms and conditions of his incarceration may be snickered at (How many men, at first thought wouldn’t jump at the chance to be the lover of a beautiful nymph?) the predicament is more universal. Calypso didn’t really love Odysseus; she was merely using him to fulfill her own needs. I ask, how fulfilling would a sexual relationship be if it was forced or coerced? How much fear would be in such a relationship of retribution for not performing up to the desired standard? Indeed, reading the account we find that Odysseus has consistently refused the offers of a more than physical relationship with Calypso and provides her with just enough to remain in her favor. Suppose the genders were reversed in this situation, If Calypso was a male and Odysseus a female would this be a situation to be snickered at? How many women would snicker at being held captive for sexual favors for seven years

On a less erotic but applicable note, how many men become slaves to their job? How many men wake up one day and find that years have passed and that the people who are important to them that they really loved have been sacrificed upon the alter of occupation, trade or profession? How much worse is it if the man does not actually love the profession? Often men fall into this trap while trying to provide for their families as Odysseus was simply trying to return home to his wife. Once in this trap they have a difficult time extricating themselves. That this is the first place we meet Odysseus is instructive.

We do not learn more of the story until Odysseus has escaped, by the skin of teeth from Calypso and washed up on the shore where Phaeacians live which is actually closer to the end of the story than the beginning. It is here that we learn from Odysseus himself what had befallen him.

The story Odysseus tells the Phaeacians by now one of the most familiar ever told and ranks with David and Goliath and Noah’s flood in its universality and I will not deal with each episode in detail. But here are the lessons learned by Odysseus.
The trap of sloth and laziness; it would have been easy to simply stay on the Island of the Lotus Eaters.

The trap of imposing upon other is learned at the cave of the Cyclops. At that point in the story Odysseus was traveling in a 12 ship fleet so at least a couple of hundred men. When they find the Cyclops home open they simply help themselves to the sheep and cheese that are there. When the Cyclops returns he is, I think understandably, angry. Granted, he may have been a cannibal anyway but there is a certain justice in saying you ate my sheep now I will eat you. Would it have hurt Odysseus and his crew to ask before raiding the larder?  Humans unlike monsters can think about the needs of others

There is another lesson to be learned from the adventure with the Cyclops. The way you treat your enemies is as important as the way you treat your friends. Think about the story. In order escape Odysseus blinds the Cyclops and then he and his men run to their ship and sail away. The normal interpretation of this event is that Odysseus was cunning and smart. A better interpretation is that he was cruel and calloused. How can a shepherd keep track of his sheep if he cannot see them? By blinding the Cyclops rather than just escaping from him or even just killing him Odysseus doomed the one-eyed giant to a life of poverty. Humans, unlike Cyclops exhibit mercy and Odysseus lowered himself to something less heroic by the manner of his escape

I find the island of Circe to be perhaps the most interesting place in the epic. Circe was turning the crew into pigs. Think about that a minute. A pig is an unusual forest animal. They are smart. They travel in groups and are big enough and mean enough to fend off most predators. But they live by instinct. This is sort of the other side of the coin from the island of the Lotus Eaters rather than forgetting who they were because of the pleasant conditions the crew was in danger of becoming simply animals. When we as humans put our physical needs higher than our ethics or morality we are no better than pigs. Being a pig is OK for pigs humans were made for something better.

There is an important rather obvious lesson that has already been alluded to. While never so clearly stated in the poem the 1997 made for TV version of the Odyssey did an excellent job making this lesson clear. In that version as Odysseus’ raft is sinking in a storm sent by Poseidon Odysseus calls out “Poseidon! What do you want from me?” and receives the answer “To know that without gods man is nothing.” Notice how throughout the poem the Greeks make obligatory offerings to the gods, the occasional prayer and then go about their business as if it made no difference. Odysseus is apparently almost oblivious to the help he receives from Hermes and Athena.  As a Christian I can identify with the gist of that in the normal way but the inverse is true. We may be nothing without divine help but we are also not gods. There is a place for gratitude and humility even in our success. Odysseus by his pride, lack of humility and failure to acknowledge the help he’d received or to show remorse was ungrateful. Humility, gratitude and thankfulness are appropriate responses that should be exhibited in our lives. To give thanks for blessings from above or from our friends and family is a uniquely human virtue as far as we know. The inverse is also true. We may be nothing without God but neither are we gods. When we act as though we are divine, the final arbiter of morality and ethics we become not good and benevolent deities but petty, self-centered tyrants. When Odysseus stood upon the prow of ship and shouted his name to the blinded, rock-throwing Cyclops he was essentially saying “I am god, you can’t hurt me”

Even remembering our place in the universe is not the greatest lesson Odysseus gave his son. Bigger still was the knowledge that greatness is measured more by our response to failure than to success. We remember Odysseus as much for his trials and mistakes on the journey home as we do the Trojan War. The way we deal with adversity not victory defines us.

It is these lessons that allowed Odysseus to tell his son “Know when to be angry” Notice at the end of the poem he allows Athena to disguise him. He receives and is grateful for divine aide. He keeps his eyes on the goal and is not distracted by the pleasantness of his home and doesn’t revert to instinct and simply rush forward to attack like a wild-boar. Once he traps the suitors he does not merely blind them so that they may exact revenge but kills them which was justice in that day and time. These are the gifts of Odysseus to his son.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who still reads literature 



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