Saturday, January 15, 2011

Arizona and His Rotten Tooth

The longer I stay away from the US, the weirder the political rhetoric sounds when I hear it. The shooting in Arizona was horrible, and I'll admit my first thought was to blame a right wing ideologue, i.e. tea party member. Within minutes of hearing the news I updated my Facebook status to: Oh, so this is what they meant by "taking back America." I don't regret writing this. Given the circumstances and the current toxic discourse in American politics, it was a logical conclusion to draw. Through this event, it's been fascinating to observe how many different versions of "reality" people live in. If I had to define myself, I am politically left of center and I believe the universe is best observed empirically, rather than a priori. In other words, I don't hold a view or a belief then try to find examples in the world to support that view or belief; rather, I experience the world through trial and error and let those experiences shape my understanding of it. It is why I am an atheist, and it is why I equally detest the extremes of left- and right-wing politics. People who know the answer to everything freak me out and this awful event has only amplified those voices via the 24 hour non-stop news machine. 

Yesterday, a gentleman came into the Centre wanting to speak to the Director. We are currently without a Director, so our receptionist (trying to be as helpful as possible) starting asking him a series of questions, so she could direct him to the right person. This proceeded to annoy him and he was very rude to her. As it turned out, I ended up being the lucky person to speak with the man. I approached him with caution. He asked, "Are you the Director?" I chuckled a bit and told him no, then explained to him what my role was at the Centre. Through our conversation, I learned he was 70 years old and he was raised Buddhist, but converted to Catholicism when he was in his 20s. He completed a PhD in Phenomenology in the late 70s and he has taught a range of topics in religion and philosophy. He was a small man with missing teeth and one rotten tooth that I couldn't keep my eyes off of when he spoke. He was a little eccentric, which made him more interesting to talk to. He asked what the process was for submitting course proposals. I explained to him that we have an online form that asks a series of questions we need for marketing. Additionally, there are fields for submitting the description and outline. He became quiet for moment and said that he didn't use computers or mobile phones. He thought they limited communication. I said that while I didn't agree with that statement I understood why some people might feel that way. He proceeded to discuss his position in philosophical terms and stated that technology limited our capacity for understanding the world we live in, and only through verbal face to face communication could we truly glean meaning from life. At this point, his rotten tooth was all I could focus on and I said, "These things aren't going anywhere." He looked at me for a second with a puzzled look on his face. I clarified, stating that email, mobile phones, and the Internet aren't going to cease to exist. Apparently, I said the unthinkable and this completely killed the conversation. He made a couple of very subtle condescending remarks, so subtle that I know he thought he was being extremely clever to prove his point. I obliged him, thus confirming his world view. He left confident and sure of himself. I returned to my office and wasn't able to stop thinking about his rotten tooth. 

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