Friday, July 10, 2015

Be a Palm Tree

USA: Tobacco, Rebel Flag, Guns -- Be a Palm Tree
(A quick Friday morning note. My apologies that this is one-pass with no time to edit.)
Across the globe and many cultures, the humble palm tree has been a symbol of wisdom, resilience, and the successful warrior. 
There is a reason why great banana farms are not found in areas prone to frequent typhoon strikes: Banana trees are soft and they bend too much and break and are flattened. 
Likewise, harder trees such as pine and oak are flattened by the thousands by storm winds in America, while the palm tree, hard, but bending with the winds, remains standing even by the very edge of the sea the morning after a hurricane or typhoon. 
The trick is not to be too soft, or too unyielding. 
When I was a child in America, people smoked and chewed tobacco nearly everywhere, even on airplanes and in elevators. Pipes, cigars, cigarettes, and they chewed and spit their goo on sidewalks and out car windows, sometimes plastering the car behind them.
And if you dare raise a hand in protest – as I often did – larger adults would talk down derisively saying it is their right to light up anywhere and anytime. 
Hotel rooms smelled like bars, cigarette burns on upholstery and carpets and tables were normal, and cigarette butts were carelessly discarded even in stores, parking lots, and flicked out of car windows, sometimes causing forest fires. 
People regularly died and burned down their homes after falling asleep while smoking. They set apartment complexes ablaze and left people homeless. 
Their nasty ashtrays rested on every restaurant table, filled with butts, stained with lipstick, often still smoldering as the white smoke lifted and filled the room and embedded in our clothes, hair and lungs.
But that was their RIGHT!, they demanded. 
They had a right to smoke anywhere, anytime, whether at the office or on a public bus or train, in restaurants and in cars filled with children. 
And then began the pushback. 
Contentious arguments about second-hand smoke, and smokers denied it all, saying their rights were under attack, as they arrogantly blew smoke in our young faces, and created animosity in our hearts and minds, and a taste for revenge. 
But it was their RIGHT!, they demanded, and some veterans would raise the flag and say they had fought for those rights to pollute our air. 
But what about the veterans who fought and did not smoke, and who wanted clean air? What about their rights? What about the rights of children not to be burdened in elevators and stairwells with toxic fumes? 
We began fighting back as much against their arrogance as against their smoke. 
The smoke was bad enough, but the arrogance and sense of entitlement were the coffin nails. 
They thought their rights trumped our rights, or any case they were arrogant and did not care because they thought they were strong enough to withstand any pressure. And they were wrong.
The more they demanded their ‘rights’ while ignoring our own, and their unwillingness to show consideration for others and even give an inch…well, we grew up, and now they smoke in the cold and pay exorbitant taxes and we do not care. If the government charges $100/pack in taxes, we do not care. Because they were arrogant, and they treated us badly, and now this is revenge, and we have better air.
We no longer care about their ‘rights’ to pollute our air, and in some places it is even illegal to smoke outside. In my mind, that is taking it a little far, but after the way I was treated by smokers while still a child, this citizen offers no defense for their right to smoke outside. 
Let them defend themselves. They stood unbending like hard trees and now are flattened like matchsticks in the hurricane of public outrage that is now largely forgotten because we won.
And now with the ‘rebel flag,’ or whatever one wishes to quibble over calling it -- some of us for years have said that this flag should not fly over government property. 
Be the Palm Tree. 
Be strong but realize that the winds are incredibly powerful, and on sunny calm days, it is easy for the oak to imagine how strong he is, and how many lightning storms he has survived, and to start thinking that he is strong enough never to bend to the winds. 
But he never was hit by a proper hurricane, and when it comes, he is flattened, and chopped up for firewood and eventually his memory goes out the chimney, while the palm tree stands and produces offspring.
As for the flag, flying it on hats and cars and privately is fine, and I personally was not raised to think that it carried any racial connotation, but others had and have different views, and their views are as valid as are ours, or in any case, they have tremendous political clout and when they all blow in the same direction, a hurricane rolls in, and things break.
And like the smokers who refused to give an inch, and resorted to name calling and arrogantly blowing smoke in our faces, now the people who arrogantly refused to give an inch in the face of reasonable requests, who thought their rights were immutable or that they were so tough and strong that the winds of public opinion only ruffled their branches – the time has come. 
A category five hurricane of public ill winds is upon us. 
Had reasonable people simply given an inch and years ago taken the flags down from government property, we would not today be facing the specter and proposals of digging up graves of Confederates, renaming military bases, taking down statues, and removing toys from Wal-Mart that sport the flag that many people hold dear and without racism in their hearts. 
But they did not possess the wisdom and resilience represented by the palm tree. 
One by one in this storm, they are snapping like pine. 
Even today, many of these are the same people who would arrogantly smoke in restaurants while wearing a rebel flag on their hats and sporting a shotgun, while telling everyone else to shut up and stop being nannies. They think their rights trump everyone else’s rights and sentiments. They are wrong.
And next comes guns. The 2nd Amendment that many of us hold dear is under perpetual attack. 
Yet many 2nd Amendment supporters – having learned nothing from history – are flaunting their ‘rights’ at the expense of other peoples’ rights and sentiments. 
Many of the people they are offending are today just children, but soon enough they will be adults, and they will remember the ignorant people who carried shotguns into Wal-Mart and into restaurants, even in an age where mass shootings are part of the common psyche. They will remember these behaviors just as I remember the constant arrogance of so many smokers.
Just as others literally blew smoke in our faces, or figuratively and arrogantly rubbed the flag in peoples’ faces, thinking they were so politically strong that they were invincible, people are abusing our 2nd Amendment rights at the expense of other peoples’ rights, refusing to give an inch. 
Recently a man loaded and racked a shotgun in a department store. Many ignorant people said that is their right, and if others are frightened by this, that is their problem. No, that arrogance is our problem. Other people also have rights and we must sometimes give an inch in consideration.
Too many 2nd Amendment supporters are arrogant, and taunting millions of other Americans with their ‘rights,’ which happen to be our rights. And they think, like many people before, that they can withstand any storm. And they are wrong.
Be the Palm Tree, not the dead tree whose greatest weakness was the idea that he was invincible. 
Again, my apology for any errors but I must get back to work.

1 comment:

MM said...

In Japan, we would say "be like a bomboo tree, not an oak tree". Bamboos bend, not break, even in the most terrifying storm or devastating earthquake that would snap mighty oak trees.