the ABUSE of bad words








I recently went to a doctor for a checkup. He asked me how frequently I urinated. He cautioned me, “Don’t drink water in the evening and before you go to bed. If you don’t drink water, you won’t wake up so often during the night because you need to pee.”

He’s a professional, an MD. Couldn’t he have said urinate?

I used to see a therapist who was from an older generation. He was careful about language. He wrote a book about Charles Darwin’s medical history and an illness the latter suffered from most of his life that was never diagnosed and may have been psychosomatic. He noted that Darwin often suffered from flatulence. That was the right word to use for the context.

Now we have the “pee tape.”

As discussed in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times.


“Lordy, Is There a Tape?”

By Michelle Goldberg


The New York Times

April 16, 2018


Whatever you think of the former F.B.I. director James Comey, he has started a long overdue national conversation about whether the pee tape is real.

“I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013,” Comey said in his hotly anticipated interview with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday night. “It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

Comey was referring, of course, to a claim in the dossier about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia compiled by the British ex-spy Christopher Steele. While in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, Trump reserved the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, where Barack and Michelle Obama had stayed previously. Citing multiple anonymous sources, Steele reported that Trump had prostitutes defile the bed where the Obamas slept by urinating on it, and that the Kremlin had recordings. …

Like Comey, none of us know what really happened at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, and we may never find out. As outlandish as the rumor is, however, the idea that Trump would shy away from good press out of principle is far more so. To seriously discuss this presidency, you have to open your mind to the truly obscene.

And so on.





The whole discussion makes me feel uncomfortable. I am not interested in what happened in a hotel room in Moscow.

So does the use of words such as pee in connection with the President or, generally, in formal discourse.

The pungent Anglo-Saxon words we have in our language are an essential part of it. In private conversation, in situations that call for explicitness or frankness, sometimes (if not often) in literature, occasionally in public, such words are not inappropriate and are called for. They certainly shouldn’t be banned, any more than one should, say, try to pretend that parts of the human body do not exist.

Such words can be effective in private or in public when used sometimes for emphasis or shock value. They can liven up a conversation. (At other times, they can deaden it.) Using pee or shit, say, in conversation where there is a familiar relationship already and politeness or restraint is not required; using fuck for emphasis at times. Salty sailor’s talk is not necessarily out of bounds.

But such words often become overused, or are used inappropriately in public or in the wrong contexts and situations when they are more likely than not to cause embarrassment or discomfort, and where a more polite (usually Latinate) alternative exists. And, their overuse can cheapen discourse, or deaden the impact of a potentially powerful word such as fuck, which one sometimes hears repeated over and over again to the point where it becomes annoying to the ear, just as a too loud, monotonous, second rate punk rock band can.

And some words — such as fart — can sometimes make you squirm, make one feel downright uncomfortable.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 18, 2018

Posted in general interest, language (vocabulary, usage); language in the abstract as it pertains to writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“vanity of vanities; all is vanity”



The news depresses me.

It is too much, far too much, about trivialities presented as matters of grave concern to the nation and body politic.

It is not informative and instructive and is in fact rebarbative. It induces feelings of unpleasantness.

Well, one might say, what do you expect? We are talking about unpleasant realities. A dalliance with a porn star?

I might think it important to know about unpleasant realities such as the My Lai Massacre, waterboarding of Guantanamo Bay detainees, gas attacks on civilians (including children), or the latest shooting by a police officer of a black person. These are the kind of facts and atrocities that should be brought to light in all their horror.

I sometimes, in fact often, “look” with curiosity, perhaps fascination, perhaps with Schadenfreude and/or with a frisson of something like pleasure or titillation — as one might at an accident with people wounded or killed, perhaps lying in the street — at the latest salacious news item. I read the latest revelations, am curious, yet quickly tire of them.

The Trump tormentors are worse than Trump itself.

The fascination with him, the eagerness for his downfall, are the product of misdirected energy, of mass morbidity, of sick minds engaging in an Elmer Gantry style revival meeting where everyone is whipped up to a state of anti-Trump frenzy and moral fervor, with them seeing themselves as the righteous ones.

Hounds yapping at his heels. How his adversaries take pleasure in the hunt, as do others vicariously. It could be you or I who is the hunted one, in a different context.

Trump is not worth the attention. He’s the president. He is entitled to a modicum of respect.

I hope he is not reelected.

No one deserves to be spied upon and to have their private life exposed. No one’s home should be entered by snoops unexpectedly when they are still in bed.

A sinner, a lawbreaker should be able to consult with his or her lawyer (or a priest or anyone else) in confidence.

No one’s computer, cell phone, or private papers should be confiscated.

This includes Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Of course, they will try to find a statute or law that says they can.

Laws should be enacted and enforced to protect people from harm to their persons. Not to be used as a pretext for entrapment, guilt by association, selective prosecution, or witch hunts.

Trump should be allowed to govern until his term ends.

People should direct their attention elsewhere: to constructive and creative enterprises, to commerce, and to social betterment.

The public has fallen into a morass of warped public moralizing and hypocrisy, which is much worse than Trump’s depravity; and, were there a Truth Commission that could strip all men of their “garments of probity” and show them as they actually are, with their sins made public, the feeding frenzy would never end and hardly anyone would be able to don the mantle of respectability, hardly anyone could remain in public office because of hitherto unknown transgressions against private morality or public decency.

Let’s (but I know no one is listening) have a civilized discussion/debate about the ISSUES.

Donald Trump is a womanizer. I don’t care. So are or were many other prominent, successful men. So are or were men of my acquaintance, many of whom I have admired for other reasons.

Is it good to be a womanizer? On the personal level, it depends on all sorts of factors and may be of great concern, justly so, to persons affected. Donald Trump’s behavior, any man’s, is of legitimate concern to his wife. And those affected by it, including women to whom he behaved improperly. It’s not my concern. If my next door neighbor committed adultery, I might disapprove, but I would leave it to his wife to decide how she wants to deal with it.

Should I myself be caught doing anything I know most people wouldn’t approve of, I would not want it to come to light.

The economy seems to have improved under Trump. I’m not an economist. I actually agree with a few policy initiatives of his administration, but I disagree vehemently for the most part with his views and actions and don’t like his administration. I wish people would (as many are) devote their energies to trying to defeat these policies and elect a new president in 2020.

“Saints” and paragons such as FDR, Eisenhower, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. had affairs. J. Edgar Hoover is considered to have acted deplorably by spying on King with the aim of discrediting him. Thank God we didn’t have to spend day after day or night after night reading about or watching news programs about King’s dalliances and all the sordid details.



— Roger W. Smith

    April 2018








A reader of this blog and I had an email exchange about this post on April 16. The following are excerpts:


Donald Trump started a lot of this media buzz about himself by himself –initiated by him, i.e. going on the Howard Stern Show many times and it is said, feeding dirt about himself to his friends in the tabloid business. Now, decades of these playboy habits and coverage, it is hard to quell — old habits, old image, and all that.


my response:

Yes, Trump — before he was running for president — loved to get attention as a naughty boy and playboy. The image won’t leave him. But, I still don’t like the way things are playing out now. And how about Clinton? A lot of liberals were willing to put up with him and he was a womanizer. Not just someone playing around and having affairs, but having oral sex in the oval office with a White House intern much young than him.



Secondly, both the porn star and Playboy bunny have generated the buzz by going to the tabloids in 2016 — rather than the mainstream media digging up embarrassing dirt on Trump on their own — out of the blue. think Jennifer Flowers suing Clinton.


my response:

It’s true that they started a lot of this, not the Times or the Washington Post. That’s a good point.


Third, James Comey went on record yesterday, in an interview, stating that Trump is not insane or going into dementia. Comey said Trump follows conversations and understands everything and is above average intelligence. Comey continued that Trump “is not fit to be president’ — on moral grounds (and the women factor is just one small reason).


my response:

We can question Trump’s personal fitness on moral grounds and as a person. But, the voters elected him. Some people used to say Nixon was sort of a madman with a bad personality. You don’t impeach a president or sue him in court for being what some think is a lowlife, jerk, or amoral guy. A president could be removed for disability — can’t perform the functions of his office. Trump is not unfit, even if you don’t like him or think he’s a bad person.



Fourth, like you, I have a sacred regard for the office of president. But, you would be the first person to protest if your government was not doing the moral thing, i.e., ongoing war for years in the Middle East, the dismantling of the EPA and Consumer Affairs.


my response:

I thought George W. Bush was totally wrong to go to war in Iraq. I don’t like what Trump is doing on the environment or other issues that, say, Obama, was the opposite on. Too bad for me. He’s the president. The solution: try to see that he’s not reelected.

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preparing for a trip; advice from a travel maven




In the summer of 2016, I went on a trip with a friend to Spain. I was frantically trying to get ready at the last minute, to make sure I had done everything I intended to do before leaving. This included stuff on my computer at home, cleaning my office room, and so forth — not just packing and the like.

Everyone told me to make it a point to get to the airport early, at least two hours before.

On the afternoon of my flight, I was frantically trying to update some files on my computer which I thought I needed for the trip, which did not have to be done. I left at the last minute, forgetting my passport. I called my wife on the way to the airport in a panic. She was not home. Fortunately, I reached her on her cell phone. She retrieved my passport and brought it to me. We met at the entrance to a subway station in Queens where I was about to take the so-called Train to the Plane to the airport.

I got to the airport perhaps 20 to 25 minutes before departure time. Fortunately — very fortunately — getting through the air traffic control line was quick. I thought I would make the flight.

I had to get to something like Gate Six. I didn’t realize that the distance between gates is very long. I was walking for what seemed like seemed forever before I reached Gate Six, hauling my luggage, sweaty and totally out of breath.

I reached the departure gate about ten minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave. “Welcome,” Mr. Smith,” an attendant said. “Glad you made it. You’re the last passenger to board.” She did have to ask my name. The cabin door was shut and the plane took off just minutes later.





I am now about to leave on a twelve-day trip to Ireland and Denmark.

A word to the wise from a wiser but often clueless traveler.

Don’t start preparing for the trip at the last minute. And, given that traveling begets stress and disorientation, try to slow down and to not get distracted or over-taxed mentally by giving yourself too many things to do.

Do things backward.

Set priorities. Put aside as much as you can for later. After you return. For example, organizing my books and files. An article which I was going to write. They can wait, I told myself.

My wife said yesterday, “You should start packing now.” I thought to myself: I always leave it to the last minute. Then I realized she was right.

If you do not do such things as packing two or three days ahead of time, you will forget things. Like the battery charger for my camera that I might have left without. Or the plug adapter for my iPhone that I will need in European hotels.

More broadly, one needs to slow down and take a deep breath.


— Roger W. Smith

    April 2018








It seems that there is a greater lesson here. When faced with a big undertaking or change, when the adrenalin starts flowing, people often seem to act — instead of trying to be as calm and as focused as possible — almost manic, more than usual. In other words, to meet the demands of expending energy in an anticipated undertaking which is new and exciting, but perhaps can raise one’s blood pressure, one ratchets oneself up a notch or two. Which is not necessarily bad, but then one starts doing all sorts of things that perhaps don’t really need doing or are a distraction. Something like that.

I get very excited about a trip and love to travel, which is as it should be, but there are all sorts of mundane hassles associated with traveling, such as (but not limited to) making sure you don’t lose anything. I have lost my passport once and credit cards several times. And, even if you control for these factors, you never know quite what to expect. No trip can be planned that carefully, and I like to be spontaneous. So, at least in my case, what seems to happen is that I get too energized or frenzied as the event approaches, when it would behoove me to stay focused and not do additional things to distract and occupy myself. But I get overly busy trying to do everything before I leave, including things I don’t really have to do at that moment, and sometimes neglect to do the things that are required. I suspect that this kind of analysis could be applied to many other situations where demands are made upon oneself that are not quite the same as the routine ones of daily living — it could be something as seemingly (but not really) routine as an examination or job interview or a death requiring one’s presence at funeral observances.

It seems that life sometimes works at cross purposes on people’s energies and on their psyches. It excites us, but also confuses us. We need change and excitement. We also need time to relax and reflect. Both are necessary to psychic wellbeing. Keeping the two in balance can sometimes be difficult.

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another concert; thoughts about Bartók




Last night, Tuesday, April 10, I saw a chamber music concert by the Artemis Quartet at Carnegie Hall which consisted of Beethoven’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 18, No. 3; Bartók’s String Quartet No. 2, Op. 17; and Schumann’s String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 41, No. 1.

I had great seats. The Artemis Quartet played splendidly. Sitting at the front of the concert hall, I could really appreciate their musicianship.

The most engrossing piece (they were all splendid) — the one that by itself seemed to make the concert (it seemed as if others in the audience felt the same way) — was the Bartók.

It is my opinion that Bartók has one rival, and none other, for the designation of best composer of the twentieth century: Shostakovich.

You know when you hear the second Bartók quartet (and the five others composed by him) that you are hearing something different than anything composed before. It is such fresh, intriguing music, yet it’s not avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde. It is beautiful, haunting, arresting. And totally convincing — the quartets as compositions, that is.

It seems so fresh and new, made of sounds and harmonies one has never heard before. Yet, somehow the musical idiom seems as if it has been time tested and proved in a “musical furnace.” A key may be that the daring harmonies and rhythms are based on a substratum of folk music known to Bartók and used by him. Brilliantly used, and fused with a modern idiom. It’s music that is both old, or traditional, and yet entirely new. A hundred or so years after its composition, it sounds entirely fresh.

I thought of Stravinsky, the first among equals, the pacesetter, of the avant-garde composers of the early 20th century. He broke new ground with daring rhythms and orchestration and new sounds. But I feel that Bartók’s music has much more staying power. His quartets alone, which are surpassed by what other composer’s? (Beethoven and perhaps Shostakovich; but I think Bartók’s quartets outrank even Shostakovich’s), are proof positive of this.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 11, 2018







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on poverty



“In civilised society, personal merit will not serve you so much as money will. Sir, you may make the experiment. Go into the street, and give one man a lecture on morality, and another a shilling, and see which will respect you most. … When I was running about this town a very poor fellow, I was a great arguer for the advantages of poverty; but I was, at the same time, very sorry to be poor. Sir, all the arguments which are brought to represent poverty as no evil, shew it to be evidently a great evil.”

— Samuel Johnson (quoted in James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.; 20 July 1763)





Poverty is not glamorous, as Samuel Johnson said. When I first came to New York, I lived, on a meager salary, from paycheck to paycheck. I had just enough money to pay my bills, and not much for luxuries such as entertainment or dining out. I used to worry about having enough money in the bank at the end of the month to pay the rent. My bank account was a few hundred dollars.

Worse than impoverishment, it seems, are the constant stress and worry that come with it.

I am not rich and have never been. But, I am more established now, financially as well as otherwise. I am no longer living at the margin. This means that I don’t have to worry from day to day about having enough money for expenses. I know that I can pay my bills, and if, say, I indulge myself with some non-essential purchase, I may ask myself whether I should have made the purchase, but I know that I will be able to pay the credit card bill when the time comes.

I wish to obtain an out of print book. There is a copy available for sale online for a hundred dollars. That’s a lot, but I have to have it. I’ll pay! A must-see Haydn oratorio is being performed at Carnegie Hall? I’m going! Whatever a ticket costs, whether it’s fifty or a hundred dollars.




An observation I would make based upon experience is that: If you have enough and don’t have to worry about money, irrespective of whether you would be considered rich, it behooves one to pay a little more for quality. It makes sense.

A couple of examples.

For a while, I was getting haircuts from a local barber at a cost of about seventeen dollars including a generous tip. I realized over time that he was not giving me good haircuts. He would rush through the haircut and would never fuss over me or provide any extras that some barbers provide as part of a normal haircut. I never looked good. It occurred to me recently that I should find a better barber. I found a barber shop in in Manhattan that I have been going to for the past few months. The cost for a haircut there is about thirteen dollars more per haircut with a generous tip. I look a hundred percent better.

I probably get a haircut about nine or ten times a year. So, the extra cost works out to about 120 or 130 dollars more per year. For me, the difference is negligible; it’s well worth it.

Similarly, my wife and I shop at a local Italian grocery where one can purchase quality foods. We could obtain such items cheaper at a supermarket. But the Italian store provides quality and is a pleasure to shop at. (It is quite popular.) A few dollars more does not concern us.

And, when it comes to dining out — including the occasional meal with my wife, or eating in Manhattan restaurants when I am in the City during a weekday — I don’t think that much about price. I try to choose the best place. This does not mean very high-priced eating establishments, which I do not patronize, since to me, to do so would make no sense — I am not a gourmet. What I am thinking of is when there is a choice between a cheap place with inferior food and a slightly better place. Without hesitation, I will choose the better place if I can find one.





A final thought. This, I think, is crucial to keep in mind.

If one is poor, one doesn’t have the luxury of opting for better service. One should always keep this in mind so that things are kept in perspective and one doesn’t assume a snobbish “let them eat cake” stance; or look down on the poor for their poor choices in, say, eating establishments or dress. If you are making minimum wage and can barely afford the rent, if you are a single parent who can barely support your children, keeping one step ahead of impoverishment is a constant preoccupation. So, when you eat out, which you may be doing because your job doesn’t give you time to cook, you have to choose the cheapest place, and thank God there are McDonalds’s and such places where one can fill one’s stomach. Luxuries and entertainments permitted are few. If your kids need a haircut, a low-cost barber is the only choice. One can’t consider paying ten dollars or so more for a better haircut, as I now do. One is always looking for bargains.





I think back to the stress of my early days as a wage earner living in the City. To have enough money for a date, a restaurant meal, a concert, a sports event, or whatever was often problematic. I was not totally deprived, but each expense had to be weighed, came with the nagging thought that it might deplete my pocket money and leave me short at bill paying time.

I am glad those days are past for me. That I can purchase books ad libitum and pay a bit more for good service. My life is less stressful now. Poverty isn’t glamorous, as Johnson observed so acutely.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 2018

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On Friendships: Forming, Preserving, and (Sometimes) Knowing When to End Them



“For the rest, what we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined. If a man should importune me to give a reason why I loved him, I find it could no otherwise be expressed, than by making answer: because it was he, because it was I.”

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of Friendship,” Essays, Chapter XXVII


“May we not include under the title of conference and communication the quick and sharp repartees which mirth and familiarity introduce amongst friends, pleasantly and wittily jesting and rallying with one another?”

— Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Art of Conference,” Essays, Chapter VIII


“Who hears me, who understands me, becomes mine,—a possession for all time. … My friends have come to me unsought. The great God gave them to me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“… let us approach our friend with an audacious trust in the truth of his heart, in the breadth, impossible to be overturned, of his foundations.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“A friend therefore is a sort of paradox in nature. I who alone am, I who see nothing in nature whose existence I can affirm with equal evidence to my own, behold now the semblance of my being, in all its height, variety, and curiosity, reiterated in a foreign form; so that a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“I hate the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and worldly alliances. I much prefer the company of ploughboys and tin-peddlers to the silken and perfumed amity which celebrates its days of encounter by a frivolous display, by rides in a curricle and dinners at the best taverns. The end of friendship is a commerce the most strict and homely that can be joined; more strict than any of which we have experience. It is for aid and comfort through all the relations and passages of life and death. It is fit for serene days and graceful gifts and country rambles, but also for rough roads and hard fare, shipwreck, poverty, and persecution. It keeps company with the sallies of the wit and the trances of religion. We are to dignify to each other the daily needs and offices of man’s life, and embellish it by courage, wisdom and unity. It should never fall into something usual and settled, but should be alert and inventive and add rhyme and reason to what was drudgery.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“The only reward of virtue is virtue; the only way to have a friend is to be one.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Friendship,” Essays: First Series


“It has by now been sufficiently demonstrated that the human being has, as part of his intrinsic construction, not only physiological needs, but also truly psychological ones. They may be considered as deficiencies which must be optimally fulfilled by the environment in order to avoid sickness and subjective ill-being.

“If both the physiological and the safety needs are fairly well gratified, then there will emerge love and affection and belongingness needs. ….

“The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security, and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.”

— Abraham H. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being


“To be able to have friends is one of the most wonderful things about human existence. Few experiences rival it. It has meant everything to me throughout my life and has made me the person I am. I never forget an old friend.

“I never really chose a friend except upon the criterion that we enjoyed knowing one another. The give and take among friends is wonderful; the sense of acceptance and of affirmation of one’s personhood, yours and theirs. The jokes, confidences, stories, friendly disputations. The things you learn from a friend that you would have otherwise never known. The miraculous meeting and befriending of people whom fate puts in one’s way.

“A friend is someone from whom one does not require approval, only the desire for companionship, the desire to share.”

— Roger W. Smith





This is a post about friendships: their importance in one’s life (touched upon very briefly here); and, mainly, the importance of trying to maintain them.

What I am thinking of is the importance of one’s being able to form and maintain ongoing friendships with people whom one would not have perhaps expected to form a friendship with or to be able to along with, and with friends whom one has acquired but about whom one has sometimes wondered: is it worth maintaining the friendship?

To frame the issue in a nutshell, I would say: You’ve got to give people a chance — to extend a friendly hand, so to speak; to show, all things being equal, a willingness to become acquainted with others (rather than acting as if you are too important or busy); to not be too hasty to judge or jump to conclusions with regard to what you might think of the other person.

You’ve got to be willing — once a friendship has been formed, and particularly in the case of longstanding relationships — to put up with the failings and annoying habits of others, if they desire a friendship. (Note that I said “they,” not “you.”)

That is the key, in my opinion, because if the other person desires a friendship, they probably have something to offer.

Don’t turn them away, reject them. You’ll be cutting off your nose to spite your face. You will never know what you may have missed.

Every friend is precious, just as every person is unique and precious. Our lifetimes are finite, and our experience is limited — we can’t get to know everyone. Our life histories — indeed, our personalities — are a “compost” of all the people we have been privileged to become acquainted with.

You’ll be surprised what people — including those you may sometimes find boring, tedious, or difficult — can offer.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule!

People to AVOID:

people who are always negative; and,

people whose only interest in associating with you is as a sounding board for them to talk about their problems. A relationship by definition involves two people. There must be back and forth. It can’t be just the other person talking about their problems.

To get back to my main point.

People will surprise you with the things they come out with. Just when you have grown tired of them or their company, they will say something interesting or funny; perhaps tell you something you didn’t know; provide information that you were not privy to and are glad to have; provide helpful advice or a useful suggestion or tip.

Sometimes people when you least expect it will reveal something good about themselves — it could be intelligence, insight, their humanity, or a positive or winning character trait that you had not hitherto appreciated.





Another thing I would like to point out about my experience with friendships — speaking solely from my own experience — is that it behooves one to be patient and to give them time. To hear one’s friends and acquaintances out. To clear the decks for them so to speak, when they want to communicate, talk.

Say, for example, that a friend calls me when I am very busy and I don’t answer the call. I make it a point to tell him that I am sorry I missed the call but that I will get back to him shortly. I tend to refrain from saying that I am “busy,” because that might convey an unstated message that I’m too darn busy to talk now and in the near future. Instead, I simply say that I am sorry I missed the call but will be getting back shortly.

I sometimes do the same thing with an email, if I’ve been sitting on it for, say, two or three days: send back a very brief message saying “pleased to hear from you, will reply at length within the next day or two.” It’s a common courtesy that costs nothing in terms of effort.

Regarding “putting up” with people, when one is very busy. What I have found is that, if I can somehow manage to tear myself away from whatever it is that is preoccupying me and lend an ear, give attention to my friend, it pays off in the long run. I preserve the friendship, and it is usually not a waste of time. Not only because one is sort of acting benevolent, but also because, what I have found is that, at bottom, I myself am not too important or never really that busy to pay attention to someone else. The loss in time that I would have otherwise had to myself — what economists call “opportunity cost” — is a gain in terms of populating my time and life with interesting people and valued friends.

Bottom line: I would say, make time for your friends; create space in the interstices of your life for them to fit into.





In writing this post, I thought of friends who can sometimes try one’s patience. Who perhaps have annoying habits or seem to be deficient in certain social and interpersonal skills. And, of some who seem to be — at times — lonely and needy. Perhaps because they sense that people are not eager to form friendships with them, or because they have lost a few friends. It has been my experience that if I can manage to persist, in cases were the other person is desirous of companionship and is well intentioned — which is to say does want to establish and maintain a friendship — over time the other person’s defenses seem to be attenuated and the less desirable traits seem to become less noticeable or problematic. What I think may be the case and may be happening is that as the other person senses that you are not inclined to reject them, they relax, become less insecure, and become more companionable and enjoyable to be with. I see this as a win win situation in which I have gained another friend who becomes increasingly enjoyable to be with. One should be grateful for friends, and sometimes those who don’t at first blush seem to have that much to offer can become good friends should you be willing to meet them half way.





A further thought or two.

Perhaps you like to think that you are broad minded. I know I do.

But most of us — practically everyone, it seems; indeed, it seems to be part and parcel of the human condition, unavoidable, in our bones — harbors dislikes toward or has reservations about certain groups: racial, ethnic, national, or religious. You may have a tendency to avoid such groups, perhaps fearing that not only will you not get along, but that they may not like you; or perhaps thinking you will have little in common.

A side benefit of openness and willingness in forming friendships is that you may find yourself befriending someone from one of those groups and find that all of a sudden, you’re hitting it off. Such unanticipated friendships can enable oneself to expand one’s horizons while experiencing a pleasurable, welcome, and congenial bonding and sharing.

I have experienced this myself on occasion: associating with someone from a group that I may myself have not been fully aware that I was prejudiced against or which I had tended to stereotype and have misconceptions about. Something good has occurred on a couple of occasions — both with persons I eventually got to know well and persons I have had a more casual relationship with — where I found myself saying to myself or my wife, “You know, I thought (some group) were usually (something pejorative), but (my new acquaintance) isn’t like that.”

It’s not just a matter of overcoming stereotypes (although it can be very helpful to do so). It is very valuable experience wise (I am perhaps stating the obvious) to able to get to know people from groups other than the ones one customarily finds oneself associating with; to get to know them on an individual level; and to find that you are both becoming comfortable in one another’s presence as time goes on — that you have become less aware than you ordinarily would be of the fact of, less preoccupied with, the other person’s race, ethnicity, or religion. Being absorbed in the relationship and the exchanges that are occurring, one tends to disregard externals.





A caveat.

I hope I don’t seem ingenuous in what I have been advocating in this post. At the risk of contradicting or undercutting practically everything I have said above, I must admit that there are some people who are just plain pernicious as far as interpersonal relationships are concerned (inimical, at a minimum, to one’s own self-interest, that is), persons who are detrimental to one’s wellbeing when it comes to associating with them. Which is to say that some people might find them to make wonderful friends, but one knows — which is to say that the individual, in this case you or I, knows, by instinct, usually right away, or nearly so — that you and that person will never get along. Not only that, but that you yourself and that person are so different in terms of personalities, core values, and behavior that association should be avoided or kept to a minimum.

From such people, one often gets a sense of derision or outright hostility. To the extent that they are aware of you, they do not esteem you.

Often, it seems — well not that often (if it were a common occurrence, it would not have been much more of a problem — this has occurred to me with authority figures — a teacher, say; a boss; a coach — who takes an immediately negative view of oneself or deems you wanting in some respect and lets you know it. Not a potential “friendship situation,” but worth mentioning here as something sometimes experienced and instructive in a harsh way.

In other instances where I have experienced an immediate mutual dislike and/or lack of any rapport whatsoever between myself and another person, it was usually with a fellow student or a coworker. One has a sixth sense about such things. I call it the “tip of the iceberg” theory. Very early on, some unpleasantness manifests itself, and one knows that the person should be avoided.

But, I am not talking about friendships here, right? Such “relationships” rarely proceed to that point.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 2018

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hatred that feeds a psychic need




It has a life of its own.

Feeds on itself.

I have seen it, depressingly, in my own life. Where the hatred is or was directed at me.

It is a fire which smolders and then rages, out of control. It is fueled of and by itself, from an inner demon or demons in the hater. (“The jealous are possessed by a mad devil and a dull spirit at the same time,” says Lavater.)

Nothing can seem to bring it under control. It can only be dimly foreseen and will take you by surprise by its ferocity. The only thing the object of the hatred can do is to try and stay away from the fire. No remonstrances will do any good.

Rational thought is not applicable here. Thee, O Victim, should not feel and should not think for a moment that you deserve it. It has nothing to do with you — it is all manufactured in their petty, jealous minds — and there is no basis for it. You will be called all sorts of names and subject to the wildest unfounded allegations. Try to ignore them, hurtful as they may be. It’s not about you. It’s about them. Their frustrations, regrets, jealousy, all projected upon you.



— Roger W. Smith

   April 2018

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