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On Ostracism and Other Words

Activity Being Avoided: editing a story that’s not really working
Music In My Head: listening to a homemade playlist entitled “JMMV
Tea Being Drunk: none. I’m between students, filling time. There’s no good tea here.
Books Being Read: The Pier Falls — Mark Haddon


“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”
― Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)

I’m not much of an activist. Truthfully, one might say I totally suck at being an activist. You really do not want me as your front man, regardless of your cause. It’s just not my thing.

That said, I can certainly stand up for something I think is important. Today, I’m standing up for words (which, of course, relate to actions and thoughts.) We’ll have a vocabulary lesson.

Let’s start with this word: ostracism. Here’s part of the spiel thieved from Etymonline:

ostracism (n.) Look up ostracism at Dictionary.com1580s, a method of 10-year banishment in ancient Athens, by which the citizens gathered and each wrote on a potsherd or tile the name of a man they deemed dangerous to the liberties of the people, and a man whose name turned up often enough was sent away.
A similar practice in ancient Syracuse (with banishment for five years) was by writing names on olive leaves, and thus was called petalismos.

 Here’s another word, teach, the etymology of which is taken from the same dictionary (which is certainly serving me well today):

teach (v.) Look up teach at Dictionary.comOld English tæcan (past tense tæhte, past participle tæht) “to show, point out, declare, demonstrate,” also “to give instruction, train, assign, direct; warn; persuade,” from Proto-Germanic *taikijan “to show”…

The usual sense of Old English tæcan was “show, declare, warn, persuade”…

These are some rather definite words. If one were to put them together, i.e. ostracise someone to teach them a lesson, the tone is hostile. This is not something we would do to express affection, love or respect for a person.

Here’s a third word: bigot. Again, let’s follow that with the wisdom from Etymonline:

bigotry (n.) Look up bigotry at Dictionary.com1670s, from French bigoterie “sanctimoniousness,” from bigot (see bigot).

bigot (n.) Look up bigot at Dictionary.com1590s, “sanctimonious person, religious hypocrite,” from French bigot (12c.), which is of unknown origin… Sense extended 1680s to other than religious opinions.

As I am not a journalist, I do not have to be objective; thus, this last word is to voice my opinion.

As a mother and a teacher (as well as just an ordinary human being), I know that kicking people out of a group does nothing to teach them how to behave within that group. While it might make some of the people feel as though the problem has been solved, it’s just been swept under the rug–and under the rug is a good place for things to fester.

Here’s a better word, one that might be more useful, all around: educate.

educate (v.) Look up educate at Dictionary.commid-15c., “bring up (children), to train,” from Latin educatus, past participle of educare “bring up, rear, educate” (source also of Italian educare, Spanish educar, French éduquer), which is a frequentative of or otherwise related to educere “bring out, lead forth,” from ex “out” (see ex-) + ducere “to lead,” from PIE root *deuk- “to lead.”

While considering these words, I (finally) signed this petition because I don’t think being ostracised will do anything to teach the police a lesson.

Allow Police Services to March & Be Present In Uniform at Toronto Pride

Leading and training: that might  help solve the prejudice that’s such a problem in our society.

These aren’t the cops you’re looking for.


Slowly, But Surely

This Varsity article was written by a kid I used to know–who, obviously, is no longer a kid. (Incidentally, his mind was never that of a kid, even when his elementary-school-aged body was tearing around the church graveyard like a crazed chicken. I’m still enjoying the duality.)

Slowly, but surely

During the toughest of times, a student works to rebuild his faith in the kindness of friends and the world around him

By Stephen Warner

For Ireland… and a Few Other Countries

Ask a Person

Activity Being Avoided: editing
Music In My Head: Vanity — The Avett Brothers
Tea Being Drunk: double-strength Barry’s (it’s bloody cold in here, and the time change was this week, and I’m getting the sniffles, damn it all)
Books Being ReadThe Spawning Ground–Gail Anderson-Dargatz, The Well of Loneliness–Radclyff Hall

Rod Smith recently wrote this blog post: I Ask a Woman… I have a thought or two about that post.

Caveat: I was the parent that stayed home with my kids for over fifteen years. I “wore” my kids in slings and backpacks (I think the term is attachment parenting), slept with them until they decided to move to their own beds, homeschooled them until they chose to go to high school.

Becoming a mother was a deliberate act. I pretty much gave up everything to do the best parenting job I could. I tend to work that way: when writing one book, I don’t work on other books; when concentrating on a project, I get irritated by the need to eat and sleep. I’m happier when I focus on one thing at a time. You are free to look at this from any perspective that pleases you, but the fact is…

Image thieved from Shel Silverstein’s _The Missing Piece_.


Of course, there are drawbacks to my way of doing things. The mind-set required to work like this demands ludicrous amounts of time and energy; it’s always physically, psychologically and emotionally taxing. It can be isolating. It limits progress, in a sense, as outside input is usually only permitted between tasks. The lure of perfection is a frequent temptation.

The drawbacks are, in my opinion, negligible compared to the benefits. I feel I work well. I feel I give everything I have. I don’t feel as though I’ve compromised unnecessarily. When I raise my head from the project and present the creation to the world, I rarely have second thoughts about it.

When the kids were younger, questions about my life were always answered with information about the kids. If you ask me now, the response will include students and writing–and very little else. I’m not embarrassed by this. In fact, I’m rather proud of this. If someone is interested in me, or in my life, they’ll be satisfied with my response; if not, I can’t feel obligated to live my life to their standards. (It’s a safe bet they’re not living their life to mine.)

If we ask personal questions, we’re free to be disappointed with the response. If we start asking personal questions with the intent of proselytising, those are no longer questions.


For Kellie Leitch

I have no socially-acceptable words for Kellie Leitch and her video, so I respond with a handful of Americans and string instruments in a locker room.


The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent

My political, social and spiritual comment for the week:

The Moral Obligation to Be Intelligent, by John Erskine (1915)

tl;dr (excerpts)

• When the wise man brings his list of our genuine admirations, will intelligence be one of them?

• “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever.”
Here is the casual assumption that a choice must be made between goodness and intelligence….

• …as a race we seem as far as possible from realising that an action can intelligently be called good only if it contributes to a good end; that it is the moral obligation of an intelligent creature to find out as far as possible whether a given action leads to a good or a bad end; and that any system of ethics that excuses him from that obligation is vicious.

• We make a moral issue of an economic or social question, because it seems ignoble to admit it is simply a question for intelligence.

• In the philosopher’s words, we curse the obstacles of life as though they were devils. But they are not devils. They are obstacles.

• But the lover of intelligence must be patient with those who cannot readily share his passion. (Damn. Ed.)

• Meanwhile he continues to find his virtues by successive insights into his needs. Let us cultivate insight.

Mansplainers in the Garry Woods

Sometimes, I don’t feel like I’m part of my family. I have those adolescent moments (was I adopted?) of wondering how my brain managed to originate from that specific set of genetics.

Then someone tells me a story and, suddenly, I understand exactly where I came from.

Today, my mother told me about “the Garry Woods”*. The Garry Woods was a desolate stretch along a highway, isolated from large populations. My grandfather would, on a bad day, suggest that certain individuals be relocated to the Garry Woods, where they would be allowed to inbreed until they died out. He would make sure they were provided with all modern conveniences and services; he just wanted to take these people out of the gene pool and out of his daily life.

That’s a brilliant thought.

Yesterday, I spent two hours in a meeting. Those of you who know me should understand that this is a precarious situation, even at the best of times. This particular meeting, however, was even further off-kilter (feeling rather like the Titanic a few minutes before it broke in half) because of a group of mansplainers at the end of the table. The mansplainers took up 55 minutes of a 2-hour meeting.

I hereby, at the risk of summoning the wrath of my grandmother’s ghost (though perhaps the rousing support of my grandfather’s), resurrect the idea of sending eejits to the Garry Woods.

* name changed to protect identity