I have mixed feelings about everything. I am sort of a master of ambivalence. When my buddy and I were starting up the union and walking on thin ice with the administration and with our colleagues, sometimes—since he was more active in a daily way than I—he would come to me for a consult because he said I was the “conscience of the writing program.” He was a funny guy and actually said things like that…
I felt sort of odd being the conscience of the writing program, because I didn’t know what that meant. But he would have a bit of a dilemma about something; should we tell x what we had heard y say about z. Or something to that effect. Or should we hold a secret meeting to plan policy because d and e were disruptive. And then I would say, well, I have mixed feelings, and go round and round looking at the question, all the time making the question less a matter of whether we should or not and more a matter of the nature of the question and what might be implied in it from a moral, ethical point of view, so in the end I wouldn’t be talking about the question at all, but about what it meant to be a human being, and the nature of decency, and the role of trust. And he would listen and say, yes, you are right (not because I was right but because he knew he tended to think more in terms of strategy and power politics and I didn’t).
I was doing the mixed feelings thing this morning at the club. We had a tiny bit of rain last night, finally. One guy said, “Well, that wasn’t much rain.” He seemed to be condemning the tiny bit of rain for being tiny, so I said, “Yes, but maybe it’s the amount we need right now to get the green stuff growing a bit on the hills, so if the next rain is a big one we won’t have flooding.” And another guy said, he had gone out to check his garden and the rain hadn’t gone down very far, and I said, “Yes, but I bet your garden is happy for the little bit it got.” “You are certainly right about that,” he said. So I said, “But of course the weeds will be happy too.”
I think I do this all the time and am not even aware I am doing it. My favorite sentence construction must be “yes, but.” A student says something and I say why yes of course that’s right, I can see that. But..” I think the “yes, but” comes from some sort of attempt on my part to get the whole picture into focus. This can cause problems because you can come across internal contradictions in your own thinking, and if you are trying to look at the whole you have to admit there’s a contradiction.
This one old guy has been talking at me for several days about Global Warming. So, he says, “If there is Global Warming, why are these people, especially liberals, going on about rebuilding New Orleans. Shouldn’t we just close the whole thing down?” I felt hoist on my own petard because I believe there is global warming, and if there is then he might be right. Just shut down New Orleans. Then as I was talking with him, the whole question switched to another level. This guy doesn’t believe there is global warming or let’s say he believes in it but not as a byproduct of humanity’s destructive habits, but because the globe is simply warming up as we go out of an ice age. For him the whole global warming thing is beyond human control (and human responsibility). In the face of this implacable reality “New Orleans” should be closed down; this would be the logical and rational response to a change in nature. But since I believe Global warming is at least partly the result of human activity, I don’t see the warming thing as being quite as implacable. Thus save New Orleans because who knows, if we change our ways a bit, it might not just disappear under 20 feet of water.
The guy I was talking to is not into “yes, but” thinking, he is more either/or.
We had a little bit of rain yesterday, but the clouds are still hanging out….as they go further north.