Not long after my adult life on the North Shore began, I needed excavation work done around the cabin. I made a list, drew sketches, and worked out all the important details in my head. I was abundantly prepared to have the project done. When the contractor arrived, I was in fine form, explaining just exactly what I wanted done and how I wanted it done in a precise order. The man, thirty years my senior, listened politely and patiently until I’d reeled out all my expertise and the entire magnificent plan lay before him. I’d made my point. I was paying. I was in control and he knew it.
The old guy, an individual with one of those “character” faces made of wrinkles, stubble, and teeth called “choppers,” looked at me in a way not showing much appreciation of my superior planning. In fact, he made an odd face and scratched his chin. “Have you ever done one of these before?” Was he kidding? I was a liberal arts scholar, not a dozer operator. “No,” I answered, wondering why he’d ask such a question. Wasn’t the answer obvious? “Well I have,” he said in a voice I might have used trying to send insight to a student dubious about the virtues of “Moby Dick.” “So why don’t you just let me do it instead of you trying?” The statement had me back on my heels. If it was literary criticism or debate, he’d have shut my argument down to a whimper. But being better in his field than I was in mine, he had a coup de grace for me. “Whyn’t you go to the store and get a six pack. I’ll be thirsty in a while.” I went to the store. When I returned I put the beer away and waited for him to ask for one. I drank one, too. He didn’t say a word. Neither did I .What was there to talk about?  Each of us knew the score. And in case you’re wondering, he did an excellent job. I’d say he did better than I’d planned on.
There is something to be said for acknowledging the skills another has and giving them the credit to use them. I know a lot of people like me who enjoy planning. How far is it from planning to masterminding, and from there to being a pompous ass? People who’ve known me can give a short, sharp reply. The distance is short and in many ways painful and unnecessary. Observing that distance is one of the things I need to do periodically. I require doing so, for instance, when I approach an airport. Ever since my dad’s pilot instructor scared the wits out of my nine-year-old body and showed me it was possible to pee while upside down in a roll, I’ve been a little nervous about flight. A PT-19 doing fighter stunts was not the best intro to the joys of flying—well, not for me strapped into a seat by myself. No, it wasn’t good. In 1954, for this little Hopalong Cassidy fan the whine of an aircraft plunging earthward meant one thing, death. I’d seen my share of war films. I knew the whining sound and its end. The roar of the engine drowned my screams while Will executed dives and barrel rolls. When finally released from the belts that held me, I’d have made the run from Illinois to Indiana in thirty seconds for a cross border escape, but wet pants slowed me down as did hurtling to clutch the earth with both scrawny arms. I am not a happy flier. To fly at all requires me to gear up mentally. I used to think I’d handle the strain better were I in control, but really that delusion is about the same as my masterminding the excavation job. I’d be worse off if I was in control. Much worse off.

I’ve also learned some arguments can’t be won. They’re not really arguments, actually, when positions are drawn as absolutes with a little gussy of civility and “free speech” dangled like earrings on a beast of Frankenstein proportion. Does anyone not asleep believe one of those blistering anti-union attacks would ever lead to acknowledgment of the improved standard of living brought by fairly compensating workers? Is there proof collective bargaining is bad and whoever works for less is better? (Let’s hope it’s not skilled work.) I mean, some things are not arguments or discussions. When given a prod and poke, they prove themselves to be supposed laws of nature or divine ordinance. I’ve learned that absolutist arguments come from nut bar know-it-alls as I myself can so easily be.
The absolute absolutists are definitely the divine ones. It can’t get any better than when a mortal gets to speak and pass judgment for the Almighty. I came across a particularly good example recently in a seemingly modest request to strengthen free speech by making all expression of anything insulting to any religion or derogatory of any sacred subject illegal as hate speech. No, I didn’t make that up. You need to be of a certain absolute mindset to come up with something like that in the first place and think you’d fool very many with a freedom of speech ploy used to support blasphemy/hate laws. The proposal I saw was longer and required the Danish government to apologize to a religious “nation” (tricky concept there) and promise never to offend again. You’ll have as much success getting freedom of expression and of speech out of such a proposition as you’ll have with “freedom of workers from unions” (a.k.a. “right to work”) being pretty much another way to say “employer’s right to fire without cause.” It’s not workers’ rights when they are handed to employers to control, and it’s not freedom of speech when control is handed to the divinely delusional. I have words for those things but don’t want to spoil your lunch.