Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Contributed by Bo Alawine - Wasp Nests

When I was a boy growing up on a dirt road near Zero, one of the many rural entertainments available to my brother and me was knocking down wasp nests. This was only marginally safer than one of our other hobbies, mining the gunpowder from fireworks to manufacture WMDs capable of splitting hollow catalpa trees, but I digress. (As for you sadists who think stirring up hornet’s nests is a more enlightened form of entertainment, my brother and I may have been dumb, but we weren’t fools.) The whole point of whacking wasp nests was to protect other people from getting stung. At least that’s what we told our mother. Aside from the dubious “fighting them over there in the shed so we don’t have to fight them here on the porch” rationale, the benefits were manifold. Whacking wasp nests made for a great cardio workout. If you were successful, you could get a hundred yard sprint per wasp nest, depending on how fast you were and how many very grumpy wasps were on your tail. Stings, while contributing to the zeal of the workout regimen, were considered minor occupational hazards unless you happened to incur the wrath of a nest of red wasps. These large, ill-tempered beasts were relentless when disturbed, held a mighty grudge and moved with a velocity which belied their size. We learned very quickly distance was our friend when dealing with red wasps. This led to another benefit: learning how to accurately aim a slingshot loaded with a dirt-laden sweet gum ball. Smart bombs have nothing on sweet gum balls for destructive power, at least on wasp nests and kid brothers. Last, but not least, were the economic benefits. I have no doubt in my mind the manufacturers of Benadryl, meat tenderizer and chewing tobacco are greatly indebted to us. What got me to reminiscing about stirring up wasp nests with sweet gum balls were the interesting reactions to my series of questions concerning the very serious issue of abortion. One of the rewards of having one’s ruminations published for all to read is the feedback of other people. Often as not, it is thought provoking and sometimes downright provocative. What I found most intriguing is that the majority did not to directly address any of my questions but to offer their own interpretations of either my intent or my moral clarity on the issue. This was greatly confusing to me, as I already thought I knew what I meant. In fact, I used my moral compass to build my foundation above the obfuscatory fog. (At this point, Mr. Alawine pats himself on the back for being clever enough to respond to three different columnists in one sentence). The mortal enemies of my youth, wasps, possessed a certainty of conviction. They led simple lives, with simple goals: feed the young and protect the nest. Along comes the knucklehead launching the Sweet Gum Ball of Mass Destruction (SGBMD), upsetting their nice little world. As is their nature, the wasps would immediately swarm, most searching for the cause of their confusion and disorder. Only after attempting to administer swift and terrible punishment, would they calm down, muttering to themselves, and return to their staid lives, incapable of contemplating why the SGBMD was sent special delivery, courtesy of Slingshot Express. Being a curmudgeon-in-training, I frequently lob the figurative SGBMD into the well-ordered, respectable opinions of those who fervently believe they hold the moral high ground. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. Interestingly, most of the reactions bear a striking similarity to those of my insect antagonists. As a student of human nature, I have noted people often do not wish to have their cherished notions of ethics, morality and fair play challenged. They instinctively attack the messenger, build and knock down straw men, or pooh-pooh the validity of the questions raised. People should be able to thoroughly explore and rationally discuss the issues of our time. The inability or unwillingness to see other viewpoints, debate the questions at hand and work out the particulars is at the crux of a number of the problems in this country. A dogmatic insistence that one particular world-view is the only lens through which all life can be safely viewed fails to address the various facets of each of these problems. “Because God said so” or “Because I said so” is not the answer to the questions which may make us uncomfortable or may cause us to re-examine our convictions. These responses require no effort of thought and are designed to avoid the hard task of defending a particular position. Admittedly, I am an amateur practitioner of polemics. I have a weakness for wiping the smug smiles off of the faces of pundits whose certainty is absolute. Having said this, I will also state it is a guiding principle of mine that when I offer my opinion to the rest of humanity, I darn well better be able to defend it or admit I was wrong and learn from my mistake(s). I hold other opinion peddlers to the same standard. The logical result of applying this principle is that sometimes opinions push people out of their comfort zones. A wise old saw once told me opinions were like bellybuttons: everyone has one and they all stink. Having an opinion doesn’t mean you have a monopoly on the truth. It should be an expression of what you think, and a good one should make other people think. Nearly forty years later, I’m passing through my second childhood, firing sweet gum balls into wasp nests. I guess I’m a slow learner. Who’d a thunk it?

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