Thursday, January 11, 2018


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Greetings between humans are many and varied. Arabs may hug like bears. The French might kiss a cheek. In the Andaman Islands, weeping is not uncommon. The ancient Egyptian cowered, while the knights of medieval England went to one knee. For the Japanese, etiquette demands the bow. Despite the disparity, one of the most common greetings for all humans is the handshake.

All forms of greetings have their origins in antiquity. Grasping hands or forearms was for Greeks, Romans and even ancient Hindus a means of showing friendship or partnership. The joining of hands was a symbolic act which sealed a pact or confirmed a peace. Dextram dare, for the Roman, was a pledge of faith. It means to give the right hand.

If the handshake is a symbolic act, what lies beyond the symbol? Why is the right hand given, and not the left? And what is the relationship between the grasping of hands, the embrace, the kiss?

90% of all people everywhere are right handed.1 It becomes the knife hand, the spear hand, the sword hand. Power resides in that right hand. Though "handedness" is still a controversial subject scientifically2, traditionally the right hand was considered the magical or lucky side. Conversely, left handers were looked upon as odd. Southpaws are tagged with nicknames, and the origin of our word sinister comes from the Latin meaning to the left. They bump elbows when they eat, and they can never find a decent set of golf clubs. Mea dextra, by my right hand, vowed the gladiator as to battle he went. And so today all men and women reach out with the "right" hand when they meet.

Ma-ai, in Japanese, means distancing, keeping the correct spacing between oneself and one's opponent. The opponent, the stranger, must be kept at a safe distance until intent can be discerned. In general, that safe distance was at least an arm's length. If the opponent had a weapon, the distance was increased proportionately.

We feel uncomfortable with people who "get in our space" or "get in our face"; but friends are invited inside an arm's length by an extended hand. In effect, by offering a hand we make ourselves vulnerable, we trust. By offering the hand, we open the heart.

What then of the embrace, the kiss? At each point from hand to lips more is offered, and the more vulnerable we become. With the kiss, such a casual greeting in today's world, a person enters what Chinese martial artists call the death ground.3 In the streets of San Francisco, no one gives it a second thought. The origin and symbolism---the reality?--- of these greetings, if known at all, apparently do not concern us. The need for such wariness in today's world seems, for the most part, slightly ridiculous. And yet ...

Grammar Note: The phrase "get in our face"; appears in the next to last paragraph. This note turns on the position of the semi-colon in relation to the quotation marks. American usage would have the punctuation inside the quotation marks. I prefer British usage, and place the semi-colon (or comma) outside the quotation marks. After all, the punctuation is distinct from the quote, and its position should reflect this.

3 Griffith, Samuel (translator), Sun Tzu The Art of War (Oxford Univ. Press, London), 131.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


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Argument, perhaps, is the wrong word. Regardless, the discussion that follows is quite simple. The main points are these: No one is right, no one is wrong. No one wins. No one loses. An argument demands at least two sides and polarity. Integrity has no sides.

Change makes argument futile. Everything changes. Everything is finite. By definition, finite means to have definite, definable limits; or to have a limited nature of existence. Change inevitable follows.

There it is. Simple

Unfortunately, the implications of finiteness are most complicated. Humans seem hard wired to judge and contend. Though aware that nothing stays the same, that everything changes, they insist that if it changes THIS way, it is good; if it changes THAT way it is bad. Polarity.

Both those for THIS and those for THAT seem to agree on the notion of progress. An imperative of western civilization is that problems can always be resolved and that change can be beneficial. That is progress. That is improving mankind's lot. If things don't change for the better, it is going to be bad.

Polar bears are dying in the Arctic. Starving to death. Falling to disease. A few biologists agonize over solutions. Species are disappearing all over the planet. Something must be done, but what? What is the right thing to do?

Think globally, act locally. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Go green. Save the planet.

A broad view suggests that this is chasing our tails. There is nothing to do. Environmentalist understand this. They understand that the more one does to manage the planet, the more that has to be done. Clearly the thing to do is nothing. Step away and let the earth heal itself.

Step away and heal ourselves.

The universe is complex and interconnected. The Earth and its biomass is equally complex and interconnected. Billions of humans doing this and that make for further complications. It is a tight fit with all of us here, and getting tighter. Most of us are feeling the pinch.

Feeding those starving bears, for example, kills them. Unless feed is provided forever. And then the bears become dependents, become something akin to domestic stock. And what is wrong with that? Live domesticated animals are better than dead wild animals? But remember, the more one does, the more that needs to be done. Move the bears to reservations? Breed seals to feed them? Teach them to ring bells or dance for their dinner?

And there is this: Humans are all too finite themselves. Everything that should be done cannot be done. Humans are only human after all.

Changes will come. Good, bad or indifferent. The Earth will abide, in all likelihood, far beyond the brief tenure of homo sapiens. Do nothing. Carry water, chop wood is the ancient Chinese dictum. Eat, sleep, go to the bathroom. Do nothing more. The planet could use the respite.

Simple as that.