Latest entries

Peace won’t come until you quit obeying long-gone programmers

by David McElroy

It’s a staple of science fiction for a robot to dutifully obey its programming and keep performing the task it was given long after its designers are dead and the task is useless.

One of the most emotionally satisfying tales of this sort is Pixar’s 2008 film “WALL•E.” For 700 years, this little robot has been alone on Earth cleaning up the trash humans left behind when they left the planet. It’s a useless job at this point, but it’s the job he’s been given, so that’s what he does — day after day and year after year.

WALL•E’s human creators are long gone but he doesn’t question what he’s been programmed to do. Over the centuries, though, he develops curiosity and something in him finds the awareness that something isn’t quite right.

WALL•E realizes he’s lonely — something his programmers never prepared him to deal with. When another robot finally shows up on the planet, he falls in love. That love for another robot gives him the incentive to go beyond his programming — to find ways to fill a need he didn’t know he had — but it requires him to give up the task he had been mindlessly doing for all those years in order to pursue Eve instead.

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Your words of kindness can show love to strangers struggling in life

by David McElroy

I was about to leave Chick-fil-A Wednesday evening when I noticed a young woman come in who looked exhausted — as though she had been battling monsters all day.

She was tall and slim, with straight black hair and dark brown skin. She wore black pants and a tailored solid blue shirt that fit her frame tastefully.

Even though she seemed tired, she looked graceful and elegant. She looked lovely. We met one another near the door and spoke politely as we passed.

Then as she stood at the counter waiting for someone to take her order, I quickly went over and spoke.

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Emotional health shapes reality of romance more than personality type

by David McElroy

As I read aloud from the book, I could tell that my girlfriend was increasingly upset by what she was listening to. It was nearly a decade ago and my then-girlfriend and I had been learning more about ourselves by working our way through a personality system called ANSIR. I was reading a section of a book which discussed a long-term pairing of her type and my type.

“Then we don’t have any chance, do we?” she said with tears in her eyes once I finished.

I was at a stage in our relationship when I thought we probably should split up. For me, the book was just pointing out obvious problems between us that needed work. In a way, I was letting this book guide us toward the breakup that I thought I wanted and that I thought was right.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation lately and about a lot of the discussions she and I had during that period. Was I right in believing that our personality differences were driving our problems? Was she right in concluding we had no chance because of what the book said about our core differences?

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I wasn’t ready for another dog yet, but Lucy needed a ‘forever home’

by David McElroy

When a former neighbor asked me last year whether I was willing to adopt a dog who needed a home, I said no — and I was emphatic about it.

I already had more cats than I wanted to admit, so there was no room at the inn. I love dogs — and missed having them around, too — but I was determined not to have another dog as long as I was living alone. Dogs require a lot of work and since I no longer work from home, it didn’t seem fair to have a dog waiting all day for me to return.

I had absolutely no intention of adopting a dog yet. And that was final.

But one year later, my best canine friend is celebrating her first full year with me today. How did that happen?

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Silence and darkness allow us to listen to what world drowns out

by David McElroy

I’m sitting in my quiet and darkened office Sunday evening. There are a few raindrops still falling outside and they make gentle sounds as they hit the trees and ground. The only light is from a porch across the street, and that single bulb gently illuminates the rain and condensation on the front windows.

In the stillness, I can hear something which is frequently drowned out by the noise of the world. When the natural silence around me is such that every tiny sound becomes like the crash of cymbals, I can hear something inside myself.

Something in there has a lot to say when I can be quiet enough to listen. My heart feels a lot of things deeply and desperately needs someone to hear those things. My soul seems to know things about truth and wisdom and knowledge that come from somewhere beyond my understanding. Bits and pieces of me have a lot to say — and I need to hear them.

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Who is God? What’s objective truth? All I know are my own experiences

by David McElroy

Who speaks for God? Who has the knowledge, wisdom and authority to say, “In the name of God, this is The Truth”?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that this week, but few people would find my thoughts satisfying. That’s because people want certainty. They want to say, “This is who God is and what happens after death,” or they want to say, “There is no god and nothing exists outside of the physical world.”

And whatever people believe about God, most of them are eager to tell you that you ought to believe what they believe — or else you’re a sinner or you’re a fool.

How can we even talk about what’s true and what’s not? Everything we believe is built on subjective experience and assumptions. Some of those assumptions are shared with others, but very few of them are specifically defined.

You’re not in my head and heart — and I’m not in yours — so we have very little way of truly understanding the core of what other people believe or experience. In fact, the evidence suggests our minds are so complex that there isn’t even a unitary “me” inside each of us with anything approaching consistency of belief. Some of the parts of our brains literally can’t communicate with certain other parts — and those parts frequently have different needs and wants.

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Pursuing transcendent meaning is rebellion against modern culture

by David McElroy

You’re sitting in front of a television screen and you absently switch from channel to channel to channel with a remote control. You’re distracted. Bored. Your mind is elsewhere. But before you know it, you’ve spent an hour or more watching things that were only mildly interesting — and you don’t know why.

I’ve done that. I suspect almost everybody has.

The pervasive power of television to take over my life was one of the factors which led to me eliminating TV programming from my life for the most part years ago. (I’ve written about that before and talked about the influence of Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” which I still strongly recommend.)

After I quit watching television, I thought I had taken permanent control of the “media ecology” around me and that I had control of which messages were going to bombard me, but I was wrong. I didn’t see social media coming and I had no idea what the web would evolve into as a whole.

Today, I don’t sit in front of a television with a remote control. I sit in front of a MacBook and go through a dizzying array of websites which make what I watched on television seem manageable by comparison. Once again, I find myself struggling against a pervasive popular culture — coming to me through a wildly popular medium — in an effort to control my time and my thoughts.

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Goodbye, Courtney Haden

by David McElroy

When I received the rough cut of my short film 10 years ago from an editor in Los Angeles, it still felt woefully unfinished and I was afraid I didn’t have anything that really worked. Inside, I was panicking. The guy in LA had bailed on the project right before it was finished, so I had to figure out how to finish locally.

I went to visit Ed Boutwell, the legendary founder of the local Boutwell Studios, down at his home in Shelby County. He watched my rough cut and told me I had something great, even though he disagreed with my libertarian satire since he was a progressive left guy. Because he thought it was good —and because he was eager to help a wannabe artist — he agreed to help me.

Ed told me I could get a local video editor to easily make the final picture cuts and credits but I mostly needed someone good to work with me on the audio recording, music selection and final audio mix.

Ed was retired, but he set me up to work with Courtney Haden, whose voice I had heard on Birmingham radio for years — mostly notably on Kicks 106 when it ruled local rock radio — and who was now co-owner of Boutwell Studios. Courtney had been a star of local FM rock morning drive radio at a couple of stations — and he still had the voice and personality I recognized.

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It often takes the approach of death
to wake us up from a dead-end life

by David McElroy

What does it mean to live? Are you alive as long as your heart is beating and your brain is functioning? Or does really living require something more?

In 1952, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa addressed those questions in an ambitious film he called “Ikiru,” which translates “to live.” (Click the title for the trailer.) The film makes it clear from the beginning that Kanji Watanabe is going to die. We know this before he does. Watanabe is a lifelong bureaucrat who’s the section chief of the Public Affairs Bureau of a large city.

Watanabe has been living his life in the same way for decades. His wife is dead and he has devoted his decades to saving money and giving a good life to his ungrateful son. But after he realizes he’s going to die, he feels empty and alone. He realizes his life has been meaningless. With the help of a couple of other people, he explores what meaning life can have. He first pursues pleasure in a hedonistic way and then afterward realizes he feels a sense of life in a young woman who has worked under him.

Using her as his example, Watanabe suddenly figures out how to give meaning to his last weeks and months. Nobody knows he’s dying, but he throws himself into this purpose — and he finds redemption for himself just before he dies. The last scene in which we see him — which is part of the flashbacks in which co-workers are figuring out what happened to him — is a touching picture of a man at peace with himself after finding purpose. He tenderly sings a song from his youth about life being brief. (The picture above is a frame from that scene.)

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To stay sane and fight life’s battles, we aliens need places of sanctuary

by David McElroy

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God….
— Psalm 73:16-17 (ESV)

As I listened to the people around me squabbling with each other Monday night, I felt a vague sense of unease. They snapped at one another. They were petty. On the surface, things were almost civil, but you could feel the hostility of unhappy people taking their feelings out on others.

I felt completely out of place.

I felt as though the boiling anger in these people’s spirits should be obvious to everyone. Much of what I was seeing seemed to be outward projections of internal rage at self. The tension in the air felt emotionally painful to me.

Once more, I felt like an alien among creatures who made no sense to me. Once more, I needed to find peace somewhere. I needed sanctuary from the world. I needed a person, a place or a loving spirit which made sense — which gave me refuge from the storm of this world’s banal and routine hatred.

Again and again, I’ve tried to make sense of this world — and of the people of this world — and I’m left frustrated and feeling alone. What’s more, I can’t find a sense of peace. And like the ancient psalmist, I found myself needing sanctuary — where there might be refuge and understanding.

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I rarely have the time to respond. (Sorry.) Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”

Watch this short film

What kind of "educational film" would the U.S. government release today to teach Americans how to be good citizens?
We're the Government — and You're Not
Official selection of 20 film festivals
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