What Two Questions Would You Like To Be Asked? What Would You Answer?

Photo by flickr user cliff1066

Last night, my 12-year-old son and I were spending some quiet time together before bed. I feel lucky in that we both were sort of in a contemplative mood, and we began asking each other questions. Things like:

  • “Name two things you are proud of about yourself.”
  • “What two places would you like to visit, where you have never been?”
  • “Your favorite two friends and why?”
  • “What three living people would you like to meet?”
  • “What three historical figures would you like to meet?”

I hasten to point out that this is not a normal occurrence in our house. We don’t sit around talking philosophy all the time — we’re just as likely to be found watching the latest episode of Fringe or checking out Ellen.

But, last night, everything sort of lined up and we were on a roll. In the moment, I remember getting shivers. I knew this would be a moment I would look back on. As a parent, it was awesome.

Then, as bed time was drawing near, we were sort of winding down. Then my son asked me this question:

  • “Say you were on Oprah. What two questions would you like her to ask you, and how would you answer them?”

I opened my mouth to answer. Closed it. Opened it again. Closed it. Stayed thinking for a while.

I realized I did not know the answer to that. It’s an excellent question. In essence, my son was asking me, “What two things do you want to tell people?”

What a wonderful, expansive, meaningful question. Even the choices we make about how to approach it hold meaning. Do I want to tell you about my philosophy of life (if I have one)? The big lesson I have learned? Do I want to tell a story about something I love? Do I want to share knowledge?

I just didn’t know. Today, the morning after, I am still unsure. But now I have an excellent tool for self-reflection. What are my “Oprah answers?”

What are yours?

Lesson Learned From Juan Williams: The Center Cannot Hold

I recall the day I met Juan Williams in the elevator. It was a couple of years ago. I was in the C-SPAN / FOX building overlooking the Capitol; we were both going down the elevator after our respective Fox appearances. We chatted. He handed me his card — NPR. He won’t remember it.

But for me, that appearance cemented my decision to abandon any aspiration to being a pundit.

For years, literally since before blogs were called blogs, I had been writing essays on public life, politics, and ethics. I really had little to say about partisan issues, and I was equally maddening to folks on the left and the right (if my hate email is to be believed).  I remember once, my editor at the Christian Science Monitor begged me to divulge my party affiliation in one essay on our divisive political culture — I refused (and I think the essay is stronger for it).

Eventually, I got noticed by a new outlet that focused on conservative issues but that also was making noises about wanting “other” voices. So I began writing for Pajamas Media. Some of my stories got picked up in small ways. I got a link from Instapundit.  And I began to get invitations from Fox-TV to appear.

The day I met Juan Williams, I was appearing to talk about a piece I had written decrying the onslaught of almost-porn everywhere one looks. My article was fairly meditative, and I did not breathe fire and brimstone. But my time on TV was decidedly odd. In those remote situations, you can’t see anything; you are in a dark booth with a headphone. So a disembodied voice fired questions at me, goading me into saying the world was going to Hell. It was very, very clear the role I was supposed to be playing: angry prude. I just didn’t go there, and the host seemed peeved.

I left that appearance somewhat despondent. I knew I disappointed the hosts, and I’m the kind of people-pleaser who doesn’t like to feel he’s disappointed.

But as I thought about it, I realized that the venue was not for me. My thoughts and opinions have too much “on the one hand, on the other hand” to them. Talk TV requires its personalities to be unequivocal, and to never say, “Hmmm, you may have a point.” I decided that I just wasn’t cut out for this punditry business. I realized that the people who sought out my writing weren’t looking for anger, but contemplation. That doesn’t make good TV. I have nothing against Fox (or there alterego, shout channel, MSNBC), I am just not a good personality for them.

So now, years later, I feel for Juan Williams. He is a thoughtful person, and was torn between two worlds. On the one hand he had his NPR gig, where he could steer clear of ham-handed opinion in favor of contemplation. On the other hand, he had his Fox gig, where he was paid to be the moderate in an incendiary milieu — a context where he the only way to really get a word in is to shout.

It couldn’t last and it didn’t. He said something that seemed to some to cross a line (this article isn’t about whether it did or not, so I won’t tell you what I think). NPR decided it was too much. Fox said “awesome,” and handed him a $2 million contract extension.

Again — I have nothing against Fox, or Juan Williams (whom I find thoughtful and who was very friendly to me).

I just wish there was an audience for deliberation rather than debate.

Using Square: Another Step Toward A Cashless Lifestyle

The 'Square' Card Reader

Yesterday, after long delays, I finally got my Square card reader, so I thought I would put it through its paces.

What is Square? It’s a way of accepting payments from regular people using credit cards. You get this little card reader that just plugs into your smartphone.

It is dead simple. Let’s say you just sold your friend an old Ace of Base CD. They don’t have cash. You just insert the little card reader doohickey into your smartphone, punch in the sale price, and swipe his card. He signs and that’s it. You get your money (minus a small percentage) deposited into your bank account each week (up to about $1,000, beyond that they make other arrangements).

I like this service, though it might not be for everyone. I like it because it is one less reason to carry cash around, and the mechanics of making it work are pretty seamless. Plus, the equipment is as small as a single die.

Here’s a demo video of me paying myself, to show you how it works: