Glass half what?

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on September 17, 2009
Glass .001 percent full..............(Single-celled organism)

Glass .001 percent full

Glass 99.999 percent full........(Beyonce Knowles)
Glass 99.999 percent full

Are you a “glass-half-full” person or a “glass-half-empty” person?

I’ve always thought that question was really dumb. It seems to me that any living entity has something going for it at some level. So why limit our way of looking at our overall fortunes in human life to such a crude, binary construct?

For those who insist on that approach, I think the more relevant way of getting the same basic information would be: Are you alive or are you dead?

If your answer is that you are dead, then just move on. Nothing else for you to see here. There are no half-full glasses or even half-empty ones for you. There is only the void. But thanks for participating in our survey this far, ladies and gentlemen.

Now, if your answer is that you actually are alive, that’s where things start to get interesting.

The photo at left is a microscopic view of a living paramecium that some scientist actually took the time to rescue from a freshwater pond in Tallahassee, Fla. Who knows what its “purpose” is by any of our walking-around definitions. But according to the website where I found the photo, these critters are among the most complex single-celled organisms out there. Something like 75,000 individual species of paramecium have been identified. As a life form, that little blob has enough going for it that lots of scientists have spent lots of time and entire careers counting up and recording all those variations. If just one of those suckers — just ONE — were found to exist on a planet orbiting a star in some faraway galaxy, it would be a cosmic game changer. It would immediately be voted People Magazine’s “Sexiest Thing Alive.” So as noted in the caption, I’m going ahead and saying its “glass” as a living entity is at least .001 percent full.

In the photo on the right is the multiple Grammy-Award winning global megastar Beyonce Knowles. She really needs no introduction. Just based on her beauty, talent and character alone I’ll go out on a limb and say her “glass” is 99.999 percent full.

Now here’s where the fun part comes in. Let’s go ahead and rate some other living things on this new scale we’ve created. Snakes and lizards? I think they clearly rate a “half-full” glass simply because they have mobility, the ability to hunt and eat food and some primitive level of consciousness. Any creature as beautiful and mechanically complex as a bird? It can do everything already mentioned and also gets to sing and fly? Glass 75 percent full, no question. Mammals? With their warm blood and sensational sex lives? Glass 80 percent full, thank you very much. Domesticated pets with good owners? They get to be pampered in the comfort and safety of human homes? Welcome to the 90 percentile range, Chopper and Kaley.

This new quality-of-life rating system is all very good news for most human beings. So I think many of us who might moan a bit too much about what we see as our sorry lot in life should maybe just tone it down a bit. In fact, if you are such a smart and curious enough person that you are still interested this far into a post this insane, I think it means you automatically qualify as someone whose glass is 99 percent full. Who knows? You may even be right up there with Beyonce. Okay, you might not be quite as beautiful or half as talented or even fractionally as famous as her — but who really could be? And who really cares anyway? We’re only talking about a few thousandths of a single percentage point either way. It really doesn’t matter. (But think about how much our celebrity and beauty and “success” obsessed culture spends worrying about those few thousandths of points. Entire industries have been built on exploiting our individual insecurities about those microscopic variations.)

What I do think we should spend more time worrying about is how our society treats things such as long-term sickness and profound disability and clinical depression and mental illness and poverty and homelessness — just in our own country. We should ask ourselves why it seems so easy to disregard and devalue (or just not think too much about) the lives of fellow human beings who occupy those categories. Why would we ever want to disregard them? Isn’t that sort of like leaving a glass that’s at least 95 or 96 or 97 percent full just sitting neglected on life’s collective kitchen counter?

Pardon my rambling. I have, of course, gotten loopy by this point because of all the chemo and radiation I’m going through. In fact, by way of full disclosure, I should say that most of the daily topics for this blog come to me in the morning as I’m laid out on the radiation table, smelling my own crispy-crittered brain cells and listening to 80s rock music. (Thank God I’m two-thirds of the way through it now.) But the whole reason I thought of this topic Wednesday morning is because I was laying there thinking about all the time and energy people are expending right now to help me out, either in person or by sending me food, letters and messages of support on a daily basis. I mean, I’m just one guy. All I represent is one life.

I think what it proves is how much we all do instinctively value life and each individual life so much. I just wish we all — myself included — could find a way to go with that feeling more intensely and on a more regular basis; not only in how we view the value of our own lives, but in how we treat others day in and day out. Why should someone we know have to get something as gnarly as brain cancer in order for us to prove to ourselves the fundamental truth of our own goodness?

Enough of this already. My buddy Dave Noland has been spending this week with me, helping out. After coming into the room where I am and seeing the headline on this post just now, he told me he has a T-shirt with a photo of a half-consumed pint of Guinness beer on it. The caption on the shirt reads: “Some people say this glass is half full. Others say it’s half empty. But the Irish just say: Are you finished with that?”

That T-shirt says everything I was just trying to say, only way better and more succinctly than my meandering post did.

Thank God I’m Irish. I am alive and I am not yet finished with that. And anyone who thinks otherwise can kiss my glass.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Yesterday’s post featuring “Bad Ass” vs. “Crazy Ass” drew lots of reaction. Most folks seemed to come down in favor of Bad Ass, and most predictably the women (all except for my supersmart lifelong friend Becky Royal and my 7-year-old niece Elizabeth). But I think we should all follow Becky and Elizabeth’s example and cut Crazy Ass some slack. Okay? After all Bad Ass is merely a costume, a facade, a mask. Stay away from that guy, girls! He doesn’t even exist. Crazy Ass is real.


7 Responses

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  1. Pat & Becky said, on September 17, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Some say the glass is half empty…some say the glass is half-full.

    Me? I’m just wondering where the Hell that waitress went.

    No tip for you, beee-atch!


  2. Kelly J Fent said, on September 17, 2009 at 10:20 am

    So you’re saying I’m almost up there with Beyonce? Wow! I always thought, by comparison, I was much closer to the paramecium’s level. You just made my day, Sean. Now if I can only get Kanye to give me an inappropriate shout-out…

    If Brian and Dave are still there, give them a navel nerk for me – unless that goes against doctor’s orders.

  3. Michael Blumfield said, on September 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

    There’s much wisdom and generosity in your blog today, as usual. But I think your questioning our collective attention to the fate of a single individual overlooks some key elements in the way we humans decide whether one of our kind is worthy.

    Take the way we all regard mammals. My experience as a reporter was that people would respond with greater empathy and concern for the plight of a cute dog in trouble than a person facing difficulties. And that’s not entirely irrational. We know the dog is “innocent” in that it didn’t contribute to its situation. With a person, we’re never quite sure. Even with kids, we wonder what role a parent might have had in creating whatever challenges are at issue.

    In part, this is because we don’t want to think that our own lives are as subject to random forces as they might actually be. It’s also because we judge one another based on attitudes, values, actions and the overall contribution to society. (Let’s put aside the medical support issue for now—that’s a separate discussion about how a culture determines the way to spend its resources in support of health that strays from the point I’m trying to make.)

    So the reason we all respond so strongly to you, Sean, is because you have demonstrated your value to us throughout your life. We’ve been delighted to count you among our friends and family members, prizing your creativity, insights, brilliance, fun, iconoclasm and spirit. The blog itself is an act of tremendous generosity and inspiration.

    Contrast that with the behavior of your choice of the most despicable human you can think of. As a stand-in, let’s say Bernie Madoff (there are worse people to pick, but he’ll due to illustrate the point.) Let’s say Madoff was writing a blog about facing a terminal illness. Do you think we’d be reading it? Would his former colleagues be preparing meals for him and trying to make sure the jailers passed them along to him? How full is Madoff’s glass? After a life of deception, self-indulgence and ruination of all of those around him, does he even deserve the 60 percent that other mammals get? If you want to give him a pass because he hasn’t killed anyone, insert Hitler, Mao, Ted Bundy or any other killer you wish.

    Our duty as humans, I think, is to make sure we’re stretching our capacity as far as possible so that when someone looks at us and decides how full our glass is, we’re at a level in which people would care deeply about us because we’ve shown that same concern toward others and acted on it. You’ve done that, Sean, and that’s why people people care so much about you. We can use your example to do the same. ourselves.

  4. fish said, on September 17, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    another wonderful post – thanks Sean! i look forward to reading you every day – and just used you as a great example of storytelling/viral message to a roomful of Tallahassee PR people!

  5. maxtrue said, on September 17, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Sean, maybe we do have some emotional buffers that protect us from the truth, the mind-numbing terrifying truth. Gurdjieff said something like that many decades ago. And in shutting that deeper truth out, we also shut out the wonderful and redeeming part of truth, which can transform and liberate. When we are forced to the edge by misfortune and time to confront our deepest fears, we also can discover the hidden beauty of it all.

    Not all will embrace the loving side of truth in those intense hours and instead become overwhelmed by the darker part like a bad trip. (Why did this just remind me of that time Jimmy Carter talked down a phone caller who was freaking out on acid?) Well, Jimmy, this is one reason I visit. You remind me that no matter fearful things may get, how full or empty our glass appears to be, we must drink and enjoy life.

    That you can do this seems the result your life long self-creation of spirit, the influences and convictions of your life and your fate. I suspect this will of yours will buy you far more time to enjoy life and share your insight with others. Indoing so, you help us to lift our own glasses, not be afraid to live each moment and walk the road we must all travel.

    Thank you for that.

  6. maxtrue said, on September 17, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Ha, it must have been TM where Jimmy has come up Lardie, that made me think of Carter. Wow, now that’s a long way traveled from prescribing vitamin Bs for bad trips to describing conservative opposition as racism…. I remember our conversations about that card.

    Sorry for the political interjection, I wouldn’t want you to forget what you have been missing on the mundane side of social reality…… It begs the question of whether the bowl is half full or half empty, yes?

  7. […] The only requirement is that you be alive. And if in addition to being very alive you are very happy, you win. Just like I did […]

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