Written November 27, 2021 ©Robert J. Harris, PhD
It’s Saturday morning at 10.05 am, two days after Thanksgiving. In two hours, #2 Ohio State and #5 Michigan will square off to see who wins with a chance to compete for the National College football championship of 2021. Ohio State has beat Michigan the last 8 yeaars. I can’t wait to be surprised!
I turned on ESPN TV to confirm the time and channel for the big game. Six talking heads had already started blaring their individual “Choreographed Competing Celebrity Professional Opinions” (CCCPO’s) across each other on which team will win and why! It was definitely a good time to dash out in the cool, crisp, and sunny blue sky of Baltimore to stock up on essential weekend sports snacks.
I returned with snacks and I was preparing to let my writing mind wake up and search out whatever magic ride it held for me that day. I turned my TV down to barely an audible hum. I was about to untie the imaginary rope anchoring my mental ship of state, but what materialized in my consciousness was a strange, brief and surprising encounter I had earlier on this Saturday morning with a stranger I met in my apartment lobby as I was going out for football snacks.
The lobby was empty except for one person, a 60-ish man sitting in a motorized wheel chair situated inside the alcove next to the door. His face opened into a friendly expectant smile as he made inviting and friendly eye contact. But something did not feel right! Was he friend or foe? My senses were off after the world went bat-shit crazy during the last two years of covid death, disruption, and deceit. How could you tell if a “surprise” was a conflict or a blessing?
I nodded with a “Good Morning” and a smile as I approached the exit door. Then he beckoned me to come over to him holding out a single piece of printed paper in his hand. I approached carefully. He spoke slowly in a broken sentence as he handed me this piece of paper, saying to me: “I had a stroke and can’t read any more,” as he pointed to his brain.
I ask him if he wanted me to read it? He said yes with a big smile, shaking his head up and down, handing me the piece of paper. I settled into a cushy lobby chair and read it slowly as he read my lips. The paper was a “personal” Fingerhut mass mailout advertisement that said he had been approved for a $700 credit card with these terms: “The more he charged each month the more his credit to spend would increase.” My first thought was:
This is the crack cocaine of credit cards!
I asked slowly and clearly, “Is this a card you are planning to use?” He smiled, shaking his head side to side signifying “no” and then said “No!” loudly and defiantly, chuckling with a smile. I then spoke my silent thought out loud slowly:
“You know, this is the ‘crack cocaine’ of credit cards. The more you spend the more credit you get to spend, and the more you spend until you go broke!”
He laughed uproariously, shaking his head up and down in an agreeable fashion, muttering “crack! crack!” I joined his laughter. Then we said good goodbye and I left for snacks.
I reminded myself to write a post on my blog of this strange encounter as soon as I got back to my apartment. Three words instantly jumped into my head: Surprising. Laughter. Thanks.
This was just a reminder of what just happened. When I got back to my apartment, I sat down to write and cranked up my laptop. I typed those three words in the title position of a blank virtual page as a place holder. These words did not sound like a title to me; I could always change them later, I silently thought:
What is it that we love and hate about conflict?
Perhaps we are drawn to “Conflict” because it “Surprises!” us, by stimulating our imagination, making us think, comparing our lives to see where we fit on the spectrum of “possible.”
Perhaps we are drawn to surprise because it encourages us to give “Thanks!” when we run into it, or participate in it, or even create it ourselves (the best?).
Perhaps because conflict is the “heart of surprise” it represents exciting new possibilities, making us laud our positive surprises with our deepest appreciation for adding both mystery and happiness to our lives.
Perhaps we “Laugh” to celebrate the happiness that the novelty of the surprise brings to our ordinary lives to make us smile and laugh out loud.
However, these deeper possible meanings of – Surprise, Laugh, Thanks – did not really occur to me until I had started slipping down the rhetorical rabbit hole of my life on many versions of this recurring question:
“WHAT The Hell is REALITY Really All About?”
This question first took root in my 26-year-old mind (with a PhD physics diploma in my back pocket) 55 years ago as a deeper non-physics question: “Why do humans (including me), as well as all objects and ideas, tend to be drawn towards conflict? (e.g., America’s governing constitution rides on conflict resolution between Conservatives and Liberals, neutral matter tends to clump, charged matter (+/-) is either attracted to opposite charges (-/+) or repelled by the same charge (++/- -) just like politics.) Physics had no answer to this deeper Reality Conflict question until the last few recent years.
I will explore my path to answer this question in future blog posts, starting with the “narrative lie” I was taught that “electrons buzz around a nucleus like our moon circling our earth” which, in retrospect, caused me to adopt a career in society away from an academic scientific career.
I would like to thank the lobby stranger I met for sharing his Fingerhut letter with me, to the laugh we shared at my “cocaine sales letter” comment, and to the surprise initiative that he took to ask me for help reading the letter to him, which I gladly provided. This surprise was not a conflict, it was an opportunity for two strangers to meet, commune and have a laugh together.
By the way, Michigan won 42 to Ohio 27 in snow after a long drought!