[A challenge for 2017: write 500 words using as a prompt the the clue from Sunday’s Times crossword puzzle, 3; down]
I’ve always felt a certain affinity for the curmudgeon: strong and free; not susceptible to the fits and starts of the trending or flashy.
Merriam-Webster’s definition seems unnecessarily negative
: a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.
I prefer Wiki-How’s approach in “How to Become a Curmudgeon.”
– Become an independent thinker and go against the grain.
– Be a leader, not a follower of trends.
– Focus on the greater good.
– Develop a sense of humor.
– Stay traditional, even when society changes around you.
I’ll always take a curmudgeon over a Pollyanna: wisdom over naivete; engagement over acquiescence.
And yet, perhaps because I am sympathetic to such a disposition if not actually embody it, I fear we’re becoming a society that in our pursuit of strength and efficiency, fears the curmudgeonly.
Consider a couple comments recently written on my Facebook page:
“It appears to me that you will argue with someone and correct them and tell them how wrong they are until they simply stop responding. Why can’t you just accept that other people have opinions that are different than yours instead of trying to wear down everyone who opposes you?”
“For too many years we conservatives have been shut down by the liberals, not allowed to speak without being put down as somehow not as smart. It’s time for us to speak up even if you and other liberals don’t like to hear it.”
There’s a lot of fear and pain in these comments that I acknowledge I have perhaps for too long been too insensitive to, but what strikes me most is that the complaints do not appear to be the quality of my argument, but the simple fact that I’m choosing to argue in the first place.
For in my mind, the pursuit of engagement is not either/or, A or B, conservative or liberal, but both/and; what new truth can we reveal to each other? How can we grow and change? How am I supposed to learn anything if the response to my invitation to struggle is that I’m mean and you’re entitled to your own opinion, which I’m not allowed to challenge?
Which all brings another, and at first blush seemingly un-curmudgeonly, word to mind: agon.
The ancient Greek word for contest or struggle. Think: wrestling, Olympics, youth, virility.
Economists and philosophers use it to describe the clash of opposing forces necessary for progress.
The apostle Paul used it in his letter to the young missionary Timothy in far-away Ephesus exhorting him to continue to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (I Timothy 6:12).
In this context, the curmudgeon, I’d argue, is not the great god gearing up for a mythological battle, but the mere mortal who has been there and done that, been stung by struggle, bore witness to victory, and seen it all play out this way and that, time after time.
She’s now retired from the amphitheater, but still can’t resist the biting bon mot, the seering op-ed, the succor of a good skirmish.
And so while Pollyanna jeers “crabby!,” our curmudgeon thinks to herself “delicious!” as she readies the butter for a satisfying feast.
[Next week’s clue: Place for bows and strings]