Friday, November 16, 2007

Ken Revisited

I was reminded today of a story, one that I heard while studying graphic design in college thirty years ago...

"The Professor" was head of our department. Naturally, he was a man of scholarly bearing, but also carried himself with an air of sophistication. Freshmen were in awe of him, while upperclassmen found him to be effete and overly priggish. One day, an upperclass studio was having a critique of their work. Determined to unsettle his demeanor in some way, they devised a plan in anticipation of his arrival. He walked into the classroom, to find the entire membership of the class just sitting there calmly, with brown paper bags over their heads. Without so much as blinking an eye, he took no notice of this prank, and commenced to offer commentary on each piece hung on the wall. One by one, the students gradually -- and it should be conceded, sheepishly -- removed the bags from over their heads.

For some cultures, saving face is paramount in social discourse. This is particularly so among Asian Pacific peoples. In the Philippines, the term "pakitang tao" literally means "show people," and describes the perceived need to "keep up with the Joneses" for appearance's sake, even when one cannot afford it. They also tend to avoid speaking bluntly to another without sufficient cause, so as not to shame them in front of others.

Some people just know how to save face through their own efforts. It is possible to do so while admitting one's errors, which is a sign of great character. It is also not an easy thing to do, which is why so few of us ever master it. However righteous our cause, none of us are immune from the human condition. The saints knew this all too well, and would consider themselves the worst of sinners.

Several weeks ago, a weblog known as Traditional Latin Mass Arlington published two entries at the expense of two priests of the Diocese of Arlington. The entry of one in particular was inaccurate, if not slanderous. Here at mwbh it was necessary to come to the defense of one of those priests, and to call out the author of such outrageous claims.

It is difficult to determine whether there was ever a change of heart on the part of "Ken," the aforementioned author of at least one of the pieces. But there has been a change at the blog. There is an affiliated e-mail list, where residents of northern Virginia may share or receive notice of local celebrations of the traditional Mass. I saw a value in receiving such notices, so I took a chance and sent in my address. To my great surprise, it was accepted. Surely they must have known who I was. But it didn't seem to matter. What did seem to matter to a few of the listmembers was determined while reading the message archives. It seemed that such rancor was unacceptable to them, and they requested that the list restrict itself to sharing news about the Old Mass. And so that became the rule. Then in the past week, the two offending entries on the blog were removed. (As this is written, an excerpt of one of them is elsewhere on the internet.) One cannot help but notice the lack of an apology on the blog, on the part of its moderators, for ever publishing the offensive material to begin with. Presumedly they would be the heralds of some great Catholic restoration, in which case there is reason to be concerned. Were they sorry they published such nonsense, or were they sorry for getting caught?

Meanwhile, "The Professor" underwent a transformation of his own in due time. After I graduated, he encouraged me to submit a portfolio of my work to the civil service, which was engaged at the time in a government-wide search for aspiring designers, illustrators, and photographers. It was that portfolio, and his accompanying recommendation, that secured me the position in Washington which I hold today.

Closer to home, the disposition of "Ken" is yet to be determined. But if he would be so kind as to render an apology to the good Father whom he offended publicly, and whom I defended in kind, I would offer to buy the fellow a drink, and explain to him why this priest meant enough to me that I would take an unprecedented stand in this forum.

Then maybe someday, I would learn to write with shorter sentences. May hope breed eternal for all of us.


Richard Rice said...

I note, with distress, that mbh is himself reluctant to retract his characterization of his antagonist as, "[the lying rat bastard known as] 'Ken'", the phrase in brackets having been written to appear struck out, but which was still clearly legible--a rather clever way to get away with this kind of talk.

I would like to suggest to mbh that, as regular MC for the noon Mass, he now represents St. John the Beloved in a particular way, especially when he speaks on behalf of, or in defense of, the parish or its pastor. In my opinion, such representation should not include publicly posted comments like the one above, even cleverly disguised or righteously motivated.

David L Alexander said...

"I note, with distress, that mbh is himself reluctant to retract his characterization of his antagonist..."

I will begin, Richard, by assuring you that in over five years of writing this blog, I have never come close to characterizing anyone in this way, including those who have done injury to me. And I very much regret my anger over the course of this affair. You see, I too am distressed, not only over my anger, but that the sort of rhetoric that I challenged should infest the Catholic blogosphere, at a time when we should be rejoicing together.

And from the looks of things, I didn't "get away with this kind of talk" after all, eh?

That being said, you are correct. I did not retract it. The offending posts were removed from the other blog, but no apology was ever offered for posting them in the first place. There was genuine damage done, and it was public. It called for correction in public. It was removed from sight, but the news had time to be disseminated, hence the remaining damage. Granted, my language was quite strong. I am no saint, although I have read of saints who had strong words for such evil in their midsts. And I am convinced that such is the case in this instance. You have read my original post concerning this affair, and you are aware of the issue beyond the incident itself as I see it.

"I would like to suggest to mbh [sic] that, as regular MC for the noon Mass, he now represents St. John the Beloved in a particular way..."

Again, you are correct, and I am all too aware of that burden. I should note, however, that the pastor in question is a regular viewer of this blog. (He's probably reading it right now, in fact.) Were I to misrepresent him or the parish in any way in the course of this defense, he would be the first to tell me, and I would be the first to comply. Just as I would be if the writer in question were to recant his slander, whether privately to the good Father, or in the same manner as it was disseminated.

At this writing, I have heard nothing from the pastor in question to the effect that said defense has run its course (which is all the indication I would require), and nothing contrite from the writer in question. I have indicated publicly my desire to share my good will with the latter upon such a reconciliation.

Your admonition is not without merit. I want to be clear on that. I only wish you had enough left over for the other party. It would probably be easier were he to identify himself beyond his first name (if that is his first name). If that doesn't tell you something about him, I can't explain it to you.

David L Alexander said...

man with black hat: Notice