Figuring out the ph’lip side

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Columnist thinks back

It seems like I’ve been writing “Ph’lipside” for such a long time it could inspire some bad stand-up comedy:

• I’ve been writing this column so long that when I started people were still using pencils and paper;
• I’ve been writing this column so long that some of my ideas are older than my kids;
• I’ve been writing this column so long I don’t exactly remember how long I’ve been writing it. 

 

Well, maybe I sort of remember. I think I’ve been doing Ph’lipside for about 20 years, give or take. I suppose I could find out for sure from my editor, or by digging around for the Christian Leader issue containing my first column. But why would I want to start doing actual research now?

Just kidding. Believe it or not, I do read up on issues and check facts while working on columns. But don’t tell anyone, I wouldn’t want that to get around.

Here’s another one: I’ve been writing this column so long I’m not sure if I’ve already written this same column before. Coming up with fresh ideas can be challenging. I mentioned this to a friend and she said, “Why don’t you just resubmit something you wrote in like 1994? Nobody would ever know the difference!”

Um, thanks a lot. But hey, since I can’t remember stuff I’ve submitted in the past either, no insult taken.

Many things have changed since Ph’lipside started in the late 1980s. In those days pink shirts were in style for men. And I (the horror!) actually wore one. What? You say pink shirts for guys are back in fashion? OK, but I’m definitely not going there again.

Also in those ancient times, politics were contentious with many arguments going back and forth between conservatives and liberals. This led to the election of a Republican president followed by a Democratic president followed by a Republican president followed by…oh wait, that’s still going on today.

So maybe some things haven’t changed. Or they’ve changed back and forth ad nauseam. I suppose if I read through my past columns I’d find plenty of shifts in the subject matter and cultural references. But the underlying approach has stayed the same. In Ph’lipside I’ve tried to look at the flip side. Profound, eh?

All right, not really. It seems obvious that we should approach today’s issues and concerns with open minds and a willingness to consider different points of view. But I’m seeing a trend away from that. More people are less willing to be flexible. Either they’re completely on one side of an issue or absolutely on the other side. There isn’t much in between. Civil discourse has deteriorated into uncivil shouting across the divide.

Or maybe things have always been like that, but they’ve just gotten louder.

Whatever the case, I’ve usually tried to accomplish two things with Ph’lipside. The first is to get readers to think a little bit, because, you know, thinking isn’t such a terrible thing. Though you might not get that from looking around at our culture, where brainlessness and rigid opinionating rule the media. But thinking is good. Everyone should try it once in awhile.

The second thing I try to accomplish is to get me to think a little bit. Because I don’t really like thinking either. It’s a hassle. Thinking can lead to annoying stuff like changing my mind about a political issue, realizing I’ve been prejudiced against a minority or poor person, owning up that I’ve hurt someone or understanding that I’ve gotten too caught up in our society’s busyness and materialism. Once I start thinking that way, I know I’ll have to do something about it.

I hate it when that happens.

Teachers often say that when they teach, they learn as much as their students. I was going to echo that by saying when I write, I learn as much as my readers. But that sounds pompous. I don’t assume readers learn anything from my columns, but one can always hope.

I learn plenty while writing them, though. Which probably sounds odd. Shouldn’t I know my own mind before I write? I don’t know. Every time I finish a Ph’lipside, there is still an element of surprise. Oh, so that’s what I think about this subject. I wasn’t quite sure before.

Then I can sit back with satisfaction. Through reflection and thought and the sweating out of words, I have finally discovered my own mind. Now I can feel secure in this knowledge for the rest of eternity.

Or until I start writing the next column, whichever comes first.

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