Does One Bad Apple Really Spoil the Whole Bunch?

I’m currently fascinated by Bad Apples. Bad Apples the metaphor for people, not so much the fruit. But of course there are corollaries. So the first question at hand is, “does one bad apple really spoil the whole bunch? For fruit, the answer is yes. Because ethylene. But what about people? From my experience, the answer is also a resounding yes. But don’t take my word for it. Check out this University of Washington study overview, which defined Bad Apples as “negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.” They found that Bad Apples elicited coping mechanisms in other employees such as “denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety and fear.”

I know, I know, this is not really new. The saying exists for a reason. However, it does set the stage for some further inquiries I’ve been making around Bad Apples. So stay tuned for the Bad Apple series as we explore Bad Apples in Sports, how to deal with Bad Apples in your circles, and how to avoid becoming a Bad Apple.

Ulysses: Hades

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Book XI is the story of Odysseus and his men leaving Circe’s island. But as a condition of their departure, Circe directs him and his men to Hades to talk to the dead. While in Hades, Odysseus speaks to many different dead characters who add several layers of depth to the epic. Among many others, he speaks to his deceased mother who updates him on the recent happenings in Ithaca. He also speaks to the prophet Tiresias, who offers foreshadowing of adventures to come.

In Ulysses, the Hades episode also breaks the story open. We are treated to a host of new characters who offer a broadening purview of the world outside the perspectives of our main characters, Bloom, Molly, and Stephen Dedalus. Instead of journeying to a mythical underworld for discussions with the dead, Hades in Ulysses sees our characters participate in the procession and funeral service for the recently deceased Patrick Dignam. Bloom rides in the procession inside a carriage with Jack Power, Martin Cunningham, and Simon Dedalus – Stephen’s father. Once at the church, most of the conversation stops and then we switch to the thoughts in Bloom’s head as he watches the Catholic process with detachment. After the service, the men walk with John O’Connell, the cemetery caretaker, to the burial service. Bloom briefly walks around the cemetery and ponders death. Finally, the men disperse.

Themes:

There is a wealth of dialogue in this episode and, as with The Odyssey, the dialogue with the other characters reveals a great deal about the story. We learn that Bloom doesn’t quite fit into this society, as much as he has tried to assimilate. At every jab, Bloom takes the high road. He intimates that he feels responsible for his son Rudy’s poor start to life and untimely death. We also get confirmation that Bloom’s father committed suicide. We get a sighting of Blazes Boylan and come to realize that he is popular with the men in Bloom’s circles. We also get lots and lots of thoughts about death. Bloom considers people being buried standing up, but then thinks better of it because at some point, their heads might pop out of the ground. He reconsiders coffins and how they merely put off the inevitable digestion by insects. He considers the horror of being buried alive and possible solutions, including a phone line and an air hole in the coffin. Aside from the death theme that overrides much of the episode, here are the prominent themes:

  • Anti-Semitism: As the procession passes Reuben J. Dodd – a moneylender – the men scoff and curse at him inside the comfort of the carriage. The men all feel put out by Reuben because they have all owed him money, although it is implied that Bloom has not. In an effort to change the topic, Bloom brings up the story of Dodd’s son falling into the Liffey, which Cunningham rudely takes over. When it is revealed that Reuben paid the rescuer a florin for his son, the elder Dedalus scoffs that it was “one and eightpence too much.” While there is no direct attack on Bloom, who is a Jew, in this episode, the attack on Dodd’s character is left hanging as a slight against the race.
  • Bloom the outcast / inferior: There are several shots across the bow of our man Bloom, both from the crowd and from Bloom himself. He is the last to enter the carriage and the last man to kneel at the ceremony. He sits uncomfortably on the soap in the carriage that he bought at Sweny’s because he doesn’t want to draw attention to himself. He offers up the paper to Simon Dedalus to read Dan Dawson’s speech as Cunningham suggests and Simon turns him down. When the men see Boylan, Bloom wonders what Molly and the others see in him. Jack Power pointedly asks Bloom if he’ll be traveling to Belfast with Boylan and Molly – to whom he refers to as Madame – implying that he knows something of the affair. Bloom remarks that a sudden death is the best death because there is no suffering and the men disagree. When Bloom thinks of Rudy, he quotes a saying that if a male child lives, its because of the mother, if he dies, its due to the father. John Henry Menton doesn’t remember Bloom but remembers Molly and wonders why she would marry him. At the end of the chapter, Menton snubs Bloom after he helpfully tells Menton that he has a ding in his hat.
  • Bloom rises above the slights: In all of the cases mentioned above, Bloom carries himself with dignity. After Power’s “Madame” slight to Bloom, he wonders about the mistress Power keeps, but of course he keeps it to himself. When Power brings up suicide as the worst of all and Dedalus adds, “The greatest disgrace to have in the family,” as well as “They say a man who does it is a coward.” Bloom does not reply, but he observes that Dedalus “looked at me.” He then critiques Simon Dedalus and his drunkard wife who has died, but he leaves it all alone. Bloom is satisfied with the thought, “He looked away from me. He knows. Rattle his bones.” Finally, after pointing out the ding in Menton’s hat and being curtly thanked, Bloom thinks, “Never mind. Be sorry after perhaps when it dawns on him. Get the pull over him that way.” As with Menton, Bloom is paying it forward with all of these men. He does not get into a battle of egos but rather taking the slights in good graces even though he’s armed with the knowledge to fire back.
  • Father and son: Early in the episode we get to compare Simon’s position on Stephen and the Gouldings to what Stephen said it would be in Proteus. Of course, Stephen had his father pegged. Simon is harsh on Stephen but Bloom gives him credit for looking out for him, like Bloom would have done for Rudy. Bloom also thinks about his father and his son, both of which are dead. He repeatedly says “poor papa” when thinking about his father. As mentioned above, Bloom is taking the blame for Rudy’s early death. We come to realize that Bloom’s lineage is over at the moment and he is very much on his own.

At the close of this episode, I am inclined to forgive Bloom his trespasses for carrying on with a flirtatious pen pal and to pull for the hero to rise above his troubles. With no father and no son, and certainly cast as an outsider in the group, the episode leaves us with a distinct impression of vulnerability for Bloom. We know his wife is headed for an affair with Boylan and that Boylan is a man about town. Death is on his mind and we know that his father – who Bloom says was in pain – committed suicide. There are so many thoughts and impressions in such a little space. Hail to the master, James Joyce!

My Wife is a Zen Master

We’ve been doing a lot of travel lately. Since March, we’ve been to Ireland, Montreal, New York City, we ran a 150 mile relay race in Southern Ohio, and last weekend, we went to New Orleans. At first, I expected to write some travel-related posts about these trips, but as you might imagine, home life has kept me pretty busy in between. I mean, we have to work during the week to foot the bill for this Instagram lifestyle. Honestly, we’re a bit tired. We wouldn’t have chosen to do all of that travel in such a short period of time, but several of the trips were not really our plan. In fact, almost all of these trips were to celebrate birthdays of other people. We’re all for celebrating other people. But with so much travel and none of it really specific to our plans, I can get knocked off my game.

During the trip to New Orleans, we met several other couples to help one of my wife’s college friends celebrate her 40th birthday. We casually knew most people involved, but this wasn’t exactly a close-knit group for us. How bad can it be? We’re flexible and congenial and can get along with most anyone. Well… at least my wife can. I on the other hand, seem to invite controversy. When I talk to people about my past and the amount of arguments, threats of physical harm, and actual fist fights I’ve been sucked into, people are astonished. In fact, I wrote a whole other post – nearly 2000 words – about this topic but I have opted to scrap it because it sounded like a bit of a sob story. I’m not one for that. But suffice it to say, if a street bum is going to pick out someone from a group of 10 people and start messing with them, it is going to be me. I know, because I’ve seen it happen. Repeatedly.

OK, we get it, you seem to have a tractor beam for aggressive-types; so what’s this bit about your wife being a Zen Master? I’ll get there. So let’s say the trip to NOLA was not without its controversy. I actually handled it in stride during the trip. I took the grief I was given and offered myself up for a bit more. In the midst of the grief-handling, my daughter called me while crying because her car had broken down on a fairly busy community road. She and I worked together to sort it all out, and the bill was going to be in the $1200 range. I’ll come back to this in a minute. So, fast forward to Monday and people at work asked me how my trip went. I started giving one person some of the details about the grief I got and he was aghast. He said, “if that was me, I probably would have ditched the group and gone to the Jazz Fest on my own.” While I was rehashing the story, my Mom sent me a text. Over this same weekend, she took a break from the move into her new condominium, went to a casino for a couple of hours and won $1200 on the slots. I congratulated her good fortune but thought a bit more about it. I sent my wife the following text, “I spent the weekend as a social pariah and it cost me $1200 on our daughter’s car. My Mom played the slots for a few minutes this weekend and won $1200. She is definitely living righter than me.” I was mostly being funny, but many a true word is spoken in jest. My recap of the weekend to some of my co-workers had set the wheels of self-pity in motion.

At first, the Zen Master who is my wife played my comment down as funny. But then she said that I wasn’t a social pariah. What? You were there! I was incredulous. I began to recount to my wife the events of the weekend as if she hadn’t experienced them first hand. How could she say that I was not the outcast? She let me moan on for a bit all the while saying “OK” and “Sure.” If a man wants to dig a hole, there’s no point in standing in his way I guess. After I had more or less exhausted my digging, she hit me with this: “I don’t know why you’re upset now. You’re a nonconformist and you’re fine with the attention that it brings. I thought we had a nice weekend together.” She was right of course. We had a great breakfast at a lovely little French cafe. We had an incredible dinner at an Italian restaurant. We hung out together at a rooftop bar while the sun set. The weather was perfect. We held hands and walked around the French Quarter. I was down there for her, and here I was picking at the tiny dark spots on an otherwise amazing weekend. I let it go.

That evening, I was re-reading Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, and about 10 minutes into my reading, the following passage hit me squarely between the eyes:

We try so hard to preserve the very thing that’s making us miserable. We cling hard to our pain because we mistakenly think that that pain is who we really are. We define ourselves by what we don’t like or we define ourselves by what we like. Either way we miss the truth. We harbor some inexplicable fear that if we start to enjoy everything about life without picking and choosing we might cease to exist.

– Hardcore Zen, Kindle Edition; location 2089

So my wife is now doling out the same advice as an ordained Zen Master. That psychology degree is starting to pay off. All joking aside, this is one of the multitudinous reasons why I profess my undying love for this woman. She makes me a better person.

If you’re wondering, I was able to simply let go of the “pain” I was holding onto. While my wife triggered my letting go, it is my study of Zen Buddhism and practice of Zazen that has helped me to shorten the the cycle of letting go. I’ll focus an upcoming post on how a middle-class kid from conservative and deeply Christian Southern Ohio wound up nosing around a Japanese “non-religious” tradition and how it might help you be a little happier. But until then, let’s make with the questions from this post… 

How does your significant other make you a better person?

Are you holding on to some pain that feels like it defines you? What might letting go of that pain look like?