The two words in the English language that make my skin crawl the most are proper and reality.
In the case of reality I can already hear someone telling me my opinion doesn’t matter because it just got ran over by the unstoppable forces of some external world that are above and beyond dispute.
In other words they disagree with me, but don’t have enough confidence in being able to persuade anyone about their view so they disguise it as something undeniable, undisputed, and unstoppable.
That’s reality, man.
Or maybe reality is just weasels talking in weasel words while their friends go picking through your nest for some eggs. Meanwhile a recent study shows 72% of people believe most major news outlets are just peddling fake news.
The word proper gets me about as worked up.
I see soul-less statues from Easter island serving mechanized overlords from Abaddon.
They protocol each other with nasal neutrality. Their grammar is overflowing with passive voice. They don’t own anything they say or do. They are simply extensions of the overlapping masses. Their writings are on tap at the New Yorker. They can’t be held responsible for anything because, you see, everyone is doing it. Their eyes are vaulted away behind tortoise glasses looking down on you.
If you want to do something awesome, sorry it just isn’t done.
People speak highly of all this. If you want to drink wine, you should talk to a wine snob. A knower of wine knows the most. That’s what the word “connoisseur” means.
But how does he know if I’ll like it?
Does he know what he likes or is that just elegant pageantry? Is this just puffs of smoke that people puff out into each others faces? ‘I can show you the world darling, put away that wisp of a thing you call life.’ Somewhere Jean Paul Sartre’s face is turning green.
When I was starting college a sophomore told me to dress “appropriately” (a different flavor of the word proper) for a convocation service. I was assured everyone knows what that means.
But what does everyone know? Maybe the only thing everyone knows is how to be unhappy.
Why do we listen to people telling us how to dress? What kind of success can you claim if you look at your own life as a failure? And why do people pay tens of thousands of dollars to exchange their life view for a world view?
My parents’ generation made a lot of mistakes, but I give them credit for seeing the venom in proper. They smashed the stained glass windows of the King James language. They stopped wearing ties and three piece suits. They stopped conflating opening doors for ladies with actually caring about them.
Certainly my parents can’t live my life for me, but in all my desire to find an understanding of my own I have to admit I find the overthrow of all this affectation to be wonderful, sublime. A real, living thing.
Ah, yes, this … this is how I know my parents are … people!
But the tides have changed … and appeals to “the community” (i.e. the herd) are more fashionable than ever. You don’t have to go to Google trends to see the word “proper” is flooding the internet to the point where people struggle to keep their heads out of water.
Words are not exact things, of course. People use them in different ways. A long time ago the word proper meant something very different.
The word comes from an old French word, propius, meaning “one’s own, special”. It is related to the word property (when you take some land and make it your own it becomes your property, a connotation Locke rested his treatise on long ago).
This is what happens when you take a moment and do everything you can with it.
This is the understanding two married people have when they take each other’s lives an make them their own.
This is what happens when you are born into -of all things- your life!
It isn’t something etiquette does for you. It isn’t something dictated by your DNA. It wasn’t programmed to happen Google.
The word proper went from making something personal and private to blending in with the crowd. And so we are made to believe a proper education is whatever education everyone else gets, a proper relationship is however men and women relate in the movies, and the truth is just whatever you hear in the locker room.
How did we get to this point?
Jesus once said not to evaluate by “external appearance, but judge with proper judgment.” Or at least that’s how one translation put it in John 7.
If you dig into the word for “proper judgement” you get the Greek word krisis. It’s a word that means choice, a sentencing, or judgment. The English word crisis has a connotation of being put into a predicate where some tough choices have to be made.
This is a far cry from judging by etiquette and the measly whining of the crowd. And to think that when Jesus asks people to not get duped by appearances … his words are squeezed into a call for formalities!
I tell my children the word ceremonial means “not real”. Then I ask them what a ceremonial ruler is: “A not real ruler”. What is a ceremonial title? When your title isn’t real.
Well, I do not want this proper in my life. I do not respect it. My burning prayer is participate to the fullest extent I can in overthrowing it.
Perhaps when people have given up on doing things for show, they will know -for themselves- what life means to them personally.
Check out my book Mere Devotion available here.