Image from The Trampling Trembling Tanglelow Trail

It’s Pointless to Hammer a Nail with a Pillow

Greg McGoon


The Virtual Conga Lines of Communication in Society

“Let’s take a moment before you go quicker,

And try to avoid all the noise and the bicker.”

— The Tanglelows

It’s pointless to hammer a nail with a pillow. However, when encountering a person with a different opinion, even a one-minute exchange might feel as though you’re trying to hammer a nail with a pillow — a lot of work to build nothing. Why a pillow? Maybe it was all you were given, all that you had, or could find. Common sense says, “STOP! This isn’t going to accomplish anything.” Yet, for some reason, we act as though that pillow can work if we keep on and believe. What comes next — Exhaustion, Frustration, Anger, Disappointment, Sadness and beyond.

Throw a child or even a few into your daily mix. Where do you even begin to explain all this to them? With many schools still virtual, your children are by your side every day and impacted, directly or indirectly, from mounting pressure to navigate Covid, quarantine, and social unrest.

Communication continues to change daily as we adapt to this essential virtual takeover drastically. Children aren’t exposed to direct interaction and play. Some are fortunate enough to have vibrant and engaged virtual classrooms, while many are not. Either way, children are learning to see others through a screen primarily. What does this mean for commutation and building a sense of self? More importantly, why does there appear to be an even larger disconnect between what’s acceptable behavior for a child and what’s “accepted” behavior for an adult?

If we teach and expect children to behave in a certain well-behaved manner, ideally respectful manner, why as adults do we rebel against decency? Because we can? Because we never learned as a child? Or, because we do not believe our behavior is indecent…?

The Tanglelows children’s books are just as much for adults as they are for children, as they allow for personal discussion and reflection when your mind, and the world, feel more tangled than usual.

Let’s shift the focus to children for a moment. How do you handle a child who is throwing a tantrum? Take a time out to reflect on your childhood. What happened when you threw a tantrum? How was it handled? Ignored, coddled, screamed at, spanked, or other. If you’re a parent, guardian, caregiver, teacher, there is no one answer. Typically, it can be agreed on raising/looking after children is exhausting no matter the circumstance. A child’s tantrum can erupt over something as minimal as multiple foods touching a plate or not getting a toy. However, blood-curdling screams over something that appears trivial or irrelevant could also reflect a potentially life-threatening situation. If they’re at an age before language skills are developed, understanding the severity of the outburst is significantly more challenging. While for the child, they communicate the only way they know how until further verbal skills are learned (again, ideally).

As an adult, a willingness to try multiple tactics is essential when dealing with a stubborn child. Sometimes that includes stepping back and letting them cry it out. Tempting them with sugar may yield faster results, but what happens when that becomes the standard? A significant sugar diet (a diet that lacks nutrition) leads to health complications. Not the wisest “go-to” to tame a child. The more accustomed to the “crap” we become, healthy eating habits become unsatisfying. Apply this to our mind and the content we absorb. Our mind is no longer challenged to problem solve because sugary “solutions” appear for the taking. All this further fueled the digital age.

The blind spots of the world are exposed. We launch opinions immediately into a public feeding arena. Imagine going to dinner and having desserts and vegetables served at the same time. Then somehow, act surprised if the vegetables are ignored while the dessert is devoured. The Internet puts all the choices on the table at the same time. It is a full-service menu, nutritious and otherwise. The tastiest gets the click. It does not matter if it is void of any valuable substance.

We feed our circumstances. Communication becomes the sacrificial lamb. This environment suffocates kindness. Generalizations take the forefront of activism, and we find ourselves demonizing the other without an awareness of the circumstance. Reactionary culture is born. Adults regress into a childlike state.

Feelings of hopelessness translate to various forms of aggression and/or “bumper sticker” social media goodwill without understanding cause and effect. Positivity preaching becomes a double edge sword. The well-intentioned, thoughtful remark exists amidst the noise, but until we subdue the noise, those remarks are easily lost or difficult to discern. So, we add more noise to hopefully draw others to those thoughtful remarks (subsequently, submerging those remarks further into the noise) — all to be heard. Or to be applauded.

Applauding human decency as though it is an achievement spoils humanity — crafting the perfect sentiments — reactions — in order to “raise awareness,” but instead merely an exclamation to elevate one’s own value. With the necessity of reactions, the focus is pulled in many directions. The minutia takes center stage. Virtual declarations are treated as a shortcut to absolve an individual from further action.

These virtual Conga lines of solidarity remind us that we are not alone from time to time. There is comfort in that. We contribute thoughts, disgust, anger, joy, passions, congratulations, etc., to feel connected. The value of these positive and hopeful thoughts appears beneficial until they are released from the echo chamber, and nothing was accomplished and further alienated the “egregious” other. The illusions we create supersede action. Indulging in one’s self-righteous tendencies at the expense of progress.

We have the ability to amplify greatness. Amplify beauty. Amplify kindness. And somehow, the glorious nature of the world around us is defeated by ego. The unyielding desire for attention at any expense. Visibility the new reward because visibility equates to financial gain. Visibility achieved at what actual cost? Unfortunately, to stand out quickly in an oversaturated sea of delusion, extreme, lascivious, and/or heinous behavior entices viewers. The allure of the absurd and unreasonable panders to those who feel confined by the banality of existence. We are faced with this destructive force, unclear how to reconcile its devious ways.

Discriminatory language, inappropriate behavior, self-aggrandizing regulations are a moving force to cause plates to shift and all that mounting pressure. Well…BOOM! Each day exposes more cracks in the system. No one wants to be trapped, unseen and unheard. The opportunities to gradually let out steam are few and far between because of a constant bombardment of noise and suppression. Listening starts to relieve that built-up pressure, and marginalized/minority groups can rise to the surface actually heard. Otherwise, BOOM! Everyone talking! Then you find yourself in the midst of a volcanic eruption.

But who needs logic when you have power…

When logic and reason disappear, you’d be more successful counting each grain of sand on all the world’s beaches than deciphering a coherent argument from the opposition. That is when life becomes that much trickier.

We have the opportunity to raise children during a time of political and societal unrest. Let’s utilize this time to ensure the next generation is willing to discuss, ask questions, and engage rather than attack, criticize and offend. Because at the moment, it seems more likely to lure the silent from the shadows than sway the stubborn. Maybe then kindness can thrive as a reward unto itself. And human decency can be a societal standard.

This is where the Tanglelows come into play. Children’s books for children and adults to share as they navigate the world around them. Conflicts derived from opposing fundamental core values can be different than those that arise from desperation or suppression. The latter tends to be more flexible given a change in circumstance. However, oppositional fundamental core values somehow claim goodness as exclusively their own. Goodness can only be achieved by eradicating the other. The erasure of minority/marginalized groups sometimes follows because the overconsumption of threat blurs the ability to personalize experiences. And the cycle of assumptions keeps on rolling.

That’s when we fall victim to the absurd without even realizing, i.e., when white individuals dictate a person of color experience, men dictating a women’s experience, and treatment towards LGBTQIA and immigrants by supposed majority groups that have no vested interests interest, and so on. If you don’t have the first-hand experience on a topic and make brash and bold claims, you are no different from a person attempting to hammer a nail with a pillow. Logic indicates that maybe asking and listening to individuals who have the first-hand experience is the most effective way to learn.

Let’s take a trip back to, let’s say, 3rd-grade science to understand better. Volcanoes! Magma churning, trapped below the earth’s crust, building up pressure, waiting to be released, and plates move (tectonic shifts)…BOOM! Eruption!

Wrong as the villain. There is danger in the vilification of “wrong.” Doing that limits/eliminates our ability to rehabilitate/educate. No one wants to be a villain (maybe a few do, but in general). Therefore no one wants to accept the possibility they are “wrong” even when they are. When accountability marries shame rather than growth, we uncover a person’s determination to turn nonsense into reason to justify their actions instead of owning up to a mistake. No longer do we feel emotionally equipped to handle the mounting pressures of society. Again circumstantially, this is reflecting on actions/behaviors separate from immoral, reprehensible crimes, such as and not limited to pedophilia, rape, and murder. But if a person’s views shift from anti-marriage equality to tolerance, even acceptance, is it wise to continuously remind them how awful they were when they didn’t accept it? Would that be beneficial for anyone?

To alleviate this, be open to the possibility the misdirected or misguided can learn and grow (no guarantees). Otherwise, there is no reason for them ever to change their behavior if they are forever branded as “wrong.” Therefore, forever evil. Let’s step back from behind the screens for a moment and attempt to connect. Attempt the operative word, as some behavior defies humanization.

Keep in mind that is the exception, not the norm. If the exceptions consume us, the reason is defeated from the start. Fear wins, and chaos ensues. Give voice to reason rather than continuously constantly regurgitate the fools out of annoyance, frustration, and anger. Otherwise, we are only contributing to the noise, no matter the intent, leaving behind the question: Which is more foolish — the fool who spouts nonsense or the one who knowingly argues with the nonsensical fool?

Eventually, we can evolve to hold ourselves accountable while holding others accountable. In the meantime, when encountering someone with a different opinion, ask yourself, “what will this accomplish?” Are you expanding your voice or fueling the echo chamber? A chamber in which “All” is defined through a lens of similarity and familiarity. Until that lens is shattered and doors are opened, it is significant to recognize those who have been ignored in the context of All. We exist together. Let’s begin to live together. And if you start to feel you’re only equipped with a pillow, step away from the nail until you have a more constructive tool.

Be careful not to waste opportunities on the obstinate, and ensure that values that protect love and equality remain focused. No pillows to nails. Only then can we begin to drown out the noise, stop hammering nails with pillows, and establish a community that recognizes diversity, for it is the reality of human life.

Lastly, with the words of Frederick Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We have the opportunity to raise children during a time of political unrest. Let’s utilize this time to ensure the next generation is willing to discuss, ask questions, and engage rather than attack, criticize and offend. Because at the moment, it seems more likely to lure the silent from the shadows than sway the stubborn. Maybe then kindness can thrive as a reward unto itself, and human decency can be a societal standard.



Greg McGoon

Children’s book author. Hashtagging is surprisingly a lot of work. @themcgoonies