Naked Humanity in the Mirror

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Social media shows us everything inside people.

A few years ago it became possible for people to take their clothes off and send pictures of their bodies using phones. People shared pictures of their own personal, physical “objective reality.”

“Look at me!”

Now people show us what their beliefs are, too. Every social media post gives a glimpse into the “subjective reality” of another mind. God? Democracy? Meaning of life? Each tweet reveals side-boob.

“Look in me!”

It’s all shown to us a flash at a time. What’s on your mind?

The stark blue-white of brain-selfies light up our inner worlds a few words at a time.

Mankind, a species that was often advised not to discuss politics or religion over dinner, never had this ability before.

We’re going to need to learn to adapt. Civilizations are, in the most basic sense, a sort of dinner table.

We agree to pass the peace. We agree not to stab each other with the salad fork.

If we’d like to continue to enjoy “civilizations,” it behooves us to learn how to “remain at the table” with those who want to show us their politics or religion.

“Look in me!”

We no longer really have the choice about whether or not we see the “subjective realities” of other people.

Certainly, we can run off and go live in the woods.

I considered that option many times. I would bring a bunch of books. Then, it occurred to me that books are simply “things people said.” Human beings wrote them, allowing me to pick and choose between the subjective reality of Vonnegut and Dawkins or Clancy. I had to admit to myself that I still wanted social interaction, and that running off into the woods with a bunch of books was “just a way to feel safe.”

Books are just interesting people you can shut up.

Going forward with technology, we’re faced with a world of people who are interesting and enraging. “Those people” are all sorts of things and we cannot make them shut up.

I think that compassion, as opposed to outrage, is the way to adapt to this new environment. I think it will allow us to grow societies. In fact, we may be able to heal many wounds that have pained civilizations since the beginning.

Compassion allows us to notice that, ugly or not, the minds of other people display… pretty much the same parts we all have.

There’s a left side, a right side. A head we can stick in the clouds, or stick inside other places.

 
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Compassion Connects us Beyond Words

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“The menu is not the meal.” – Alan Watts

“The map is not the territory.” – Alfred Korzybski

When I hear someone say things that make me angry, and it seems that their beliefs endanger what I care about in this world – I remind myself that my own beliefs are not the same thing as “ultimate truth.”

Instead, I have made a “map” of truth in my head. Other people have a different map.

Remembering this helps me to let go of judgment, because there is no reason to build a wall of morality between myself and the other person.

Their beliefs cannot harm me. Their beliefs are separate from any sort of physical reality, and are also separate from their actions.

I can care about the other person and share space with them, and no boundary is required to protect me from the immorality or inaccuracy of “what they think.”

Many times, when I recognize that other people have used differing words to describe their own “map of reality,” I get an “ah ha!” moment. They may be speaking from a scientific perspective I don’t endorse, or a religious perspective I have not experienced – but their words may point toward a reality I share with them.

I recognize that they have drawn a map showing the same rivers and trees I believe are there, yet their map is labeled with words from another discipline or system.

Things like psychology and biology and spirituality and religion can describe the same reality while labeling their maps of it with separate lexicons.

When I read the article Daniel Lewis shared in the Compassion Circle group, I was able to recognize the principles and concepts explained.

Once I could translate the ideas into words I feel more comfortable with, I felt kinship through those ideas.

In fact, these words seems to point toward a process identical to one I believe human civilizations need most at this point in history:

“OK, the answer really is kinship. Everybody’s so exhausted by the tenor of the polarity right now, in our country. And the division is the opposite of God, frankly… And that’s kind of where we need to inch our way closer — that we imagine a circle of compassion, then we imagine nobody standing outside that circle. God created, if you will, an otherness so that we would dedicate our lives to a union with each other.” – Father Greg Boyle

The territory where all human beings can live and thrive together may be located beyond the belief systems in our minds and the words in our vocabularies. Compassion can connect us beyond words.

What helps you find compassion beyond words? Do you remind yourself of a concept like “the map is not the territory”? If so, how do you express it?

Join our group and help human beings figure this stuff out:

 

 
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An Ecology of Philosophies

Personal Experiences, Uncategorized

Years ago I went to a meeting to practice public speaking. A new guy stepped softly to the podium and looked out at us. His eyes twinkled with a fierce white light from behind folded curtains of age.

He began a story of Musical Spiders:

“Spiders weave their webs, producing droplets of sticky goo and dripping it along the silk lines as they go. Once the individual threads are woven together, their overall pattern is finished with music…

The web is tuned.

Reaching out with the tip of one leg, the spider plucks a string – Ting! The masterpiece is complete once the frequencies are properly arranged. The web’s resonance helps the sticky goo to distribute evenly, and the spider’s ability to survive is enhanced by playing the right notes.”

I talked to Bob after everyone left. He’d spent decades in the woods as an ecologist and edited the writings of 500 scientists. When I asked questions, his eyes lit up in a way I’d only seen in one person before, on TV.

A sparkling fascination lay behind those eyes, too bright to originate or end in one man.

I felt like Bill Moyers.

Over the course of the next few months, we met in coffee shops or near his retirement home. We spoke of animals and people and the numinous wonder of interrelating biology. He edited papers I’d written, bringing focus and precision to my stories about truth.

Every pattern of biology and environment was a parable to him, one we can use to learn about ourselves.

Bob was 82. At times, a haze of confusion would drift over him, and a quick flash of embarrassment would accompany its clearing. But a single question could bring him back to shining focus. He’d return with bubbly eloquence and eyes bright like sunlight on a river.

His observations were brimming with mythic significance. They perfectly echoed the wholesome kinship and woven connection of “man with world” found in native cultures.

Bob had never heard of Joseph Campbell. I was shocked.

He seemed to have discovered the same lessons by studying animals and writing research papers that Campbell found by reading lines between the cultures of man.

Salmon and owls had told Bob their stories without symbols, and he had avoided views outside those of science. In fact, the philosophical implications of his research had troubled him as they seemed to drag him reluctantly toward spiritual perspectives.

Only recently in life had he dared to consciously examine relationships between the meaning he experienced in his work, and the Catholicism he had been raised to believe.

One day I went to visit him, and was told he was “unavailable” by the staff. I left one voicemail and another. After weeks with no response, I feared he was gone.

A family member of Bob’s contacted me. They thanked me for reaching out, and let me know that he was physically okay, but no longer mentally “present” enough to communicate.

Did that mean he was “gone”? I’ve wondered what it would mean in Bob’s life-philosophy.

His stories helped me see interrelationships of biology and beliefs and people, where all parts of a system affect one another. Life requires no conscious human decision to blossom and swell in this world, yet its flow may be directed by our choices. What we are as human beings may just as easily thrive though collaboration as survive through competition.

Maybe I didn’t have to fear he was “gone.”

Whatever may have happened to Bob’s physical or mental existence, his experience of being alive has affected my own, by directing the way my ideas interrelate within an ecology of philosophies.

Find the Meaning in Everyone’s Meaning

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Let’s say that you’ve agreed with Korzybski that “The Map is Not the Territory,” or maybe Lao Tzu that “The Tao that can be talked about is not the real Tao.”

It has become clear that what humans can think about is their own personal map of reality, and not the really real reality “out there.”

As insightful or profound as anybody might be, reality just doesn’t fit into anybody’s head. Only a sort of representation of reality can squeeze between our ears, and while Stephen Hawking or Stephen Colbert may have mapped some things out that make sense to you, nobody can cram the whole universe into their brain.

“Don’t Eat the Menu”

People stop looking at what is going on, and cling to their ideas of how the world works all the time. We get lost in our own heads, and forget that even the words we know to be most true are a form of symbol. A glossy photograph of a dripping cheeseburger could make you salivate, but it only -represents- the “world out there” you can bite.

We tend to cling to our own maps of belief, especially when the world seems scary or tough to figure out. That’s a natural thing because without our own sense of reality and its corresponding morality, we’d be lost.

This would explain why everybody seems to live in their own little world. Because we do. At least, our minds live inside little 3D globes illustrating reality. Anything we can think about is part of our own map that was created by our own experiences. In that sense we all have access to our very own set of “facts.” There are different maps in our heads.

That’s why you see all those posts on Facebook that make you slap your forehead.


Is there any way to see how all these maps relate to each other, or is mankind forever doomed to wage wars between various moralities and realities?

Can all human experiences and their resulting mind-models of “what is real” be explained as physical phenomena?

That may seem like a worthwhile pursuit to those of us who consider ourselves rational or scientific. Heck, maybe we could even clarify the debates between “objective” and “subjective” forms of reality in philosophy. We might see a relationship between all forms of science and all forms of religion, to boot.

All of that may sound really great.

However, if you’re a human being trying to figure out how belief and meaning works, you’re looking for “the thing that makes meaning and truth” with a human mind – and your mind is “the thing that makes meaning and truth.”

We all have something we know to be meaningful and sacred within us, and it may be “existentially excruciating” if we happen to tear it up at the roots while digging around to see how people make meaning.

If you follow a line of reasoning that connects biology to psychology looking for explanations and patterns in “mankind’s behavior of creating forms of meaning” like those valued by Logotherapy, you might explain the nature and origin of dualism to yourself and ultimately see meaningful relationship between all fields of human endeavor – but don’t get stuck halfway because it really sucks.

Any earnest attempt to continue along this path of reasoning may bring your mind to territory where the significance and import of all human forms of meaning fall away. Our lives are sustained by our own meaning the way our bodies are sustained by water, and your conscious mind may at some point constrict the flow of meaning that sustains you personally.

There are very good reasons why most philosophies and sciences have steered awareness away from this place, and why strong emotions pull our lines of reasoning in other directions to avoid conclusions like the ones you may begin to reach. It could be said that, in the sense of evolutionary psychology, safeguards are in place specifically to -prevent- us from consciously evaluating the nature and origin of meaning.

The rivers which quench the human thirst for significance and purpose dry up once we reach this dusty land. In a place halfway across the world from theological territory is a polar extreme. While the sun illuminates the physical world of objects in harsh white light here, there is no shelter for your soul. Most men, and even the most intrepid of thinkers, will turn right around once their toes dip into this barren soil where nothing valued may grow.

If your goal is intellectual sight-seeing, by all means, wander near this desert of meaning and survey the formation of dunes that stretch across the horizon. Then go back to your hotel and jump in the pool of your chosen belief system.

If your goal is the “attainment of truth,” however – do one of two things:

Stay far away from the desert. Be a poet. Be a mechanic. Not both.

or,

Be prepared for a long, hard journey in which all that you love in yourself and everyone else, may wither and nearly die from a thirst for significance.

On the other side of this desert is a land more bountiful and rich than you may ever have imagined, a place where meaning and connection with all people in all times and places springs pure. Compassion wells up from the ground in perfect crystal pools, in the places you’ll find if you make it all the way around.

Go all the way.

Or don’t.

But don’t go halfway and stop.

Don’t stay too long in a place where existence “is” only matter and people “are” just complicated animals. As a destination I’d warn against it. If you’re really going there, please consider it an important stop along a larger journey of reason that will provide you with new perspective on all belief systems including your own.

Find the meaning in everyone’s meaning.

Dawn of Black Friday – A True Short Story (4 min.)

Personal Experiences, Uncategorized

dark wave approaching city

Long ago, in a land full of televisions and shopping carts, the natives of the retail village huddled close and stared at each other. The fluorescent lights turned the whites of their eyes blue. Outside, it was dark.

It was 4:55am.

They were gathered in a cathedral of consumerism, a football-field’s distance from the great sliding doors at the front. Its walls were filled with computers and washers and dryers and most things that could plug into a wall.

A group of natives, inhabitants of the stereo and camera realm, had gathered near the back of the store in front of the televisions. A silence spread among them and washed across acres of real marble floor. They straightened their ties.

“First time?” asked a man with a stooped white dress shirt and a collar the color of eggs. He leered at the circle of faces around him, each one round and flat and bloodlessly half-awake. The granite crags of his cheeks formed a wicked smile. His eyes were a cave of ancient sorrow.

The floor began to rumble.

“It’s an earthquake!” a young man broke from the group and dove into the flickering darkness of television displays.

As the marble beneath their feet began to throb, panic spread. Some hid behind towering stacks of subwoofer boxes.

Many of the young men unconsciously formed ranks, joining their shoulders and forcing their feet flat into the smooth glossy stone.

The hand of the camera-girl shot to the arm of the camera-boy beside her.

The camera manager stepped in front of a large metal cage. This cage was where DSLRs and slimline waterproofs were imprisoned side-by-side. His young manager’s face showed the determination of a hard grape, sour and smooth and small and unready. He stood in front of the display’s central cell door, arms skewed straight and anxious. One miniscule fist attempted to spare a finger from its grip, to caress a large bundle of keys.

The floor continued to pulse, the thrum of its oscillations growing. A sound, deep and vast as the ocean, emanated from the distance. All faces turned toward the source of the burgeoning thunder. All eyes looked down the football-field of marble toward the front of the store.

“It’s five…” came a whisper from somewhere.

The thunder became a roar. The floor moved left and right, exactly the way a floor should never move. A young man broke rank and ran broadside for the breakroom.

The roaring sound grew. It filled the skull and took everything. It was thunder and shriek, from a baritone growl of thousands of feet pounding stone, to an undifferentiated cacophony of screams and the exploding rattle of shopping carts shredding marble. The sound shook the soul and pierced the mind. Another pair of slacks went sprinting in retreat.

As the source of the sound became visible, eyes widened in awe and terror. Two more ran for the rear exit near the loading dock. The whiteout sleeves of their flailing fresh shirts faded grey and charcoal into the dark.

The remaining natives who held their ground, stood shocked and staring and helpless in the path of the roiling chaos. The tidal wave was coming.

Crimson sleeves and navy winter coats formed kaleidoscopic frenzy at the top of the wave as the colors whirled and shot. Grabbing hands poked out of its crest and tumbled forward. Feet poured in all directions and stomped at the base of the hungry rolling wall. The wave devoured displays. Engulfed endcaps. Steel carts skittered out from it and filled and flipped as the wave crashed into them.

Thousands of mouths shrieked in desperate hunger. The eyes flashed! So many eyes howling for shrinkwrapped sustenance!

When the wave hit them, many of the natives were swept away like styrofoam peanuts. Some were caught beneath it. The camera manager was crushed against the steel cage, and had to go to the doctor.

The location did over a million dollars in revenue that day.

To our fallen brothers, I dedicate this memory. To the men and women who continue to sacrifice their life’s breath for a livelihood, as a nation worships at the altar of a Gross and disfigured Domestic Product, I dedicate these words.

May this hunger we know feeds our economy, somehow evolve into a hunger that feeds our humanity.

An Introduction to The Compassionate Theory of Everything

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What Consciousness Looks like copy

Nothing in this upcoming theory is “true.”

It doesn’t offer any sort of “ultimate truth,” only a way of seeing things you might find useful.

If you do choose to let yourself see things this way for a little while, the world might feel different in a way that you like.

What’s on offer is  a feeling of understanding and compassion along with awareness of what other people believe. A pretty rational route is taken to arrive at what a lot of people think is a fruity and spiritual goal. Maybe an unreasonably lofty goal:

Feeling good about your fellow man while seeing her warts and all.

This theory, like all theories, is best when played with and not taken seriously. Try this:

“What happens when I see the world this way? What do I notice then? What does it feel like?”

It’s worth noting, a paradox was involved in its creation. It was originally, many years ago, meant to be taken incredibly seriously. As the neuronal stormclouds gathered in a brain and the lightning bolts shot this way and that, the brain took this activity very seriously. It was a search for a method of discovering objective reality, and all that jazz.

However, here is a fact science points out, while often clinging to a status quo and simultaneously stumbling over the same fact:

You cannot simultaneously cling to a hypothesis or explanation and find out what’s really true.

If you try that, the Earth remains flat. You’ve taken your whole “flat-earth idea” seriously, so you know you’ve got to turn your boat around before you get to the edge.

The best thing a theory can provide, is a new and useful way of seeing the world that lets you see new relationships within it. The earth moves around a sun, which is in motion as well. Entertain yourself with more.

The Compassionate Theory of Everything now exists inside a brain that is attempting to limit and distort it back into words. The challenge is to somehow describe, in English, the origin and nature of various belief systems without using only the lexicon of a specific belief system. It’s not a psychological theory, because it does not assert that your thoughts and will exist only in a “mind.” Nor is it biology, because cell walls cannot contain the collective unconscious. The choice of words to describe the origin and nature of many disciplines is tough, because one will not suffice. This would limit the others unnecessarily or distort the intended non-judgmental meaning behind the theory.

All belief systems may be seen in such a way that seemingly-exclusive perspectives are understood to emerge from a place that exists in all human beings.

The possible utility of this, should other brains be interested in the construct, is a pragmatic understanding of shared humanity despite wildly differing perspectives.

This understanding of all “ways of understanding the world” came largely by way of a search for “what people care about” in talking with tens of thousands of people. These people came from different backgrounds. Their nature was different. They had different life experiences. Their nurture was different. Their diction was unique to the individual, so their ways of describing what they cared about was necessarily singular. Yet, over time, patterns emerged.

The advantage this man had in his own interpretation of these patterns was a lack of discipline.

Specifically, with no social bonds to any specific academic culture, no specific paradigm was applied with any consistency. Instead of the repeated application of one belief system in the process of interpretation, a broad-based skepticism was applied.

Critical analysis was performed from a standpoint of various theologies and philosophies found in literature, biology textbooks, self-help books, religious texts, psychological theories and mythologies of many kinds. For what comprised “the first half” of the theory, the unavoidable application of personal values of anti-superficiality and anti-materialism, comprising a resultant belief in something essentially “soul like” in humanity, were applied. The theory was completed from the opposing standpoint.

Various theoretical constructs were used to interpret the patterns of “what people care about,” by way of the basic notion that “words represent and internal map of the world.” The way people describe their fear and desire indicates the construction of a sort of model of reality that every human being makes in their heads. The patterns of “what people care about” were analyzed in terms of their nature and origin in physics, psychology and biology.

The big question:

“In what ways can all belief in truth be interpreted as congruent with existing paradigms of understanding the universe as a whole?”

The goal was to make the worldviews and behavior of mankind entirely compatible with all things that may be observed to be “real.” A distinct lack of exceptionalism was pursued. Though physics describes a strictly calculable and measurable world of objects, and psychology describes expressed belief as a form of behavior, each does attempt to explain the “how” of what happens in the “same real world” of “objective reality.”

All searches for truth, be they ostensibly spiritual or empirical in nature, diverge from an origin in man.

Psychological origin? The origin of truth, on one end of the theories of psychology, lies in man’s non-physical soul as it quests for meaning. Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy represents this elegant and ultimately theological standpoint.

The other end is crisply delineated by the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner, which would describe all belief systems as the result of operant conditioning on a human nervous system, a process that may ultimately seen as entirely physical.

Religious origin?

Even among the most devout of religious folk, there are few who would claim that God spoke directly to them in English. Some form of interpretation into meaning is involved in all human pursuits of truth. A human being may conceive of God or of atomic particles reaching far into space, yet both conceptions arise from the same point. This point exists in space as well, perhaps a few centimeters to the left or right of the corpus collosum.

The issue one faces in attempting to “interpret patterns in common of all subjective realities,” is that in their analysis none of their specific lexicons may be used to encompass them without significant distortion.

Rather, to see such patterns with a form of linguistically-unbiased clarity, a repeated process of “un-labeling” must be applied. To evaluate the process by which people imagine an endless variety of differing things to be “good” or “evil,” a lack of personal bias must be pursued. Essentially, this requires a process of bringing conscious biases to light and then reasoning from an opposing bias. This is a required step in an honest attempt to understand all belief systems.

A human form of consciousness, subject to the same fundamental processes as any other human consciousness, is necessarily used to consciously survey these processes in others. There is a fractal nature to this.

Judgment of Falsehoods and Dangerous Belief

For the purpose of understanding, the urge to classify as “pathological,” or to judge for or against the moral judgments of a system of thought, must be avoided even in its protean state. “Emotive conjugation” or “Russell conjugation” must be acknowledged by the person performing analysis.

In a practical sense, as such emotional response cannot be avoided yet must be accounted for, this requires a systematic application of bias both “for” and “against.” One whose beliefs are “pigheaded” and “false” must be seen as “obstinate” and then finally as if they were “firm” and “true.”

While this would seem to be a rather deliberate creation of “moral relativism” by which the “center” of one’s own perspectives might be lost, the process creates instead a useful form of individual clarity. Although it becomes no longer possible to judge the world strictly by way of “goodness” or “evil,” as these constructs are revealed to be highly individual while sharing patterns among social groups, the values which create these judgments within groups are illuminated.

The observer becomes keenly aware of his own values through a process of comparison and contrast, while simultaneously losing the perspective that these values as interpreted are, or should be, universal.

In brief, the Compassionate Theory of Everything describes mankind as a form of “Animal with Extra,” that “Extra” being a surplus of consciousness that amounts to a God-like capacity.

Importantly, this description has the ability to offend each and every American, should they so choose.

Those who believe in Christian descriptions of the nature and origin of man, may take issue at the label of “animal.”

Those who believe in a non-theistic description of mankind’s nature and origin, may ruffle at the very mention of “God.”

In unifying all theories the boundaries of each are necessarily crossed.

The theory does not “prove” or “disprove” the existence of God. It does describe the way in which a powerful form of consciousness may exert a form of will over all human beings, while at the same time granting each of them the ability to choose.

The theory does not “prove” or “disprove” the existence of a mechanistic set of rules by which all human behavior and belief might be seen as the result of a random and uncaring universe.

The theory does describe the nature and origin of a choice between these basic and seemingly-contradictory worldviews.

The choice to see agency in life’s events, and find meaning in them, is facilitated by the CTOE, not obstructed. Its purpose is to simplify and ease the process in a way that also helps us to understand and celebrate the same process in others.

The Dividing Brain Revealed

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color brain

Although I often feel fear about what America may have inspired recently, I do take solace in the fact that the “Us vs Them” ideas we see around us may be nothing new.

The new part may just be seeing it out in the open.

We have given social permission for people to express the divisive anger and protective fear that has existed throughout all cultures and times.

There has never been a time in history, when one group of people was not trying to tell themselves they were better than another. And that the other group was dangerous.

It is not new to be outraged that one group or another is doing this.

This process of dividing may just be part of being human. A basic capacity we all have. We tend to use it when we are scared around someone different. But we don’t need to divide based on differences.

A process of uniting is available to the brain as well. It’s a basic capacity. We tend to use it when we feel safe around someone similar. But we can unite based on whatever we want.

Our choice, either way.

In some ways, this “Great Revealing” of “us-ness” and “them-ness” may pull back layers of our identities as cultures and individuals, and shed light in the places within our shared humanity that create division. The process has always thrived on the darkness, in the places our minds dare not to look.

Now, those places are on Twitter.

 

 

 

Why I Practice Compassion

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meriden chris candid 1920

When I was 12, I watched my 285-pound, 6’4″ father begin to sag and crumble like a rotting pumpkin. It took him 6 years to die.

It gave me plenty of time to wonder about what was eating him up inside.

I’m well aware of how difficult a practice of compassion can be. I may have a sort of intimacy with the things that make it hard. I have seen the opposite of compassion, and felt it within myself.

It might be “okay” for people to be wrong. Most of us can allow that.

But what about when they’re so wrong they’re dangerous? When their beliefs about the world put your family’s future in jeopardy?

When “they” are so wrong that they’re dangerous, we tend to cut off from people. We constrict. Anger and contempt feel entirely justifiable. Necessary, even.

Yet I have seen how they may sicken a person.

In the very marrow of his being, outrage ate my father up.

Quite literally, in his case.

He was a rational man, with a depth of understanding about how the world worked. He could fix most anything in a car or house. He could even make tools to affect the physical world.

The one time I remember him teaching me something without yelling, he brought me down to his workshop late at night and made an electromagnet by wrapping wire around a screwdriver. You could pick up a paperclip and drop it by disconnecting a 9-volt battery.

But he was a midwest firefighter with no tools for empathy. He feared the emotional world within himself, and had not learned that his beliefs might be based on his unique experiences.

His ideas of truth could only crush other beliefs or be trampled by them. He felt contempt for “those people,” the people whose wrong and stupid beliefs posed a threat to what was good and true.

To me, his bone cancer was more than a metaphor of “a terrible thing growing inside him and eating him up.”

Regardless of how his life ended, the struggle he fought did not require him to be “angry at God,” or angry at people. He just thought it did.

He often said: “I like people as they are not.”

He knew enough of himself to be honest about that.

He did not know he had a chance to value human beings without liking their worldviews. This lack of compassion brought him suffering for decades before he was sick.

I seek to discover what I can value in everyone, because it brings less suffering into the world, especially inside me.

 

American Myths

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The Signer tall

Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.” – Joseph Campbell

When I was very young, I noticed that what people said about the world did not describe what I saw. Their truths seemed pre-packaged, and they treated what “some guy said” as if the person who said it was sacred.

People seemed to treat ideas like some “came from above,” whether religious or secular.

No human being’s words were sacred to me.

I watched Ronald Reagan on TV. People said he had civility and decency and a strong moral sense, and that was why I was supposed to look up to him.

What I remember, was comparing what he said to what I had observed:

“Life and liberty? As far as I can tell, all the people around me want this stuff even if they use other words. If America is a group of people who are aware that they want these things, this is a team I belong to.”

Later, it would occur to me that Reagan’s “decency and strong moral sense” were debatable. But I’d never cared about those things to begin with.

The mythology of his words had nothing to do with him, for me.

I allowed it to point toward a truth that nobody could tell me. I could only know what “life and liberty feel like” on my own, but I allowed him to create a mythology for me that these things were American.

As far as I can tell as an adult, the world is full of people who’d prefer life and liberty to their alternatives. I have observed the desire in me to be shared by human beings. My team is much larger now.

As a country, our myths about leaders have taken new directions. In modern stories, “civility and decency and strong moral sense” are not requirements to attain power or success. Our tales include losers who displayed these traits, and winners who displayed their opposite. Other ways of gathering attention and approval have been proven effective. A basic respect for the humanity of others was once a virtue, requiring pretense at least. It is now illustrated to be “beside the point,” at best.

Our secret fear is that the darkness is more powerful, and that decency has become a hindrance to success. But perhaps this is an old fear with a new face.

The myths about “who” made America may be lacking, as its defining essence was not created by anyone. Our stories about leaders may change, but what our first leaders pointed toward cannot be created nor destroyed.

Our myths about the life and liberty and equality America “is,” point toward what can only be known by many.

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Dung beetles and compassion

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guano mountain

I was watching the “Caves” episode of “Planet Earth.” It showed a mountain of bat guano 300-ft high, with thousands of shiny beetles roiling across its surface.

I felt something nasty in my stomach. When I examined the thought that went with the feeling, it was along the lines of: “These are terrible creatures.”

I asked myself, “Is this feeling of constriction… familiar?”

It was. Disgust. Contempt.

“Contempt? Am I somehow making a moral judgement… against insects?”

Though the idea was absurd… I stayed on the lookout for that feeling. I noticed a similar sensation when watching the news.

I get the same feeling about CEOs sometimes.

Was it less absurd to think of them as “terrible creatures”?

I don’t like the feeling I get when I see people ignore harm to feed on profit.

I also don’t like the idea of feeding on feces.

But I don’t need to see living beings as “terrible creatures.”

If I’m aware that I don’t like how they gather resources, and I’m honest with myself that I’d never do things the same way, I’m less tempted to deny the value of their existence.

I can see the greediest corporate “monster,” as also a human being doing the best they can for the people they care about.

Regardless of the feeling in my gut.

 

 
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