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My Purpose

The following is the attempt of my conscious mind to see patterns throughout my life that point toward “what I am” at my core, and gain understanding of it to the extent that “knowing myself” may be possible.

The following is the “highest” or “broadest” purpose of my existence, so most of the ways I relate with individuals or groups in some way relate to this largest sense of contribution to a whole of humanity of which I am part.

If there can be any purpose to some of my early experiences of getting hit with a chain or kicked by groups of people…

or some gift that might come from my seeming inability to “see the world through any specific cultural lens” (and accept its limited spectrum) and the resultant pervasive feeling of loneliness and separation I’ve felt my entire life (a feeling that has only lifted in moments of one-on-one intimacy with another human being, or time spent with animals, or seeing the moon between treetops)…

and if both my nature (the physical and mental attributes I was born with – which I did not choose) and my nurture (the environments and experiences of my years of psychosocial development – which I did not choose) have some sort of utility which I may consciously recognize and relate to as a “mission,” it is this:

Help Homo Sapiens Transcend Tribalism

Lots of other people share this purpose and will fulfill it and describe it in their own ways.

Can I really say that I have “chosen” this purpose? Not really. My choice is to allow my “soul” to lead my mind. All I am choosing is to be what I am. And as far as I can tell, what I am is a “Tao-ish seeker of non-denominational interdisciplinary truth,” who became focused on humanity and our ability to connect through compassion.

“Truth,” however, is all that I ever knew I was looking for. That’s why I started reading the encyclopedia when I was very young, and running away from home to the library or musuem even before anyone tried trapping me behind a school desk.

All I was aware of, for most of my life, was that I wanted to understand the truth of “tribalism.” I didn’t use that word. I just looked for the patterns of bias and behavior it describes. I don’t care if we call it “tribalism” or “culturalism,” or use another word from the social sciences – or even from English. I speak English, so I tend to call electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 625–740 nanometres “red.” The phenomena exists regardless of what anybody calls it. If I spoke Spanish I’d call it “rojo.” This thing I’ll call “tribalism” right now is a universal human phenomena, so we can pick from any of mankind’s 7,200 languages and endless scholarly or religious divisions to describe it.

Really, when I was a kid I wanted to know “What the hell is wrong with you people?” and by “people” I truly meant “all people.” I was hurt, but I started to notice the things that hurt me were not limited to any specific group of people.

In many ways, it feels like “surrender” to fully acknowledge all this consciously. So it comes without a sense of majestic triumph and zeal, as I sense many “missions” might.

Why would anyone choose to “transcend tribalism” when they could be on a boat drinking champagne instead, or even just smoking weed and eating cheese fries?

I never would have chosen that type of mission.

But the one thing that has distracted me from various glittering lifestyles, is “truth.” I’m drawn to it. Helplessly.

Truth on its own, however, is still not enough. There is some “active” component to my philosophies that I cannot escape.

The most I can say that my own conscious understandings have contributed directly to this “mission,” was a realization that my philosophies were… doing something to me.

They made changes to my emotional and experiential well-being.

After a series of traumatic events brought me an (admittedly strange) new form of perspective, one that might be called a “total lack of attachment to my own beliefs,” I wondered: “What good are all those things I was trying to figure out and learn my whole life? What use are the philosophies I’ve come up with? It seems like this Chris Shelby guy has put together a somewhat unique model of mankind’s relationship with reality, and he was quite certain that everything he figured out was true. But everyone who ever lived was pretty sure they knew what was true, and what some people believe makes them act like jerks. So what happens when this particular model/worldview is acted on? Is it good for anything? If tried out and experimented with, what happens next?”

New connections became possible. Almost like some sort of cognitive path had been cleared towards the experience of “compassion.”

I noticed that I had access to feelings of empathy and understanding that I never had before. It used to make me angry when people were wrong. When their ideas were so wrong they were dangerous, my anger made me treat people badly based on their ideas. It frustrated me when other people didn’t make sense, and brought feelings of disgust when other people did not seem to even be trying to make sense. But those feelings went away, diminished, or became manageable for me.

The next thing that occurred to me is that “compassion” is the only thing I’m familiar with that allows people of differing cultures to connect with one another. In my philosophies it is the “self-seeing” of shared humanity in others. It has a long and rich tradition in many forms of spirituality, although unfortunately the stories and traditions of many religions are themselves divisive, often nullifying any world-healing benefit of their practice.

Compassion is, as far as I can tell, the way “group divides” are crossed. If you look closely enough, every group of people has an “in-group morality” that differs from their ideas about how to treat outsiders.

Individuals in street gangs only stick knives in the human beings of other gangs. Nations bomb other nations. It may not be a coincidence that “flying your colors” is vital to nationalism, racism, and gang warfare. Though their mansions may not have a specific flag, it may not be all that different for CEOs of large agribusiness companies who see “the public” as an out-group to be used and abused. These men in suits would never, ever poison their OWN family. Families living outside their mansions, however, aren’t quite as human. Those people can be collateral damage in a war for profit.

It is not, as I see it, a coincidence that my friend was beat up after last week’s Seahawks game. He’s from California, as are his jerseys. They are not blue and green. He walked past the bars near the stadium after the game, and was attacked by a pack of five-fingered animals all jacked up on testosterone and ethanol. Their vicarious tribe had won a symbolic battle minutes before.

Am I saying that “football fans” are violent and tribalistic and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups? No.

Nor are “patriots” or “conservative shock-talk pundits,” or the uncle who ruins family reunions by yelling about “those people.”

I’m saying that the species Homo Sapiens is violent and tribalistic and and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups.

Does that mean we’re all capable of “Man’s inhumanity to man” because it’s in our DNA? With billions of renderings of genetic code in every person across the earth, yet each one containing a line that says: “get them before they get you”?

Yes.

That may seem like a very nasty thing to say about humanity. It might make us sound brutish and hopeless and “broken.”

I do not see it that way.

We’re getting better.

In aggregate, on a worldwide scale, on a loooong timeline – we’re getting “better.” As a species, over millennia, we are becoming kinder and more welcoming. Not as a nation, over decades. But as a whole, over the course of pre-historic speculation and through recorded history, we are becoming better at treating each other well.

We simply have a bump in the long road of history, with Brexit in the UK and immigration in the US, and religions coming apart at the seams.

To progress from the point of evolutionay psychology or cultural evolution we are at now – we need to see the challenges more clearly.

Right now, most people can easily see that “the other group” is tribalistic and biased. But to “get past” this point, in which we can all see so clearly how terrible “those people” are, a significant number of us must see that the species Homo Sapiens is violent and tribalistic and and unreasonable and immoral towards out-groups.

One problem with stating this message clearly, however, is that for the most part – only tribes of psychologists know what I mean by “out-group.” And most people don’t spend their decades looking for patterns of “tribalism” in human affairs. (That’s why I started the Compassion Circle – so everyone who does recognize this pattern and “gets it” can work on translating a message of healing between cultures and lexicons and idiolects so as to free it from any boxes of thought and perspective)

We live in a world that is experiencing more and more divisions between groups. We are rather gifted animals, with our ability for abstraction and symbol – but that also lets us divide ourselves based on politics, religion, money, or any preference. Social media allows everyone to see the beliefs of everyone else. That’s new. And so we are noticing that some of us believe it’s okay to be gay and others don’t.

I’ve heard from representatives of large worldwide religions recently, that their religions are splitting in two. Even religions that have been “together” for some time will be splitting apart. A group of people who have sat on the same pew for years will no longer be “together,” but instead be found in two churches meeting in separate buildings across town. Because one of those buildings will allow you to marry someone with genitals similar to your own, and the other won’t.

Lots of splitting in the world, for a SEEMINGLY maddening variety of reasons. But I don’t see it that way. There’s only one reason for the splits: “Your beliefs are different than mine and our symbols are different colors. So go away before I bite you or take your stuff.”

So it seems to me that my life, and all that thinky-cerebral-activity (that I really have no choice about, either) – all the times that high-school teachers yelled at me for reading textbooks in their class or that people sighed and shook their head when they saw me scribbling in notebooks my whole life – might have something to contribute to a larger whole.

Is this a “choice” or a “mission”? It feels far more accurate to say that my conscious mind has finally learned to step out of the way so that my soul can get things done.

The Facebook Group “The Compassion Circle” is a place where we discuss “how” we can transcend tribalism. We also celebrate compassion-in-action, wherever we can find it in the world.

Just tap the “Visit Group” button on my page:

https://Facebook.com/ChrisShelbyPage/




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The Lending Library


I ran out of fiction this morning, having finished off the Stephen King books somebody left at a bus stop. The city is closed, and the waterfront Starbucks locked its doors this morning, which means Seattle is Officially Shut Down. The libraries have been closed for a week.


It occurred to me that the library I made a few years ago might still be open.
Back when I had a house, I put a wine chiller in my front yard and filled it with books and VHS tapes.


So I rode the bus down to the old neighborhood, where a 400sq-ft house made out of a barge hides between multi-million-dollar condos. Sure enough, whoever is in that funky little house today still wants books in their yard.


The seal on the wine-chiller’s door was in good shape when I found it at a thrift store, so I knew I could keep Northwest moisture out of VHS tapes and prevent the books from smelling like my grandma’s house. Cleaning the stickiness out of the bottom when I got it home, it occurred to me to try plugging the thing in. It seemed to hold temp. “Rich people,” I smiled to myself, imagining the worldview and perspectives of someone who spills Merlot in their $3,000 wine chiller and simply has the servants haul it away.
Having never seen a lending library which offered both movies and books before, I called the box “Movies and More” as a homage to the video store I rode my bike to as a teenager.


The seal on the door is still good.


The jubilant sign I’d cut from red and yellow plastic and taped to the inside of the door is gone now. There were no videos in there this morning, but a VCR doesn’t fit in my backpack anyway. I got to thinking about the past.
Years ago (shockingly few, since I feel only tangentially related to the person who lived in that house,) I’d jog down the steps every morning eager to open the stainless-steel door.


“What does the neighborhood want to share, today?”


My six-pound dog learned to pause there as we’d go out, instead of towing me down the sidewalk. She’d wiggle her tail and indulge my bizarre human behaviors as if I’d found a particularly fascinating urine spot.


Each morning I looked forward to seeing what was new in there. Instead of discarded books and movies, there was often passion in the offerings. Sometimes a short letter explained why it was a favorite book, or a sticky-note read: “Dang good drama.”


People seemed to communicate with one another through their contributions. Patterns emerged. My “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” led to “Breakfast Club” and was met by “Sixteen Candles.” A fairly complete tour of the 80’s by way of John Hughes emerged in the box, capped off by “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”


One day somebody filled it from top to bottom with DVDs and Blu-Rays. I kept the “Zombieland” Blu-Ray for myself.


Overall, I think my favorite lending-library moment was the morning I opened the door to find “Breakfast of Champions” and “Only Cowgirls Get the Blues” pushed together. Someone had nestled these VHS tapes against each other on an otherwise empty shelf, to make what I saw as a charmingly obscure statement. Some form of synergy is often intuited between Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins by readers, and here someone had commented on it. The tapes sat together like brother birds, perched like crows on a telephone line.


Much has happened since I put that lending library up.


I’m sure there is a continuity, a through-line of some sort, between the person who opened that stainless steel door daily, and me today. At the very least, he and I might pick similar books.


I took one and I left one.

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Real Change

A friend of mine who sells Real Change newspapers saw me coming up the steps of the office this morning. He grabbed my shoulder and told me what happened for him recently:

He sold enough papers to get an apartment and sleep indoors.

Then, with the help of a local celebrity (a member of Pearl Jam) he sold enough papers in one day to pay his whole next months rent.

Real Change is a quality newspaper and a pretty incredible idea – help homeless people who want to participate with society’s systems get involved in capitalism. Give them a place to start. A way to participate with the world humans make out of dollars and ownership. No address required.

My own experience with the paper has been inspiring.

Years ago, I used to buy them from the guy who stood out in front of my local Trader Joe’s. In those days I was a Real Change customer. I’d walk up the hill from the house I rented, to get cheap Belgian chocolate bars and affordable French butter. A gregarious, lanky dude was always out front of the store offering papers for $2. The newspaper was full of progressive ideas I liked, and buying them became a habit when I was an indoors-person.

Life eventually exploded, as it sometimes does. I am no longer an indoors-person.

A few months ago, I looked across the street from a shelter in the damp dark of a Seattle morning, and saw an office: “Real Change.” After a moment, the name rang a bell – this must be the office for the papers I had once enjoyed buying and reading.

I returned to the same spot, out front of the TJ’s, this time as a vendor. It turned out that it was still a great place to have conversations about Noam Chomsky. While doing this I also went from zero dollars in my pocket to enough money to buy vitamin D3 and shoes without holes.

This has been a big deal for me over the last few months, because I could purchase comfort for a few dollars a week while doing something I wanted to do anyway – talk about social issues and thinky-things. It was a return to my old neighborhood, where I once stocked my lending library with VHS movies. It was a return to the streetcorner where I once stood and personally asked over 6,000 people to vote. (I’m not sure these left-leaning Seattleites did, based on how that election turned out.)

The streetcorner turned out to be a sort of spiritual nexus in my life – it was also the spot a homeless man once handed me his jacket. The primal simplicity of that moment changed me.

Just recently, another vendor earned that corner, a place that had turned out to be such a crossroads in my life. Kudos to him – he had to sell hundreds of newspapers in a month to reserve it for himself. I wasn’t going to do that.

I’ve noticed that no other streetcorner feels as good to me, and that when I try to sell papers anywhere else the only conversations I have are with the bones in my busted left foot. They keep yapping at me if I stand in one place, yet they seem happy to hike all day carrying nearly 300lbs up Seattle hills. So I’m moving on towards other things.

“Real Change” is something special. They do even more than help outdoor homeless people become successful indoor capitalists. They provide community for people who are ready to sign the social contract, but may never have been handed a pen by their parents.

They organize political and social activism. While I personally have no orientation “left” or “right” (I’m a “forward” guy) – I wholeheartedly support the efforts of people who put their hearts into this sort of change. I feel kinship with anyone who is actively easing suffering, and Real Change does this and more.

Even the “Emerald City Resource Guide” that’s showing me other things I can move toward, is published by them.

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Bridge to the Future

At a potluck in the big city a couple days ago, I talked with a man about the future of mankind.

Cancer had brought his personal future into doubt. He wondered about our collective future, and asked if I thought we were heading in the wrong direction.

The word “direction” felt important to me. In the direction our species is headed – in the distance – lies a place where the most fulfillment for the most people is possible. He asked me how I could see things in this way. A metaphor emerged which he told me he greatly appreciated:

There is a chasm between where we are now as a species, and a peaceful and harmonious place we want to be. On the other side of the chasm is a form of welcome and togetherness that our species as a whole has yet to experience.

The bridge that spans between now and this future does appear to be in bad shape.

The whole thing may tumble into the abyss.

Hatred in politics pulls it down in every country, schisms in religion pull it apart in every community.

It may be helpful to remember why a species would find itself in such trouble to begin with:

Was it a good idea to put billions of people at the same dinner table and allow them to talk about politics and religion?

We became global through commerce and then revealed everyone’s beliefs using social media.

While it might appear that lots of people have become dangerously deluded and unreasonable in the last few years, that is not the case.

We have been stupid and hateful for millennia. It’s part of being homo sapiens.

If you doubt this, please pick a chapter from a history book and read it. Any era or civilization will do.

Way back in the 20th century, Americans could think of ourselves as a group. We had no idea how stupid and hateful the other political party’s beliefs were. CBS, NBC and ABC didn’t show us that stuff.

Now we have Twitter. We get updates of outrageous insanity on a minute-by-minute basis.

However – we are, collectively, as nations and neighborhoods, moving toward something our species has never seen before. A wholeness and relatedness.

This means an interrelation of diverse and differing parts, just like when a mostly-masculine human and more-feminine person get together. They find things in common, but do not become identical. A global, harmonious, and peaceful world does not require us to meld into a large pile of gray goo.

In a fully interrelating, global world as experienced by a whole species, many beliefs won’t match up and that’s great.

So far, our species has mostly-transcended the de-humanization of those with differing skin color. We do less and less hatred-by-race. About 200 years ago most countries passed laws that people could not own people. Things have gotten better, and not perfect, since then.

Our species has mostly-transcended the de-humanization of those with differing genitals than our own. We do less and less minimization of women. About 100 years ago some countries passed laws that allowed women to vote. Things have gotten better, and not perfect, since then.

Now, we get to find ways to transcend the de-humanization of those with differing worldviews.

Transcending tribalism – our temptation to exalt “us” over “them” – when it comes to belief systems is harder. It was the spread of a belief in “human rights” that urged these other changes to happen. We can look around our country to see people who don’t value human rights.

Yet such people remain human.

We’re going to need to find something other than beliefs we all have in common.

This is the bridge to the future. Empathy and understanding for the human-ness of the “other,” based on something deeper or more fundamental than worldviews.

If you are a member of the Compassion Circle, you are working on building this bridge and strengthening the supports. Our human tendencies to divide and conquer are as basic as gravity threatening to pull this bridge down, and even our differing names for the same process have traditionally helped us divide.

We need ways to describe what lifts us up and holds us together – here are a few and please add more in comments:

It’s the opposite of “othering” that lets us connect

It is re-humanization that allows us to love

Transcending tribalism

Inclusion

Seriously, truly, welcoming a diversity of worldviews (even when this involves enduring our own feelings of moral disgust)

The bridge to the future can hold up the weight of billions of people, as precarious as it may look now. We are weaving a new strand and strengthening it with our own lives whenever we put empathy and understanding into practice.

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My laptop conked out in the cold this morning so I tried something new.

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I’m a grown-up!

At the bus stop by a highrise today, a woman whose eyes I liked looking into asked me: “Do you know what this building is?”

When I was young and people asked me: “How’s it going?” I responded in the least appropriate ways. I would answer the question as accurately as possible. Or I would attempt clarification:

Them: “How’s it going?”

Me: “Is your inquiry regarding my general emotional state, or are you asking me to make value judgments about recent events?”

I was not a popular kid.

Social norms and customs and just about anything that other people seem to “know how to do without thinking about it” have never been easy for me. I never understood trends, hair-gel, or why the hell anyone listened to “New Kids on the Block.”

Seemingly, I must think about everything. The upside to this is that I know my own values, and why I do what I do. The downside was missing out on being social, and much of what people enjoy up through their teenage years.

By forcing myself into professions of near-constant interaction, I learned. I paid attention to how human beings interact and make decisions. I attempted to help them make better decisions using awareness of their own values, and self-honesty and reason and inquiry. After talking to tens of thousands of people I learned some things.

Among them was that when people say: “How’s it going?” it is intended as a form of greeting or acknowledgment.

Today, when the woman asked me: “Do you know what this building is?” I did not attempt to answer this question.

Instead, I considered that she may have intended to say:

“You should take me to your favorite produce shop in the city, and then we will sit on a bench overlooking the water and eat strawberries together.”

That’s what we did.

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Written in the woods

The evergreens weave green-gray fractals overhead. Climbing slippery deadfall in the near-dark to get here, I never broke one ankle. Not one. When I got back to this favorite place, the area was unsoaked. A special sort of tree held my spot for me, and the soft bed of pine needles is still dry after days of hardcore rain.

Even the blanket I’d rolled and tucked into a canvas bag and wedged between branches is exactly where I left it. Okay, so it’s not a blanket. It’s a dog bed. But it’s really thick and it keeps two-thirds of me quite warm.

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Big-Hearted Mermaid Bathrooms

Yesterday I came out of the bathroom and there’s one of my street-buddies, standing in the middle of the coffee shop.

He was using a Bic lighter and cooking the skin of his arm.

He explained to me that he was trying to “get the bugs out.” I urged him to do this outside instead of in front of a bunch of wide-eyed “indoor people.” Most people are less familiar with meth-headed logic than I am. Arm-cooking makes them uncomfortable. I did manage to coax him outside for a moment on my way to get newspapers to sell, but only a moment.

This morning, a sweet barista let me know that, yes, it took police to physically remove him from the store yesterday. That sucks.

This is a city that thinks it has a “homeless problem.” It doesn’t.

It has a “meth problem” and a “mental illness problem” and weird economic dynamics that lead to visible symptoms like tents and a “man cooking his arm in the coffee shop.”

I can most certainly see why people think “homelessness” is a problem. It’s the external part. The obvious outer symptom of deep inner malady.

It’s like the time I tried putting on my pants and my belt wouldn’t fasten. I thought that what I needed was a new belt.

But it turned out that I was just really fat.

We would all like symptoms to go away immediately.

I’ve got to give big thanks to one of our most iconic corporations for helping human beings during the time it takes to heal and grow. It costs the company money and they don’t get to brag about it directly.

In America we’re told corporations are “people.” I’ve met human beings who are murderers and thieves. But none of them have poisoned thousands of babies to make a profit, like some corporations I can think of.

If I’m going to pay attention to the bad stuff, I will also pay attention when a company does good things.

Starbucks is helping people.

Starbucks cannot brag about this good thing they do. They let individuals like me use a bathroom.

It’s not the type of “virtue” that can be practiced and also “virtue signaled.”

It’s a massively helpful act that is invisible to the general public. It also costs them money.

If Mr. Starbuck wanted to change this policy, he could do so in an instant and put lots of money back in his pocket.

I’ve spent enough time working in corporate environments to know when employees have been ordered to do something. It is clear to me after observing the behavior of employees in multiple locations over the last five months, that a directive came down from the top:

Homeless people buy nothing and they make a mess.

Treat them exactly as you treat customers, anyway.

Let them warm up inside, let them use the bathroom – and most importantly – WELCOME them to do so.

I see employees do this every day.

This is a big, big deal to thousands of people.

(At the moment I typed this sentence into my laptop, the guy who panhandles out front stepped inside the Starbucks I’m sitting in. The employees behind the counter yelled out his first name with a hearty “Good morning!”)

This helps outdoor-people in a big way.

It also helps the city. When human beings can use the bathrooms inside buildings, the streets smell better. In a city where almost NO OTHER BUSINESS provides a bathroom, the Starbucks on every corner is literally the only place to go indoors.

I’m writing this because yesterday I saw how hard a company’s policy of “welcoming everyone” can be on employees and profit margin.

When you let the guy who is dragging a garbage bag around carry it into the bathroom, you’re going to find a boot sticking out of the toilet.

For a business, that boot costs you money two ways:

One – The Half-Caff-Soy-Macchiato sees that boot and hops back in his Tesla, never to return. You lose precisely the customers you’d want to keep – ones with no problem paying $20 for coffee and muffins.

Two – Byy cheerfully handing out the bathroom codes to everyone, Starbucks essentially needs to have a full-time janitor on staff.

That makes things hard on the employees. (They have explained to me that they take turns with the newfound janitor position.)

I want to call out this large and successful company for also being benevolent. “Big company” and “helping people” don’t often go together, and as a corporation Starbucks doesn’t need to be good to anyone. It’s costing them money, and they could easily print an hourly bathroom code on receipts instead of welcoming everyone.

The pic is from the first location at Pike’s Place Market, before she put on a bikini.

Thanks, you topless mermaid you.

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