Leadership and Hope

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However you feel about the news, you may have noticed that our new president has been following through on his campaign promises about immigration. During the campaign, he stated: “Countries in which immigration will be suspended would include places like Syria and Libya.”

He put that in an executive order. After a period of suspension, this order would change our immigration procedure to: “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.”

Muslims aren’t “banned”… we’d just let everybody else in first. Since the order specifies 7 countries, all of which have a Muslim-majority population, this order could be interpreted as a “legalese” way of keeping Muslims out of the US.

You might imagine that “Muslims” would be angry about this.

Have you heard how “they” have responded to our government’s recent actions?

By asking for help.

 

“The OIC calls upon the United States government to reconsider this blanket decision and maintain its moral obligation to provide leadership and hope at a time of great uncertainty and unrest in the world.” (from the official OIC AP statement)

 

While no person or organization can speak for “Muslims-in-general,” The Organization of Islamic Cooperation does have permanent delegations in the UN and the EU, representing 1.6 billion people in 57 countries. Their statement represents something as close to an “official response from Muslims” as we may get.

Are “Muslims” different than “we” are? While you might say that “they” are led in matters of religion in ways that “we” are not – they have asked us for leadership and hope.

Because everybody is scared right now.

We have believed ourselves the “Bestest and Most Powerful Country on Earth” for a long time, and this grand self-identity has helped us be grand. Whether by self-delusion or high expectation, this country has done big things that humanity had not seen before. This same “big” identity has also helped us to get involved in other country’s problems, whether they asked for it or not.

When those around the world look at us – we are seen as both powerful and possibly “good.” Even by “Muslims.”

How can we be “good” to a whole world? Many cultures do not seem to want the same things that our culture wants. Do “they” hate our religion? Our freedom of religion? Many threats have been made, and US citizens have been killed and harmed. It’s difficult to choose what you know is best for everyone, when it feels like what you love most is in danger.

We seem to  observe one another across a chasm. Those on the other side often seem to be sneering. How can we, as individuals, even be considered “good” by those in our own country? Do we have power, as individuals? Does it matter what we or our neighbors do?

Many states do not seem to want the same things that our communities want. The world and the country do not feel safe.

When protection and argument and battle feel like the only options to us – this is the time to consider what we want most as individuals. It is time look around, to see what everyone is creating by their words and actions. This includes looking in the mirror. You may feel powerless, yet the mirror is the most important place to look. If you see trouble on your left, or trouble on your right, how are you responding to it?

With fear? Indignation? Anger?

What do you want?

If what you truly want most is war, simply respond to dangerous people with the defensive attacks that come naturally. Name-calling feels good; it is natural. Righteous anger feels good; it is natural. Practice it, and your defense cues attack. This is ancient. This is mankind. War is within us all.

If you’d prefer peace… somebody has to be the first to practice peace. Someone has to be the first to listen to the other side. If you look around, and other people don’t seem to be ready to choose peace, guess who the responsibility falls to?

This is tough. It is a challenge for anyone, to not lash out at those who are wrong and who put us in danger. It is a challenge for anyone who cares. The more we care, the more challenge we face in creating peace.

We have been asked by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for leadership. They asked us really nicely. To paraphrase: All the people in all the countries are scared right now, and it would really be helpful if your people could be less-scared because we all look up to you in some ways even if we don’t want to.

Leadership is not the same as being the Boss. Our culture often gets these things confused. We tend to like a big boss with a shiny tie. We tend to each aspire to being a boss. Being a boss means making sure things get done “your” way. This often boils down to making people do things that make you feel good. Leadership goes beyond what makes you feel good.

Leadership asks that you do what you know is best, even if doing something else might feel more satisfying to you. Why is this important? Leadership allows other human beings to see that what you say is best is truly possible for human beings to do.

 

We are being asked to open our arms when we feel like we must cross them to protect our hearts. 

We the people may provide leadership and hope, even when being cynical seems to be the only option because we are not the boss.

We are being asked to find our compassion for the non-compassionate. This means actively pursuing an understanding of the non-compassionate people who wear turbans AND the non-compassionate people who wear ties. If we the people can practice compassion, we provide this possibility to the world.

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Why He is a Pig-Headed Fool

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You may have noticed a lot of people being wrong and stupid, lately.

In fact, statements you’ve heard may sound so inaccurate in their depiction of reality, and so witless about what “We the people” should do next, as to be actively dangerous.

Is the government wrong and stupid? Is the media?

Are some Americans just so incredibly-fucking-out-of-their-minds that they should no longer count as “We the people”?

It kinda feels that way, doesn’t it?

 

Well, the feeling you are experiencing is shared by many.

In fact, you share that feeling with everybody on Earth who feels like deeply important things are in danger right now.

We get upset, we get scared, we get angry and we feel totally justified in our anger. Everybody does it.

The problem with this emotional process we all share, is that it tends to shape our thinking. It makes us good at preparing for battle. It makes us shitty at compassion, and great at justifying our own attacks.

Once any person or group of people is placed in a “they” category, we stop noticing how similar their humanity is to our own. We start noticing that everything they do is a good reason to fight them.

 

“I am firm, You are obstinate, He is a pig-headed fool.

I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.”

  • Bertrand Russell, 1948

 

Emotions of fear and anger ask us to think in terms of “us” and “them,” and carve pieces out of the wholeness of humanity. We want “our” people, the ones who know what is right and good, to win. We make divisions between our community and other communities, by using our heads. These imagined ingroups and outgroups then shape our perception, which influences judgement in ways that justify attack while masquerading as reason.

This process is easy to see all around us.

We tend to notice this process when our neighbors buy into whatever war the government is selling, or we hear people give us their “good reasons” for hating a religion or a race.

But we don’t tend to notice the process at work in ourselves. Hence Bertrand Russell’s comparison to a simple grammatical rule – we conjugate statements of “fact” with our own emotional judgements in a predictable pattern.

It’s okay to be angry. By all means, yell and fret and vent. Get together with other people who see the world in a similar way, and have an “Us the Good Guys” rally. Yell about how insanely wrong and stupid “they” are. Get all that anxious-angry energy out of your system. Share what you know to be good and true. Talk openly about how you feel that good things are in danger. Express your fears, honestly.

But once you’re done with all of that, consider whether you would ultimately prefer to win a battle or solve problems.

If you’re more interested in solving problems, you’ll need to stop creating a “them” in your head, even if buying into your own emotional conjugation feels really good. It does feel good, when you know exactly why they’re wrong. Compassion can feel “lacking,” and leave you with an aftertaste of worry that lingers. Nothing quite compares to the bitter taste of contempt. When you have finally said your piece, and been heard loud and clear even in your own mind, the astringence of vitriol has the cleanest finish.

It will always feel good to see how wrong and stupid they are, but seeing that may not be helping everyone.

They can be wrong and stupid, and still part of the group you care about and help.

“He” will always be a pig-headed fool, whereas “we” will always stand firm in our convictions.

But you have the power to create a larger “We” for all the world.

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The Salary Button (Or, “Some Executives are Made and Not Born”)

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This is a short story I wrote, when I was getting pretty upset at certain problems I believe we face as a culture of modern Americans. My hope was to create a simple story that helps us ask questions of ourselves. It asks that you allow yourself to sort of “settle in” to the narrative…

 

You’re at home, watching TV.

There’s a knock on the door.

You pause the DVR and open the door. Standing tall on your doorstep is a mysterious man. His tophat and cloak are black, so you know for sure that he is mysterious. Something white shoots from depths of the cloak.

He extends a gloved hand, and you grasp the snowy fingers. He smiles, and sharp eyes meet your searching gaze. He speaks in a smooth and resonant tone: “I am a mysterious man, and I have something for you. It is an opportunity for you and your family. Let’s say you’ll listen to my extraordinary proposal about this opportunity, because first I will give you one discovery.”

Pause.

“Dude, you are creeping me out,” you say to the mysterious man. In your head you say exactly that. On the surface of your face, the polite smile slips. The smile’s grip falters a moment, but it clings again and manages to hold your lips shut. Before you say anything, he extends his other hand.

His palm is open and it offers a small box with a rounded top. The box is shiny, and it’s in your hand without thinking. Your fingertips enjoy the smooth surface. It is heavy, and you inspect it further. The left half of the box is a deep shiny black, its right half a glossy total white. On the top is a glass dome, and under the dome is a button. The button is perfectly gray.

The man continues, as you feel the weight of the box in your hand: “You now hold a discovery. It is an opportunity that now belongs to you. You may execute a decision, or throw the box away. On the top, you see a button. Yes?”

You look up from the box, at the mysterious man.

“I’m really not interested in buying anything.” You say this part out loud, in a clear and not-too-forceful voice. You lift the box and offer it back to the mysterious man.

He smiles and opens both palms toward you. One glove is black, and one is white. Neither reaches for the box. He simply holds out his open hands. His calm and sharp eyes fix your gaze.

“You now know of the box, and so the discovery is yours. You may send me away and throw away the box, without ever knowing what it offers you and your family. If you choose to know more, I will tell you of one certainty, and one small probability. Both come with the box.” He does not blink.

The box lays in your hand, and you shift it to the other. It occurs to you that you didn’t have to open the door for this guy. The box has a surprising heft as you pass it from one hand to the other. It feels expensive.

Your smile fades as you look at the mysterious man. Is this a spooky sales pitch, a dupe, or just a gag? But this guy’s tophat is a nice touch. It does seem to fit him, even he’s wearing it in the wrong century. And you can always shut the door. The weight of the box is solid, as is the gaze of the mysterious man. “Okay. Shoot. What does the box do?”

“It provides a certainty. The certainty is this – if you press the button you will receive one year’s salary.” He makes a sweeping gesture with one white glove. The words hang in the air. You don’t quite notice yourself taking a small step back towards your own door and the warmth of home.

The box might make a nice paperweight. You can tell people “A mysterious man gave it to me” when they see it on your desk. Then you remember you don’t really stack papers anywhere windy. Also, the DVR is almost full. Your polite smile falls, and you replace it with the Extra Fake Smile. The one that says, “take this smile as my parting gift.”

He sees your smile and does not blink. “If you press that button you will have the money. That is certain.” He reaches in his large cloak. This time, you take a step back, and notice it.

He pulls out a 2-gallon Ziplock filled with money.

Sure enough, there’s a whole year’s salary in a big plastic bag. Thick green stacks in wide rubber bands. You stare for a moment, thinking your eyes have zoomed in somehow before you notice you took a step forward again.

Your ears are even wider than your eyes, but you try to compose. How best to continue this conversation? “Hey. I like the whole tophat thing you’ve got going on. What’s this about, though? You want me to press a button so bad, that you’ll give me a bag of money?”

He continues. “My desire is not the issue. You have an opportunity. The decision is now yours. As I have said, pushing the button comes with one certainty for you, and a shift in probability for someone else. Someone else’s life may be affected by the accompanying shift in probability that comes with the certainty for you. Or not. You will never know for sure whether or not your decision was responsible for affecting anyone else’s life.”

You notice your mouth is hanging open slightly. You close it. “What does the box really do if I push the button?”

His tone is even. “The button brings one certainty for you, and a small shift in probability for someone you will never meet.”

“Okay.” You look over his shoulder for a camera crew, and glance left and right. He stands alone. You try and match his even tone, but you don’t do a great job of it. “So why don’t you tell me… exactly what this shift in probability is?”

You shift your head and try to peek under the brim of the tophat. It occurs to you that you might be checking for horns. A quick bemused smile nudges into the side of your face when you notice that was exactly why you looked.

His black hand reaches for the tophat, dropping it to his chest where he straightens the brim with white and black gloved fingers. The dark exposed hair is the hair of a mysterious man. One without horns.

He continues: “A probability is a relative possibility that an event will occur. That event may not happen, whether or not you push the button. That event may happen, whether or not you push the button. Your pushing the button only slightly increases the probability of the event.”

What the hell? You wonder. Then you think of the big bag full of money tucked under his cloak. “I’m sorry, but this is plenty weird. What are you talking about? I mean, okay. I get the relative possibility thing. What exactly is the event that the probability will shift in?”

His response is succinct. “Someone you will never meet will have a 2% increase in their chance of developing cancer during their life.”

He runs both hands down the front of his jacket, smoothing it. “You now know the certainty and the relative shift in possibility that both come with pressing the button. The box is yours to do with as you wish. Good day.” He turns and leaves.

Blink. “Whoa. Wait.” The back of his jacket and tophat are unwrinkled and he walks away unhurried. “Hey!” You follow a few steps and he’s gone.

The box sits in your hands. It feels very heavy now.

After a long, long time, you shut the door. You sit down in front of the TV, still holding the box. Then you get up and put it on the table by your bed. You try to watch TV.

You lay on the bed. You look at the box. Surely, the guy is crazy. And what if he’s not? Then he had a hidden camera on you. There has to be somebody watching. Are they watching you now from a tiny camera on the box? Laughing their asses off? You stare at it. It’s no bigger than a jewelry box for a ring. What’s inside it? The round glass dome on the top has a hinge on the back. The little button is gray and round. Maybe you should just open the dome, and take a closer look at this thing. What’s really going to happen if you push the button?

Everyone will jump out if you press the button, right? Like a surprise party. Will they be laughing? Surely, if you push the button, everyone will jump out. Like an intervention. Will they crowd around you and be totally silent, and point their fingers at you?

But what if that tophat guy IS crazy. Like, actually crazy. Insane. What if he’s crazy enough to hand you that bag of cash for pushing a little button?

The box doesn’t feel filled with dynamite. Press it with a broom handle? What harm could come from pressing the button on a little box?

The box sits on the table and the gray button stares at you. You decide to do nothing. You decide to sleep. You sleep poorly.

You’re a little surprised that the box is still next to your bed when you wake up.

The next evening, as you are holding the box in your hands, you hear a knock at the door. You jump a little and shove the box in your pocket. A quick, guilty move. But you make sure to clutch the glass dome shut as you slide it in your pocket.

A man in a white labcoat and thick glasses stands outside.

“Hi there. I’m from Stafford Medical Research. Did a mysterious man give you a box last night? With a button on it?”

You smile big. Finally. Here’s where the guys with cameras jump out, or whatever. “Yeah.”

The man looks at you. “He probably told you it might give somebody cancer, or at least increase their chances of it.” The relief is like a flood. One way or another, here is somebody who knows what is going on.

Questions pour out of you. “What’s with that guy? Is he crazy?”

“Some of us think he is.” His magnified eyes flash as the lenses shift on his cheeks, when his smile lifts them.

“So what about the box? What happens if I press the button?” you ask.

He blinks, and his eyes find yours through the glasses. He shakes his head. The weight of the glasses wobbles them on his face. “I’ve got to tell you, If you press it, the money always shows up. That’s all I’ve ever observed.”

You stare at the labcoat. There’s a nice pen in a plastic holder over his heart. His slacks are immaculate, not a dog hair over a crease. He has a stethoscope, and it hangs at a reassuring angle under his lapel. The man glows fresh and pure. You try and figure out what to ask next.

The doctor is down the steps before you open your mouth.

“Hey!” And he’s gone.

You back into the house. You close the door and lean against it. You stand there for a long time and breathe.

The little glass dome on top of the box flips open easy and smooth. The gray button makes a sound so small you can’t hear it. You feel it click under your fingertip.

Then, nothing.

You stare at the box in your palm, and at your other hand. You sigh, and your body begins to slump against the door.  You are halfway through the sigh when there’s a knock at the door. It rumbles your back, and you leap from it and choke. Your face flushes. Here comes the camera crew. Or whatever.

Slowly, you open the door. The mysterious man is standing there. Both arms are extended. Between his gloves is a Ziploc bag stuffed with a whole year’s salary.

“A certainty.” He says, and looks you in the eye.

“What did I just do?” You ask it softly as you reach for the cash.

He’s already down the steps.

That night, you sleep. With bundles of hundred-dollar-bills in your bed. You have dreams of a blue ocean. Just before you wake, you have a vision of the bright sharp gleam off a razor’s edge.

You wake up and count the money, again. You make plans for it all day.

The evening comes. There is a knock at the door.

Here we go. The mysterious man will be standing there surrounded by a camera crew pointing at you. Will they ask for all the money back?

It’s the guy in the white labcoat.

“Hello.” he says.

You respond by looking at him with your mouth slightly open. Wondering. Waiting for some axe to fall.

“He gave you the cash, right?”

A shot of cold adrenaline runs through you, and your mind flashes a picture of where you hid the bag. But you answer honestly. “Yes. He did.”

“Like I said, every time, man.” he says, smiling a little and shaking his head. “Got something for you.”

You wince, waiting for cameras and people to pop out and gasp and point.

The doctor extends his palm. In it sits a box. It has a gray button.

“We’ve been working on it. We’re pretty sure it works the same way the last one did. I’ll sell it to you for a week’s worth of your CEO salary.”

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Football is Racism and War (and Good for Us)

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Over one hundred million Americans will watch TV this Sunday.

Our red faces will scream at the television. “Go! Go! Go!” Hoarse voices across the nation will rise, in a roar we’ve heard from throbbing bleachers a thousand times – “Fight! Fight! Fight! Kill! Kill! Kill!”

Many beercans will be thrown. Territory will be won or lost. A victor will emerge.

People have been forming tribes, uniting behind flags and and going to war with other tribes for a long time. We fly the colors of “us” whenever we attack “them.” We know “we” are the good guys. And “they” are the bad guys. We will take their land, their resources.

“We” are always the good guys.

All of it, from the dividing-into-groups-by-race-or-territory, to the struggle over land and resources, has served an evolutionary function for thousands of generations. The symbolism of football is new, but the game has not changed for a long time.

It was in our DNA long before the Cowboys fought the Redskins for the very, very first time. Our ability to create an “us” and a “them” using our imaginations helped us gang up on Neanderthals and kick them out of the gene pool. There was a time when there wasn’t enough food for everybody, and it is a vestigial remnant of that time that lets us get sweaty-excited about a guy running down a field with a ball.

The demons of racism and war are within all of us. They are a tendency to classify-by-color and struggle against “the other.” Let’s exercise those demons and run them down the field before they get out of hand. Let’s bash “those bastards,” and push ’em back, waay back, because it is in us to do so. That “push” has to come out. It will come out, in one way or another. All that testosterone has to go somewhere.

Concussions on a football field are far better than concussions on a battlefield.

In football, as opposed to actual war, very rarely is anyone literally torn to pieces by fanatics.

Let’s go ahead and be aware of what we’re doing, when we cheer a set of men wearing a set of colors because they’re “our city.” Let’s be honest with ourselves about what is going on within us as we scream at the television.

We can all answer a simple question the same way:

If there is enough food so that either our kids can eat, or their kids can eat, who will we feed?

“They” might resist. If our children’s food happens to be in their homes at the moment, “they” might object to our attempts to rectify that situation.

Will we feel bad about having to kill “them” so that our children may eat?

These questions have been asked by all tribes, all countries, and all civilizations throughout mankind’s history. As we answer them, we always use colors of “us,” we always know “we” are in-the-right, we always find ways to believe that “they” are inherently less-worthy, unchosen by God, innately less-than-human, or that somehow “they” have traded away their humanity by doing something “evil.” We use ideology – “they” simply believe something “evil” that cannot be allowed to spread. They are “commies” or “heathens.”

The answers we come up with give us permission to kill. Whatever the story, that “we” are a better/fairer/master race/political-system/advanced-culture, the story helps us to feel better about killing. Feeling better about killing helps us to be more efficient and effective killers.

We may even kill them to “help them out.” To fix their ideology so they can play in the world economy, or save their souls before they go to hell.

All the politics and propaganda, all the podium-pounding that ever led to men bleeding in the dirt, is a story of how “we the people” are superior to “they the less-than-people.” A story of how it is “right” for “our colors” to “win.”

Every dictator, every tyrant, every racist and every warmonger told us this.

Why did it work? Why did it work at the Nuremberg pep rally? Why did it work on those Germans? Why did it work when Pope Urban II declared his Jihad in 1095? Why does it keep working across deserts, across time, across cultures?

We would like to believe it was because of some defect in those cultures. Some error in those men. It was those Germans and their inhuman, calculated will to power? Those Muslims and their crazy religion? Those spittle-flecked conservatives and their heartless dumb worldview?

It is always “they” who are capable of atrocities.

Propaganda and racist warmongering of all kinds is effective because it leverages a lie. It leverages the lie that atrocities are somehow inhuman. It leverages a lie that “we the people” could never create a Dachau, because there is something innately “different” and “better” about us. Our people are enlightened. Our culture is invulnerable to fearmongering and divisive rhetoric.

The alternative to this lie is scary. The alternative, in truth, may scare us more than the thought of concentration camps does.

We continue, as human beings, to create racism and war because we all want to believe our own culture is not capable of it. We want to believe that we, as individuals, are not capable of such modes of thought or primal drive to violence. That “we” could not be convinced to go along with the horrors that men do to one another.

The human ability to separate “us” from “them” using our imaginations will always be with us.

Every genocide was “justified” to the people who committed it. Every war was “right and just, and for the good of the people” to those who started it. Each and every one of us is entirely capable of joining in on mass destruction.

It is precisely man’s HUMANITY to man that creates atrocity.

It is our challenge, as individuals and as a culture, to become aware of this. It is our challenge to become honest with ourselves about it. It is the ignorance of our own nature and our attempts to evade honesty with ourselves, that allow atrocities to continue across this earth.

Whatever we choose to do with them, the demons of racism and war are within us. All of us. No human being is exempt. We have only to hear the screaming frenzy of the crowd, the stomps and shouts that register on a Richter scale, to feel it.

When we feel that rumble in ourselves, that rising monkey rage and tribal excitement – let us appreciate that we are choosing to cheer our men as they run down a football field. Some of them will have concussions on Monday, and some will have ACL tears, and all of that is far preferable to the alternative.

On the football field, we are taking symbolic territory with the lowest levels of violence satisfactory to us.

If we can be aware of what we are as human beings, and be honest with ourselves about all of it – we may choose.

From all that we are and all that we want to be, we may choose what we want to create more of in this world.

The Happy Apple of 2015

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When I was a baby, I had a toy called a “Happy Apple.” It’s a red plastic apple only a little larger than a big Red Delicious.

The Happy Apple contains a world in it. Within the Happy Apple is a total tonal experience of this universe. That’s a lot to find in a plastic apple.

It contains all that, if you happen listen to it before you lose connection with such things.

Held close to the ear, tilted gently, it rings like a gong in the Taj Mahal. Sweet droning chords with a 7-second tail on them.

Before I had ever uttered a word in this world, I held my Happy Apple to my ear, and those joyfully haunting tones lived in me. I resonated. The sounds were mine before I ever got the idea that those inner experiences could not be shared with another soul. The sounds were mine before I thought “I” was separate from what I was hearing. They were mine before I thought I was separate from anything. From people. Those sounds were mine before I was taught that “I” was some sort of “mind” that was “inside” a “body.”

A baby sticks his toes in his mouth because there is double-sensation – “Hey a toe-feeling AND a mouth-feeling? Sign me up!” And the baby does not think of mouth, of feet, or of self. The baby does not think that this action brings him joy. The baby IS joy.

When I learned to tilt my Happy Apple and put my ear to it – I was the experience.

Soon, I began to grow up. I learned to make grown-up distinctions. Music and noise. “Me,” and not-me. Inside me, feelings that were “all in my head,” and outside in the “real world.”

These are all distinctions that may be useful when relating physically to our environment. They are useful in communicating thoughts about such motion. There was a time when the most important thing we, as humans, could say to one another was “There’s some tasty berries behind that fallen tree.” These conventions, creating a “self” as an object, as a “thing” within physical space interacting in classical physics, are seen across many cultures. Our languages make us objects that act upon one another, allowing us to “See Jane run” – and creating the assumption that we are a separate, “thing that sees.” Classical physics summed up such realities nicely.

And yet, we know we are more than objects which bounce off of the world and say “ouch.” People have always known that. There is not a society in the world which did not attempt to speak of gods, of divided selves and unified heavens. There is a predictable charm in Newtonian physics, and Galilean relativity. Those of us who cling to them may call ourselves “practical” people who live “in the real world.”

If you’d like to be as practical and real as possible, using physics, the hardest of sciences: we are all, physically, made of stars. We are the carbon exhalations of a supernova’s last gasp, little bits and pieces that spread across the galaxy billions of years ago. And, if you’d like to be a bit more practical and real, using modern physics, we aren’t bits and pieces of particles at all. We are interacting patterns of sub-atomic motion. Language is the hocus-pocus that turns whirling spins of quarks and electrons into “the real world” or hard reality.

And that reality is singular to us as individuals. It cuts the world into pieces for us to contrast and compare.

When I first thought that what happens to us can only be parsed into words, distorted and cut into tawdry representations of the real thing within us, I was crestfallen. I saw the world of facts. I fell to my knees, a 5-year-old child sobbing like a boatless old fisherman. I thought I would have to live out life alone, full of facts in my head that could not make their way out without distortion. Unable to share the “real thing” with anyone, only able to make tiny word-models out of it and hand those word-models to people. I thought that what “I” was “seeing” was important.

As a child, I did not know that while perceptions and associations of the mind, the unique “points” we see in relationship with one another, are singular to us as individuals – emotional experience is universal. The way such points relate, the way they dance and move, is the same dance for us all.

Emotion is the motion within, the rise of anger, the warm descent in love. The identification of “things” is individual. The motion within us is universal.

What a scientist calls a 620-740nm electromagnetic wave stimulating your cone cells, you might call “red.” A Chinese person might say “hong,” a French person might say “rouge.” We can see this wave, we can call it whatever we want. We can associate it culturally with danger, with royalty, with Valentine’s Day. We can associate it personally with a Happy Apple, or not. All those points of association may separate people from one another.

Yet all of us, every single one of us knows what it is to “see red.” The idiom may or may not be understood, even by an English speaker. But the sensation of rising, constrictive force inside, of heat and anger, is universal.

When I fell to the floor crying at age 5, what I did not know at the time was – we are much more than our associations, our memories of “points” and facts. It is not the sights we have seen, that ask to be shared. It is the way in which those sights have moved us, the way in which we, as human beings, have shifted and changed. We are much more than our unique, singular, individual selves. We are the feeling, the experience of these cosmos in motion.

There isn’t a man or woman on Earth who is not capable of feeling the way you do. It is an experience of being alive that we want to share.

As I plan in this New Year, I can envision “real things” in the “real world” that I want to happen. All of them, ultimately, involve other human beings. It is the internal, emotional experience, that resonance of self with this universe that I once felt with my Happy Apple, that I want to share.

We can plan for what we want to “do” or to “be” or to “have.” We can also plan for the inner experiences we want, and the experiences we want to share with one another in 2015.

CS Signature with FB copy

Clawing at the Armrest of the Soul (Force vs Power)

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My father was a force.

He was a yang “push” in a straight line. He was 6-foot-4, 285lb of masculine energy pushing forward. Physically, if applied to an object, he resulted “chiefly in an acceleration of the object and sometimes in elastic deformation and other effects.”

In the Indianapolis fire department, he was the guy they used to break down doors.

“Run at the door and you’ll bounce off of it. That hurts. Don’t hit the door. Find a point on the -other side- of the door and run at that. Move through the door.” – Randy Shelby

In the world of objects and physical reality that everyone can see, my father had lots of force. In the masculine realm of the observable world, you could see him bend things to his will. Or break them.

When something set him off emotionally, he was beyond human. The man was replaced by total fury. A raging, whirling energy filled the room. He was that force of nature that sends waterspouts winding and dancing into the clouds or a tree trunk through your temple. He was a hurricane.

It was loud. Witnessing it drained the adrenal glands. You could cower and hope it would pass. And it wouldn’t. Each time, after twisting dangerously around the room and cutting the air to shreds, it would focus directly on you.

To his mind, the spilled milk was what made him angry. You were the one who spilled it.

I remember him smashing plate after plate of food against the wall. Because I had dropped a fork on the carpet.

The rage was deep-seated, always there, always waiting to come out of him.

It picked you up and wrenched you. It twisted all the joy out of you and crumpled you into a protective ball. Then it would drop you back to the floor. But without a physical scratch, from the time I was 5.

My mother put an end to his physical abuse early in my life.

Out of love for his family, my father attempted to channel that raging physical energy into sound and fury. He was successful. Only once did he leave marks on my body after I was 5.

My father loved his family.

But that rage was always with him.

Did he want it?

I remember a specific scene from my childhood, after one of the daily storms had passed. His rage had finished with me and I was dismissed to my room.

Crouching on hands and knees, I came back. I peeked around a doorjamb at him.

I watched him, his body crushing a huge dad-recliner. He clutched the overstuffed chair’s arms, clawing at the tufted ridges at the end. His hands clenched and unclenched. His face was splotched with a brick-color. His eyes were shut tight, his face drawn tight in pain. He exhaled with the sound of an inner-tube being stepped on in a gravel driveway.

This went on for a long, long time.

I saw that whatever the thing was that had picked me up, bashed me and dropped me – still had ahold of him.

There was nobody else in the room.

There was nobody who was doing anything wrong.

There was nothing to be angry at. Nobody to blame, to shame, to fault. There was no wrong to rage against. Nobody else around for that rage to catch hold of.

Yet there it was. He couldn’t do anything about it. Even when he was the one it was causing pain.

And the emotion was there in him every day.

Many people think we have emotions that are “justified” or “unjustified.” We like to think of our feelings has being “caused.” We like to think that it is an external event which controls our inner lives.

As an adult, there was nothing wrong with my father’s life.

He had achieved. He had the American Dream. He had a devoted wife. He had a son he loved, even if he did not always understand the way his son saw the world.

My father had a place to go to work, where people smiled in his direction. He had more than the average 2.28 cars of the American household.

There was a utilitarian minivan in the driveway. A fun Mustang parked beside the house. And a ’66 Shelby GT350H in the garage.

My father had a house he owned and a family to fill it with.

Like any man, he wanted a “bigger,” amplified version of all those things. The house was only 1,400-sq feet. He probably wanted the Shelby to be faster, although it had a matching-numbers 289 Hi-Po. He probably wanted for each piece of the engine to shine. He probably intended to put the engine parts back together someday.

Like any man, he wanted more of what makes life good.

That form of success continues to live around the corner from you, even when you move into a bigger house.

He could continue to provide physical things to himself and others. Observable events, and the possession of objects, did not change what happened within him.

The rage was in him, burning like a deep coal fire, day after day. With or without an “event” to stoke it, it burned on.

He thought it was there because of external “bad things.” He thought it was because of wrongs in the world he could not push right.

He wanted society to be fair. He wanted governments to be just. He wanted people to be good, or at least get their heads out of their asses about being bad.

The rage flared for all the things outside him that he saw as “wrong.”

It stayed lit for the things inside him that were “wrong.” He could not accept himself as he was. He would not accept the world as it is.

To accept, to allow the world to “be,” is a feminine form of spirituality. To accept reality is to yield to a reality outside the mind.

To allow things to be as they are, and to love this world for being, is a feminine quality.

We all have feminine qualities within us. To cherish them and practice them, does not require us to be female.

To enfold oneself around the shape of reality without asking reality to change is an important part of being human. As is the desire to push on reality and ask it to change.

To accept and love beyond condition is a feminine practice. It is a human practice.

My father had been taught that any femininity in the self must be fought against. \

He saw any mote of the soft or sensitive or nurturing found drifting within a man as “wrong.” When he saw it in himself, he raged against it. When he saw it in me, he attempted to help me and crush it out of me.

We are all both feminine and masculine. We all exist along a spectrum in any given trait.

My father was taught to fear and hate the feminine within himself, and to actively cut off from it. He was beaten severely as a child, for drawing a picture, for singing a song. He could not accept his own sensitivities.

He could not accept the feminine process of acceptance itself. He fought against what he was.

He could not welcome the world or himself. Parts of those things were wrong. He would constrict against them, and try to crush them out.

Yet the world and the self continued to do their thing, and that thing was different than what he imagined as “good.”

That abraded him, irritated him. He burned against it with contempt and resentment. He did not and would not welcome what he was.  He would not accept what anybody was, or what this universe is.

He had no ability to use his feminine force of acceptance, understanding and unconditional love. He gave himself no permission to do so.

He burned for this.

In the outer world, my father could bash apart most things and people.

In the inner world of feeling and experience, my father was powerless.

Out in the “real world” of American culture, people enjoy a show of force, a spectacle of observable action. We value the masculine. We like to see people shove things around.

Yet, with all this supposed ability to dominate nature, we continue to have problems.

We can’t seem to force our bodies not to be fat. The economy does not do our bidding. Ecologies do not do what we wish, and environments do not bow down to us.

Is it because we are not shoving on them hard enough?

Large, interconnected systems may ask us for something else.

In many realms of human existence, power comes from an ability to accept what is and work with it. The foundation of science is a submission to nature. We observe, we predict, we accept what the universe gives us even if that does not match our predictions.

At its best, science and spirituality consist of learning how reality moves and dancing with that motion.

If we value battle over healing and growth, we can declare war on our bodies. We can go to war with the environment, and see if the will of man is truly more powerful than the rest of the universe.

Or, we can learn to value other things. Forcing and fighting are not always effective in getting us what we want. Power is not only found in being masculine. Power is found in being human.

The Bad Boy Jerkface

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He will never hand you the TV remote. He will not falter, doubt, waver, or consider your feelings. He will click and what he wants will happen. He does not care what you want. He does not care what you feel. He does not care what you experience.

He creates his own experience.

He will not hand you the remote, because “what you think you want to see” has nothing to do with him. And in truth, it would not interest you. What he wants, is something you hadn’t considered. Something you were afraid to consider. In truth, it scares you, and it would be a lot more fun. But he isn’t aware of any of that process, either.

He creates experience he wants.

If you add to his experience, you’re part of his creation. He allows you to come along for the ride. You sit behind and clutch your arms around him, head down as he speeds down the road.

There is nothing about his disregard, his lack-of-care for your feelings, that is inherently sexy. Just as there is nothing inherently sexy about a woman’s nightgown. She has vulnerable parts draped only by a smooth, delicate surface, and those parts are inherently sexy. The satin and lace just let you know those parts are there and accessible.

A man creates experience. A woman is experience.

A bad boy will cause you pleasure. A bad boy will cause you pain. He will not falter. He will create pleasure and pain for you. Given the choice between the two, a woman will always choose this:

To feel.

Does a bad boy know this? Does he know of your choice, that choice above all others? Does he know that your want to feel, is your birthright as woman?

He doesn’t know about such things. He doesn’t need to know anything. His engine rumbles, and thoughts of pistons don’t help it rattle your insides.

If he were to know about your insides, he might consider them. And in considering, he might doubt. Which would lead to wavering, and faltering.

Will what he wants, hurt you? He tries considering. Does he still want it? He doubts. His pistons firing in opposing directions, he stalls, and falls quiet. Inert. In the silence, he offers you the remote.

Which you take, and leave him in the dust.

 

 

The Evil Spoon

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How do we, as individuals, know what is good and what is evil?

We can usually tell when two things are “different” from one another. Some cowboys wear white hats and some cowboys wear black hats.

But how do we judge how an action or a person or a thing is “good”?

Are spoons bad? Is there something about forks, some inherent fork-ness that makes them a superior form of cutlery? These are strange-sounding questions.

Here’s a question you’ve heard before: Soup or salad?

So the waitress asked you that, and she blurted it so you wondered a quick second: “Super salad?” You’ve considered your values. Flavor and nutrition. You didn’t even ask what the soup was, because it’s probably watery minestrone in a thick white cup. You chose the salad because salad is vaguely “healthy” and there might be chunks of actual cheese in the dressing.

Flo brings you the salad you chose. And she brings you a spoon. Ever try and pick up lettuce with a spoon?

Now, a fork is good. Now, Flo is a bad waitress.

We tend to think of things as being “good” or “bad,” or “right” or “wrong” as if there is some sort of essence inside them. We all value survival, so we tend to agree that diseases are “bad.” Beyond survival, there are many differences in human desire. We each see the world a little differently, we each value some experiences over others, and we have different ideas about what would work to create what we want.

Yet we get in the habit of starting at the question of “Is this good or bad?” instead of starting with the underlying questions that support a thing as “good” or “bad.”

It’s fun to judge people or choices. We call it political “debate” – you root for “The Red Tie Fat Guy” or you cheer for “The Blue Tie Bespectacled-Intellectual.” It’s all Pro Wrestling, good guys versus bad guys. If we’re honest with ourselves, we want one of them to win before the other guy even opens his stupid fat mouth. It’s fun to cheer for the good guy, because the good guy is on “our team.”

The thing is, when we look at the world in terms of “good” and “bad,” without being aware that our own values and choices make it that way – we behave just like racist warmongers.

We practice racism, or anti-racism, and never get down to the underlying questions that matter. What experiences do you value? Who do you want to have those experiences? What action would be most effective in creating those experiences?

We end up barking about “what’s good for people,” getting all excited about how “right” we are and how “good” our ideas are – when we’ve leaped over the things we need to know about ourselves in order to discuss the world with others. When we question our values as individuals, we find ideas about what constitutes a good life based on our own nature and nurture. When we know what we want and why we’d choose it, first, then we can work to create it.

Good things are only “good” because we perceive them as effective in creating an experience we personally want. Of the options we see available, the good choice is the one we see as likely in creating something we value.

When we aren’t aware that we value the motion of living systems, systems so complex that no man can predict how a piece affects the whole, when we are not aware that we value a harmony with the animals and plants that make this world breathe, we become environmentalists instead of humans. If we cannot talk about what purity is, and what it means to us as humans to put lab chemicals in our bodies or in the air, we end up being “isms.” Conservatives value purity, but they’ll eat cheeseburgers all day long and tell you what to put in your genitals. Liberalism, conservatism, racism and environmentalism make for loud red-faced debates about “right” and “good” that are fun to watch.

 

An aware, honest human being that knows their values and makes choices based on them moves the world forward. You can be one, no matter what “ism” you see as “your team.”

Isms, in my opinion, are not good.

Good, in my opinion, is not good. There are things that are useful in creating the experiences we value.

The next time you see a spoon, ask yourself if it’s a bad spoon. And the next time you hear a bad idea, ask yourself what you value, and what you see as effective in creating your choices in the world.

 

 

 

The Great Why (a tiny story about big things)

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“Time to put the world back together again,” he said, and with half a lifetime he would do it.

The Great Why, in a voice like all the trees in all the nobody-there forests in all the world falling at the same time, went on. “I have granted you the boon of paradox, and you guys have resented me for it. While you’re alive you don’t notice the experience of living, yet you complain when people die. All your red beating hearts and pink grasping hands were once gray and inert, as undying as a booger already flicked. Long ago, everything was not a bunch of things but one big gray blob. Without even a nothing around it. There wasn’t nothing, because all of the nothing was mixed up in the colorless gray shapeless blob. All the white stars and black space and warm souls and cold nothing were together as one.”

Looking in at The Why, the boy’s thoughts pushed hard enough that his eyebrows and lips crawled towards the tip of his nose to get out of the way. “Wasn’t that love?” he asked, and his eyebrows and lips went back home.

“It was boring as shit, is what it was.” said The Why.

“I heard about that together-as-one thing on the radio, but the singer guy seemed to like it,” said the boy.

“Oh yeah,” said The Why. “It sounds great to people, now. Change is the fun part. Planets and protons and people have split up and moved apart for a while. Now you’ve got contrast to play with. You can enjoy all the yearning and mourning you want, if that’s your thing. You can see the world as separate particles, and separate yourself from the particles. A little science will help you do that. You can isolate your living soul from the universe and make life a waiting room for your appointment with death. A little religion will help you do that. Allness has been shattered to shards and broken up into objects for a long time. But separation gets old after a while. And when allness is together-forever, that gets old, too. When Point A is one with Point B, you can’t draw a line between them. You’ve got to have separate pieces to create relationship, and you’ve got to have relationship to feel anything. Now you get to be apart from the world or a part of the world. Your choice. To feel closeness and warmth, you’ve got to have cold separation as a possibility.”

“So that there’s stuff to sing about,” the boy interrupted, almost.

The Great Why smiled out at the boy. Being nearly interrupted was his favorite thing. As an entrepreneurial Why, it felt especially good to be told when he was doing a good job.

“You got it, kid. A while ago, many people felt connection with the world around them. They had to pay attention to how it moved, if they wanted to eat. They stuck their hands in the earth. People watched how a deer would leap, and where a deer would leap, so they could leap in front of it. People noticed how and when a cotyledon sprouted in the sun. They payed attention to cycles, allowing the spin of the earth to tell them when to poke seeds in it. Then some people stopped looking around outside. They watched the patterns in their minds instead, and saw the straight lines of their own reasoning. Other people brought them food, and started paying attention to what was in their heads, a place where points and lines exist without curves. People began to forget that the food was ever alive like they were. They forgot that it lived and died like they did and was made of the same stuff. Eventually people separated themselves from the world around them. Now they fly in a straight line from point A to point B without really noticing either one. And they complain about the food people bring them while they fly.”
“Time to put the world back together again,” said the boy.

 

A Communication Pledge

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I say what I mean.
I choose to let others accept me or reject me based on who I am.
The responsibility to share my heart and mind and soul lies with me. I will express myself to the limit of my abilities.

What I say may not be common.

I know it is easier to understand an expected word. I know misunderstanding is common, and happens to all of us even when we do our best to listen. We may fail to catch a ball thrown to us, even if we agree to play. Especially if we weren’t expecting it to be heavy.

I know some people will choose to disunderstand. We may swat the ball away, or let it drop because it didn’t land directly in our pocket.

I know some people will choose prejudice. If a fragment of something I say arouses alarm, people may run away without the whole. It is easier to jump to conclusions than to bear a complex or provocative idea to its completion. We may choose to shut ideas out, rather than allow another perspective to complicate our lives.

If others want to stereotype me, that’s okay. If you try to react to other humans as individuals, there are over 7 billion reactions possible. A handful of stereotypes is much easier to choose from. We can even choose which types of people to like before we meet them.

If someone chooses to open up and understand me, seeing who I am as an individual without jumping to conclusions or filing me away as a type of person, they may see me naked as a human being. It may not be pretty.

If others choose judgement in their lives, they may judge me. Is what I believe right or wrong? Good or bad?
Once we listen, we may choose to dissect ideas and people with the blades of our morality.

We may open ourselves up, or close ourselves off in protection and make a small safe world. Openness is vulnerable, and it invites messy things like love. Judgement has a satisfying crunch to it, and nothing compares to the bitter taste of contempt. It has the cleanest finish.

I will not distort my words to make them safe for others, conceal them to make them safe for me, or disguise them to make them attractive to anyone.

I choose to open up, and offer words from my heart. Others will find them useful or attractive.

Or something else will happen. I welcome it all.