On the absurd…

Feeling a bit unfocused today, so I’m postponing the post I’d started for today & will use it later in the week. Instead I leave you to ponder these words of Albert Camus, and my post from October 25, 2016…

“If I try to seize this self of which I feel sure, if I try to define and to summarize it, it is nothing but water slipping through my fingers. I can sketch one by one all the aspects it is able to assume, all those likewise that have been attributed to it, this upbringing, this origin, this ardor or these silences, this nobility or this vileness. But aspects cannot be added up.” — Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

In The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus’s treatise on the absurd, Camus wrote about the conflict between what man wants from the universe – order and meaning – and what the universe is – chaos -, which is what he referred to as “the absurd”. This is fundamentally why he rejected the label of “existentialist” – he felt that existentialists fell into the trap of accepting the lack of order or meaning, but then seek to find meaning anyway. He also rejected, firmly, the notion that acceptance of the lack of meaning left suicide as a tenable alternative to living. Instead, he posited that one could, and should, accept that there is no meaning, but that, armed with that knowledge, we can then proceed to live a full, meaningful in its own way, even happy, life. Sisyphus’ endless task of rolling a rock up a hill when it keeps coming back down was used by Camus as a metaphor for humanity – we struggle without purpose, but once we accept that, we can find happiness. In some respects not all that far from Taoism, and in my own mind, still not terribly far from the existentialists.

Albert Camus, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson – borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.



Thoughts about Compassion and Peace

Repost from September 20, 2015 in honor of yesterday’s International Day of Peace. Have a peaceful weekend.

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”

— Lao Tzu

Back in February, when the wonderful initiative started – what an awesome idea it seemed having 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, by blogging on the same day – I wanted to take part, but struggled a bit with an approach.  Since the blog is for my thoughts, I decided that the best thing to do was to be me. Since then, the quarterly piece I’ve started twice, and not managed to finish, has been on the subject of compassion being at the core of societal DNA, falling second, really, only to our own instinctive need to survive. We need others to help us survive, and they need us. At it’s very core, this is how and why non-familial communities form, and from those smaller units, larger groups from, governments are developed, and on, and on. Without compassion, the entire structure comes apart.

Perhaps December will be the right month? Because I decided to switch gears a bit, again, this month when I realized that the International Day of Peace was Monday, September 21 – merely one day after this post was due. So first, the pitch for PeaceNow, and their quest to obtain one billion signatures on their petition to the UN to adopt a resolution containing a framework for establishing global peace – please read the resolution, and sign the petition, if you haven’t already done so >>>  International Day of Peace  http://www.peacenow.com/.

“The true and solid peace of nations consists not in equality of arms, but in mutual trust alone.”

— Pope John XXIII

When I gave it some thought, I realized that the gear switch wasn’t as big as I’d feared, for after all, a lack of peace – internal or external – indicates a lack of compassion. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves, we cannot find inner peace. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves first, we cannot adequately feel compassion towards others – we may very well be polite and kind, and very nice people, but practicing compassion moves beyond that. Bringing about true peace globally requires a very large commitment from a very large number of people to act with compassion.

“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”

— Lao Tzu

Human nature, at its very core, may well make that impossible – there has never been a time of peace throughout the entire world, and, sadly, it is unlikely to happen. But knowing that, sometimes even despairing in that knowledge, does not mean that we should give up our quest. Like ripples in a pond, the acts of compassion spread out – they can impact others in ways we may not even be aware of – and they encourage others to act with compassion, and so the ripples extend further and further out. Conflict is unavoidable, but if enough people are able to act as voices for reason and compassion, perhaps the conflicts that flare up will not escalate into huge conflagrations if there are enough people surrounding those in power, and, perhaps some conflicts can be avoided entirely simply by recognizing the humanity of those we disagree with.

In the words of Jawaharlal Nehru:

“Peace is not a relationship of nations. It is a condition of mind brought about by a serenity of soul. Peace is not merely the absence of war. It is also a state of mind. Lasting peace can come only to peaceful people.”

And finally, because Peace and Compassion cannot be separated, I’m also reposting the Charter for Compassion:

For additional information & resources, please check out the Charter for Compassion website, and consider signing on.

The full Charter For Compassion is reprinted below:

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Photo taken near home – December 2016

Tuesday’s Quotes – September 19, 2017 – Peace

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”

— Ronald Reagan

It is not often that you will find me quoting our 40th President, but everyone makes sense sometimes. As we approach the International Day of Peace on the 21st of September, it’s important to remind ourselves that the world has never been conflict free – or even war free – but when we have choices, when our leader have choices, the first choice should be diplomatic, not militarized.

The idealist in me still wants to believe that it is possible for the majority of people to find the means to achieve peaceful, compassionate solutions because the desire to avoid the painful alternatives is universal. And the pragmatist in me knows that survival of the species is actually dependent on it. And we are hard-wired for survival.

But achieving that requires education, and it requires patience. And it requires leadership that sees peaceful conflict resolution as a clear path. Sadly, that seems to not apply to may of our modern politicians, particularly on the extremes. The voting public needs to understand the folly of that war-mongering rhetoric. And in the face of the posturing by North Korea that may be an impossible task.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
― Nelson Mandela


A portion of this post initially appeared on February 5, 2016.

Learning new things every day…

As I browsed around for possible topics for today’s blog, I discovered that today is National Consitution and Citizenship Day.  And yes, that really is an official federal observance. Amazing, there really is a day for everything – and I cannot believe I was completely unaware that we actually had a day dedicated to the anniversary of the signing of the US Consitution in 1787 by the delegates to the Consitutional Convention. So yes, 230 years ago, the delegates to the Consitutional Covention signed off on their handiwork.

According to the Library of Congress, the day was based on I Am An American Day, which had been authorized by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1940. The day was originally established as the 3rd Sunday in May as a celebration for new citizens. In 1952, Congress repealed that proclamation, and replaced it with Citizenship Day, and moved it to September 17th in honor of the signing of constitution. In 2004, Congress changed the name to recognize the Consitution as well as Citizenship, and also added a pair of requirements to the observation – one being that each federal agency head provide employees with educational material regarding the Consitution (I wonder how many actually read it and understand it? – the agency heads, I mean), and the other that schools receiving federal funds must hold a program for their students on (or near) September 17th.

So Happy Consitution and Citizenship Day! The United States Constitution is a very short, easy to read document. I’m neither an agency head, nor an educator, but, for those that are interested, a copy can be found here, and the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments) here, and the subsequent amendments (11 to 27) here.

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”  — Thomas Jefferson


Words to live by

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”
— Marcus Aurelius

Something we should all keep in mind.

Have a relaxing weekend.


Photo of the Cassini spacecraft’s final image before it burned up entering Saturn’s atmosphere courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute. Image found on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory website >>> https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/7792/?category=images


Tuesday’s Quotes – September 12, 2017 – The Majestic Hudson

“Must I tell you that neither the Alps nor the Appenines, nor even Aetna itself, have dimmed, in my eyes, the beauty of our Catskills.”  — Thomas Cole

The old Dayliner cruises out of Manhattan that traveled up to West Point, and then to a turn-around at the Bear Mountain Bridge, used to advertise the boat rides as tours of the ‘majestic Hudson’. I never did take the cruises, but growing up in the NewYork/New Jersey area, the Hudson figured prominently, and I’ve carried that with me as I moved a bit further north, and still take many (possibly too many) pictures of the Hudson (now mostly from Walkway Over the Hudson State Park). Today marks the anniversary of the start of Henrik Hudson’s historic journey to explore the river on the Halve Maen in 1609. Today’s quote, from the artist credited with founding the 19th century Hudson River School of landscape art – one of the earliest ‘American’ art styles –  seemed somehow fitting. British born (1801), Cole spent most of his life in the New York area, and he died at his home in the town of Catskill, New York in 1848.

Photo, of course, of the Hudson River, looking north from the Walkway Over the Hudson.