Good advice

There seems to be too much fear in the world today – financial, political, physical safety. And much of it is actively stoked by those in power the world over. Fear often breeds hate. And when we allow ourselves to hate, we forget that one of the greatest gifts we have as humans is the capacity for kindness and compassion.

We must not allow ourselves to be so caught up in the media-fed frenzy of fear, outrage, and hate that we draw broad strokes across entire groups – Liberals, Conservatives, Muslims, Christians, Whatever. We need to remind ourselves that the only way to bring positive change, and to break the cycle, is for each of us, individually, to treat all others, and ourselves, with dignity, respect and compassion.

Now that the multi-cultural, multi-religious, holiday cycle,  which begins every year with Thanksgiving and continues past New Year’s Day, is underway, it seems an apt time to dust back off one of my favorite quotes from educator – and abolitionist – Horace Mann:

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves. We must purposely be kind and generous, or we miss the best part of existence.”

The whole is only ever the sum of the parts.

Have a peaceful weekend.

Cold rain clinging to the Japanese maple, November 13, 2018.

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Tuesday’s Quotes – November 20, 2018 – Gratitude

“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”  — John Milton

In keeping with the spirit of this week’s upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in the US, and of the #1000Speak post that I’ll not have tine to write this month, and because Milton’s been on my mind this week,  I wanted to share his reminder that feeling, and expressing, gratitude has the ability to positively impact our lives.

Image of john Milton from http://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Milton

Love a label? Finding compassion among the silos…

The thoughts I was working through in this post – originally published on October 19, 2015 – have been on my mind, again, recently. It was originally written for #1000Speak during 2015’s pride month in response to one headline, but our divisions seem to be running so deep, and in so many areas, over the past few years, that I’ve been pondering why some of us cling so tightly to some of the groups that we, or society, or biology, have placed ourselves in, that we develop something suspiciously like hatred for those that are outside our silos.

Compassion becomes difficult, and empathy virtually impossible, if we stop recognizing that ‘others’ are not (usually) the enemy. That life, and the world around us, is more grey than black and white. That we humans have more in common than not. When we become incapable a nuanced thinking, we lose a bit of our own humanity in the process. So, I’ve decided to share the post again as this month’s #1000Speak post.  And, hopefully, also as a weekend contemplation, or, better yet, as a conversation starter because I think, in may respects, it’s more relevant now than it was 3 years ago.

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.” — Ram Dass

Recently a headline that I barely glanced at somehow infiltrated my subconscious and stuck there. And got me thinking about how our human need to identify with a group, and still somehow distinguish ourselves, may be making it harder for others to relate to us a people. Compassion is still possible. Compassion is always possible. But empathy? Empathy is harder to attain when dealing with such narrowly defined labels. Especially when those labels are often guarded so militantly.

“‘Pansexual’ Rises on National Coming Out Day” read the headline. Um, well, okay. I personally think that National Coming Out Day is a good idea – I think it’s important for people to be honest about who they are, and if having a dedicated date to do that makes it easier to do, then that’s all that matters.  It was the ‘pansexual’ label that drew me in. Perhaps because the adult  daughter of a friend varies her sexual-orientation label with quite a bit of flexibility. She is, primarily, lesbian. Sometimes she identifies herself as asexual. Or bisexual. And that’s okay, too, I think, but I do worry that sometimes she seems to assume that others just instinctively know where she is, and is annoyed that they don’t get it. Yeah, there’s surely more than a bit of drama here, which I think her friends mostly ignore, but it does make me wonder whether she ever feels isolated because of her strong need to label herself. But this problem of labels is one that exists far beyond sexual-orientation labels.

The notion that humans need to identify as a part of a group more specific than ‘human’ is well established. We identify by nationality, ethnicity, gender, color, religious affiliations, occupations, hobbies, sexual orientation, class, political views – and winnow it down further by subcategories within those groups. But we modern, westernized, humans have also developed a strong need to be seen as unique. The result seems to be that we seek increasingly fine-tuned labels because we want to make sure that no part of our individuality is missed, while at the same time needing those labels to help us find others that are more like us.

But group identification, and highly individualized labels, while helping us find our place in society and providing us some measure of support can leave us more isolated as well. Just when it’s possible that we need more love and compassion, we may find it more difficult to obtain.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of human behavior, rooted deep in our survival instincts, is a fear of that which is not us. We instinctively distrust ‘different’, just as we instinctively move toward ‘like’. This protects us from obvious predators, and from warring tribes, but does little for us in our day-to-day interactions. For the most part, we have those instinctive reactions so well in hand that we barely notice them, and they don’t prevent us from navigating through our lives, but they do lie at the base of our prejudices, and, occasionally, irrational dislike of people that we just met.

Each additional layer of group identification adds to those things that are different, or that fall outside of our range of tolerance. Or the tolerance limits of one or more of the groups that we identify with. Sometimes when we wholly embrace the views of a group, we end up cutting ourselves off not only from the larger society around us, but possibly from our families and friends.

I think our ability to be compassionate with those outside our silos is often limited because we confuse empathy and compassion, and we do not always understand that love can exist without a personal relationship.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another”. — Thomas Merton

Compassion and love go hand in hand. Compassion can, and should, be taught. We recognize the suffering of others, and feel the compulsion to act. Love in this sense can also be taught, I think, for it is the love of our fellow beings, and animals, as well, that enables compassion and the desire and willingness to act in some way to alleviate the suffering of others. Empathy, which requires a way of relating to the others that cannot be taught – it requires a shared experience, or a natural ability that is possessed by few. Empathy can be particularly difficult when our own micro-universes keep us removed from those outside, but since we can feel love and compassion regardless of how narrowly we define ourselves, there should be no impediment.

And yet, in a somewhat ironic turn, the continual shrinking of the world at large seems to lead to a magnification of our differences. That magnification fuels fear, which fuels hate. So rather than an increasing globalization leading us to see each other as the same, we are focusing more on our differences. In order to move to a more compassionate, and peaceful, world, we need to open up our minds to the simple reality that we are all humans. To understand that we all are trying to make our way through this life as best we can, and that all of us need help and support from time to time. And that love and respect are something that we all need. And deserve.

“Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

Do I have an answer? No, and there is no simple solution. But we all need to challenge ourselves to push past our preconceptions and prejudices – to suppress that urge to react to the different instead of interacting with it.

As I was writing this, possibly apropos of nothing, possibly in a sudden burst of insight, this quote from HG Wells came into my head and refused to leave:

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

Perhaps if we all remembered, and became, the person we are, instead of being consumed by the person we’ve become, the world really would be a more compassionate place.

Stepping once more into the breach…

… and the muck, and the mire…

“Never, ‘for the sake of peace and quiet,’ deny your own experience or convictions.”

I shared these words of former UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold a couple of times before, from a couple of different angles, and it seemed a fitting time to dust them off.

Let me start out by saying that this is NOT a post about Professor Ford and/or Justice Kavanaugh, but when all is said and done, it will go along way toward explaining why I believed her. And I will also go on record as saying that my issues with Kavanaugh, and why I thought he was unsuitable for the Supreme Court, predated any of the allegations of sexual improprieties. Concerns about his record that I did not have with Neil Gorsuch. His behavior at the Ford hearing, and his Sorry/Not Sorry op-ed piece, only demonstrated a lack of judicial temperament, but we are where we are, so we move forward. The catalyst for, not the subject of, this post.

Before I start, I need, once again, to disclose a few things about myself since they certainly make me biased on this particular subject. First, I’m a functioning, rational, human being with a strong moral compass. To compound that, I’m female. A post-feminist, well past middle age, boomer female. With two daughters. And, in spite of my widely varied, and unrelated,  career choices and hobbies, I majored in psychology. And a few decades ago I volunteered as a crisis intervention counselor for rape victims. Which not only makes me biased, but somewhat qualified to offer up an opinion. In case my qualifications as a woman, or a human, aren’t enough.

Admittedly, it took me awhile to decide to write this – I’m an adult female who came of age during a unique time, and, like most of my peers, there are things about my past that I’ve not shared with my children. But my children are adults now, and things in the news recently have been so absurdly contentious – and the messaging so awful – that I want to make my perspective clearer.

I first want to talk directly to those people, male and female, who seem to find that the delay in reporting of an assault somehow implies that the assault didn’t happen, or that it somehow wasn’t as traumatizing. Or that if it wasn’t a violent rape, it, somehow, doesn’t count as anything worth noting. Or that even if it did happen, the memories from x-many years ago can’t be trusted. Those assumptions are wrong. There is a good deal of research that supports that position. Children – male and female – who were sexually abused by clergy, family members, or other authority figures generally don’t report until decades later, and then only after a great deal of therapy. Teenagers in ‘dating’ situations often never report. So please stop denigrating someone else’s trauma just because you don’t have a similar experience in your past, or you find it inconvenient to believe them when they finally do open up.

Why doesn’t a 15-year-old tell anyone, other than possibly a close friend, of a sexual assault? Often it’s because she was not where she was supposed to be and/or with who she was supposed to be with and/or she was doing things (like drinking) that she wasn’t supposed to be doing. The fear of the reaction from parents or other authority figures is a powerful thing. As is the seeming inevitability of adding punishment for what she did wrong to put herself in the position that led to her assault . And quite frankly, the public response to Professor Ford’s allegation is a live demonstration of why victims are reluctant to come forward. Even in cases which are reported and prosecuted, it is the victim who is often vilified (well just look at what you were wearing, how much you had to drink, how you were flirting), and the perpetrator often seems to be given a relative slap on the wrist because it often boils down to he said/she said (& sometimes even when there are witnesses – can’t let one incident ruin his swimming career, for example).

In a different time, and place: where teens, young adults, alcohol, and drugs mixed too freely, I experienced, and intervened in, similar enough events that I can state unequivocally that things go wrong, and don’t often get reported Besides drunken pawing in difficult places to extricate oneself from – like while in a car being driven home – perfectly sober experiences happen, as well. In an era before the term ‘date rape’ was a thing, there was often an expectation that dinner and a movie would naturally be followed by sex. Force? No. Pressure? Guilt? Absolutely. And even as a very sober adult, I’ve experienced strangers making grabs at private parts on crowded city sidewalks, men that I knew making very deliberate, very inappropriate, contact in range of their spouses, knowing well that I would never say anything to the spouse. Should I have? I still don’t know the answer. Life is often complicated. But it certainly made me far warier of the men in question when it was not possible at the time to sever ties.

It’s difficult for women, so difficult that the statistics surrounding unreported sexual assaults indicate that reports are often only made when they can’t be avoided. We know that everything thing we did prior to the assault is scrutinized. Women are advised to arm themselves – at a minimum with pepper spray – and to carry their keys protruding from their fingers, to carry whistles or alarms, to watch what they wear, watch what they drink, don’t be too flirty, don’t walk alone, park near lights, to find ways to prevent an assault. Men apparently don’t need, or get, the same advise. Perhaps they should – sexual assaults of men are vastly underreported outside of institutional settings. Too underreported to quantify – but keep in mind that many of the boys abused by clergy members and coaches  were abused well into their teens. And when they reported at all, it was years later.

My husband is remarkably sensitive to women’s issues, but a recent conversation we had made it clear how unaware men – especially young men can be. While discussing the subject of assault, my husband said that they used to pull down girls tube tops/halters, and no one had a problem with it when we were young. And since many of those same girls would go skinny dipping at the lake, it really wasn’t a problem. But see, many of those girls did have a problem with it – but embarrassment wins. They laugh it off, or shrug it off & move on. But it’s uncomfortable, and embarrassing, and well, you didn’t want to be a prude. So uncool. And while there is a certain amount of dissonance on the girls’ part, it isn’t as big as it seems. Removing all or some clothing to swim is voluntary. Having your halter untied is not. But, because we said nothing and let the status quo be, yet another generation of women grew up tolerating far more than we should have. Far more than we want our daughters to. Far more than anyone’s daughters (or sons) should.

The flip side to this of course, has been the ‘what about our men – what message are we sending when they can be accused at any time about youthful indiscretions?’ I have several friends that are mothers only to sons, and they were quickly swayed by that fallacy. And it is a fallacy. Criminal justice estimates put false accusations of sexual assault at 3 to 7% of reported sex crimes. Just looking at what women who report assaults are subjected to provides a good indicator of why those numbers are so low. And the single most offensive thing I saw on social media was the use of Emmet Till’s lynching as an indication of the dangers of false accusations. No – that was an indication of why racism must never be tolerated. In a non racist time a black boy would not  have been accused of behaving inappropriately for speaking to a white woman. He would not have been lynched. His killers would not have been acquitted. To equate that horrifying example of racism to Professor Ford coming forward with a credible past event from her past is offensive and not even remotely comparable.

Most of all, I worry about the message the adults are sending to kids right now. That boys will be boys and in the face of inappropriate sexual behavior not reporting it at the time it occurs means it was meaningless, but to report it at all may sully the reputation of the alleged perpetrator. This attitude is concerning because it not merely perpetuates the belief that sexual assaults are about sex – when they are always about power – but  it explicitly makes the bad behavior of teen-age and young adult males an acceptable part of life that our daughters should just deal with. What on earth are we becoming? We should be teaching our children, sons and daughters alike, to be respectful, responsible adult humans. We should be teaching them that, under any circumstances, unwanted sexual contact is wrong. If we’ve done our jobs, both assaults, and the risk of false accusations, will be greatly reduced.

It is incumbent upon us to recognize that we are the agents of change. We can dial back the anger, and the knee-jerk reactions, and the blatant manipulations from those on the extremes long enough to realize that we, as individuals, have to be better. We have to raise our children to be better. We no longer act merely in opposition to those we disagree with – we act as if we are enemies. Our country, our society, is being torn apart because we are allowing it to be. Manufactured outrage. And making things better requires us to act. To speak out.  To write. To not merely sit back and allow our selves to be manipulated.

“Hatred and fear blind us. We no longer see each other. We only see the faces of monsters, and that gives us the courage to destroy each other.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Earlier today I’d seen an October 5th post from Robert Redford that said everything so much better than I could:

“Tonight, for the first time I can remember, I feel out of place in the country I was born into and the citizenship I’ve loved my whole life. For weeks I’ve watched with sadness as our civil servants have failed us, turning toward bigotry, mean-spiritedness and mockery as the now-normal tools of the trade.

How can we expect the next generation to step up and serve, to be interested in public life, and to aspire to get involved when all we show them is how to spar, attack and destroy each other?

It’s hard to blame young people for calling us out, and pointing to our conflicts between the values we declare, and those we stand behind only when it’s convenient to partisanship. Many people are rightly calling it a damn mess.

But I want to encourage you to dig deep for hope and civility right now — to try to make connections with people you disagree with, to be better than our politicians.

We don’t have to share the same motivations to want the same outcomes. Let’s focus on each other, and strengthening our communities, and reflecting on what’s happening. Let’s live in justice and respect and let others fight it out now to the bitter ends.

This is our country too. Every woman, man and child in it, our American future.

We’ve got work to do.”

Storm clouds at sunset on October 3, 2018.

Tuesday’s Quotes – September 25, 2018 – 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. In the wake of 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 leaders 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.

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

 

Portions of this post previously appeared on February 5, 2016 & September 19, 2017

Thoughts on Compassion and Peace

“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 September of 2015, when I last tackled this subject, the #1000Speak effort was 7 months old  and still doing well. Back then I chose to participate because it was an awesome idea, but struggled a bit with an approach because so many of my fellow participating bloggers seemed so much more spiritually-oriented in their approach than I was. Somehow I’ve managed to muddle through, in my intellectual, humanistic, way, and although the initiative has largely fizzled out, I’m still out there (at least most months). With this month being September, and Friday, the 21st, being the International Day of Peace, it seemed like a good time to dust this piece off, make a few tweaks, and send it out on its way into the ether.

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 >>>  https://www.peacenow.com

The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by an unanimous UN resolution to provide a common date globally for nations to commit to peace. This year it is marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To get involved, please check out their website >>> https://internationaldayofpeace.org/?inf_contact_key=b246d2f647a45372d7464d8226cecb122d9a6e77a4e1a2db4f25160fcd2fc5da

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

It should be obvious to most sentient beings that a lack of peace – internal or external – indicates a lack of compassion, and, in a circular way, only serves to further diminish compassionate impulses, leading to less peace. If we are not compassionate towards ourselves first, 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 compassionate and reasonable 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, if you have not yet read, and signed onto, the Charter for Compassion, I urge you to do so here >>> https://charterforcompassion.org/charter/charter-overvew