No more turning away

Modified repost from January 27, 2017.

I have another ear worm. And ear worms are for sharing. I believe this deeply. But regardless of whether you agree, it is true that I am going to share. Be warned.

I find that Pink Floyd’s 1987 power ballad On the Turning Away remains relevant to me (and “relevance” & “Pink Floyd” don’t usually pop into my head at the same time). The song itself is a call to stop turning a blind eye to the suffering around us, but I think this has become my mantra – no more turning away. There is simply too much at stake for the future. And so I think I’ve extended the meaning in my own head a bit to include those marginalized groups that are in jeopardy now that religious zealotry (of all types) and nationalism  seem to be holding sway in the US and in much of the rest of the world. We all need to have our rights protected and I don’t want to see the clock turned back for anyone.

Of course, from a practical matter, I’m still working out what that really means – I just know that I cannot continue to sit idly by. I guess it still means more writing to call out the wrongs – but the rate of troubling news sometimes seems to come at a disorienting rate, making writing more difficult than it should be. I’m doing more volunteering now that I have more free time, and fewer constraints, but I’m often left feeling that I should be doing more – because there is so much that needs attention. And because I have other personal priorities and concerns that can’t get lost in my renewed quest to save the world.

I’ll continue to figure it out as I go along, but in the meantime, here’s the song (the lyrics are below) – sometimes inspiration can come from the strangest places…

 

On the Turning Away

On the turning away
From the pale and downtrodden
And the words they say
Which we won’t understand

“Don’t accept that what’s happening
Is just a case of others’ suffering
Or you’ll find that you’re joining in
The turning away”

It’s a sin that somehow
Light is changing to shadow
And casting it’s shroud
Over all we have known

Unaware how the ranks have grown
Driven on by a heart of stone
We could find that we’re all alone
In the dream of the proud

On the wings of the night
As the daytime is stirring
Where the speechless unite
In a silent accord

Using words you will find are strange
And mesmerized as they light the flame
Feel the new wind of change
On the wings of the night

No more turning away
From the weak and the weary
No more turning away
From the coldness inside

Just a world that we all must share
It’s not enough just to stand and stare
Is it only a dream that there’ll be
No more turning away?

— Pink Floyd
written by David Gilmore & Anthony Moore

Storm-laden sky – June 6, 2018

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Tuesday’s Quotes – May 15, 2018 – Imagination

” I believe that dreams — day dreams, you know, with your eyes wide open and your brain machinery whizzing — are likely to lead to the betterment of the world. The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and therefore to foster civilization. A prominent educator tells me that fairy tales are of untold value in developing imagination in the young. I believe it.”

— L. Frank Baum, from the introduction to The Princess of Oz, 1917

L. Frank Baum, best known as the man who brought us the world of Oz, was born this day in 1856. His early writing career was in journalism, but his fame began with the 1900 publication of the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. He wrote 14 books in total about Oz, and was extremely prolific – over 40 novels, nearly 100 short stories, and 200 poems – up until the time of his death following a stroke in 1919. His last words to his wife before he passed away, reportedly were ““Now we can cross the Shifting Sands.” – which was a reference to the desert surrounding Oz.

He was highly influenced by the fairy tales of yore, particularly the Brothers Grimm, and of tales of fairies, ogres, and other magical creatures of folklore, but he was uncomfortable with the violence and harsh morality of the original fairly tales, and worked to minimize, and eventually eliminate, that harshness in his own stories. As a result, he is often credited/blamed for the sanitization of children’s literature. A precursor to the Disney-fication In recent decades, that change has come under criticism for removing a valuable way for children to deal with death, poverty, loss, and the other negatives of life – through the very same imagination that Baum regarded so highly.

And yes, although it was a children’s book series, Oz was also a political allegory for the 1890’s in the US. Baum supported the women’s suffrage movement, although he did not live to see the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution give women the vote in 1920. He opposed the populist movement of his time, but is now viewed controversially because a couple of the editorials he wrote in the 1890’s while still working as a journalist strongly implied that he favored the extermination of the native Americans – although there has also been some argument that he was being sarcastic in those editorials. They really could be read either way, and very little else about Baum’s history would seem to support the notion that he would have favored genocide. So I don’t know, and I suspect that scholars will argue that point as long as there remains interest in Baum’s body of work.

I do believe, though, having researched the topic of the effect of fairy tales on children (inspired by Bruno Bettelheim) while in school, that Baum’s sanitization, although well-intentioned, was wrong. I also believe that he is 100% correct that imaginative children become imaginative, creative, adults. And the world needs that creativity to progress. To borrow a thought from Albert Einstein:

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. It is, strictly speaking, a real factor in scientific research.”

Image borrowed from AZ Quotes.

 

 

Thoughts on Vulnerability – and being human

Originally posted April 20, 2016 as that month’s #1000Speak entry – with a few minor adjustments to the text.

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

— Albert Einstein

It’s that time again, and I (surprise!) am only just now starting to write this post, so bear with me while I try to organize the random thoughts jumping around in my head…

I seem to spend a great deal of time these days thinking about vulnerability. And about resilience. The topic tends to turn up occasionally in my writing because, even when not focused specifically on compassion, the need for compassion and understanding is present in other areas – in news stories, in discussing mental illness – or suicide. Or even something as simple as wishing people would understand that not all disabilities are visible. April is a month full of days dedicated to specifically vulnerable groups – autism, sexual assault survivors, child abuse prevention, alcoholism, and several others, which makes it a good month to focus on vulnerability.

“I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.”

— Albert Schwietzer

I have a great deal of compassion, and concern, for people that fall into any of the myriad of particularly vulnerable categories, particularly children, but (yes, there was always going to be a ‘but’), from the perspective of a compassionate human we need to be certain that we are not selective in our compassion due to internal biases. That we don’t allow ourselves to fall into the, very human, trap of feeling that some are more in need of compassion than others. Our ability to empathize, or even to merely sympathize, will likely be limited to that with which we can somehow identify, or to those that lack the physical, mental, or emotional capacity to adequately care for themselves, and those that lack the resilience to move forward from tragedy. But compassion goes beyond that point. Of course the reality is that we do have to prioritize how we expend our time, energy, money. Unfortunately we do not have endless reserves.

“Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?”

— William Blake, On Another’s Sorrow

With a seemingly endless number of disasters – natural and man-made – and the tragedies of war, famine, and acts of carnage, I find myself thinking, too often, about how vulnerable we all are. And how much we all need compassion from time to time. We are all human. We are all mortal. None of us has superhero powers, boundless energy, or the ability to live forever. Our humanity gives us the ability to be compassionate, and it also makes us vulnerable. And, perversely, acting compassionately can expose that vulnerability.

Yet it is easy for us to forget that as we move through our day-to-day lives. Whether things are easy for us, or not so easy, we naturally move through our lives focused on our lives. And we need to do that. And when disaster strikes somewhere, especially somewhere we have some sort of affinity to, we take notice. But that lack of immediacy for us also means that sometimes we see numbers, but don’t really think about the human beings behind the numbers. When the death toll is relatively low, we don’t think about the people that lost their homes in the hurricane/tornado/earthquake/flood. Just as we don’t always seem to  understand that the Syrian refugees don’t have homes to return to. Or that combat veterans have a hard time with ‘normal’ after coming home. Yes, I suppose I’ve spent quite a bit of time pondering post-traumatic stress disorder recently. Because for the survivors of natural disasters who have lost their homes, just as for war survivors, and many violent crime survivors (especially child abuse and domestic violence), they have lost the safety of ‘home’. And that loss can never really be recovered. With resiliency, and support, one can move forward and find a new safe place, but it will never be quite the same.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

And so, I try to figure out for myself when, where, and how to help. As we all do. Those that need extra support precisely because they are too young or too infirm. Or chronically ill. Or mentally ill. Or handicapped in some way (seen or unseen). Or any of  the ‘isms’ accepted enough to have a day – or a whole month – dedicated to them (and/or a fundraising walk/run). The homeless family panhandling outside of the shopping plaza. The survivors of a disaster. Or maybe just the woman in the store whose baby is in need a a distraction. There are as many opportunities to act compassionately in most of our days as there are people we encounter. And although the ‘isms’ that have their dedicated days help us to remember the special cases, we should never lose sight of the fact that we are all vulnerable humans.

“When we fully understand the brevity of life, its fleeting joys and unavoidable pains; when we accept the facts that all men and women are approaching an inevitable doom: the consciousness of it should make us more kindly and considerate of each other. This feeling should make men and women use their best efforts to help their fellow travelers on the road, to make the path brighter and easier as we journey on. It should bring a closer kinship, a better understanding, and a deeper sympathy for the wayfarers who must live a common life and die a common death.”

— Clarence Darrow

 

 

 

On ignorance and evil

As I meander down to Georgia to visit my in-laws, and catch-up with my husband, with 2 teenagers, and the usual assortment of too many things on my mind, I’ve decided to re-share this post from April 5, 2016 because the thoughts contained in the two quotes remain meaningful.

Enjoy the weekend.

“The evil that is in the world always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence, if they lack understanding. On the whole men are more good than bad; that, however, isn’t the real point. But they are more or less ignorant, and it is this that we call vice or virtue; the most incorrigible vice being that of an ignorance which fancies it knows everything and therefore claims itself the right to kill. The soul of the murderer is blind; and there can be no true goodness or true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.”

― Albert Camus, The Plague

I’ve mentioned before that I have long had a love-hate relationship with Albert Camus. Like many, I was forced to read “The Stranger” while in high school – a book I found to be bleak and disturbing, but admittedly, it stuck with me through the years – so it did keep me thinking. Generally regarded as an existentialist by others, he did not see himself as one – although it is hard not to read “The Stranger”, and much of his other writing, as anything but Existentialism.

Born in Algeria in 1913, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the young age of 43, died far too young in an automobile accident in 1960 – Camus was a journalist, novelist, playwright, philosopher. Always a pacifist, he’d been many things politically over the years, but always in opposition to tyranny in all forms – yet conflicted over the growing unrest in his native Algeria, where his mother still lived. Long strongly outspoken on tyranny –  when in Occupied Paris during WWII, over Stalin’s ever-expanding empire in Easter Europe – he was mostly silent on the situation in Algeria. Understandable given his concerns about his mother, but it garnered him much criticism.

This particular quote seems appropriate to me in our current political climate.

And for some reason that brought to mind, this quote from Charles Darwin:

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.”

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

Thoughts on happiness, compassion and where we are

Originally posted March 20, 2016 for #1000Speak – recycling it for this month’s #1000Speak post.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

When my thoughts go to the subject of happiness within the context of compassion, it is perhaps not surprising that Buddhism is the first place I turn – and in particular, to the current Dalai Lama.

The key to being happy lies in recognizing, and truly coming to live with, the reality that happiness doesn’t come from things. Things are impermanent, and if they are what makes us happy, then we will no longer be happy when they are gone. Although certainly, being human, things, and people, and situations will bring us transitory happiness – and they should. Emotions – positive and negative – are part of what makes us who we are. And how we handle those emotions are another important part of our coping mechanisms and our ability to live with ourselves and with others.

But achieving a more general state of contentment comes from within ourselves. And like compassion itself, this is something we need to learn and develop for ourselves.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”

― Dalai Lama XIV

Somehow the world now seems an angry place – I know the US is not alone with that. I can see it in election results and campaign rhetoric around the globe. Our shrinking planet, and our ability to communicate instantly, everywhere, should have made it possible for us to see how we are all essentially alike, but instead it seems to have accentuated the differences, and stoked the fears. Perhaps the pace has been too quick for many. I’d always though that the world of my grandparents was the most astonishing time – horses and no refrigeration to moonwalks, technicolor and the Internet. And I’m awed that my own children seemed born with an innate understanding of technology. But I look at the strongest supporters of some of the most hateful rhetoric – not the fringe groups for they will always find someone to hate – and I see members of my own generation, and those that fall into the gap between my parents’ generation and my own, and I realize that the world has changed beyond recognition for them as well. This is certainly not the world we grew up in – the one that we think we remember (nostalgia is funny that way and the past was seldom what we remembered it as being), and as we age, we are railing against our own impending obsolescence. And the Internet has made it possible for conspiracy theories to spread farther faster, and to live on (and on). And the generation that advised itself never to trust anyone over 30, and to fear the government, has lived well past 30, and in many cases still cannot manage to believe anything that anyone in authority says. We have, in some ways, been victimized by our selves. We are acting out our own self-fulfilling prophesy.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. We all have a choice – in what we choose to believe, and how we choose to respond to what we disagree with. Although this piece has evolved into a darker piece than I’d intended, my overall thinking is actually positive. I do believe that each of us, in our own small way, has the capacity to positively impact our our corner of the universe – beginning with ourselves, and spreading out in ripples to our our families, friends, coworkers, and even strangers whose lives we touch on a daily basis. And that we as humans instinctively pay that positivity forward. As Gloria Steinem once noted “a movement is only people moving”. And that is how the momentum builds. Our positive momentum truly can act as a counterbalance to the negative momentum that is propelling some politicians forward. And that positive momentum has to start internally – once we find our own inner balance and related happiness, we are better able to radiate it outward.

“If we think only of ourselves, forget about other people, then our minds occupy very small area. Inside that small area, even tiny problem appears very big. But the moment you develop a sense of concern for others, you realize that, just like ourselves, they also want happiness; they also want satisfaction. When you have this sense of concern, your mind automatically widens. At this point, your own problems, even big problems, will not be so significant. The result? Big increase in peace of mind. So, if you think only of yourself, only your own happiness, the result is actually less happiness. You get more anxiety, more fear.”
― Dalai Lama XIV

In that spirit, I turn back to the Tao, and one of my favorite writings – and the reminder that it all starts within:

“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

And then I turn to the modern troubadour – Donovan – and leave you with “Happiness Runs.” Perhaps not so profound – but definitely in the right spirit.

“Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself be”

Another Friday Contemplation

I’m in a philosophical frame of mind today. That’s only natural since I have a lot of things that I should be doing instead of philosophizing. I sort of have an excuse – I was up well before dawn to drop my husband off at the airport for a trip to visit his father, which, of course, means I’m overtired & under focused. A poor excuse perhaps, but it’s the best one I’ve got at the moment.

And today, in my overtired state, I’ve let myself be bothered (again) by the way in which so many people are dismissing the Parkland students, and the students that have joined their movement, so casually. Not the conspiracy theorists. They aren’t worth discussing. But those that flatly dismiss them as tools of the left (not entirely sure what that means, either – it’s hard to be moderate this days – the target keeps moving).

My message to my baby boom compatriots is that history will not be kind to us for dismissing them, just as it was not especially kind to the generation that dismissed us, ridiculed us, and tried very hard to silence us. Any yes – accused us of being manipulated by the ‘left’ of the time. In the end, we did enable change. Now that we’ve gotten older, though, I fear we have ‘become our parents’ so to speak. We thinks ours is the only way, and that “kids these days’ are too stupid, too spoiled and too immature to have an opinion. On the contrary, these students have shown themselves to be intelligent, to be more coherent than many of the adults they’ve addressed, and to be respectful in their approach. They aren’t spewing hate, they are asking for – yes, demanding – change. And they will be voting. I suspect in large numbers. Just as we once did when we flipped the status quo. But the time has come for us to accept that the future belongs to them,  not to us. We should be helping them build their vision, not telling them that they have no right to speak, or to hold an opinion. Or to presume that they are incapable of thinking for themselves. Our intransigence does a disservice to them, and to ourselves as well if we’ve allowed the ideals of youth the be completely replaced by an attachment to the status quo and a knee-jerk resentment of any call for change that does not fit our own view. The sad reality is that our time is coming to an end – and it is for future generations to find out for themselves what works, what doesn’t, and how to make sense of it all.

I was reminded of an oft quoted line by George Orwell from a 1945 book review:

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. This is an illusion, and one should recognise it as such,…”

But that fragment is not the entire thought – the rest is meant to remind us to recognize that our own views are the product of our experiences, and are part of who we are. We should not abandon them.

“… but one ought also to stick to one’s own world-view, even at the price of seeming old-fashioned: for that world-view springs out of experiences that the younger generation has not had, and to abandon it is to kill one’s intellectual roots.”

The trick, I think, is learning to allow the younger generations to have their own experiences with losing ourselves at the same time. A difficult juggling act faced by every successive generation throughout time.

Something worth considering.

Image of the Hudson River looking north from the Walkway Over the Hudson, autumn 2015.