We Are the Village

A Fractured Village

El Paso & Dayton

2019.08.04

 

Words have meaning.  They exist for no other purpose but to convey meaning.  When someone, whether in an effort to be humorous or in being sincere, uses hate rhetoric, they become responsible for everything that follows as a result of their words.  An old African folksong asks “Who is watching the children?  It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

 

Several years ago Jacob Devaney penned:  “No matter how old we are, we are children of ‘the village’, the community that raised us and supported us helped to shape the way we see the world.”  Many of us had nurturing families in which we lived but many others did not.  Regardless of the family unit or lack thereof, the community around us was our village.  Pam Leo explains that “How we treat the child, the child will grow up to treat the world.”

 

This is not a new concept.  What we know of ancient civilizations is based upon the archaeological finds of their communities.  The shards of pottery tell us how and what they ate.  Pieces of ancient tools help understand how they lived and in what types of abodes.  The community is as much a vital part of our living as the air we breathe.

 

“It takes a village to raise a child” is an Igbo and Yoruba proverb that exists in many different African languages. It reflects the emphasis African cultures place on family and community and may have its origins in a biblical worldview.  This proverb is so widely used in Africa that there are equivalent statements in most African languages, including “One knee does not bring up a child” in Sukuma and “One hand does not nurse a child” in Swahili.  The widespread use of this proverb by cultures around the world shows its timelessness and relevancy.  The saying is used in America to evoke feelings of community on the small scale as well as on the national and even global scale.

 

Some believe the proverb may have its origins in the Bible, since it reflects a worldview regarding unity and self-sacrifice expressed in several passages of the Bible, such as Ecclesiastes 4:9,12 and Isaiah 49:15-16.  This worldview is commonly seen in African cultures today. In many African communities it is common for a child to be raised by its extended family, in many cases spending extended periods of time living with grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even the wider community sometimes gets involved, as children are seen as a blessing from God upon the entire community.  We could debate for hours which came first – the Biblical scriptures or the African communities.  One thing is certain – We need community.

 

Robin Grille is an Australian psychologist and writer who has authored “Parenting for a Peaceful World”.  He encourages parents and the community to consider how our daily lives are influencing our children.  A fractured society cannot be an effective community.  We must work together and be supportive in order for the future generations to understand how to form, grow, and continue the concept of community.

 

Health and fitness coach Jen Waak believes there are six vital reasons for us to grow community.  First there is the concept of Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers, consulting with experts is always going to give you better information.  Secondly, life pushes our limits. When working alone, it’s oftentimes too easy to give up when things get hard. By surrounding yourself with others working toward a similar goal or objective, you’ll get motivation, support, and friendly competition to push yourself just a bit further than you would have done on your own.

 

Support and belief are the third reason for developing community. Some days those big goals just seem impossible. On those days when you most want to give up, you need to lean on your community the most. They believe in you—probably more than you belief in yourself.  Next, there is the need for new ideas.   When you are working within a community of like-minded people, the wisdom of crowds is considerably greater than any one person working alone. Our divergent world views and lenses mean that we all approach the exact same problem slightly differently.

 

Fifth, communities offer borrowed motivation. Even on those days when your belief in yourself isn’t waning, doing what needs to get done can often seem overwhelming. Look around your community and be inspired!  Lastly, we need community because there is the need for accountability.  If you’re an uber-responsible person, you may not want to admit to people you care about who are pulling for you that something didn’t get done. There’s nothing like having to be accountable to others to up your game.  Allowing others to help is hard, but it ultimately raises everyone’s game.

 

Khalil Gibran spoke of this concept of community and children, the need for the village to be a sustainable community in this poem.

“Your children are not your children.

They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”

 

It takes a community to grow a world.  Idowu Koyenikan once remarked that “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”  We need to not only value the freedom of speech but recognize its power.  Politicians today seem to have forgotten that they open their mouth and become instant teachers.  We all teach – through our actions, our deeds, but most importantly, by what we say.

 

Who pulled the trigger in El Paso and Dayton?  The greatest threat to the average American is not someone from another country but the person listening to the hate language being shouted across the airways and social media.  Words have meaning.  They exist for no other purpose but to convey meaning.  When someone, whether in an effort to be humorous or in being sincere, uses hate rhetoric, they become responsible for everything that follows as a result of their words.

 

Our words are the bows from which others as living arrows are sent forth.  May we send arrows of kindness and generosity, not hate.  Let the killing end.  Let the right to stay alive supersede the right to own an assault weapon.  Someday I hope we value life more than the sound of our own voice.  The death of one diminishes us all.  Today our community is fractured by hate, needless and senseless, hate.  We may be the problem but we can also be the answer.  “There is immense power when a group of people with similar interests gets together to work toward the same goals.”  We are the village.

 

 

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

Success, Superstition, Supposition, Sparkle

05.29.2019

Easter 2019

 

Philosophy has been studied, debated, argued, and discounted then believed for over two and a half thousand years.  The twentieth century saw not only world wars but also great advances in science.  For years, science had depended upon the discoveries and truths of Isaac Newton.  The twentieth century had barely been born when a German Jewish physicist introduced scientific theories that were incompatible with the accepted knowledge based upon Newton’s ideas.  Hume and Locke had introduced thinking that mankind had just accepted certain scientific principles as truth without being able to prove them.  Einstein challenged scholars in mathematics and the sciences as well as the field of philosophy.

 

Einstein challenged both the knowledge and how it had been learned.  “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”  Accepting Newton’s science as certainty had led the world into the Industrial Revolution.  For Einstein to suggest and then prove much of it incorrect asked not only what knowledge had been gained but just exactly what knowledge itself was.  Einstein, the genius who had never excelled at school seemed to discount all earlier ways of acquiring knowledge:  “Only daring speculation can lead us further, and not accumulation of facts.”

 

Karl Popper was another Austrian and he spent a great deal of his life as a professor of logic and scientific method in England.  Popper realized that, although some theories seemed to work, they were still simply products of the human mind and as such, were subject to being incorrect.  “Science is perhaps the only human activity in which errors are systematically criticized and, in time, corrected.”  Popper encouraged advancements; they might not could prove everything but some things could be disproven.  “All we can do is search for the falsity content of our best theory.”

 

Benjamin Franklin once said:  “I didn’t fail the test; I just found one hundred ways to do it wrong.”  The history of philosophy has been a series of advances and failures but it should never be discounted because of those failures.  Mahatma Gandhi often spoke of the wisdom found in failure:  “My imperfections and failures are as much a blessing from God as my successes and my talents and I lay them both at his feet.”

 

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Americans made to twentieth century philosophy was their attitude about failure.  After immigrating to the USA, Einstein was quoted as saying “Failure is success in progress.”  Other Americans have agreed.   American automobile maker and magnate Henry Ford defined failure as “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

 

Ancient philosophers believed that in answering their questions, they would discover the secrets to success.  What we have learned since then is that there is much more that we do not know than was ever imagined.  We have also come to the realization that not everything will ever be fully known since much will never be scientifically proven. 

 

The real quest now is not only the continuation of gaining knowledge but is acquiring patience and respect for all as well.  We need to continue to strive for success without experiencing a fear of failure that binds our living.  We need to realize that true success comes from living in kindness and effort, not in trying to make everything the same.  As Winston Churchill said, “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.”

 

Philosophy has propelled man forward and, at times, been the basis for governments and nations.  Its value, though, remains not in what we know but in what is left to learn.  The French Voltaire one said:  “Superstition sets the whole world in flames; philosophy quenches them.”   The real value of philosophy, though, remains not in the supposition or superstition but it what it teaches us, the doors that open and lead us to greater understanding of ourselves, each other, our world.  That is when the real sparkle of life becomes evident – when we recognize the value of each and every being within the creation that is our world.

 

 

 

Instructions for Anger

Instructions for Anger

05-18-2019

Easter 2019

 

It has been an interesting eleven days.  Two students carried weapons into their school and created chaos.  One wondered what drove these two with no prior histories of trouble to such an act.  One student died saving his fellow classmates and others were injured.  All at the school, their parents, their community and the world experienced concern, pain, and anger at this act.

 

This week, in what should be a good thing in supposedly trying to reduce the infant mortality rate in their state, two governors signed legislation regarding abortion.  On both sides voices were raised in anger.  IN each case, the governors acknowledged that the laws they had just signed were unenforceable, causing even more anger.

 

Whether we are Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Agnostic, Atheist, or somewhere in-between any of the above, we all experience anger.  I think anger can sometimes be a positive emotion.  The patient who is angry that a disease like cancer seems to think it can beat them will get angry and often, fight harder to survive.  But what about that deep anger that destroys us from the inside out?

 

Thich Nhat Hanh describes happiness as “not suffering”.  This Buddhist teacher and spiritualist reminds us that true happiness comes from within ourselves and not from material things or social standing.  Regardless of how it may seem, reality shows like “the Kardashians” are not about people who have it all but rather about people who struggle with an impossible race to reach happiness through impossible means.  The one emotion that drives such programs and thinking is anger.

 

Nhat Hanh explains:  “In our consciousness there are blocks of pain, anger and frustration called internal formations. They are also called knots because they tie us up and obstruct our freedom.  When someone insults us or does something unkind to us, an internal formation is created in our consciousness. If you don’t know how to undo the internal knot and transform it, the knot will stay there for a long time. And the next time someone says something or does something to you of the same nature, that internal formation will grow stronger. As knots or blocks of pain in us, our internal formations have the power to push us, to dictate our behavior.

 

“After a while, it becomes very difficult for us to transform, to undo the knots, and we cannot ease the constriction of this crystallized formation. The Sanskrit word for internal formation is “samyojana”. It means “to crystallize.” Every one of us has internal formations that we need to take care of. With the practice of meditation we can undo these knots and experience transformation and healing.”

 

It has become popular to “vent” one’s anger.  Sometimes people hit pillows but does this really release the anger?  As a parent I taught my kids to do jumping jacks, that exercise where you spread your arms wide over your hard and spread your feet accordingly while you jump back to a standing position.  For small children, this gives them a sense of being in control as they dictate what their body is doing and are no longer captive to their feelings of anger.

 

For adults, Nhat Hanh offers this advice.  “Whenever you feel yourself becoming angry, start practicing mindfulness.  Think of that one thing that makes you happy.  Visualize yourself in your most favorite spot doing something you enjoy doing.  Recall the feelings of happiness that that activity and that location bring to you and let yourself experience happiness.  To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.  Many people look for happiness outside themselves, but true happiness must come from inside of us.

 

“Mindfulness does not fight anger or despair. Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that anger has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my anger.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our anger, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.”

 

We are going to feel anger.  It is an inevitable part of life.  It is up to us to decide whether to use it, embrace it, or to let it eat us up and destroy us.  Nhat Hanh suggests this analogy:  “When it is cold in your room, you turn on the heater, and the heater begins to send out waves of hot air. The cold air doesn’t have to leave the room for the room to become warm. The cold air is embraced by the hot air and becomes warm—there’s no fighting at all between them.

 

“Practitioners of meditation do not discriminate against or reject their internal formations. We do not transform ourselves into a battle field, good fighting evil. We treat our afflictions, our anger, our jealousy with a lot of tenderness. When anger comes up in us, we should begin to practice mindful breathing right away: “Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger.” We behave exactly like a mother: “Breathing in, I know that my child is crying. Breathing out, I will take good care of my child”, ourselves.

 

When we use our anger mindfully, we are showing compassion, not only to another but also to ourselves.  We must learn to do this because without it, we will not truly show compassion to others.  Nhat Hanh offers this very important piece of advice regarding life, its messiness and its inevitable feels of anger.  “To grow the tree of enlightenment, we must make good use of our afflictions, our suffering. It is like growing lotus flowers; we cannot grow a lotus on marble. We cannot grow a lotus without mud.” 

 

Anger will be a part of our lives.  We can either choose to let it be the medium through which we grow or something that drags us down like quick sand, destroying all within its reach..   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

Half, Whole, or Just Disjointed?

04.29-30.2019

Easter 2019

 

Is the state of gaining knowledge a synonym for being live?  A comment I hear from time to time is “You talk quite a bit about “living” and “everyday living”.  Isn’t philosophy or the study of philosophy just … living?”  Another comment asks how I can discuss religion as if one size fits all.  Both are great questions.

 

Aristotle considered philosophy not a study of the parts of reality but a study of reality itself.  For example, the parts of reality might be the study of math or music, politics or history.  Reality is the existence and properties of things, their changes, causalities, and possibilities; reality is about the time and space of the here and now.  He called this “first philosophy” metaphysics as previously discussed based upon the Greek words “meta” meaning beyond and “physica” meaning physical.

 

The question implies that we gain knowledge just by being alive, by … being.  Those struggling to find food and shelter in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, etc. often find themselves in a struggling state of being.  We learn a great deal from such survivors and marvel at their tenacity and resiliency.  Certainly they are giving life their every bit of effort.  By doing so, are they also gaining knowledge?  Those participating in riots or who create mass shootings are also putting energy and effort into their behavior but do we really think they are “learning” just by their doing?  Perhaps a better question is what are we learning in the aftermath of such events?  We must gain knowledge if we are to prevent them from becoming as commonplace as they currently are.

 

Aristotle maintained that there are five “predictables”, five common ways that we discuss a subject or object.  We can define the object very specifically [Aristotle referred to this as the species]  or we can discuss it in general terms [the genus].  We can notate what distinguishes it from other objects [the differentia], what makes it unique or special [propia], or we can discuss it by discussing things that are not like it [accidentals].  Philosophy instructor Dr. Maxwell Taylor illustrates Aristotle’s Predictables with one of my most favorite musical instruments and shapes – the lowly triangle.   For instance, a triangle is specifically a three-sided figure or in general terms, a shape.  It is different from other shapes by its number of sides and its properties are varied in that the sides can be of differing lengths.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe a triangle is by comparing it to shapes it is not like, starting with the fact that it is not a rectangle, square, diamond, or rhombus.

 

The definition of something is that which makes it what it is.  Aristotle called this “horos” which means definition.  Porphyry called it “eidos” which means forms and Boethius called it “species” to imply an object’s specific essence.  Both the survivors in Nepal and the protestors in Baltimore are living but their manner of form of living is very different.  Still, both groups are living and that fact would be classified under the “genus”, that part of the two groups that, although very different, they share in common. 

 

The genus is the general things found in common with other things that are otherwise different.  Perhaps an easier illustration or analogy is that flowers would be the genus and roses, daffodils, tulips, and lilies would be the species.  Not all species are the same, however.  Some roses are climbing vines while others are bushes.  Some flowers have specific number of petals while others have fewer or greater number of petals.  This would be the differentia.   

 

Things can become a bit involved, however, when we start discussing the “propia” or properties of an object.  The general population in Nepal is not accustomed to great wealth or lavish luxuries but the current conditions in which they are living are very different from those of some of the protestors in Baltimore, residents of the area who also live in abject poverty and sometimes deplorable conditions.  The destruction of businesses in Baltimore will leave some of the area’s residents homeless, although not homeless like the survivors in Nepal.

 

It is easier to use our analogy of the triangle; the properties are easier to explain.  We’ve already mentioned that a triangle’s form or definition is a three-sided object.  The genus would be that it is a shape.  The differentia or differences between triangles is determined by the angles within the three-sided shape.  Where the three lines of a triangle meet, angles are formed.  Those angles differentiate one triangle from another.  The specific angles are the properties of the triangle and there are six different types of triangles but do not make the object any more or less a triangle.

 

As I have noted before, triangles are one of my most favorite shapes and also musical instruments.  The tone of the instrument can be affected by the type of metal used which affects the number of vibrations, the number of overtones and the sound that reaches your ears.  The type of beater or mallet used also affects the tone as does the manner in which the triangle is hung or held.  Most musical triangles are equilateral triangles, having three equal sides, although they come in varying shapes.  Almost all musical triangles have the same basic pitch and skill in playing is determined by physical dexterity in handled in the beater as well as knowledge of acoustics.  None of those things change the type of triangle being played or its general properties or its basic definition.

 

In addition to the equilateral triangle with three equal sides, there are five other types of triangles.  An acute triangle is one with an angle less than ninety degrees.  A right triangle, fittingly enough, contains a right angle or an angle of exactly ninety degrees while an obtuse triangle has an angle greater than ninety degrees but less than one hundred and eighty degrees.  An isosceles triangle has two sides which are equal while a scalene triangle has no sides of equal length.  These are all properties of a triangle but there is still yet another way we might describe or refer to a triangle.

 

Imagine if you will a page of triangles.  The can be of varying types and sizes, some alike while others are different colors.  I might ask you how many are isosceles triangles or how many are acute triangles.  Either one of those questions would be answered by using something specific to the triangle or its classifications.  What if I asked how many were black triangles or red or yellow?  That response has nothing whatsoever to do with any specific aspect of the triangle but rather its color.  Other things have those same colors – a box of crayons, a row of pants or sweaters, or even the flag of the state of Maryland, a flag proudly displayed on the law enforcement vehicles burned and overturned by the protestors in Baltimore.  The fact that same of the triangles were red, black, or yellow has nothing to do with the definition of a triangle; it is simply another or accidental part of their description.

 

How can we apply these “Predictables” in our own philosophy of being, in our own living?  Certainly all of mankind shares some things in commons.  First of all, we are all mammals… but so are cows and dogs and cats.  Man is known as “homo sapiens” or “wise being”.  We have two genders present at birth, although that is being challenged in both life and the court systems around the world.  We also have different ethnicities and races, often noted with adjectives denoting one’s skin color.  Some use these latter descriptive types to denote value or worth or even potential.  In some countries, cows are more revered than women; people are discriminated against or profiles based upon their skin color or even eye shape.

 

The study of philosophy gives us an argument for being.  With it, hopefully, we can learn that existence is living and living means potential.  A triangle is no less a triangle simply because it has three equal sides or no equal sides.  A green triangle is just as much a triangle as a red triangle.  Lives matter – black, brown, red, or white.  You may consider someone damaged or different but it does not change the fact that they are alive, they have value, they matter.  Each and every human being, as with all life, deserves respect.  What may seem out of place to you fits perfectly for someone else.

 

The value of living is reason enough for us to give it our very best efforts, to give all of mankind our very best efforts.   Aristotle noted: “The value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.” 

 

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

Knowledge: Cause and Effect

04.25.2019

Easter 2019

 

Mankind took the leap to discover knowledge at the dawn of man.  In the creation stories of the Torah and the Bible, it was curiosity that led to sin and evil.  For many belief systems, education is still a privilege granted only to a select few or group.  Five years ago   the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to the youngest recipient ever, Malala Yousafzai,  because she dared to follow her dream to learn.

 

In the Christian tradition the fortieth day after Easter is known as Ascension Day.  It is the day Christians celebrate as being the day of Jesus Christ’s bodily ascension into heaven.  In a world with the philosophies of Anaximander, Aristotle, Boethus, Diogenes, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Leucippus, Parmenides, Plato, and Socrates, how, you might be asking, could they believe that a man could be crucified, buried, walk among people for forty days, and then ascend to the afterworld?  After all, Leucippus came up with the theory of atoms and he lived five centuries before the man known as Jesus of Nazareth.  How did people think those atoms could be destroyed, rejuvenate themselves, and then vanish into thin air?

 

As it gained momentum, the Christian Church in the form of the Roman Church became the vessel for all learning.  Scholasticism became the method of teaching and it used strict dialectical reasoning to teach Christian theology and to interpret the ancient classical texts of learning.  Using Aristotle’s approach of determining knowledge through our senses proved too down-to-earth for church leaders who felt it took away from the mystery of faith.

 

Nicholas of Cusa proposed something he termed “learned ignorance”.  According to Nicholas who was also known as Nicolaus von Kues, all knowledge came from “the One”, “the Good’.  God, according to Nicholas came before that so it was impossible for a mere human to truly know God.  Nicholas believed that one should use reason to understand this ignorance and that we only knew of God what we could through the “learned ignorance”.

 

Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus took exception with the Roman Catholic doctrine and felt one’s personal relationship with God was much more important that the doctrine of the Roman Church.  The knowledge of philosophy he saw as a hindrance to the basic human traits emphasized in scripture and preached by Jesus.

 

Knowledge had not been seen as evil by all belief systems, however.  Mohammed founded Islam and by the seventh century it had spread from Arabia to Asia and Africa and then to parts of Spain.  Rivaling the empire of Christian Europe, Islam entered into what is known as its “Golden Age” around 750 ACE.  This period lasted for more than five centuries as learning and discovery was encouraged in the field of math, sciences, and scholarship.  Major advances were made in astronomy, alchemy, medicine, and mathematics and Aristotle’s philosophy was smoothly integrated with Islamic tenets of faith.

 

The Islamic philosopher Avicenna proposed a “flying man” theory which married knowledge gained from our senses and reason.  He offered that a man flying blindfolded and floating in the air would still know he had a soul or self, even though his senses were not giving him any information.  According to Avicenna, one’s mind and body coexist but as distinct entities.  He also suggested that if this is true, then the mind or soul existed in a different realm than the body and did not die when the physical body did.

 

Not surprisingly, Avicenna’s theories were not accepted by all.  Al-Ghazali was an Islamic philosopher who felt such beliefs were contrary to the Qur’an.  The Iberian Islamic philosopher Averroes or Ibn Rushd disagreed.  He argued that the Qur’an presented metaphorical truths and that, instead of any incompatibility between religion and philosophy, philosophy could be used to interpret religion.  This way of thinking was similar to the paradoxes of Plato.  They also greatly influence Christian philosophy of the period.

 

The conquests by Christian crusaders in the eleventh century are seen by many as an unjust invasion and their beliefs can be understood.  These invasions unlocked Europe to the knowledge of the Islamic world, though, and soon the influence of such spread throughout Europe, leading to the Renaissance and the losing of control over scholarship and knowledge previously held by the Roman Church.

 

Whether you believe in the ascension of a man who previously presented as a mere mortal or whether you fail to believe in any religion, one cannot deny basic principles of life and our living.  We all need air to breath.  Plants use photosynthesis to convert light energy into chemical energy and then into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere and creates the air we breathe.  The plants in my garden in one hemisphere are not the same plants I had when living in another.  Yet, they still follow the same basic processes in their growth, their blossoms or fruits, their harvest, their period of dormancy, and their value.

 

For one day a year, the Christian Church celebrates the ascension of the central figure in its teachings.  Yet, do we live every other day in dissension and the descent of knowledge?   What I do or do not do today affects my tomorrow.  The Hindu mystic Swami Vivekananda says “The will is not free; it is a phenomenon bound by cause and effect, but there is something behind the will which is free.”  American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: “Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect.  Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end preexists in the means, the fruit in the seed.”

 

Mankind has always been curious and that curiosity has fueled a quest for knowledge that continues today.   Regardless of the period of history or location on the planet or even in space, we are constantly learning as we live.  Living in the northwest part of the USA, young adult author Richelle Goodrich sums up our ascent into living and the subsequent knowledge gained from it this way:  “You are here to make a difference, to either improve the world or worsen it. And whether or not you consciously choose to, you will accomplish one or the other.”

 

I fear the real truth is much simpler and in its simplicity, much more complicated to live.  We cannot spend time on this earth without affecting it.  We occupy space and the air we inhale and exhale affects our environment.  We all have a carbon footprint and that also affects the future.  How we gain in knowledge is really up to us.  That is the simple part.  The complications arise when we live or fail to live our beliefs.  We do make a difference by being on this planet and we will either leave it a better place or worsen it.  The future is the fruit of the seed of our actions today.  What will you decide to do?  How will your curiosity lead to greater knowledge?

 

 

Are We Real?

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

Are We Real?

04.22.2019

Easter 2019

 

American author and artist James Thurber once stated:  “Philosophy offers the rather cold consolation that perhaps we and our planet do not actually exist; religion presents the contradictory and scarcely more comforting thought that we exist but that we cannot hope to get anywhere until we cease to exist. Alcohol, in attempting to resolve the contradiction, produces vivid patterns of Truth which vanish like snow in the morning sun and cannot be recalled; the revelations of poetry are as wonderful as a comet in the skies, and as mysterious. Love, which was once believed to contain the Answer, we now know to be nothing more than an inherited behavior pattern.”

 

Thurber would probably not be pleased that I am considering him a philosopher.  Born in Ohio and raised in both Virginia and Ohio, Thurber had a rather typical early twentieth century American boy’s childhood.  Not so typical was an injury he suffered as a child when an arrow of his brother’s resulted in Thurber being blinded in one eye.  He worked as a journalist in Ohio after attending but not graduating Ohio State University and then moved to New York City where he obtained a position on the staff of ”The New Yorker” magazine.  Thurber become known for his cartoons of animals and his drawings of dogs soon had their own career on pages of periodicals, newspapers and books, often watching strong-willed women and seemingly weak men.

 

Thurber once remarked “The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people–that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.”  Many enjoyed both his drawings and his books, of which there were more than just a few.  Often people saw themselves on the pages of Thurber’s drawings; always they saw their neighbors.  Few took offense, though, knowing that Thurber was pointing his pen not only at them but also himself.

 

“There but for the grace of God go I” is an idiom attributed to Anglican priest James Bradford.  It is also a paraphrase of the scripture found in the New Testament, I Corinthians 15:10.  That the quote in English form is also attributed to a Roman Catholic priest is no surprise and quite fitting given Bradford’s life.  Ordained an Anglican priest shortly before the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor took the throne as reigning monarch of England, he was later imprisoned and hung for his beliefs.  Bradford preached of the connectivity of mankind and saw himself in the face of the lowest of it.  Mostly, Bradford saw each man has a reflection of another except for perhaps life’s circumstances.  He advocated spreading good will not judgment.

 

However you might define reality, we are real.  If you doubt that, get a hammer and bring it down intensely upon your finger.  I really doubt you will question the pain experienced.  Life is transitory but the travails we experience are very real to us.  “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”  Elie Wiesel was referring to events leading up to World War II specifically but his words ring true for everyday living.

 

We are not only real, we are connected one to another.  A couple of years ago after a natural disaster, Face Book began running a streamer at the top of personal pages giving ways people could contribute to charities helping the victims of the earthquakes in Nepal.  Some people have protested this, good people with no motive for malice.  “Wouldn’t it be better to help people in our own country?” was a common response people posted on their own pages.  “Why do we have to see this ticker about giving to Nepal?”  The unspoken meaning here is let the Nepalese help themselves while we help our neighbors.

 

That is a great thought except for one thing – Nepal was a country in dire straits even before the earthquake.  The victim of countless regimes whose only purpose was personal greed, these “live and let live” people were in abject poverty before nature took its revenge on them.  How can someone with nothing have their lives and homes literally upturned by seismic events then pull wealth out of their empty pockets to “help themselves”?

 

Every country has its poor, its disenfranchised societies.  For many, these populations are simply uneducated, sometimes on purpose based upon gender, and/or the wrong ethnicity, again the victims of deliberate discrimination.  Sometimes these populations suffer from illnesses that are not fully understood or greatly feared.   No one country has enough money given to completely render all needed assistance to these groups.

 

Tragedy is forever with us.  The tragedies in Sri Lanka this past weekend are evidence of that.  With the complexities of weather systems and the natural disasters we face, mankind has decided to up the ante and make staying alive even harder.  People are being led by fanatical zealots as well as greedy politicians to kill themselves and take with them, hundreds of innocent victims.

 

Reality may be a word that means different things to different people and sadly, many feel they are invisible and that their lives do not matter.  Another thing all countries share is that somewhere today someone will take their own life.  In spite of a number of terminal illnesses, accidents, and crimes that will result in death, people will feel their own personal situation has no meaning and is just a riddle too hard to contemplate resolution except by death.  TO not give others a chance to live must surely be among the most heinous of crimes.  People are dying simply because they were engaged in living.

 

Einstein might have been correct when he said “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”  I prefer to believe that human stupidity is reversible, though.  Another in common is countries where children and adults wear socks is that, at some point, one will end up with a mismatched sock.  Seeming to defeat the laws of physics, one sock will magically disappear.  Once during an epic spring cleaning, my spouse and children put all their mismatched socks into bags.  The final count was an even one hundred pairless socks.  Of course, once the socks were all laid out, pairs were found or someone remembered the puppy tearing a sock up, etc.

 

Just as our socks were real, the mystery of the disappearance of their matches had resolution.  For an hour, said spouse and kids enjoyed making up stories about the disappearances.  Their imaginations took flight and they did indeed come up with delightful tales.  In fact, I think at least still imagines at least two socks are orbiting the earth as I type today!  The reality was far less exciting and entertaining but resolution was found.  We did not find all the socks but those that remained single became adorable little snowman figures (comment here and I’ll send you the instructions for this craft!).

 

James Thurber felt that love was simply an inherited behavior pattern but I would differ with that sentiment.  Love for ourselves and one another might just be the answer the world needs to exist.  Surely it is the one way we can prove we are real, we are alive. 

 

Man is real.  We have solutions if we but have faith that we can find them.  It will not be easy but then, most things seldom are.  Pain cannot be seen or even quantified on a scale with weights and balances and yet, pain is all too real for those experiencing.  We should not share in another’s blame or guilt but we can and should offer to help.  Life is hard but it is not impossible.  All we need to do is believe in ourselves.  Perhaps that is the hardest problem philosophy has to solve.  Today I hope you smile more than you cry and, when you pass another, your eyes are opened to not only see that other person but also your own value.  We are real.

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Floats Us All

Hope Floats Us All

Day 39 – Palm Sunday*

Lent 2019

 

I remember reading a biography of a military strategist.  “The outcome [of a particular military campaign] was inevitable.  There was no hope at all of a victory.”  I stopped and reread the previous several pages because I thought I must have missed something.  I had expected this man to be on the side that ultimately won but here he was saying that this major battle was doomed for failure.  I actually reread the pages three times and finally on the fourth time, read them aloud.  I had missed nothing and so I continued forward.  Then I read the last sentence of the chapter.  “Fortunately, the leaders were better at encouraging their men then in military rational.  They had hope and their hope won the battle, a battle that, on paper, was never theirs to win.  Hope that day was the best strategy.”

 

As I remarked yesterday, I do not presume to know what was in the speaker’s mind when he uttered the words we now call the Beatitudes.  I do think their purpose and his intention was to offer hope.  The goodness offered within the text speaks of the expectation of not great times but also the optimism those times can ultimately create.

 

Hope is not the same as optimism.  Optimism is a feeling that sees the good and its approach is quite positive.  Hope is an emotion that often arises in the midst of turmoil, of despair, of grief.  Hope is a choice.  We can choose fear or we can choose hope.

 

Barbara Fredrickson describes hope this way.  “Hope literally opens us up. It removes the blinders of fear and despair and allows us to see the big picture. We become creative, unleashing our dreams for the future.  This is because deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change. No matter how awful or uncertain they are at the moment, things can turn out for the better. Possibilities exist. Belief in this better future sustains us. It keeps us from collapsing in despair. It infuses our bodies with the healing rhythms of positivity. It motivates us to tap into our signature capabilities and inventiveness to turn things around. It inspires us to build a better future.”

 

Psychologist C. S. Snyder, in his book “The Psychology of Hope: You Can Get There from Here” defined hope as a “motivational construct” that allows one to believe in positive outcomes, conceive of goals, develop strategies, and muster the motivation to implement them.  While not actively studied until the last twentieth century, it has become apparent that we need hope not only in times of chaos and turmoil but all the time.

 

I believe the Beatitudes to be a commentary of life.  We all will face despair, grief, will feel meek, will hunger and thirst for righteousness.  We also, hopefully, will strive to be peacemakers, be merciful, and pure in heart.  At some point in our lives, we all feel the thorns of persecution.  Hope is the antidote to all of those negative feelings and the motivation for the positive ones.   Perhaps poet Emily Dickinson describes it best:  “Hope is the thing with feathers; that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

*In case you are wondering how Lent can have forty days and Palm Sunday means there are still seven days left in Lent, yet I am at day 39…. In this counting, because many readers are of different faiths, I count each day straightforward.  In the “forty” days of Lent, Sundays are not included in the count.