Archive for February, 2017

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Detaching As Best I Can

February 5, 2017

I have been examining the fine line, the razor’s edge, upon which I am directed to balance – to be in the world but not of it. To watch what is happening and to manifest my grasp of the meaning of Divine Love, without becoming either for or against anything particular that I observe. One of my teachers on the MasterPath illustrated this directive with a story about walking by a lake, communing with spirit and happy in the moment. He hears a cry and sees a person splashing in the lake, shouting for help, apparently at risk of drowning. He knows that we are urged to stay detached, to not take on the karma (consequences) of others.

Does he walk by and ignore the plea? Of course not.

He assesses quickly that he is not a strong swimmer, and may make the situation worse if he plunges into the lake himself. He does have a good right arm and can be of assistance by throwing a rope out to the person. This he does, shouting instructions to grab the rope and hang on. He succeeds in towing the individual in to land, calls 911, and stays with his rescued person until the EMTs arrive. Then he continues his walk, resuming his contemplation and letting go completely of the incident. He does not know the person’s name, nor any of the circumstances of his past or future life. That is of no concern.

Another image used to instruct us is that of viewing life as a river, that we do not swim in but rather watch flow by as we sit on the bank. Not the easiest viewpoint to maintain when one is doing necessary daily chores or other aspects of just living one’s life – especially those one has allowed oneself to like or dislike – but it is through such daily routines that we are shown where ego, like/dislike, anger, greed, and various attachments “catch” us out and pull our focus back into negativity and the mundane.

If I am distraught that apparently “the world still prefers a blustering and dishonest man to a hard-working and intelligent woman” it can only be that I am (yes I admit it) identifying with my own life experience of being treated in that manner, thinking of myself as a woman whose worth has often been ignored while the rewards and supports go to a less able man. It apparently cannot be otherwise in daily life. For if that imbalance were to right itself, another of equal force would pop up. It has ever been so in the world, from the beginning of recorded human history.

We are so deeply ingrained with patterns directing us to strive to “make the world a better place” that it’s difficult to recognize how doing good is as ensnaring as doing evil. The only ‘doing’ that we actually have the ability to achieve is within ourselves as individuals. I cannot change the world, I can only change myself. If, in so doing, there is an effect on the world, so be it. I’m not changing myself in order to change the world, not even in order to change those near and dear to me. I am changing myself solely for my own benefit, my own spiritual growth.

That can sound selfish – and from a lower viewpoint, it probably is. But if each of us were to stay focused only on being the most pure spirit possible, overall the amount of conflict around us would surely reduce. It’s the partisan “caring” about whose party is in power, which values are directing society, what religion is acceptable, that engenders conflict and anger and war.

The current political situation, primarily in the U.S. but more generally worldwide, is becoming the tool given me to identify the emotional and false identity hooks by which I am still sucked into the river. The past 4-5 months that I was floundering in darkness and near-panic are a potent reminder of how negative it is for me to be anywhere other than on the bank, watching the play of events flow past. Elsewhere, I will spell out for myself as many of the false identities as I can name, and carefully peel them away.

Which does not mean I will ignore the calls to petition or otherwise act in defense of values important to me and – in my opinion – important to sustaining my country according to its founding principles. I would never walk by and ignore that desperate, drowning person.

But I will strive to sign or not sign, call or not call, march or not march, finance or withhold my money strictly as I am able, with detachment towards the effectiveness of my actions. And I will remind myself of the statement I clipped from a Zen calendar that seems to best summarize my current goal:

“I am alive, I am present, I am trying, that is enough.”


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