I’m no Einstein

Poor Albert Einstein. At the ripe old age of 26, he published several theories that redirected the field of physics and set it on a new course. His approach was groundbreaking and considered brilliant. Even to this day, people still pay homage to his intelligence. Many people assumed his mathematical and theoretical brilliance would be transferable to all areas of life. They asked his opinion on every subject imaginable and he gave it. In some areas, he was quirky. In others, he was mistaken. And in some, he was insightful enough. But in most regards, Albert’s life in general, his opinions and his personal behavioral choices, fell well within the range of ‘normal’. He was very human. Living up to one’s own reputation can be a burden. Albert was not frequently described, in any account of him that I’ve read, as happy.

Still, it must have been hard to become the standard against which all other human intelligences would be measured. I never met the man but I’ve been compared with him many times in my life. Not once favorably, by the way. But I never took offense at this, any more than I would have taken offense at someone pointing out to me that I was no Michelangelo in my sketch book or no Bernstein in my musical abilities or Baryshnikov on the dance floor. I have never tried to be like somebody else. It seemed like a full time job simply trying to be myself…even attempting to discover whatever that might mean took a long time.

I mention all of this because we live in a culture and a time that has placed a great deal of emphasis upon comparing things and people. We may not know what the absolute value of anything might be (the absolute truth about anything or if something is absolutely beautiful to all people for all time or if this is the absolutely best piece of pizza ever) but we are definitely sure that this is more truthful than that, or that this looks more beautiful than that, or that this one tastes way better than that one. This is where Albert comes in again. We’ve become marginally accustomed to the theory of relativity and practice it now with regards to truth, beauty and pizza quality. In fact, we practice it almost constantly. There’s a whole spectrum of valuations we make in our lives that are ‘relative’, i.e. how we perceive things will depend upon whether we’re riding on the train or standing on the train station platform. (I pray you’re familiar with that example as it has been used so often to illustrate Einstein’s theory).

I want to tell you that comparisons themselves ultimately have no value. We will never grow towards happiness or fulfillment if we are constantly judging ourselves against someone or something else. Even when we are comparing our current self with the version of ourselves from a previous point in time, it serves no real purpose. We’re no longer in that place in time and awareness. We are here. As I attempt to judge or evaluate myself in relation to others, I will always be in one of two categories…better than or not as good as. The relativity of both these categories negates the usefulness of either.

So I would encourage you to trust that your honesty will always steer you towards truth, to appreciate whatever beauty it is you see in front of you, and to relish pizza in all its glorious versions.

My deepest understanding is that we are all created equals.

When I am constantly comparing, I lose sight of that truth quickly. And I suffer.

 

 

 

 

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We deserve to do better

Historians generally agree that one of the chief complaints the fledgling revolutionaries in the Colonies called America had against the British was centered around the concept of “No taxation without Representation”. This may or may not have been a smoke screen for other issues. History is, after all, written by the victors and subsequently edited by the status quo. Regardless, the principle that a populace shouldn’t have to pay for things or policies that they had no real say or input about, seemed to stick and to legitimize the revolt in the general public’s understanding.

Not so far back in time, in the Presidential campaign of 2008 actually, each candidate promised ‘change’. The Republican nominee, John McCain, even went so far as to state that “Washington was broken”.

The status of our system of representative government was ‘broken’.

He was not being dramatic. He was speaking from his experience. Mr. McCain, a veteran Senator of 26 plus years in Washington, DC, spoke the honest truth. It’s a truth that had been whispered and long suspected but never spoken out loud from a public platform by a Presidential Candidate, except as rhetoric. The reasons for this ‘brokenness’ hardly matter any more. What matters is that the ‘brokenness’ is systemic, that it is pervasive and fiercely resists all attempts at remedy.

We have all watched, during the years since 2008, our government’s dysfunction become only more flagrant and frequent. It has been painful. It has been impossible to ignore.

Since the processes of ‘representative government are broken’, then one of the direct conclusions we must confront is that we, the people, are being ‘taxed without Representation’.

Whatever it is that is actually happening in Washington, DC does not represent what we have elected people to do. We have been trying to elect people who will make this better and we are constantly seeing people there that simply make things worse.

And we, the people, are now realizing that we have no recourse via the electoral process, no way to correct the problem, because the election process itself has been compromised by powerful special interest groups, campaign spending laws, and the lack of term limits. (to mention only a few of the issues stifling reform).

And so it is that the very conditions which gave rise to actionable discontent are present again. The Declaration of Independence states that the remedy, our civic ‘right’, is to throw off that government which no longer serves the best interests of the people. The justification is spelled out in our country’s founding charter.

Let me be absolutely clear: I do not advocate in any way or under any circumstance the use of violence as a means to bring about the changes we recognize that are needed. 

We, ourselves, are part of the problem. Our government is not an external force. Our government is not a ‘they’. It’s an ‘us’. We, the people, have abdicated responsible citizenry and have allowed these circumstances to develop and flourish. We didn’t do this wholesale. We did this piecemeal, a little bit here…a tiny bit there. Truthfully, our generation inherited many of the systemic disorders. We were taught them from childhood, indoctrinated and desensitized into accepting as ‘normal’ the general workings of the ‘democratic republic’. We were misled.

I will repeat: Our system of representative government is broken. It has been broken for quite some time. There has been a gradual erosion of our accountability in our civic responsibilities, a numbing and dumbing down, to the point where we can’t even pretend to ourselves that its working. It has crumbled over the generations through countless acts of expediency, of practical minded persons fudging their principles, of ambitious people playing on our fears…to get themselves elected…and once in office, of continuing those behaviors to stay there.

We, the people, would do well to take a hard look at ourselves. The 2016 candidates emerging from our system reflect a broken system, not a broken people.

We deserve to do better.

 

They Count On It

As a citizenry, we are conflicted to our core.

We aspire to be a land of equals but we secretly want someone smarter, better, more enlightened to lead us. Someone ‘better’, someone ‘unequal’ (but in a good way). We want that individual, that leader, to be somehow the best of us. This secret wanting might merely be a cultural crossover and holdover from earlier historical times when what the population hoped for was a benevolent, philosopher king.

Or, it might be a Disney fantasy that we have had subliminally implanted.

In reality, what we have are ambitious people, people who manipulate others for their own purposes and who are, in turn, manipulated by other self-seeking special interest groups.

Still, we insist upon pretending that at the end of our campaign and election process, a pearl, rather than a turd, will emerge.

Our experience, over and over again, is that the people who run for office are either corrupted or co-opted before hand or they are compromised and co-opted by and through the election process.

In their public image, they present us with as squeaky clean a version of themselves and events as they can spin.

In candid and semi-private conversations, the politicians often plead for us to understand their world. They tell us that the ‘system’ wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the thousands of small compromises that get things done but that violate our trust. They tell us that the only way to make progress and move things along is with winks, nods and looking the other way. Trade offs, deals within deals, are the nuts and bolts of the real political world. One man’s corruption is another man’s opportunity. They tell us all this off the record. When we’re all being adults. When the children are out of the room watching the Disney movie they rented.

I’ve been involved in conversations like this. Most of the politicians I have spoken with have convinced themselves that they really are trying to do their very best in a messed up situation. In return, I have pointed out to them that when you decide to climb into the pig pen, it’s impossible not to get dirty. Remarkably, although the reference to a pig pen is a tad off putting, they have taken my statement to mean that I understood their situation. The conversation usually stops about then, with a touch of awkwardness.

We, the people, have a part that we’re playing in this dysfunctional charade. We play the part of the naively trusting. Election cycle after election cycle, we listen to what they tell us that’s wrong and what they’re going to do to fix it and we believe them. We vote with our fingers crossed and hope that they meant what they said. Then we turn our attention back to what’s going on in our own lives, naively thinking that we’ve done our part.

That’s what our politicians are counting on. They absolutely count on our short attention span. They make jokes about it amongst themselves, about how quickly our focus, as a populace, shifts. We bounce from issue to issue, from event to event, so quickly and so completely that there’s no need for those elected to enact change, to do anything, except to wait. They promise with bluster and gusto in one news cycle and then duck and wait for the spotlight of our attention to move during the next. Mere promises of action are sufficient. Then, the next headline, whether it’s legitimate or created as a diversion, will move the public’s eye elsewhere soon enough. Nothing need ever get done or changed.

Nothing.

They count on it.

 

A Ripple of Love

It has been argued that the spiritual evolutionary clock is always being reset to zero because one of the truest tests of a person’s spiritual development is their willingness to forego violence and to lay down, even their very life, for the benefit of another.

And so it is that the more awakened persons in any arena of life, in order to be ‘true’ to themselves, invariably and inevitably will choose to pause, to let up and/or to lay themselves down. The less enlightened are so unaware in those moments of what is actually happening that they sincerely have a sense of triumph as they seize the advantage and do their worst. The less enlightened see only the vindication of their long held belief that goodness and mercy are the attributes of losers.

For those who are primitive in spirit, decency, fairness and restraint are considered liabilities or weaknesses. They believe that those notions, depending upon the circumstances, will get you humiliated, hurt, fired or killed. Nothing ‘good’ ever comes from being ‘good’ in their world view. They know from their own experience with people like themselves that doubt or a moment’s hesitation is all the opening a ruthless spirit needs in order to strike and do damage.

“Eat or be eaten”. “Do unto others before they do unto you”. “Nice guys finish last”. These clichés, and there are many others, describe this mental and emotional world view. They are indicative of a closed system of thought that entertains no other possibility. It assumes the worst and acts accordingly. And, accordingly, it perpetuates the worst. That’s what a closed system of thought does. It fulfills itself. A fear based system of thought can only produce more things to be afraid of. A mind that looks for fear…surprise surprise…will find fear. Rather than protecting a person from fear, which is what such thinking claims to want to do, a mind based in fear traps a person into believing and behaving more and more fearfully.

We know all this….and still feel to give the urge to give that rude driver behind us the middle finger. We want to somehow let them know that they are not winning as we drive safely and let them pass.

So, I’ll tell you a little story:

Once upon a time, a small group of banking vice presidents were attending a seminar focused upon ‘effective communication’. One of the main points being emphasized was that effective communication was based more in good listening than in good speaking. Not everyone agreed with that proposition and the topic was opened up for discussion. The discussion became lively. It ended when one of the attendees stood up, pointed his finger at the person next to him and called him a coward for not agreeing with him that the idea was a load of horseshit and a waste of his time. He then stormed off. The room fell silent. The man who had been yelled at and called cowardly sat calmly the whole time. After a few minutes, he smiled and looked around. “Why is everyone being so quite?” He asked it rather humorously. The president of the company then answered, “Well, we knew there had been one asshole in the room. We were waiting to see if there was going to be two.”

In a room filled with executives, there was laughter and a ripple of love.

 

 

You and Me Together

You and me

we’re at the heart of the matter

we’re at the nub…the rub…the only place that can and will make a difference

if you will not, then I cannot do this alone

if I will not, then you will not want to either

it’s us or it’s nothing at all

Up until now, we have agreed to let one another sleep.

We have sheltered in glass and agreed to not throw stones.

Up until now we have clinked and clicked pebbles in a coy and polite fashion to get one another’s attention, in an attempt, though shallow, to break in and to break out. Yet, we have never actually wanted to throw anything weighty enough or with sufficient force to do either…to break through or to break out.

We kiss each other through the glass of our sheltered hearts and complain that it leaves us untouched.

The course of our lives has been misdirected. We have inherited false maps and faulty compasses.

The possibility of this being the truth, we can hardly dare to imagine.

We cannot conceive that those we have loved, respected and admired were also misled.

Generation after generation, each well intended but completely misinformed, following the circular cycle to nowhere, convincing one another that progress must be being made because look at how long we’ve been walking.

The issues of equality, freedom and cooperation are still unresolved.

In theory, we think and persuade ourselves that we are heading towards them. Yet, our choices and our actions are consistently based upon putting ourselves ahead and above others, restricting and controlling whole populations in the name of security and constantly resorting to conflict (whether it’s called it economic competition or warfare) to justify our most self-centered impulses.

Each generation, as it ages, morphs from idealism to realism to cynicism, from trying to dying, from hope to dope, from wanting to do better to praying we didn’t make things worse.

It’s you and me together.

Or it’s nothing at all.

 

 

 

Something to Consider

In our schools, before we teach our children math, ecology or history…before we teach them about much of anything really …we might want to consider how we could teach them about themselves.

We might want to consider an approach to education that would honestly and gently acclimate them to what it is they are experiencing, even as they are just beginning to experience the world beyond their home life. As we would a person with amnesia, or for a person who had been stranded on an island for 20 years, giving our children an overview and a context of basic human processes and current cultural understandings would provide them with simple points of reference.

Parents have traditionally provided this sense of where the child belongs within the core family group. More and more, though, parents are too busy keeping up with themselves and/or crashing and trashing through their own lives to take enough time and to have enough accurate information to do this regularly and effectively.

This is not their intention. We love our children as much as any generation ever has. It is undeniable, though, that the basic tempo of our life has accelerated. Within every 24 hour period, we keep trying to do more because we’ve discovered there is so much more out there to do.

In this rush, our children are frequently given half-truths, outdated and misguided answers during their most formative and impressionable stages. These, given by ourselves and by our educational systems.

It is commonly understood that children have the ability to learn different languages easily at very early stages. The truth is that children are learning a broad spectrum of behaviors from very early on. We call them sponges for a reason. They are absorbing whatever is front of them.

In America, our current educational system force feeds our young reading, writing and arithmetic from the outset.

The complaint from our young has been consistent for more than 50 years: “I don’t know why I have to learn any of this.”

Why indeed, at ages 4, 5, and 6, do they need to know how to count, to add, to subtract? From kindergarten onwards, school learning is most often confusing drudgery.

We might consider exposing our children to various practical subjects, broadly at first, but then in depth as they demonstrate an interest. The intent is to spark their natural curiosity and then to encourage, observe and guide. To truly teach.

For example, we all now know that most of our communication skills are non-verbal. We all use tone, inflection, cadence along with gestures and facial expressions to express ourselves. Words are a minor component, sometimes an actual impediment, in our attempts to communicate with someone else. The continued emphasis that our educational systems places upon grammar, spelling and punctuation is archaic. The necessity for the written word has been gradually fading. There are audio books and videos everywhere. There are websites that will instruct us step by step through anything we could possibly want to know about or to do. They exist because they work. They’re as effective and more time efficient than reading.

Our children know this. They pick up skills so much easier and faster when 1) they have an interest and 2) they’re given the time, tools and guidance to grapple and grasp at their own pace.

Our current educational systems instill a sense of competition that inhibits true learning and only rewards standardized results.

No child is standard.

No standardized test is a fair assessment of what has been digested or absorbed, only of what can be regurgitated on command.

Children love to play AND learn. They make no distinction between these two. They are not separate activities. Our current approach to education forces an unnatural divide. Playing is natural. Learning is natural. Playing is an inquisitive and cooperative form of learning on multiple levels simultaneously. We’ve been doing this as a species since the caves.

We might want to consider that our challenge as parents and educators is to gently and honestly explain to the child WHAT the child is experiencing and WHAT might be learned from the experience so that the child can ‘see’ it for themselves. This would involve the development of real communication skills in our children along with the awareness of the learning process.

Relationship skills are needed in life for our happiness.

Interactional skills are vital for our health and success.

Communication, collaboration and cooperation are our primary survival skills.

We might want to consider a shift in emphasis in that direction.

We’ve already seen the results of competition based education.

 

 

The Cutting Edge

Rather a catchy phrase, don’t you think?…”The Cutting Edge”. I’d rank it right up there with “The Tip of the Spear” and “Breakthrough Technology” in the category of modern metaphors that are overused but not yet worn out.

In my blog entitled, ‘Expertise’, I brought on stage the expert’s experts. They’re the people at the end of the line for the most complicated problems and the toughest questions. They’re the ‘go to’ people. These are the people who are working diligently at ‘the cutting edge’. These people are typically not lime lighters. Every human endeavor has a handful (at least) of such individuals working behind the scenes of public awareness. Whether its nuclear fission, nail polish remover, soil fungus identification, the mating rituals of whooping cranes (or any species actually…we seem fascinated with this activity), wine crafting, carpet weaving or computer chip designing…every single enterprise that exists has those people working within its discipline who are pushing their particular enterprise towards what can be described generically as the ‘new’.

For after all, that is exactly what being on ‘the cutting edge’ means. These individuals, collectively and individually, are working on the line between what we think we know and what is, as yet, the unknown…between what has been done before and what has yet to be tried. This may seem glamorous, almost Star Trekish, but it is actually quite tedious. There is the monotony of the trial and error process along with the discouragement of frequent failures. These individuals are not necessarily more intelligent than the rest of us…but they do seem to have embraced a singleness of purpose in their lives that most of us have chosen not to. By that I mean, it takes a certain personality type. In order for anyone to develop this level of expertise, it is often at the expense of other interests or activities. There are only 24 hours in any person’s day. Their dedication to and absorption with their chosen endeavor is admirable and often endearing. It can be equally irritating. In either case, it does tend to make them a bit quirky.

As lay people, a non experts, we have a lot in common with the expert’s expert. We, too, are constantly working and living on the line between what we think we know and what is, as yet, our unknown. We, too, must endure the tedious methodology of trial and error…and this applies to all areas of our life…our dating, our working, our partnering, our parenting, our believing or non believing and so on. We, too, must endure the discouragement of frequent failures, of not being at our best, of getting it all wrong. And we, too, must closely look at what we have done before and have the courage to try what we’ve never tried before. If we want to continue to grow.

In the end, the expert’s expert and the rest of us land in the same place. We begin with not knowing, try our best and end up still not knowing. But we need not give up. This is our humanity that we’re all exploring. We are all on ‘the cutting edge’ of our self awareness.

I must confess, it makes us a bit quirky too.

Isn’t that great?