New & More

As a comedian once noted, “You can’t ever get enough of the stuff you don’t really want in order to impress people you don’t really care for.”

This sums up the angst and the futility of consumerism and capitalism.

The comic was not referring to the basic stuffs like sufficient healthy food, decent sanitation and adequate shelter, access to affordable health care and education, along with an equal opportunity for employment with fair compensation. These basics are the foundation of a sustainable society and the hallmarks of an effective system of government.

No, the comic was referring to the collective obsession with and association of the twin notions of ‘new’ and ‘more’ as somehow adding up to something that is or that feels ‘better’.

I’ll start by looking at the notion of ‘more’. Here’s one of the underlying beliefs: “If a little bit of something is good, than more of that something must be better.”  Some examples:

  • if two aspirin relieve my headache, than four aspirin will do even better.
  • if buying one piece of junk at $19.95 seems good, than getting two at the same price is even better.
  • if recipe calls for a teaspoon of an ingredient, than a tablespoon will be even better. (come on now, you all know you’ve thought and done this)
  • if running two miles every other day feels good, than running four miles everyday will feel even better.

So, ok, you get the idea of how we turn the concept of ‘more’ from a measurement of comparative quantity (or frequency) into an indicator of quality. We don’t just have a boat, we have two boats for changing conditions or a different boat for every condition. That’s better, right?

But how many boats can you be on at one time and how often do you really like to go boating?

More money, more sex, more travel, more houses, more clothes…when I have more of any or all of these, I will feel better, right?

Eventually and inevitably, we all come to the realization that more is just more. More is an empty promise of satisfaction and not anything that’s really better…always only more. And even when we are surrounded by plenty, we still feel empty and not enough.

‘New’ is the second notion that we automatically link to ‘better’. Fifty or so years of being brainwashed by advertisers has something to do with this. It was their stock in trade phrase used relentlessly to get us to purchase anything, “New and Improved”. That has become our whole concept of progress;  whatever is ‘new’ has to be better than what came before, otherwise why would we be buying it or doing it?

Again, much the same as with the notion of ‘more’, the ‘new’ is not a qualitative measurement. It is a temporal one, simply noting the appearance of an object, person or event in the sequence of time. We can have a new job, new relationship, new boss, new neighbor, new…car…pair of shoes…laptop…haircut…and what have you…and not a single one of these are necessarily ‘better’ than what we had before. Still, we chase after the latest, the newest, as if it were the holy grail.

….Until we ‘see’ them for what they are….

Mirages leading us off into the desert.

 

 

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Enough to Share

The historical and personal perspectives that I’ve offered up in some of my recent blogs were based in a simple, living truth: That the purpose of awareness is not to rise above nor to retreat from our humanity and the events of the world, but to embrace them more honestly and to engage them more compassionately and effectively.

We are in this together, this experience of being human…as members of a family…as part of a community…as citizens of a nation…as members of a living global entity.

To wish this weren’t so…to bemoan and lament our social natures, our fundamental connectedness…is emotionally immature and intellectually delusional.

As children, we were all introduced to the experience and the necessity of sharing…whether it was at the dinner table, the playground, the sandbox or the schoolyard. We were asked, guided and, in some cases, simply told to be fair and to share whatever it was we were attempting to horde or keep for ourselves.

Here’s the truth: For most of us, the act of sharing didn’t hurt us. We didn’t starve, it didn’t make us feel weak or soft and it didn’t ruin whatever fun we were having. In fact, most of us felt better when we shared. Our enjoyment was increased by the interaction with others. We were no longer alone and, hence, we felt less lonely. Sharing with others added value to the experience of the moment. We actually felt more capable and confident in ourselves and better about ourselves when we were sharing.

Most of us.

There were some young souls, when asked to share, who reacted by pouting, protesting and perhaps running off to their room (or elsewhere). Their response was more than a reluctance. It was a refusal.

No one has ever been admired or respected for that refusal.

Not as a child and not as an adult.

When we witness the refusal to share, as one parent to another, we offer our condolences for such behavior. We sympathize with the other parent(s). Life is going to be more difficult and less enjoyable for all of them until and unless sharing becomes possible.

As one adult to another, when we witness someone’s refusal to share, we offer our baffled looks and our pity. The person who is refusing to share is never the happy person in the group.

Never.

They may have all their ‘stuff’ (whatever it is…things, money, time, talent) but they live in fear protecting it and, even surrounded by a posse of peeps, they live lonely. We have seen this play out time and time again. We know its true. This is not our being envious of their ‘things’. We’re sad for what they are missing…the best part…the joy of sharing, of connecting, of cooperating as equals.

Our interdependencies are not the evidence of our weaknesses. We have always been stronger, fuller, better together than we ever could be by ourselves. Self-sufficiency is a neurosis because it is impossible. No person is an island nor would any healthy person try to be.

Relying upon one another is one of our strengths.

When we pull together, when we act cooperatively and pool our abilities, we are capable of much more goodness than when it is we sit apart and pout.

I believe in the goodness of us.

I would ask you to consider sharing in that belief.

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We Hold This Truth to be Self Evident

The birth of our democracy was raucous and messy. I’m not referring to the war with King George and the British Empire. I’m referring to the aftermath, the forging and implementation of the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence into a system of governance.

There was no uniformity of vision and no real consensus on the path forward. Nor were they particularly refined or gentile towards one another as they expressed their differences. They were, however, practical. As equals in a fledgling democracy, they understood that working together was a necessity. They did their best to put the general good above their personal point of view and worked through issue after issue. Not everyone was pleased. No one got exactly what they wanted.

But, as the result of that cooperation, we, as a new nation, didn’t ourselves tear apart with feuds and deadlocks (as many in the world expected us to) but we worked together for the greater and common good.

I use the word ‘we’ and not ‘they’ because we are their direct inheritors, the ‘we the people’ descendants, of their efforts. Their attempts are our legacy and rightfully become our attempts. This ‘we’ is a continuum, a heritage that embodies our shared commitment to implementing and adapting our ideals to our changing times “in order to form a more perfect Union”.

The reality, the truth, about America is that we didn’t start out pristine and perfect. ‘Liberty and equality for all’ were not the reality in the historical times of our nation’s formation, but the goal, the hope and the common purpose. We, as a peoples, have slowly, falteringly and yet steadily been moving towards those goals.

Consider just a few of the larger areas of progress: Slavery, segregation, women’s right to vote, to work, to choice, our treatment of the mentally or physically challenged, the social security system and on and on. All of these were driven by our fundamental and Constitutional commitment to liberty, justice and equality for ALL.

Yet each of these steps towards making our aspirations a reality were met with fierce resistance…resistance to implementing the very principles we were founded upon…resistance to extending liberty and justice equally, regardless of race, gender, or creed.

They call themselves conservatives. They claim to want to protect and defend the purity of an earlier place in our history. Yet the reality of that earlier place in our history was far from pure. We all know this. We all know that we, as a nation, were striving towards the goals articulated in our Declaration and our Constitution but that those articulations were NOT the reflection of the reality of the times. Conservatives want to protect something that never existed. They consistently block the implementation of those ideals while claiming to be defending those ideals. They envision a ‘Camelot’ of simpler times and furiously decry anyone who dares to point them towards reality.

We are all created equal.

We have been trying for nearly 300 years to put that truth into our social systems, to continue to strive towards making it a reality and not just some pretty words.

“In order to form a more perfect Union”…Democracy is always a work in progress. Our foundational documents point us in the direction of our common good.

There may be disagreements and discussions aplenty as to how to continue to implement our shared goals into our social systems but implement them we must, or we are not the people or nation that we so proudly claim to be.

 

 

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The Beast of Fear

I made mention in a recent blog (“Mottos”) that I sensed that, as Americans, our trust in our systems, politics and institutions has been eroded to the point of being broken. I ended the blog by expressing that I ached for us because there is the temptation now to not want to trust in one another, to no longer make room for our differences and to pull apart rather than to pull together.

This is one of the corrosive effects of fear. Once any one of us puts on the goggles of fear, everything and everyone is distorted, colored and tainted. We will perceive that there are monsters under every bed and around every corner. We will be susceptible to being whipped into a frenzy by persons fanning these flames while claiming to want to put them out. We will be tempted to grab our pitchforks and torches to chase and kill the beasts.

But what if the beast is in us? The beast of FEAR?

Has not human history shown us that time and time again?

After our demonizing, after our scourging and scorching, after all the lives altered, ruined or taken in our fevered efforts to make ourselves feel ‘safe’, every mob, every revolution, every society that blazed down that path has had to look back with regret and remorse at the random and senseless destruction that took place. The madness of fear is always clear in hindsight.

And no one was made safer. But some were made wealthier.

And there were still more beasts to chase….according to the people who chase beasts for a living.

Our challenge, more than ever before, is to not repeat those mistakes. We cannot expect to make true progress towards peace through violence and destruction. That is the lesson. That is the truth. We are all collaterally damaged by violence. We are all diminished by fear based blaming and labeling.

The social inequities and institutional inadequacies that have been exposed, and will continue to be exposed, have been festering for quite some time. Perhaps we were naïve. Perhaps we turned a blind eye. Perhaps we thought it was someone else’s problem in some other part of the country or world. Perhaps we thought we couldn’t make a big difference so why try to make a difference at all?

We’re living in the results of these approaches. They don’t work either.

We must ask ourselves if there are not better choices than only the two that are habitually offered, those being between violence or apathy…destruction or complacency?

Our country was based upon resolve, participation and cooperation. We knew that there were decisions to be made and actions that needed to be taken. We knew we couldn’t pass the responsibility for these things on to someone else or to wait for some better time. We knew, too, that we couldn’t do it unless we united, found our common ground and trusted in what we would try to do together.

For all of us, equally.

That’s what we declared as the purpose for our independence…

Implementing this ideal has been a slow, pain filled, educational experience which we are not done with nor will we ever be done with. Democracy is a work in progress not a finished accomplishment. Solutions change because conditions change.

The ideals, however, OUR PRINCIPLES, are what inform and guide our direction.

Resolve, participation and cooperation are what move us forward united.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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