You need a prick to lance a boil

Sometimes it’s important to state the obvious: The current Republican nominee for President didn’t invent or create racism, bigotry, arrogance, ignorance or any of the list of phobias he espouses. He simply is the prick that has lanced the boil of this puss pool.

(And, while I’m being obvious, here’s a common definition of the word…. Phobia: an extreme or irrational fear of or aversion to something.)

Extreme and irrational fears, by their very nature, are unmoved and unchanged by reasonable discussion, the preponderance of physical evidence to the contrary or the consequences/effects they might have on a person’s quality of life.

However, gradual, repeated exposure to and experience with the source of the phobia DO tend to help a person to progress beyond the most paralyzing aspects of their fear. But many people choose to simply do a ‘work around’ rather than a ‘work through’ approach to their fears. Hence, the aversion element of phobias.

What we, the people, are experiencing in this election cycle is a reality check. Exposed for all to see is a large gap between who we thought we were collectively as Americans (and perhaps how far we had come in our social awarenesses)  and who we actually are individually (and how a society cannot legislate hatred, fear and bigotry out of existence).

Underneath the political correctness of the past 50 years or so, wherein it didn’t matter as much what a public figure (or any of us really) did behind the scenes provided they spoke appropriately and frequently about inclusion, fairness and equality, there was a percentage of our population that simmered and seethed.

They have found a face and a voice to rally behind.

They are not ‘bad’ people. They’re deeply afraid. Fear’s first responder is ANGER, followed closely by Righteousness and Blame. These energies attract and enflame any similar energies they come in contact with and become a self-perpetuating, self-justifying, self-fulfilling prophecy. They are the Donald.

The truth about our country, about our society, isn’t always pretty. But the truth does need to come out into the open in order for us to address it honestly and to ask ourselves genuinely, “Who and how do I want to be in the light of this truth?”

This is life putting us on the spot.

It’s worth noting that during natural disasters, or on battlefields, or in any life threatening situation, we never take notice of the color, the gender, the garb, the sexual orientation, or the beliefs of the hand or the face of the person who is reaching out to help us or is standing by our side.

None of those matter. They never do.

Many people learn that truth from and through those experiences. Not everyone does.

As a nation, we have fought wars, foreign and domestic, against tyranny and for freedom, against oppression and for equality, against injustice and for the wrongly persecuted.

We are either going to come together, person to person…neighbor to neighbor…voice to voice and stand up firmly and clearly for what we know this country was established for…or we will pull ourselves apart and perish.

Standing firmly is NOT about beating the other person down.

Standing firmly is standing firmly…with the person who willing to stand too…

and not letting the fear filled run over us.

 

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It’s what you don’t see…

My wife and I had the opportunity recently to be on a guided tour through a rain forest in Central America. Our guide was very personable and seemed relatively well informed…     (I wasn’t exactly going to fact check him as he spouted his fountain of information). He did caution us at the outset to not wander off the main trail and told us a brief story to make his point.

Another rain forest guide, a friend of his, was taking a group of ten on a tour. It had been a disappointing experience in that very few of the animals or insects he was mentioning were showing themselves. So he asked the group to wait on the trail while he went off in search of something that he could show them. About 15 feet into the brush, he did see and delicately coax into his hand a colorful poisonous frog. As he turned and stepped to return, he was bitten on his ankle by a Fer-de-Lance, an aggressive, venomous snake. When all was said and done, he nearly lost his foot. He told his friend, our guide, that he knew what he was looking for, but it was what he didn’t see that changed everything.

Of course thereafter, my wife and I stayed glued to the trail. Here’s what happened. We came across a caravan of leaf cutter ants traversing the trail. Thousands of them, with most of them carrying sections of vegetation many times the size of their bodies. They looked like  miniature Mardi Gras participants complete with headgear and uneven steps. As we stood there staring, sensations from my left foot finally broke into my awareness. When I looked down, I saw that it was covered with fire ants. I was wearing a modified version of a sandal with no socks and so I was being bitten. Both of my wife’s feet were also being swarmed, but she was wearing sneakers with socks. Still, she shrieked loud enough for both of us. She put her small backpack down as she brushed herself and myself off with both hands. Within a minute, we seemed to have finished with the worst of them. We laughed a little and remarked again about how it was that what we didn’t see was more impactful than what we had been looking at. That’s when we started up the trail again and I noticed that my wife’s entire back was covered with fire ants. Her backpack had also been on the nest of fire ants. More swatting and laughter, as even our guide joined in to brush her off.

We laughed and continued the tour rather than cursing and returning to the ‘safety’ of the jeep. It was a choice made without words. Everyone checked into everyone else’s eyes and  we simply proceeded. Asked and answered.

Hours later, as we all (guide, driver, wife and I) sat at a nice restaurant’s table to share a late lunch, the guide complimented us as to how we had reacted on the trail. My wife reminded him that she had shrieked initially, to which he replied, “Yes, but you did not run”.

The four of us proceeded to talk about the unexpectedness and unpredictability of life as we ate our way through some local dishes that even they were impressed with. We shared specific stories from our lives to illustrate our points…about our children, our jobs, our relationships, our selves. You would have thought we were old friends who hadn’t seen one another for a while.

Not everything you don’t see coming is bad or dangerous.

Very often, they can be blessings.

 

Catch All Replies

Life does imitate art sometimes and, as such, there are real instances of not being able to know which came first…it’s the chicken or the egg sort of thing.

For example, did the catch all answer line, “It’s complicated” originate with a bunch of real people actually saying it in conversations or did a bunch of people start saying it in real life after they’d heard it used countless times on TV and in movies?

There’s no way of knowing.

It does seem, though, to be a favorite answer to the tougher questions in life these days. A sign of our times, I suspect, yet not necessarily a bad one. (more on that in a moment)

Fifteen or twenty years ago, one of the more popular catch replies was, “It’s hard to explain.” For men in particular, the use of the reply seemed to buy them sympathy and a little time… while indicating a touch of willing sensitivity. Powerful stuff. This line fell into disuse when a single word counter reply (uttered with a hint of sarcasm) was perfected: “Try”. Superphrase had met its kryptonite.

Another utterance had an equally good run after that. I’m referring to that catch all response: “It depends”. With a suggestion of broad mindedness and a hint of wisdom, this response, when spoken with sincerity, generally ended an inquiry with a form of agreement in lieu of an answer…”I suppose it does”. The wishy-washiness of the reply, through its overuse, eventually became clear. It was impossible to rely upon someone or to really get to know them when their main response to life’s questions was, actually, nebulous…rather undependable even though predictable.

The catchiness of these responses aside, I sense that they reflect definite stages of our collective and growing awareness.

It is hard to put into words the deeper and more significant aspects of our thoughts, feelings and experiences. This realization is a vast step forward from the stock answers many of us were raised with: “Because I said so”…”Because that’s the way I was taught to deal with things”…”It’s none of your business”…”I don’t want to talk about it now or ever”. So, there is a truth beneath the phrase and an even deeper truth in the developed reply, we still have to try, even though it may be hard. The quality of our lives and our relationships improve when we do.

Sometimes life, answers and the most loving response does depend. The recognition of context and circumstance is a vast leap forward from black and white thinking, from the strictly literal approach to ethical situations that judges some choices as completely right and the rest totally wrong, and from culturalcentric perspectives that demonize and dehumanize all others. How we view things and people does depend upon many factors that we have only begun to acknowledge. The more we acknowledge them, however, the better our decisions become.

As it turns out, it is complicated. The interrelatedness and interconnectedness of all of life is being explored and exposed constantly. It’s no longer a surprise. It is expected. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Nothing happens in isolation. We now know that those relations and connections must exist and finding them has become the new direction of our research and our understandings. This includes within ourselves. We are part of and belong in an integrated and interactive system of entities and energies. Our very own bodies are a prime example of those complex exchanges and cooperation. Layer after layer, level after level, we are amazed and astounded at the intricate beauty and harmony of the processes involved. As we shift from our arrogant opinion of ourselves as ‘most important’ in the scheme of life towards the appreciation and acceptance of how necessary and healthy it is for us to simply be equal and valued, we live more peacefully and act more maturely.

Now, I’m not saying that these replies can’t still be used by people to evade, obscure and excuse the real reason for the lack of honest and clear communication.

I am saying that underneath all of that foolishness, I sense a slow growing but collective awareness.

Can you sense my smile?

 

 

Roots

“To be aware is to be willing to suffer.” (I’ve seen this sentence attributed to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, but I can’t really vouch for that).

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Once more, I’m not vouching, but this is attributed to Socrates, another philosopher from a similar location and time in history).

I was educated in America. The ancient Greek culture’s arts and sciences were always presented as a high point of Western civilization. The ‘roots’ of our society, so we were told, were to be found in Athens. There was a great deal of respect, credit and admiration given to the Ancient Greek civilization by textbooks and teachers. The warring, conquering, pillaging, raping, enslaving aspects of their empire’s expansion (the soldiers, politicians and businessmen) aside, apparently there was a segment of the ‘at home’ population that had the time and inclination to ruminate and dedicate their energies to exploring and explaining things. Lots of things like math, the stars, why things float and what constitutes a ‘good’ life.

I might be mistaken, but the people (exclusively male, by the way, that’s how it was taught to us) who were engaged in these dialogues and discoveries may have been some of the one percenters of their day, those who were privileged enough by birth line or circumstance to be unhampered by the menial tasks of survival. Regardless, history has chosen to overlook their indiscretions and atrocities in order to focus exclusively on their achievements.

That’s some seriously good public relations work over time, if you ask me.

My point is this; underneath many of the cultural values that we inherited directly and indirectly are some outdated notions and mistaken premises.

An unexamined life is not worthless. It’s less fulfilling sometimes. It’s prone to painfully repetitious missteps or mind numbing, boring routines, but that doesn’t make it a worthless life. If it’s the best that someone knows how to do, if it’s what they’ve been taught and only what they know how to do, so be it. Every life is still valuable and worthwhile. Socrates was being an arrogant elitist, an intellectual snob. That’s if he actually said anything like this at all.

Associating awareness with suffering is misleading. Certainly one element of being ‘aware’ is the willingness to feel and, yes, some of the feelings we open ourselves to are difficult and even painful. But our awareness also opens us to beauty, joy and love. When we are awake, aware and alive the full Monte of human emotions is available to us. Not just suffering.

But many of us have grown up with the assumption that human beings naturally are supposed to seek pleasure and avoid pain…pleasure = good…pain = bad. As a result, many of us habitually turn a blind eye towards the unpleasant or the painful as if that would somehow make it go away.  We avoid, deny and pretend…all of which create a whole new realm of suffering.

I realize that tracing the roots of some of our misconceptions and cultural neurosis back through the ages doesn’t change a thing.

But it might help a little to recognize that we didn’t start this mess.