If not now, when? (Zen proverb)

Survivalists have a 100% failure rate.

As such, the term itself, ‘survivalist’, is completely misleading.

The very best that they could claim to be are prolongists. Their goal is to be among the last humans standing after whatever calamity they’ve imagined…and they imagine lots of them. If they live one more day, one more month, one more year than most, they will have won in their mind’s eye. Then they die too. Some strategy.

In the meanwhile, pre-calamity, they live in constant wariness, in perpetual preparation for newly developing threats, focused into a fictional future and overlooking whatever goodness is surrounding them today. Like a said, some strategy.

When I pointed this out to a friend who was considering adopting an ‘end of days’ attitude towards the current situation in the world, I was given the hairy eye ball. Apparently, I am unaware of the headlong plunge we have taken into the abyss. There are an estimated 3.7 million “preppers” in the US today (an alternate top 1% to the economic elite). They hold their own rallies and conventions. They are deadly serious.

They put their money where their fear is. The food, guns/ammunition, clothing and sheltering expenses that are needed to support this ‘life’ style choice run into the billions of dollars collectively. It’s a thriving segment of the economy with many enterprising individuals and large corporations catering to every whim and nuance.

Perhaps I am missing something.

Perhaps.

But I don’t seriously believe that.

There have been people predicting the ‘end of the world’ for as long as there’s been a language and a world to deal with. Yet, the world is still here.

What I do believe is that we are continually plunging into the unknown and the unknowable. This is an element of our human condition. This has been true for every person and civilization that has come before us. There are no crystal balls, no way of knowing for certain…but listening to the voices that are spouting fear does have a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we look at the world through fear colored glasses, the more fear we see.

Every single day and every single situation involves and creates something we have never encountered before, specifically, this moment. And while certain situations or persons may seem similar to something or someone from the past, no two situations or persons will be identical…not even the same two people in the same situation will have the same conversation…moods change, perspectives shift, behaviors modify. It is a fact of life.

We are forging a new national character in response to our changing conditions. The  immediacy of the information available to us through our current technologies is no longer allowing us to pretend, to hide or to delay facing these conditions. We are being bombarded and shocked regularly into reevaluating our attitudes and responses towards one another.

This isn’t about blaming someone else or ‘the system’.

This is about taking responsibility and choosing how we will participate in changing those things that we now see have been broken for so long.

If we rise to this challenge, we will thrive.

If we retreat from it, what good would it do to survive a tad longer?

 

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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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Mottos

We all know what a motto is, right?

And we know what separates a good motto from a not so good motto…namely, that we remember the good one.

Nike’s motto is a good one (Just do it).

Google’s motto not so good (Don’t be evil).

So a motto is a tag line, a slogan, a brief encapsulation of a core principle or purpose. They’re a condensed vision statement that is intended to be unforgettable.

Mottos are typically found on badges, banners, corporate seals, sides of buildings, billboards and T shirts.

The United States of America has a motto.

We didn’t always have one. We weren’t founded with one, nothing formally acknowledged that is. The Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) was behaving as our motto up until 1956. Then, because of the Red Scare of Communism and the beginning of the Cold War, the phrase was given the cold shoulder. It was in 1956 that Congress passed an act, H.J. Resolution 396, adopting “In God We Trust” as the official motto of America. In the face of the atheistic, non-believing, religious oppressing, private property and wealth denying communist peril, we put our motto where our mouths were.

Our motto is found on our currency…our minted and printed money.

To make note that this motto has been controversial is to put it simply. But it is rather simple.

The use of the word ‘God’ in the motto for a country founded, in part, upon the freedom to not believe, as well as the freedom to believe in whatever you’d like, seems questionable.

Even one of our past Presidents considered this to be a bit of a sacrilege (whether it was a sacrilege towards God or towards money was not clear).

No matter. The motto is the motto.

My concern in bringing this up is that we seem to be a country living and promoting fear and not a country that’s trusting of much of anything at all. (other dimensional or not).

Our chosen motto is sounding and feeling hollow.

It’s like the Ford Motor Company having the motto, “Quality is job one” while producing Pintos.

There’s a serious disconnect here.

Trust is the necessary force and energy that brings a culture together and allows great things to happen. When we each trust in the goodness within us to bring out the goodness in those around us, we become more than a collection of individuals. We become a healthy and caring community, a nation of peoples united in that belief.

This is why the income inequality gap has created such an angst among us. This growing chasm is corroding the trust we once had as a populace that our nation’s abundance would be proportionately shared and that the opportunities for personal advancement would be equally available.

Most of us have serious doubts about both of these now.

We are losing our trust.

I shudder to think what an honest motto for us might be nowadays.

The hypocrisy of our current one, however, nearly unbearable.

I’m not worried about the word ‘God’.

It’s the crumbling of our trust in one another that has me aching.

 

 

 

 

Passing the Torch

That’s the metaphor we often hear to describe the transmission of a vision or an inspiration or a philosophy (or something) from one generation to the next. We pass the torch. We try to impart what we have gleaned along our way. Some of this may be ego based and self-centered, rooted in the desire to have a legacy or some impact lasting beyond our years. We have all seen how vanity struggles to extend beyond the grave.  We know, though, that enterprises, empires, pyramids and plans all crumble eventually.

So I’m not referring to that type of torch passing….the banner waving, standard bearer corporate mouthpiece or those who make a living by capitalizing on someone else’s glamorized and photo shopped public image (Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, etc.)

I’m referring to the torch of the sea faring captain, the house painter, the traveling salesperson, the grocery clerk, the Wal Mart greeter…the everyday sort of us…

What torch have they?

What torch any of us?

Here are the overview numbers: over 151,000 people die each day (world wide), that’s        55 million plus each year.

Did they each have a torch and did they get to pass it?

Closer to home and even more poignant, over 500,000 Americans die of some form of cancer every year. I say more poignant because with a terminal diagnosis comes the real time opportunity, however short or lengthy, to attempt to pass your torch intentionally.

So what is it that we are actually trying to pass along?

I understand that whatever it is will be deeply personal. I gather that it’s a summation of  sorts…the distillation into essences of what we’ve experienced…the truth(s) we may have uncovered…the wisdom we may have earned…

But to what end?

What is the purpose, what is the impulse that stirs in us as the numbers of our days dwindle?

I have come to understand that what we so desperately would like to do is to help someone else avoid the mistakes we ourselves have made and the pain we have experienced as a result.

That’s the torch…we’d like to do our small part towards the easing of human suffering…for family, friends and strangers alike. “Learn from my missteps”, we want to say…don’t eat that type of mushroom…don’t stay too long at the office…don’t smoke…don’t take tomorrow for granted…and on and on…the things we wish we could just pass on so that no one else need suffer from them again…

It’s an act of love really.

It’s a torch that’s worth passing.

Which brings us, the living, to the question: Do we have to wait until the end before we try to pass this along?

 

 

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Podcast Postponed

I was just informed that the podcast scheduled for noon today will not take place. Steve has a family situation which required him to leave town in order to take care of it.

He apologizes and I understand. I trust you will too.

We will reschedule as soon as he’s ready and we can coordinate the process.

Life is unpredictable. That’s neither good nor bad.

Uncertainty is not a problem.

How we respond to it might be.

For myself, I’m choosing to smile. It’s going to be another interesting day.

I trust the same for you.

 

 

Trickle Down

“We were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness – embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television. This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.”  Howard Zinn, 2005

Income inequality, the gap between the 99 percenters and the 1 percent, has reached historic proportions in this country and in others. I was around when Ronald Reagan and his band of merry Republicans popularized and promoted “trickle-down economics” as a sure fired way to help the middle class and the poor. They’re aim was to pour gasoline on the fire of economic inequality while convincing us that their intention was to put it out.

I, for one, didn’t know that the phrase, ‘trickle down’, was coined by the American wit Will Rogers who, when satirizing President Herbert Hoover’s economic recovery plan, made the remark that the “money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy.” His remark was intended as a joke and everyone understood that. It was an insightful and obvious poke.

It took a Hollywood actor to sell it to the American public as a sound economic policy. At the heart of that snake oil pitch was the idea that any economic benefit targeted for the wealthy–investors, entrepreneurs, big business and banks–would inevitably and necessarily ‘trickle down’ to the less wealthy members of society in the form of creating jobs. The theory was that the tax revenues and spending that would be generated by those jobs would drive the general economy’s growth and more than make up for the tax breaks that the wealthy had received. It was a two part plan, however. First, the 1 percent needed to get their relief up front. Then, the theory proposed, there would be an outburst of new businesses that would benefit the 99 percenters.

The 1 percent in America enthusiastically supported any politician at any level of government who would endorse and promote this theory. Purse strings were loosened and campaigns were well funded for those who would hitch their horses to this wagon. We still suffer from that loosening today.

But the general public bought it. The idea was simple enough to understand. In a way, it seemed like it might be a fair way to share.

Long ago, the cartoon character, Wimpy, from the ‘Popeye the Sailor’ series would always declare, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”. What could go wrong with that?

Well…

Decades of financial data since the Reagan era have completely debunked the notion of there ever having been a “trickle down”. The 1 percent basically said, “thank you very much” and found ways to keep their windfall for themselves. If crumbs fell off their table of abundance or some manner of profit managed to spill over, it was the result of sloppiness and not a sense of fairness.

To be sure, the 1 percent were quick to find ways to clean all of that up.

And the disparity between them and the 99 percenters continues to grow even faster.

What could go wrong with that?

 

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