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The unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates

One of the essential life questions each of us humans is asked to hold and live into and out of is: Who am I?  All of the great religious and philosophical traditions hold this as an essential life question; it was captured in another way by the ‘Oracle’: Know thy self.

What complicates this question and our response is that we are powerfully socialized by our culture – our parents, our schools, our religious and philosophical institutions, our friends, our life experiences [this list could go on].  In order to cope and survive we take on a number of affirmations offered to us by these entities.  Be humble. Be proud.  Be anxious.  Be angry.  Be doubtful. Be loyal.  Be honest.  Be fearful.  [What, gentle reader, were some of the affirmations offered to you? Which ones did you take on?  Which ones are, now, part of your identity?]

Some of these we choose to integrate into our very being and we look for confirmations; eventually we do not pay attention to the disconfirmations.  A trap for us is that we come to believe that the affirmation is who I am.  We become the affirmation.  Many of us also take on a role and we then become the role.  I am an engineer.  I am a wife.  I am a teacher.  I am a loser.  I am a worrier.  I am a. . . [What identities, gentle reader, have you taken on?  To what extent does one of these roles define who you are? What need is being met by making this role part of your identity?]

One affirmation I took on was: I am not quite good enough.  I am not a failure; I am just not quite good enough.  I know the root of this in my life.  I know the many ways I have taken in judgments and experiences to confirm this affirmation.  I know the power of it – here I sit so it has helped me cope and survive (part of the power of ‘affirmations’ is that they do help us ‘survive’).  I wanted to give it up – yet I hung on to it.

I learned two lessons from this.  One is that knowledge does not change anything.  The other is that a need is more powerful than a want; all wants will be compromised in the face of a need.  I learned that only a greater need will ‘trump’ a current need.

Once we become our affirmations they are difficult to let go of for we have made them part of who we are AND we need them [remember the original need was one of coping and survival], at least this is our story.  If we let go of them; if we replace them, we are, in a real sense, changing our identity…     WHAT?  Yes, we are changing our identity; the very one that enabled us to cope and survive.

Today we might not like a certain affirmation – say, I am a ruminator; what we find it difficult to grasp is that we need the affirmation.  WHY?  Ah, this is a key question.  Even then we have to take it one step further and discern what NEED is being met.  Then we must choose to integrate a need that is greater than the current need – no small task, but it can be done.  This is long term, if not generational work.

I will offer one more complication to all of this.  Consider that those who know us and love us do not want us to change.  WHAT!  If they accept us changing then they, too, will have to change.  WHY?  Because we are all deeply interconnected and because they have the same challenge I do – the challenge of IDENTITY. 

I am my message. –Gandhi

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Today is ‘Father’s Day.’  Once again, I stop, step-back, think about and honor my father.

My father celebrated his 90th birthday on 10 December, 1999.  He died on 25 January 2000.  His funeral service and life celebration was on 28 January 2000.  As I sit here this morning/mourning, Tears are washing my face as I look at a photo of my father — and I remember.

On this ‘Father’s Day’ I once again celebrate my father’s life.  As part of my celebration I want to share with you, once again the eulogy I offered during our celebration of his life.  As you read my words I invite you, Gentle Reader, to remember a person in your life who was a role model for you; a person who gifted you, challenged you, supported you and cared for you.

My father, Ernest Vernon Smith, Jr. was, like his father, ‘an old-time country doctor’ who practiced his art until he was 82.  He served three generations of families.  Here are the words I shared with those in attendance on 28 January, 2000:

Eulogy for My Father

The Poet Markova writes:

I will not die an unlived life.
 
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me.
To make me less afraid, more accessible.
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
 
I choose to risk my significance.
To live
So that which came to me as seed goes on as blossom
And that which came to me as blossom
Goes on as fruit.

My father lived this poem and carried the torch and promise to many others in many subtle yet powerful ways.   

Yesterday I was reading through one of my journals looking for a context for these comments.  I came upon the following that I had written: ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here, the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Eyes.  Bright, soft, penetrating, caring, admonishing, compassionate, intelligent, impish, and oh, so very blue!  I last looked deeply into those soft, blue eyes on Sunday night as I was leaving his hospital room; I did not know that this would be the last time our eyes would meet.  Our eyes held one another and we held each other’s hands as we look deeply into each other’s heart; we said to one another, ‘I love you.’

Those wondrous eyes!

How they must have looked to the thousands of people he served for more than 55 years.  Those eyes, blue and sparkling, meeting my mother’s own bright blue eyes in 1934 – he had, as my mother reminded me yesterday, already taken out all of the other nurses (300 is the number I recall) and then he asked her out.  The mutual eye-sparkle was fanned into flames of love that have endured more than 64 years and also produced 6 children who have carried this sparkle into their lives.

I remember watching my parents exchange those sparkling, impish looks with one another as I was growing up – I was fascinated by their exchanges, and I was a bit envious – I still am.

I remember, as a child, my father’s eyes holding me when I was ill; and I think of all of those souls he held with those healing eyes.  I wonder, as I look out over this room filled with those he loved, how did Ernie’s Eyes affect you?

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Face.  What are the words that come to your mind my friends when you reflect upon my father’s face?

For me the adjectives flow like a powerful river, bringing life and energy to all who drank his face in.  Beauty, strength, humor, intelligence, inquiry, competence, jokester, healer, competitor, surgeon, colleague, friend, father, husband, dedicated physician, servant. 

Sit a moment with me and remember his face and the words that come to mind for you as you image him standing before you. . . .

Over the years I have thought of how his face affected those who were waiting for him to come and serve them.  I thought about the response in themselves and in their family as my father walked into their homes and into their lives carrying his little black bag of hope with him; a hope that would sustain them in their hour of need.

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Hands.  Magnificent.  Steady.  Ambidextrous.  Deft.  Confident.  Vise-like (for those of you, like me, that tried to out-vise him and lost; you know what I mean).

The hands that held a scalpel, a clamp, a needle, a new-born.  Hands that were guided by the eyes, held in place by the calm, professional face that brought his skill and energy and dedication to the service of ALL who needed him; whenever they needed him.

Through his eyes, his face, his hands, my father, in spirit, truly became present to us: his colleagues, his patients, his friends, his children and his wife. 

My father’s presence will truly live on in each of us, will live on in our relationships, and in the fruit of our relationships and will live on in this community that he was dedicated to and served for a life-time.  We have all been blessed by my father and we are now asked to continue to bless all of those that we encounter, every day, for the rest of our lives.  I pray, each day, that I can in some small way live into the dedication and service that my father lived out for a life-time.   

Here is a photo of my father and mother standing outside of their home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  The date was 20 July, 1995 and it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

Awareness does not bring comfort or solace.; it brings disturbance –Robert K. Greenleaf

One of the most challenging things for us to do is to wake up, become aware, listen to what is emerging from within oneself, listen to what is emerging in the ‘world’ and to ‘see.’  We don’t want to engage this process of ‘seeing.’  For example, the Capitalist does not want to see what is good and healthy in Socialism.  The rich do not want to ‘see’ the poor.  The tribe does not want to see the full humanity of the stranger.

Why don’t we want to embrace this process of ‘seeing’?  Consider this, Gentle Reader, if one engages in this process two things might occur: The one ‘seeing’ might well become disturbed by what one ‘sees’ and given what one ‘sees’ one might be called to change or transform [transform = a fundamental change in character or structure].

If one looks and one becomes disturbed one begins to sense a potential loss of control – the loss of the control of the life that one is holding onto.  If one chooses to embrace and engage in this process of ‘seeing’ one must also embrace the possibility that one will have to, at minimum, change or at maximum, transform.

When it comes to our ‘seeing,’ Anthony de Mello offers us three questions to hold, consider, embrace and live:

  • How much are you ready to take? [think: How much ‘seeing’ can you embrace]
  • How much of everything you’ve held dear are you ready to have shattered, without running away?
  • How ready are you to think of something unfamiliar? [think: hold the possibility that you will have to change or transform as a result]

As one embraces and engages this process of ‘seeing’ one – because one is awake and aware – becomes disturbed by the ‘fear’ that is emerging from within.  This is not the ‘fear of the unknown.’  Actually, one cannot become fear-full of the unknown.  It does seem, however, that what one fears is the loss of the known. (Think, for example, the loss of ‘identity’ as one of the potential losses that helps generate and sustain this ‘fear of loss’.)

A second fear one has is the fear that comes with the awareness that one will have to change or transform and in order to embrace and engage this process one will have to let go or empty in order to make room for the new (think: the ‘new’ way of seeing, for example).  Who wants to give up his/her identity?

A third fear one becomes aware of is the fear of isolation or abandonment or shunning by one’s ‘tribe’ (think: family, religious group, political party, club, etc.).  We are social beings and being ‘part of’ is crucial for our well-being.  What will I do if I am ostracized by one or more of these ‘tribes’?

One of my role-models is Jesus.  Jesus was awake, aware and often disturbed by what he saw.  One of the things Jesus modeled for me was how comfortable he was with ‘sinners’ and how uncomfortable he was with ‘the self-righteous.’  Jesus never, not once, indicated that he was better than the ‘sinner.’  Jesus modeled what it was to embrace all human beings without embracing their actions.  He ‘saw’ the fully human being and he responded to the fully human being.

This leads me to the fourth fear.  This is the fear of ‘seeing’ each person as a fully human being.  The implications of ‘seeing’ each person as a fully human being are legion.  By the by, all faith traditions tell us that God will judge each of us based on how we have ‘seen’ and ‘responded’ to our ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ human beings.

If I see you as a fully human being then I must treat you as I want to be treated – for most of us this means that we will treat THE OTHER(S) with compassion, care, love and forgiveness.  We will feed the hungry and shelter the home-less and tend to those who are sick (physically, intellectually, emotionally, and/or spiritually).

Given all of this it is no wonder that so many of us continue to choose to not wake up and become aware and ‘see’.

I am called to be faithful. –Mother Teresa

I cannot remember how many times I have been advised to not sweat the small things.  I cannot recall how many times I even said these words to others.  Perhaps this admonishment is a helpful guideline – perhaps.

A few months ago I was sitting here in one of my not so favorite coffee shops which is located close to where I was going to have a good thinking session with a thought-partner.  As I attempted to settle into a quite uncomfortable chair – one of many in this shop – one of my initial responses was to say, this is a small thing, you will only be here for an hour or so, don’t sweat it.  Then I paused.

Small things can, and often do, make a difference.  I remember my mother being hurt by family members not sending thank you notes – I was, at times, one of those who did not.  Internally I also remember saying, mom this is a small thing, don’t sweat it while externally I attempted to put balm on her wound [which probably didn’t help – the wound had been delivered].

These past few years I have become aware of the power of those little thank you notes as I experience a type of ‘wound’ that is inflicted when a niece or nephew, and now grandniece or grandnephew do not take the time to send a note or send an email and thank me for their gift [I am blessed in that my two children, now adults, continue to respond to me with gratitude – both in writing and verbally].

I remember spending time twenty-five years ago with a remarkable man; he was insistent on learning, retaining, and using people’s names and each day he would make sure he learned of employees who were ‘struggling’ with a work issue or with a family issue and he would send them a note; he would write out the note early in the morning or late in the day and send it off.

I asked him why.  It’s the small things that matter!  That was his reply.  I felt a story lurking behind his response so I asked him if a story did exist.  He paused and told me that when he was a young executive the ‘big boss’ stopped by his office and said, ‘John, welcome to the firm, I hope the wife and kids are fine.’  Then the ‘big boss’ turned on his heel and departed.  Bill said, he didn’t even know my name and I was not even married at the time.  He then added, it was a small thing in the big scheme of things, but I never fully trusted him again.  

 We all know, perhaps at several levels of our being that the small things do matter – no perhaps about it.

There’s a sucker born every minute. –P.T. Barnum [?]

The dilemma of Capitalism.  Capitalism began by seeking ways to meet our needs.  However, more than 60 years ago now, in our Country, most of our reasonable needs have been met.  Now this upset the Capitalists.

The Capitalists asked with great astonishment: What?  Does this mean that you are going to stop buying stuff?  That’s not good news for Capitalism.  What are we going to make now?  How are we going to make a profit? 

Then a few of the Capitalists got together and asked themselves some questions: What if we figure out some new needs – needs that they did not know they had?  What if we manufactured some ‘needs’?  What if we created needs that don’t exist and marketed them and convinced folks that they needed what we will now make? 

The Capitalists switched from advertising to marketing.  Why this switch?  Consider that Marketing is designed to get people to ‘want/need’ a thing even though they don’t really ‘want/need’ it and even though they don’t really know what it is.  The examples are legion.  But, this morning, Gentle Reader, let us briefly explore just one: Water!

Bottled water is everywhere in our Country.  Many restaurants offer you an option, Tap Water or Bottled Water (some even offer boutique water (think: Perrier or Pellegrino – which are different from ‘Tap Water’).  Most bottled water comes out of a tap.  Yup!  True!  For Real!  I am talking about the bottled water that is sold everywhere in our Country.

Is tap water not safe to drink?  Our Country has a fine aquifer and aqueduct system – a system that uses little energy to transport the water.  The infrastructure that provides us and carries our fresh water has long been paid for – we have, then, the equivalent of ‘free water.’

How much money did we spend on bottled water in 2009 in our Country (the latest statistics that I could find)?  Twenty-five BILLION dollars!  U.U. (Utterly Unnecessary)

Now we also know that it’s the plastic that causes the carbon imprint of these bottles.  Capitalists created a faux need (that’s ‘fake’ for those who don’t speak French – well, actually, I don’t speak French but I love the word ‘faux’ and wanted to use it).

Now, Gentle Reader, consider this:  New York – yes, that New York – has some of the best water in our Country – yet restaurants there do a booming business selling bottled water.

We don’t need it.  We buy bottled water because we have accepted the marketer’s ploy.  We also created all sorts of rationales for buying bottled water at restaurants or from our stores.  We, suckers, have convinced ourselves that we need bottled water.

Consider this: Coca Cola and Pepsi learned that thirsty folks did not drink their soft drinks in order to quench their thirst – they knew that their soft drinks created a thirst they did not quench a thirst (one way they hooked us on soft drinks).  Sales, during the summer months, actually decreased.  They decided to bottle and sell us water.  In 2009 they made more money selling us bottled water than they did selling us soft drinks.

Now I am going to up the ante.  In 2009 while we were spending 25 Billion on bottled water, about 3 billion people around the world did not have access to clean, potable water; indeed about 2 billion did not have access to water they could wash their clothes in without contaminating them.  Luckily, there were young Capitalists who want to address this identified need.

A small firm in Denmark asked: Why don’t we figure out how to get clean water to these folks?  They figured it out.  They invented the LifeStraw – google it and you will learn.  By the by, the straw costs about US$2.00.  It will produce enough clean water for one person for THREE YEARS.  Talk about cost-effective.  As ‘true’ Capitalists, they identified a ‘real human need’ – one we all have – and addressed it. [By the by, for every LifeStraw product you purchase on Amazon or from LifeStraw, a school child in need will receive safe water for an entire school year. AND, you will save two-plus years of plastic bottles.]

I finally weaned myself from bottled water this past February.  One tiny-tiny step for mankind.   Do I know you well-enough to call you ‘Sucker’?  How about ‘My Fellow-Sucker’?  The Capitalists and Marketers have certainly learned from Barnum and Fields.  How about us, ‘Suckers,’ what have we learned?

Never give a sucker an even break. –W.C. Fields

The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking. –Albert Einstein

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This will be my last entry for this topic at this time.

Foreign fossil fuel.  This is perhaps our Nation’s greatest dependency.  What does this mean?  Among a number of meanings, it means that we are trapped into being interested and involved in the parts of the world where fossil fuels are produced, whether it’s Venezuela or Russia or the Middle East.

No responsible President will walk away from this entrapment.  It is easy to say – or to write – that we should not be involved in those places, but we are involved in those places.  Our entire economy depends on the oil coming out of, for instance, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia – a country that holds and supports the Wahabist ideology.  This is the ideology that is embraced by Al Qaeda – the dollars we pay for oil are the dollars that support Al Qaeda.  If we want to cut off a major source of funding for Al Qaeda, we would go after the Wahabists in Saudi Arabia.

This, of course, we won’t do – this, of course we can’t do.  Why?  Because a quarter of the gasoline we use is produced by the Saudis.  We need the Saudis, so never mind Al Qaeda.

Neither can we walk away from Iraq because they are also a big producer of the oil we need.  Now, Iran presents another challenge because they also control vast amounts of oil reserves.

Instead of asking this question: Should we really be buying our oil from these countries?  We ask: Where will get the oil to drive our cars?  This second question is the key question for us.  We need our cars.  Driving our cars means we are committed to a foreign policy that is interventionist, whether it’s for military or state-building purposes, or to support leaders who are known to be human rights abusers.

Now, we are not evil people.  We are, however, thinking as Consumers; we are not thinking as Citizens.  We are thinking that markets are the solution (we are told this over and over and over again almost every day – in fact, when one challenges the markets one is deemed to be ‘Un-American.’  After 9/11 President Bush told us to go to the malls and shop.  After the recession of 2008 President Obama told us to go to the malls and shop).

As Consumers we opt out of making public choices – choices that would provide us the opportunity to actually co-create the framework in which we live.  This framework would enable us to say no to carbon emissions, to say no to an oil-dependent economy.

Instead, we say that our elected officials are ‘stupid’ and they don’t value (think: accept) ‘science.’  The reality is that in a market economy the logic of Consumers trumps (pun intended) the logic of Citizens.  Politicians are smart, they know that if they are going to be elected then they must win over, not the Citizen, but the Consumer (it appears that our politicians are committed to the Consumer – privatization and not to the Citizen – the Public Good and this makes sense, for it is the Consumer, not the Citizen that will elect them).

As Consumers, we Americans are correct in believing that fossil fuel is good, that cars are good.  Of course cars are good.  There is little good public transportation in our country.  How are we going to get around if we don’t have a car?

Well, Gentle Reader, this is the situation you and I (WE) are mired in.  We will be mired in this muck for the foreseeable future.

YET, the very political issue we must deal with centers around our choice: To continue to be Consumers or to become the Citizens that we are called to become.  As always in our history, We The People will have to decide.  We The People will decide.  Thus far, We The People have decided that it is better for us to be Consumers than it is for us to be Citizens.

Excuse me, I must sign off for now.  I have to go to the gas station and fill up my gas tank.

One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. –Chinua Achabe (Nigerian Poet)

 

 

 

It is astonishing what a different result one gets by changing the metaphor. –George Eliot (‘The Mill on the Floss’)

Over and over again we make decisions that are pro-consumer and anti-citizen – pro-individual and anti-community.  Consider just one example.

There are what the economist Milton Friedman called ‘externalities.’  Simply put, every value that is not economic is deemed to be an ‘externality.’ And externalities do not count (pun intended).  Let us think a bit about the automobile and climate change/global warming.  As consumers in our country we make thousands of decisions that make all of the sense in the world for us in terms of our personal desires AND yet they make no sense in terms of the social cost, the public cost, the community cost.

Climate change/global warming has a social cost AND yet this cost, thanks to Milton and others, is not considered when we think of ‘price.’  There are lots of folks who declare that it is too expensive – the cost is too high – when it comes to dealing with climate change/global warming.  Yet, there are true costs, social costs, built into cc/gw that are far more expensive but are not calculated, because they are externalities.  [AN ASIDE: Remember, Gentle Reader, the person who defines words and concepts and who then has the definitions accepted has the power; the same holds when it comes to the metaphors chosen.]

In 2009, Benjamin R. Barber calculated the ‘real cost’ of a gallon of gasoline – the cost we all pay.  He noted that a gallon of gas in 2009 ACTUALLY cost $12.00.  And he only calculated the impact on our environment caused by automobile emissions – emissions are part of the social cost that Milton deemed to be an externality.  Now that, Gentle Reader, was a 2009 calculation and only focused on one social impact.

Benjamin also figured that if we simply closed all of the loop holes and fully embraced the environmental controls already in place that gas might climb to $8.00 a gallon and this is still far short of the $12.00.  With the alternative sources currently available the $8.00 would also come down AND if we added more alternative sources the number would come down ever further.

Again, Gentle Reader, my point is that the economics of living in a country where citizens see themselves as consumers, where they make private choices without considering the social/public consequences of those choices is part of what’s wrong.  It is also part of what makes it so difficult for our Congress and our President to make wise decisions that science indicates that we must make BUT that make no sense ‘politically’ in a world where the social costs are ‘externalities’ and most of the things we pay for have a price that is not factored into the ‘real cost.’

Consider that were we to include the cost of externalities (seeking the ‘true cost’) in the cost of fossil fuel, then fossil fuel would become uncompetitive – even against the most expensive forms of alternative energy.

If we were to choose to change our current national metaphor from ‘banking’ to ‘community’ and from ‘consumer’ to ‘citizen’ and if we were to include the social cost and eliminate the concept of ‘externality’ as we now use it then we might be able to not leave the next several generations with a ‘bill’ that they will not be able to pay.  [AN ASIDE: To add to the complication, we, in our nation, have integrated a false belief: Democracy = Capitalism.]

One more consideration: We know that as a nation we are currently dependent on fossil fuel.  Well, actually, we are dependent on foreign fossil fuel.  And that, as they say, is the rub.  What does this mean?  Consider this. . .

‘…he forces consideration upon the mind.’ –Description of Abe Lincoln