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Archive for July, 2013

Today is 21 July, 2013.  At the turn of the Century the United Nations declared that the first 10 years of the new Century would be a ‘Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World.’  Many nations signed the document, while declaring their desire to have a future without war.  If we could poll humanity I think we would find that all but a few would choose peace over war; we would also choose a world where all voices are invited, heard and honored; we would choose a world of interdependence (we are, truly, in this together); we would choose a world rooted in ‘healthy’ relationships sensing that they would be fundamental when it comes to honoring some differences while resolving other differences.  I am sitting here this morning wondering how all of this translates into my daily life, here and now.

I am noticing how I use language to describe events, other people and myself.  I pause, I reflect.  How often words like ‘kill,’ or ‘shoot,’ or ‘hate’ tumble from my lips.  One of my favorite phrases for myself and for others is ‘shooting from the lip.’  How about these phrases: ‘Don’t you just hate it when. . .’ or ‘He just walked into a mine field and got blown up’ or ‘Football is not a game, it is a war.’  I suggest that we use war and violence words, phrases and metaphors without much thought — this is how deeply rooted and integrated war and violence have become in our culture.  We fight to win market share.  We defend ourselves from our competitors.  We engage wars on poverty, crime, drugs and terrorists.

I am sitting here.  I pause, I reflect.  I am aware of how violent my thoughts can be — and how quickly I can move to thoughts of violence.  Like a computer, I have stored many thoughts of past slights, offenses, and insults and like a computer I can recapture my violent thoughts that continue to emerge in response to them.  I am also recalling how often I apply violent language to myself and how often I actually choose to do violence to one of the four dimensions that help make up who I am.  I do violence to my physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions.

I am amazed how often I shoot from the lip or engage in acts of self-violence.  I also am aware that when I take the time to slow down (especially my breathing) and think before I speak or act then I am less likely to choose to be violent to others or to myself.  Nurturing nonviolence in the world begins, I know, by nurturing nonviolence within me.  In order to be more nurturing than violent I must be awake and aware, I must be intentional and purpose-full so that I can, with clarity of thought, choose — and choose that which nurtures rather than choose that which is violent and depleting.

Now, if that guy next to me would put his cell phone down and shut up I could find an ending to this piece….oops!

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In his stimulating and challenging book, ‘The Power of Myth,’ Joseph Campbell introduced us to the ‘guardians of the threshold.’  The ‘guardians’ are fierce-looking figures placed at the entrances of ancient buildings.  They are the protectors of the dark inner spaces of transformation.  Campbell writes:

That is why the approaches and entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarfs, winged bulls.  These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silences within. . . . They illustrate the fact that the devotee at the moment of entry into a temple undergoes a metamorphosis.

If I-you-we commit ourselves to what transformation requires [transformation = a fundamental change in character or structure], there will probably be some gargoyles guarding the entrance to the deeper, darker regions of our hearts and souls.  The price we are asked to pay in order to gain entrance is a commitment to our transformation — especially a commitment to our ‘spiritual’ transformation.  For you-me-us the specifics of our personal journeys differ; the common element of transformation for each of us is that we can no longer remain just as we are.  Our commitment requires us to fundamentally change and we engage our commitment when we choose to cross the threshold.  For many, certainly for myself, both the commitment and the action of stepping over the threshold is scary — the gargoyles help ensure that we are a bit, if not greatly, frightened as we step off into the dark new territory of transformation.

There are ‘true’ and ‘real’ dangers as we stand before this threshold: hazy uncertainty, risking the unknown challenges, uncovering our ‘true’ self, facing the reality of who we are and facing the question of ‘do I have the will to move forward, to move into the depths and the darkness?’  In the darkness one can move, as I have, into depression.  For some, the confused haziness results in one being distraught, if not lethargic; for others confusion and doubt abound.  The deep silence that comes with this journey can also feed one’s insecurity; it can also unbalance one with illusions and delusions.

Of course, all is not dark within the darkness of transformation.  In addition to the gargoyles there are also guides who are present to aid our crossing and to offer us support as we go deeper still.  We need them for we cannot make this journey alone.  Our guides are composed of legends, myths, stories, and people.  For me, they often appear in my dreams as crones or wizards.  When I am most anxious or frightened they appear and provide me counsel, direction, hope and little pieces of light.  When I am in their presence I experience deep peace and an abiding calmness.  In stories they are the ‘Spider Woman,’ the wise crone, the crafty fox, the ‘fairy godmother,’ the wolf who speaks.  In my faith tradition, it is the Holy Spirit who guides me and there are also some ‘saints’ that I turn to for support and sustenance.

For me, my inner journey of transformation is also supported by folks who have gone before me — I gain strength and inspiration from them.  Some I have met through their writings and some I have met in person.  Like all students seeking transformation, when I am ready the teacher and the guide will appear.  The key, of course, is being able to discern them when they appear and then to invite them in and then to welcome them.  They support me as I continue my journey and they are wise enough to know that it is my journey and hence I must also take it alone.

When have you, gentle reader, chosen to cross the threshold protected by the gargoyles?  Who have been your guides?  In what ways have they supported and/or guided you?  What has your journey been like?  Where is your current journey taking you and why are you choosing to go there?

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NUANCES. . .

‘Diversity’ is one of those concepts/words that many organized groups claim is important for them to honor (or, accept or tolerate) and embrace.  At minimum, diversity entails diversity of race, and for others it is like a patch-work quilt with the patches of race, ethnicity, language, cultures, sub-cultures, faith traditions, philosophical traditions, sex, age, learning, thinking and decision-makings styles [this is not an exhaustive list but is representative of the range of what is contained within the concept ‘diversity’].  How an organized group defines diversity, then, becomes crucial.  However, honoring, embracing, celebrating, accepting and/or tolerating diversity can become superficial, if not limiting.

Consider, gentle reader, that one way we can honor, celebrate, embrace and respect our differences is by listening closely for the nuances that each ‘voice’ brings.  The individual voices are the threads that bind the patches together and then that hold the patches so that a magnificent quilt is created.  In order for me to listen to the nuances of each voice I need to be curious, I need to be open to learning about and from the other and I need to develop a deep and abiding appreciation for the differences that each voice and each story brings to me/us.

When I-you-we are with others how quickly do we become aware of the broad and deep richness of the diversity present among us.  How quickly do I-you-we become aware of the diversity of thinking, learning and conceptual styles present among us?  Becoming aware of the differences is important and perhaps more important is becoming aware of how the differences were arrived at — what are the roots of the differences — perhaps they are value differences, perhaps they are belief differences, perhaps they are cultural differences, perhaps they are differences rooted in different life experiences.  How often do we think, ‘Why can’t they think like I do?’ ‘Life would be so much easier if they would think like I do.’

What will help me listen to each voice with the belief that each voice is crucial to the well-being of the whole (the organization, the team, the department), that is the ‘community?’  If we invite and honor all voices we also invite ‘tension’ into our midst and this tension can help ensure that we are ‘creative’ or it can be a source of ‘division’ among us.  The tension can be the thread that binds or it can be the scissors that cuts the treads so that the quilt disintegrates into its separate patches.

To what extent am I willing to invite the nuances?  To what extent am I willing to listen for the nuances?  To what extent am I willing to honor the nuances?

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The Old Testament, in its account of the beginnings of human history, provides us with an illustration of authoritarian ethics.  The sin of Adam and Eve is not explained in terms of the act itself; eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was not fundamentally evil/bad.  In fact, the ‘People of the Book’ religions (Jewish, Christian, Muslim) agree that the ability to differentiate between good and evil is necessary for us humans.  Their sin was disobedience, the challenge to God’s authority (as an aside, why Adam and Eve never ate of the fruit of the tree of life is beyond me — they were not forbidden to eat of the fruit of this tree.  What does this say about us?).

Humanistic ethics, in contrast to authoritarian ethics may likewise be distinguished by ‘formal’ and ‘material’ criteria.  Formally, it is rooted in the principle that we humans can determine the criterion for virtue and sin, and not an authority transcending us.  Materially, it is rooted in the principle that ‘good’ is what is good for us as humans and ‘evil’ is what is harmful to us as humans — the main criterion, for some the sole criterion, of ethical value being our welfare as humans.

Humanists believe that man is ‘the measure of all things.’  The humanistic position is that there is nothing higher and nothing more dignified than human existence.  Against this position it has been argued that it is in the very nature of ethical behavior to be related to something ‘transcending’ man, and therefore a system which recognizes man and his interest alone cannot be truly moral, that its object would be merely the isolated, egotistical individual.

Humanists say that this argument is based on a fallacy, for the principle that good is what is good for man does not imply that man’s nature is such that egotism or isolation are good for him.  It does not mean, they say, that our purpose as humans can be fulfilled in a state of unrelatedness to the world outside of ‘humanness.’  It is, they contend, one of the characteristics of human nature that man finds fulfillment and happiness in relationship to other human beings.  To ‘love one’s neighbor’ is, therefore, inherent in our nature.  Love is not a higher power nor is it our duty.  Love is our nature.

So, which ethic will I choose?  Why this choice?  And is it, as some suggest, truly and ‘either-or’ choice?  How would it be if I decided that it is a ‘both-and’ choice?  And what would such a choice look like?  What are the consequences — intended and unintended — of such a ‘both-and’ choice?

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Both the formal and the material aspects of authoritarian ethics are apparent in the development of the ethical judgment in the child.  The roots of our ability to differentiate between good and evil are put down in childhood; first with regard to physical functions and then with regard to more complex matters of behavior.  On its journey, the child acquires a sense of distinguishing between good and bad before the child learns the difference by reasoning.  The child’s value judgments are, as we know, formed as a result of the friendly and unfriendly reactions of the significant people in his/her life.  Because the child is dependent on the care and love of one or more adults, it is not surprising that an approving or disapproving expression [I remember well the ‘look’ that my mother and father would give, for example] on a parent’s face is sufficient to ‘teach’ the child the difference between good and bad.  In school, as we all well know, similar factors operate.  ‘Good’ is that for which one is praised; ‘bad,’ that for which one is disciplined/punished by teachers.  Indeed, for the child, the fear of disapproval and the need for approval appear to be two of the most powerful motivations for ethical judgment.  At this time in the child’s life there is intense emotional pressure to ‘being good’ and avoid ‘being bad.’  This pressure prevents the child from asking critically whether ‘good’ in a judgment means ‘good’ for the child or for the authority [a child can get ‘stuck’ here and so even as an adult the individual will not question the authority in this way].

For most of us a ‘thing’ is called ‘good’ if it is good for the person who uses it.  With regards to humans, the same criterion of value can be used.  For example, the employer considers an employee to be good if he is of advantage to him/her.  Or, the teacher may well call a student ‘good’ if the student is obedient [does not cause trouble] and is a good reflection upon the teacher.  I remember being called ‘good’ as a child because I was docile and obedient.  At times, I was, as the ‘good’ child, quite fearful and insecure and countered these powerful feelings by seeking many ways to please my parents and teachers.  I remember a childhood friend who was considered to be ‘bad’ because he had a will of his own — which he exercised and which upset his parents and teachers to no end.

The formal and material aspects of authoritarian ethics are joined at the hip.  Because his/her own interests are at stake the authority ordains obedience to be the main virtue and disobedience to be the main vice; obedience is good and disobedience is evil;  for some faith-based authority figures, disobedience is ‘sin’ — the unforgivable sin is ‘rebellion’.  Rebellion entails the questioning of the authority’s right to establish norms and of its belief that the norms established by the authority are in the best interes of its ‘subjects’ [thus, parents experience in the healthy adolescent a rebellion that challenges their authority].  The authority can be ‘forgiving’ if the ‘sinner’ repents and accepts his/her punishment and commits to once again ‘being good’ — in essence the ‘sinner’ thus expresses his/her acceptance of the authority’s superiority.

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