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Archive for April, 2015

As fully human beings do we each have a ‘Call’? There are many definitions describing ‘Call’ – here is mine: Call = using my gifts, talents & abilities to respond to a need that exists in my/the world.

For more than forty-five years I have had the privilege of working with a variety of folks. Many of them believed/experienced that they were responding to a ‘Call’ in their lives (given my definition of ‘Call’). If we stop, step-back and reflect a bit we might easily know when we are in the presence of a person who feels ‘called’ to his or her role (Parent, Educator, Health-Care Professional, Doorman, Receptionist, Flight Attendant, etc.). People who are ‘Called’ are different from people who believe they are here to ‘do a job,’ or ‘to work,’ or even to ‘have a career.’ People who have a ‘Call’ take on an identity – they ‘become’ their role. They ‘emotionally own’ their role. We seem to ‘know’ immediately if we are in the presence of a person who has responded to his or her ‘Call.’

What helps us remain ‘fired up’ about our ‘Call’? Consider ‘Passion.’ Again there are many definitions of ‘Passion’ – here is mine: Passion = what matters to me; the inner fire that does not consume but nurtures my life and my Call. When I consider my ‘Call’ I might ask: ‘Is the Passion I have for my ‘Call’ burning bright and hot?’ If it is not, ‘What do I do to rekindle my ‘Passion’ when it begins to ‘flicker’ or when it is being threatened with being ‘extinguished’? When the fire that is our ‘Passion’ is extinguished we fill with dense smoke and are smothered from within. Do I intentionally and purpose-fully renew my ‘Passion’ on a regular basis so it continues to burn bright and hot?

Our ‘Call’ and ‘Passion’ are also kept alive by our ‘Spirit.’ As with ‘Call’ and ‘Passion’ there are a number of definitions of ‘Spirit’ – here is mine: Spirit = our life-breath; that which animates my life and work. Our ‘Call’ and ‘Passion’ nurture and sustain our ‘Spirit’ and our ‘Spirit’ provides the ‘life-breath’ necessary to keep our ‘Call’ and ‘Passion’ alive. Paradoxically, our ‘Call’ and ‘Passion’ can also deplete our ‘Spirit’ – We can spend so much time living out our ‘Call’ or we can be so ‘fired up with our Passion’ that we actually deplete our spirit. Some, like George Bernard Shaw, want to be ‘thoroughly used up’ when they die. Some believe that a total self-sacrifice equates with the ‘demands’ of one’s ‘Call’. Some believe that we have an obligation to find a life-balance so that our ‘Spirit’ (our very life-breath) is not choked off because of our ‘Call’ and/or ‘Passion.’ I don’t know who is ‘right’ – I don’t even know if there is a ‘right’. I do believe that when it comes to our ‘Call,’ our ‘Passion,’ and our ‘Spirit’ that we each must decide and embrace being response-able and responsible.

Here are some guiding questions that I invite us to reflect upon:
• What is my Call?
• What am I ‘Passionate’ about? How do I keep the fire of my ‘Passion’ burning so that it nurtures and does not consume (me or others)?
• What are my favorite ways of nurturing and depleting my ‘Spirit’?
• What are the needs in my/the world that require my gifts, talents and abilities? What am I doing in order to respond to these needs? (By-the-By: these ‘Needs’ are ‘high priority needs’ – they are not just any needs, and they

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What is true, good and beautiful about each of us is that we are, each of us, the creators of our thoughts and our character. Each of us is the author of our story. Each of us is the surveyor of our own life-path. Each of us can choose the well-worn path that others have traveled or, as Robert Frost so powerfully noted, each of us can choose the ‘road less traveled’ – and that choice will ‘make all the difference.’

As a fully human being each of us is capable of being power-full. Each of us is capable of developing our intellect and our natural gifts and abilities. Each of us is capable of being love-able. Each of us is capable of being unconditionally response-able. Each of us is capable of choosing which thoughts to nurture to fruition. Each of us contains within our self a transforming and renewing ability; we use this ability to ‘make us what we will.’

Each of us has power, even in our weakest and most desolate state. Viktor Frankl can be our role model (Gentle reader, if you have not read and reflected upon Frankl’s story ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ I invite you to do so). As he notes: Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

At times what is true, good and beautiful about my self is revealed by searching, seeking, reflecting and discerning. In a sense each of us contains a vein of raw gold; this vein and this gold is unique to us – no one else possesses the gold we possess. We have been entrusted with this gold and we have been put on this earth so that we and others might benefit from our unique gold. First, the raw gold must be found and once found it must then be mined, hammered, chiseled, hotted up, formed, cooled and polished. Then we gift ourselves and others with our gold. The gold is our character.

The process is simple (not simplistic). We watch, we reflect upon our experiences. We reflect upon the effects our thoughts-actions have upon ourselves and upon the other(s). As we become aware of our thoughts, actions and effects upon, we reinforce some and where necessary we alter others. We are patient about this process – it must not be hurried. We pay attention to the important and we pay attention to the trivial (the little everyday occurrences) as we search for the knowledge about our self.

There is an old law at work: ‘Those that seek shall find.’ For those who seek, a way to the well of self-knowledge and self-awareness will open. Our search will then reveal to each of us ‘What is True, Good and Beautiful About. . .’

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A few years ago a guy named Aristotle (yes, ‘that’ Aristotle) noted that ‘We are, literally, what we think.’ Your character and my character are formed by the totality of our thoughts. In 1904, James Allen reminded us of Aristotle’s admonition when he wrote: ‘As we think in our hearts so are we. . .’

Thanks to the great Spanish Poet, Antonio Machado (Spain’s greatest poet, I think), I have come to love and embrace the garden metaphor to describe us human beings. The paradox for me is that I am both the garden and the gardener of the garden that is ‘Richard.’ Machado asks me to consider a powerful, challenging and frequently disturbing question: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

Each of my actions grows from the seeds that lie dormant within me; seeds that are waiting to be nurtured into life [some believe that we choose which seeds to plant, others believe that all of the seeds already lie dormant within us and we then choose which ones to nurture into life]. I agree with Aristotle, one way I choose which seeds to nurture and bring to life is via the thoughts I emerge and embrace – I am literally my thoughts. My thoughts might be ‘spontaneous,’ or ‘unpremeditated’ or ‘deliberate’ – no matter; they are all ‘My’ thoughts and I choose them.

Our actions are the ‘blossoms’ of our thoughts. The health and dis-ease, the peace and conflict, the contentment and suffering are the fruits. These fruits we ingest ourselves and these fruits we pass on to others (and like all fruit the ones we pass on also contain the seeds of those fruits). Via our thoughts we choose which seeds to nurture into life and which to sustain so they produce blossoms and fruit. We gift ourselves and others with our fruit – sweet fruit and bitter fruit, fruit that nurtures and fruit that depletes.

Who we are and who we are choosing to become continue to be nurtured and sustained by our thoughts. When I nurture ‘evil’ then ‘suffering’ for me and for the other(s) will follow. When I nurture ‘compassion’ then ‘love’ for self and love for the other(s) will follow. I have freedom and I have choice when it comes to what I think; I am responsible if not response-able. What I spend time thinking about powerfully determines the garden that I have been entrusted with. So I end today holding Antonio Machado’s question and I invite you, gentle reader to also hold his question.

What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?

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I have been writing a bit about ‘Pragmatism & Democracy’ and I noted that the Pragmatist is by nature (either first nature or second nature) one who is committed to being a Critical Thinker. If you are searching for a book or an essay that focuses on Critical Thinking there exists a plethora of books and essays which focus on Critical Thinking, its importance and its development [Amazon.com is quite helpful in sorting through the many choices available]. Space limits us to no more than a brief exploration; so, gentle reader, here are a few ideas about Critical Thinking that might stimulate your thinking and curiosity in ways that encourage you (or is it ‘challenge you’) to go deeper still.

‘Mature’ Critical Thinkers are committed to the following (these are not the only commitments they have – again, given our limited space these are the ones I have chosen to share today):

• They are committed to ‘getting it right’ to the extent that this is possible. In order to ‘get it right’ they will (a) strive to uncover their deep tacit assumptions about. . .AND decide whether to affirm them, modify them, or discard them (and then replace them), (b) strive to seek out, seek to understand and become open to being influenced by a variety of explanations, ideas, conclusions, considerations, (c) strive to seriously consider alternative points of view, (d) strive to become well informed, (e) strive to support, if not directly endorse, a position as a result of their critical thinking.

• They are committed to understanding in order to present an idea, conclusion, position, etc. with clarity rooted in integrity (whether it be their idea, conclusion, etc. or the ideas, conclusions, etc. of others’). Thus, they are committed to (a) discerning and listening intently and receptively to the others’ views and reasoning, (b) seeking clarity regarding ‘intended meaning’ (verbal, written and non-verbal communications), (c) focusing on the ‘topic’ or ‘question,’ (d) being ‘reflectively’ awake and aware and intentional and purpose-full.

• They are committed to being empathetic and caring. Thus as empathetic and caring critical thinkers they (a) strive to avoid intimidating others by using their critical thinking skills and abilities to ‘silence’ the other, (b) strive to ‘walk in the others’ shoes’ – for example, to ‘see the world through their eyes,’ (c) demonstrate caring for and about the other by inviting and honoring their ‘voice’ and ‘story’ and ‘thinking,’ (d) always seek to respect the person.

These three ‘bones’ need some muscle and flesh and yet they might provide you, gentle reader, with some specifics that you can measure yourself against – especially if you view yourself as a Pragmatist.

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Cornel West, a contemporary American philosopher and social activist often challenges me to think about Democracy in a number of ways; he notes that a pragmatic approach ‘constantly questions the tacit assumptions of earlier interpretations of the past. It scrutinizes the norms these interpretations endorse, the solutions they offer, and the self-images they foster.’ He continues: ‘to pragmatists, norms, premises and procedures are never immune to revision.’ As I noted in an earlier posting, Pragmatism questions any form of dogmatism – every position, claim, idea, truth, and belief is open to inquiry, potential disconfirmation and potential revision. It is crucial to understand and remember that this idea is not to be taken to mean that all is relative (by the by, the claim that ‘all is relative’ is itself a dogma that a pragmatist would challenge).

Pragmatism believes that Democracy is the social form that will best serve us. Why? Because Pragmatic Democracy allows for the greatest and most diverse range of ideas to be explored by the greatest number of citizens; no voices are disenfranchised or marginalized and no voice is deemed to be ‘the true voice’ of Democracy.

Democracy rooted in Pragmatism emphasizes open inquiry rooted in critical thinking (again, critical thinking is not simply ‘criticism’ and it is certainly not ‘cynicism’ nor ‘pessimism’). For a Pragmatist ALL aspects of Democracy are open to critical thinking by a diverse and educated citizenry. Our Founding Fathers powerfully demonstrated what this looks like as they thought together in the mid-to-late 1700s.

Pragmatism’s approach to embracing a challenge is to invite a diverse group of thinkers (in Democracy this diverse group would be composed of citizens educated about Democracy) to gather together and think together about the challenge. This gathering would be composed of folks who are directly impacted by the challenge, by folks who might be (or are) indirectly affected, by folks who might have embraced a similar challenge (or this challenge) in the past, and folks who have a type of knowledge that would help those gathered to understand the challenge and its implications more fully. By talking and listening together rooted in critical thinking and by holding an attitude that the wisdom of the group is greater than the wisdom of the wisest individual the collective thinking will emerge a response to the challenge that, more likely than not, will be ‘owned’ by all and in some sense serve all.

Together Pragmatism and Democracy help us understand the importance of the ‘ordinary’ in our lives; they help us value a widely diverse set of interpretations to challenges, they help us embrace ‘informed experimentation’ in response to the challenges that emerge in a Democracy, and they support us as we strive to understand a variety of perspectives.

Pragmatism & Democracy – The learning about and the development of each would serve us well if they were at the heart of our educational experience (both our formal educational experience and our informal-lived educational experience). ‘The Learning’ for the Pragmatist involves ‘experience’ plus ‘reflection.’

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Consider, gentle reader, that Democracy needs – if not requires – Pragmatism. Pragmatism nurtures and honors experimentation rooted in diversity and a healthy Democracy requires both experimentation and diversity. Experimentation and diversity – e.g. social openness, inclusiveness, tolerance, and diverse voices rooted in critical thinking – generate more health-full potential than exclusive, intolerant, closed systems do.

Sadly we have adulterated the meaning of Pragmatism so that ‘being pragmatic’ means that I-You-We are exceedingly opportunistic and driven to ego-centrism as we employ any means necessary to satisfy our wants, wishes and desires. This adulteration of Pragmatism is antithetical to its original meaning. It is also antithetical to Democracy.

Traditionally Pragmatism focuses on a searching and seeking for ‘the true, the good, and the beautiful (Note: NOT ‘THE’ truth, ‘THE’ beautiful or ‘THE’ good). Experimentation and diversity support our searching and seeking for ‘the true, the beautiful and the good’ as seeds rooted in Democracy. Those of us who espouse Democracy seek ways (via experimentation) together (via diversity) to nurture these seeds into life and then to nurture them so they can take root in the garden of Democracy. Once the roots have taken it is up to all of us who espouse Democracy to nurture them so they flower and gift us with a variety of flowers containing the ‘fruit and the seeds’ of the true, the beautiful and the good. We then share both the ‘fruit and the seeds’ with one another and with others (in Democracy we offer these as ‘gifts’ – we do not seek to coerce others into accepting them).

Historically when I think of the United States of America I reflect upon the core of Pragmatism: improvisation and experimentation. Our Found Fathers were indeed wise (among other qualities they had) for they nurtured into life ‘Democracy’ – a process not an end. Democracy as a process requires improvisation and experimentation in order to evolve as the world evolves. Democracy rooted in Pragmatism relies on an educated citizenry thinking critically together (‘community of good thinkers’) while embracing the ‘risks’ (many of them ‘high risks’) that are inherent in the process.

One value of Pragmatism is that it is ‘self-critical.’ A healthy Democracy requires ‘self-criticism.’ To what extent are we who espouse Democracy actually embracing this value? It appears that we love to criticize ‘the other(s)’ – ‘Self-criticism’ does not appear to be alive and well. ‘Self-criticism’ requires ‘critical thinking’ – too often we view ‘cynicism’ and ‘criticism’ and ‘pessimism’ as ‘critical thinking’ (and they are not).

What might we think critically about? [To be continued. . .]

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Currently four candidates have already declared their desire to become our next president. They have stepped into the shallows and are beginning to test their abilities to first become wave-bracers (each of them will be hit by a variety of waves that will challenge and test them). By August the shallows will be full of wave-bracers seeking their party’s nomination. Two or more will survive the waves and will then dive into the deep dark waters where the more powerful currents reside; these deep currents will push them relentlessly around until one of them surfaces and claims ‘victory.’ Democracy at work.

In order to ‘work’ Democracy requires a number of tap roots. Perhaps the most important tap root that nurtures and sustains Democracy so that it grows and thrives is the tap root called ‘Pragmatism.’ It is also the tap root that is being choked off and if we are not care-full we will kill this tap root and with its demise Democracy itself will be put in harm’s way. Today we will begin to briefly explore the concept of Pragmatism and its necessity for the health of Democracy. I am not sure how many postings I will make, at least two (today, this is my current thinking).

When I refer to ‘Pragmatism’ I am referring here to ‘American Pragmatism.’ Our Founding Fathers understood the importance of Pragmatism as a tap root that needed to be healthy in order to nurture and sustain their concept of Democracy. For our Founding Fathers ‘American Pragmatism’ was the ‘True-North’ for Democracy. For them Pragmatism stressed continuous experimentation and critical thinking so that Democracy would continuously evolve so that a more just and caring society could be developed and sustained.

Our Founding Fathers knew they could not leave us with a ‘finished product.’ The ‘birth of a nation’ implies and requires continuous growth and development. Thus both ‘critical thinking’ and ‘experimentation’ become crucial. Because ‘we the people’ are, as our Founding Fathers well understood about themselves, imperfect, we are fallible – we will stumble and fall. The question was: ‘Will we fail?’ This is a question that even today we must hold. The experiment that is American Democracy is still on-going and we are still at risk of failing. To deny this risk is to put ourselves at greater risk.

Consider, gentle reader, that American Pragmatism offers us three ingredients that feed and nurture our Democracy: (1) Continuous Experimentation, (2) Reflecting upon our Experiences and Learning from them, and (3) Being awake and aware so that we might intentionally and purpose-fully seek new information, new possibilities, the ‘emergent third way(s), as we discern how ‘Compromise’ will serve us (By the by, ‘Compromise is another major tap root that nurtures and sustains a healthy Democracy). These three ingredients support our ability to Think Critically – I am not talking about the rancorous criticism that our elected officials toss at one another nor am I talking about the rampant cynicism that is running amok among we citizens (partly in response to the behavior of our elected officials). As I have noted in other posts, ‘WE’ seem to forget that ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ elected these folks; ‘WE’ are responsible.

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