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Archive for January, 2018

With my previous two postings I began to briefly explore a response to this question: ‘What’s the Point?’  My first response focused on what I call ‘The Ideal.’  My second response focused on what I call ‘The Real.’  This morning, gentle reader, I will begin to focus on my third response and I call this ‘The Real+’ [by the by, I have a sense that it will take two postings in order for me to even briefly offer a third response with some ‘good flesh’].

My third response begins with the great Spanish painter, Goya.  One of his most powerful etchings is the one he titled: ‘The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.’  Here is an image of his etching:

410px-Goya_-_Caprichos_(43)_-_Sleep_of_Reason

Goya believed that many follies of humankind resulted from the ‘sleep of reason.’  How much time do we spend ‘asleep’ – choosing not to be awake, aware, intentional and purposeful?  How much time do we spend ruminating about the past or anticipating-fantasizing about the future?  How much time do we avoid living in the ‘now’ while, paradoxically, striving to live in the ‘know’?

How many times do we simply accept what another tells us because what he or she tells us is what we want to hear?  How many times do we believe what an ‘authority’ tells us simply because we have invested that person with authority?

We also know that convictions are infectious, and that we human beings can convince one another of almost anything.  Pause for a moment and consider how many ‘good people’ in Germany ‘bought’ what their leader was ‘selling’.  How many of us today, in our country are on a ‘blind buying spree’ rather than using our ‘reason’ to help us think critically and discern wisely?

How many of us refuse to use our ‘reason’ rather than simply believe that our ways, our beliefs, our religion, our politics are better than theirs?

How many of us believe that our God Given Rights trump (the pun is intended) the others?

How many of us believe that our interests permit us – require us – to defensively or pre-emptively strike first without confirmed evidence (think: weapons of mass destruction – which did not exist and think: undermining the FBI without confirmed evidence).

Consider that in the end it is ideas without ‘reason’ that permits us to guilt-free ‘kill’ the other(s).  Without ‘reason’ monsters are allowed to run amok and tear at the very fabric of our life – of our society

It is because of ideas about what the others are like, or who we are, or what our self-interests or rights require, that we go to war, or oppress others with a clear conscience, or acquiesce in our own oppression by others.

When these beliefs permeate our culture as they are today, when the sleep of reason permeates all aspects of our culture, some ask: ‘What’s the antidote?’

The antidote involves choosing to be awake, aware, intentional and purposeful AND to develop and employ two disciplines: Critical Thinking and Reflection [by the by, Critical Thinking is not ‘criticism’ as it is usually practiced in our culture by most of us].

Stay tuned. . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gentle reader, I have decided to step aside from posting PART V of ‘THINKING-REFLECTION’ in order to honor my friend Jerry.  On Friday, the 26th of January Jerry was alive and on Saturday, the 27th of January he was not.  There is, in addition to my grief and deep sadness, more than a touch of irony.  Why?  Jerry was a survivor; he survived the ‘known.’

Jerome Giles Sneva was a survivor.  For years he survived the open car and midget car race tracks.  He drove race cars when they were anything but safe.  He was, by the by, rookie of the year at the 1977 Indy 500 (he finished 10th as I recall).

Jerry also survived tongue cancer.  Like many of us of our generation, Jerry was a smoker.  As one consequence he lost his tongue and his ability to speak and swallow.  The ‘miracle workers’ took a piece of skin from his right forearm and ‘made him a tongue and he learned how to speak using his new tongue.  He could not swallow and so he survived via a feeding tube inserted in his gut.

Jerry also survived Sepsis and an induced coma.  Jerry also ‘survived’ living with more than a dozen cats and not infrequent raccoon families that would set up home in his attic.  Stray cats knew that the Sneva house was also a home for wayward cats.  Jerry also survived a terrible golfer’s slice (more on this in a bit).

All of this was ‘known.’  The irony is that Jerry was struck down by the ‘unknown.’

Walking along with Jerry was his wife Kathy.  He adored her and she loved him with a powerful love that many of us were envious of.  Kathy retired a few years ago and so when Jerry played golf (which was almost every day) Kathy would ride along and cheer him and us on.  Her presence also helped some of us ‘watch our language’ (few male golfers are good at watching their language after they hit certain shots).  I loved watching Jerry and Kathy interact as they rode around together.

I joined the Brickyard Crossing Golf Club in 2004 (as I recall).  When I wasn’t traveling or ‘working’ in the area I would make sure that I would get a few holes in at the Brickyard or spend time on the practice range.  One morning, about 8 years ago (as I recall) I was about to play and the pro, Jeff, approached me.  He asked me if I would be open to playing with an ex-race car driver.  I had played with a number of current and ex-drivers and so I said ‘Yes.’  Jeff paused.

He said he was asking me because this fellow, Jerry Sneva, had not played golf in years and he – Jeff – felt that I would have the patience to play with a guy that had not played golf in years.  Jerry was quiet, soft spoken, and anxious.  By the 12th hole we had connected more and his second shot on the 12th changed our relationship.

The 12th is a par 5 and for almost its entire length it runs parallel to the back straight-a-way at the Brickyard (home of the Indy 500).  Jerry had hit his usual booming slice (which he mostly played) and he was sitting in the center of the fairway.  He lined up his second shot – a three wood; a three wood that was at least 30 years old.  He aimed left and hit his shot.  To both of our surprises he hit the ball solid and straight.  I can still see it fly over the restroom and into the stands.  We could hear his golf ball rattling around in the stands.

I looked at him and said. Darth Fader didn’t hit a fade!  For Christmas that year I gave him a dozen Titleist golf balls with Darth Fader written on them.  After our initial round we became regular golfing buddies.  His game dramatically improved (race car drivers – those who survived – had to have great eye-hand coordination and this is what golf is about – aside from the 90% mental aspect – eye-hand coordination).  Jerry and I never teamed well and so for team events we went our separate ways; we did survive some ‘scotch-matches’ with our other regulars (mostly Joe and Kris).

Jerry: I will miss you and your spirit.  I will strive to carry your spirit with me.  I will strive to carry your ‘attitude’ about life and what it offers.  I will strive to embrace your commitment to survive – amidst life’s greatest challenges.

As I sit here thinking of all the things I want to write I am remembering the opening lines from a poem by Markova:

I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. 

I will allow my living to open me…

Jerry: Your spirit is now a part of who I am.  I am thankful my friend.

Here is one of my favorite photos of Jerry – when he was surviving the grind of professional racing so many years ago.

the-1981-indianapolis-500-jerry-sneva

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With my previous posting I began to briefly explore a response to this question regarding ‘Thinking-Reflection’: ‘What’s the Point?’

 The first response focused on what I call ‘The Ideal.’  This morning we will focus on the second response and I call this ‘The Real.’

‘Thinking-Reflection’ matters because it is a process that each of us engages in – continuously.  The more we consciously practice the better we become and, with conscious discipline, the more effective we become.  Here it is crucial to understand (or remember) that contrary to common belief, ‘practice does not make perfect.’  ‘Practice makes permanent!’  Thus the disciplines of ‘Thinking-Reflecting’ that I practice – and over time, integrate into habits – becomes crucial.

How I think-reflect about who I am and who you are powerfully determines what I choose to do.  My attitude about the ‘other(s)’ is directly impacted by how I think-reflect – and what I think-reflect upon when it comes to the ‘other(s).’  For example, do I believe that the ‘other’ is trust-worthy?  Do I believe that the ‘other’ is, by his or her very nature, a threat to me and mine?  Do I believe that the ‘other’ is less than human?   Once I decide then I will censor ‘in’ all that supports my ‘belief’ and I will censor out – block – all that disconfirms my ‘belief.’

Consider this question: Do you believe that there is life after death?  If so, what kind of life?  If not, then once you die, then what?  Even though I was raised a Catholic, when I was in my late teens I found myself thinking-reflecting upon what I truly believed when it came to my responding to this question.  My response, I knew, would determine how I would approach my life.  Although, my thinking-reflecting involved an abstract process I knew that how I then chose to live my life would have ‘real’ and ‘practical’ consequences.

How many of us humans, in our Culture, believe that we humans are, by nature, self-centered?  Our goal is to get as much as we can for ourselves.  In our culture we are now rooted in a ‘banking metaphor’ – people are assets, resources, commodities to be used and our goal is to obtain the best return on our investment (our investment can be in ‘time,’ for example).

One unintended consequence of our integrating the banking metaphor into our culture/lives is that we have become less trusting of others, we have become more suspicious and we have become less cooperative (we fear being taken advantage of – by, among others, attorneys, car salespersons, and insurance salespersons).

We do not believe that the other(s) will keep promises made and we are more likely to ‘guilt-free’ break promises we have made.  The gulf between the rich and poor (now middle-class) continues to grow exponentially and with this gulf, fear of the ‘other(s)’ also continues to grow.

We have elementary and high school students in some of our public schools (think: large urban school districts) who, during these winter months, have to wear coats and head coverings in their classrooms because there is no money for heat.  Teachers in these schools develop ‘go fund me’ sites so that they can purchase materials and, in some cases, so they can purchase coats and head coverings, for their students.

Although the ‘banking metaphor’ is rooted in the abstract, the ‘real’ effect is felt by so many in our culture every day.  And the ‘real’ effect/affect is far from the ‘American Dream’ that we, as a culture, still espouse.

The ‘Real’ reminds us – those of us who are awake and aware – that ‘thinking-reflection’ is continuous and that what we ‘think-reflect’ about directly determines, for better and for worse, our cultural ‘reality’ (too often, we espouse ‘A’ and obtain the ‘Real’ which is ‘B’).

To put it another way: We are our Thoughts-Reflections! [An Aside: We can thank Aristotle for this insight.]

Given this, what is the third response: ‘The Real+’ response?  Stay tuned.

 

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Gentle reader, I concluded PART II with a question that I will now respond to: How can thinking-reflecting skills be acquired? 

Developing the skills/capacities so that one might think-reflect well is NOT primarily a matter of acquiring certain knowledge.  It involves BOTH a ‘knowing what’ and a ‘knowing how.’  The ‘knowing how’ is often more challenging.

If, gentle reader, you have been following my postings these past 6+ years you know that I admire Socrates (the person Plato refers to, not the cat – although Socrates the Cat is also quite insightful).  Socrates did not pride himself on ‘what’ he knew.  He prided himself on his dearth of knowledge AND on his ability to frame questions (the ‘how’) that would reveal how little the other(s) knew.

To process ‘knowledge’ – the ‘what one knows’ – requires that one embraces listening first in order to understand; that one holds an attitude that one might well be influenced by the other(s), and that one develops his/her capacity for inquiry (we develop our capacity for inquiry by asking many questions and then by reflecting upon the outcomes, the responses, and the feedback, etc.).  In addition, each of us is charged with striving to detect and address ambiguities while striving to develop thought-full arguments and alternatives (this is called, ‘Critical Thinking,’ and we, in our culture, are not very good at this discipline/skill).

I am sitting here finding myself returning to my original question: What’s the Point?  Why bother with this question?  I cannot begin to count the number of times a person has said to me something like this: Reflective Thinking is nice to think about BUT it doesn’t build bridges or bake bread or sail ships.  We need to get on with the ‘real work.’

These questions are crucial questions.  I do have a response – actually, I have a three-part response (I perceive all three to be crucial).  I first discerned these and named them in the mid-nineties.  I have never been comfortable with the ‘names’ I have given them; currently I call them: The Ideal, The Real and The Real+.

What’s the Point?

The ‘Ideal.’  True, ‘thinking-reflection’ does not bake bread or build bridges BUT then, again, neither does, architecture, music, art or knowledge itself.  As human beings we are naturally curious and we are ‘natural’ seekers of knowledge and understanding.  How many of us parents have been whelmed over by our young child asking us, again, and again, and again, and again, ‘WHY?’  We seek knowledge and understanding for its own sake.  I had a college roommate who would spend hours working on mathematical problems that had no solution – why? – for his own sake.

My roommate, Ken, was not concerned with practical application.  We humans do spend a great deal of time ‘doing’ – making, implementing, working concretely, etc.  On the other hand, the ‘Ideal’ is crucial for our wellbeing.  We know that it is crucial for us to develop our ‘mind’ – our intellect, our thinking capacity, our capacity to think abstractly, our capacity to frame questions that challenge our thinking.  Our intellectual health relies on our embracing the ‘Ideal’.  As an elder, for example, I continue to read and to read things that challenge my intellect because nurturing my intellect helps minimize the negative aspects of aging.

Our mental health is good in and of itself.  So that’s one reply to ‘What’s the Point?’

There are two additional replies.  Stay tuned.

 

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Gentle reader, I concluded PART I with: …what gives rise to these non-empirical questions – questions that continue to baffle us even after thousands of years of attempting to answer them?  And, ‘What’s the point’ in our taking the time to engage them? 

In two words: Self, Reflection.  Self-reflection.  We human beings are not only capable of reflecting upon ourselves, we are self-reflecting almost continuously (even in our dreams – night and day dreams).  Even when we do something out of habit we frequently stop and reflect on the habit.  And there is more, we can, and do, reflect upon our reflection.

We can ask ourselves, ‘Do you really know what you are talking about?’  For many of us, this question is also offered us by the other(s).  Sometimes this question is rooted in curiosity and sometimes it is rooted in irony.  If the question is rooted in curiosity it will take some reflection in order to respond to it.  I might, for example, need to reflect upon my own understanding of what I am actually talking about.  I might also need to be clear as to my sources – think: the authorities I might be following.

I cannot begin to recall the number of times I became aware that I was not really sure of what I meant.  This can be anxiety producing and it can also provide me an invitation and opportunity for further reflection.  I might also ask myself: Is what I am saying ‘objectively’ true or is it rooted in subjectivism (think: assumptions, stereotypes, prejudices, etc.).

When I reflect upon these types of questions I might well find myself thinking about certain categories/concepts: knowledge, objectivity, truth, beauty, goodness, virtue, vice, etc. My reflection might well motivate me to reflect more deeply about one or more of these.

For me, reflection – thinking about – often emerges during the course of a deep conversation.  In this case, the person(s) I am engaging will also engage in the process.  We search together.  I relish and savor these experiences.

Then, of course, there are those who by the very nature of their vocation/calling are charged to hone their reflective capacities.  I love history and a historian, for example, is bound to engage in a reflective process.  He/she must ask, at some point, what is meant by ‘objectivity’ and ‘evidence’ and ‘truth.’

When the historian engages in this reflective process he or she becomes a philosopher (a seeker and lover of wisdom).  The historian can engage in this reflective process in a way that is deemed to be a ‘bad process’ (history is not short of ‘bad historians’) or in a way that is deemed to be a ‘good process’ (we have also been blessed with many ‘good historians’).  The point, of course, is to do ‘it’ (the process) well.

Given this, I, once again, leave us with a question: How can one acquire these thinking-reflective skills?

Stay tuned…

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Early this morning I was watching my favorite ‘wake up’ show.  The hosts represent the moderates in both major parties.  Their guests include conservatives and progressives.  They strive to avoid the ‘extremes’ although they will have members of both parties that are ‘far right’ and ‘far left.’  The ‘regulars’ are thought-full.  This morning, one of the hosts asked – in response to a position taken by someone in congress – ‘What is he thinking about?’  It was uttered rooted in exasperation.

I began to think about and reflect upon Thinking-Reflection and I found myself asking: What’s the point?  I began to put some flesh on these bones.  I am not sure how many ‘Parts’ I will post but I think it will be at least two, probably three.  We will see.

My guiding question: What are we to think and reflect about?

Here are some questions that people have thought about – and, I assume are thinking about today; questions about ourselves: What am I? Who am I? What is consciousness?  Could I, might I, survive my bodily death?  Can I be sure that other people’s experiences and sensations are like – even similar – to mine?  Does my ability to communicate with another require that I share their same experiences?  Do I-You-We always act, primarily, out of self-interest?  Might I actually be a type of puppet, programmed and controlled by a transient being – do I truly have free will?

Now my mind was churning.  Here are some questions about the world: Why is there something and not nothing?  What, exactly, is the difference between the past and the future?  Why do events always run from the past to the future OR does it might sense that the future might influence, if not directly, affect the past?  Why does Mother Nature keep to a set of ‘laws’ – why doesn’t She have choice – or does She?  Does the Universe presuppose a Creator – if so, can we understand why he/she created this Universe? 

I became aware of another set of questions; questions about ourselves and about the world: How can we be sure the world is really like we take it to be – or assume it to be?  What is knowledge – how much do we have; how much can we gain?  What makes a science, a science (is psychoanalysis science; is economics)?  How do we come to know about abstract objects (think: numbers)?  How do we know about virtue and vice, good and evil, values and duty?  How am I to really know whether my opinion is rooted in objectivity or is rooted in subjectivity – why might this be important to know?

I love these types of questions for they defy simple responses; they certainly defy simple solutions (if one interprets them to be ‘problems to be solved’).  If this is not clear consider this.  I know less than a thimble full of knowledge when it comes to responding to this question: When is it high tide?  On the other hand, given all that is available to me, with a bit of research I can obtain the ‘correct answer.’

The type of question that we can answer in this manner is formally called an empirical question.  This type of question can be answered and agreed upon by means of agreed procedures, involving looking and seeing, making measurements, or apply agreed upon rules that have been tested and have been verified (over and over again).  To me, it is obvious that the questions in the three paragraphs are not empirical questions.  They seem to require more thinking-reflection.  In addition, we don’t always (if ever) know where to look.  This is partly due to the fact that many of these questions are not interpreted the same way by the other(s).  What do we mean when we ask them?  What would actually ‘count’ as a ‘solution’?

What would demonstrate to me, for instance, that I am not a puppet; that I am not programmed?  How do I know that I am not programmed to believe I have free will – and I actually don’t (there have been many folks throughout history who believed that all is determined)?  Who do we turn to, neuroscientists?  Imagine this headline: ‘Neuroscientists have proven that we are not puppets!’

SO, what gives rise to these non-empirical questions – questions that continue to baffle us even after thousands of years of attempting to answer them?  And, ‘What’s the point’ in our taking the time to engage them?

Stay tuned…

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I awoke this morning with tears in my eyes.  I quickly became aware of a searing pain in my gut, heart and soul.  I also became aware of a scene that was playing on my mind’s screen.  I was watching the 39 year old man in Detroit hugging his wife and two children; I could feel their pain as he was, literally being torn from their lives.  I also felt great shame because this scene was occurring because of ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ and I am one of ‘WE.’

I also became aware of another pain.  My mother was Polish.  My great grandfather, age 8, and six of his relatives (brothers and cousins, ages 7-12) had, five years prior to Ellis Island opening, come to the United States as immigrants (no adults came with them).  They had come from a poor village in Poland (a certain person would probably refer to this village as a ‘s…hole’ village).  ALL OF US, everyone one of us, are immigrants (even our Native Americans came from somewhere else).  Many of our ancestors came from what this person might well call a ‘s…hole’ village or country.

How have ‘WE’ moved from compassion to fear?  How have we moved from inviting and accepting to shunning and rejecting?  How have we moved from seeing the ‘other’ as a fully human being to seeing the ‘other’ as less than human?  How can ‘WE’ condemn people who were brought here or sent here as children (just as my mother’s grandfather was sent here at age 8) and now, years later say to them – ‘THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME!’

As I sat with all of this – and other feelings, images – I began to recall the last lines of a poem.  I opened my file of poems and found the poem.  I read it.  I read it again.  The poet, William Stafford, provides us some insight as to ‘WHY’ we are, today, where we are and ‘WHY’ we are, today, who we are.

Gentle reader, I invite you to read and reflect upon Stafford’s gift to us.  Here is his poem.

 A Ritual To Read To Each Other

 If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

 

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