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Archive for February, 2019

CONSCIENCE. . .

The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics (1997) defines Conscience as inner awareness of right and wrong, good and evil.  According to Blackwell, persons said to ‘have conscience’ manifest three characteristics:

They evaluate actions, motives and states of character to determine if these are appropriate from a moral point of view. 

They experience feelings such as guilt or satisfaction that are consistent with moral judgments that they have made.   

They are disposed to act on the basis of their moral perceptions.   

Evaluation requires reflection, probably ‘deep reflection’ or ‘intense reflection’ and it also requires one hold and understand his/her moral point of view.  Then, or in concert with this evaluation, one experiences certain feelings – actually feels them in his/her being – ‘guilt’ or ‘satisfaction’ [versus say ‘shame’ or ‘pride’].  These feelings are consistent with the ‘moral judgments’ – not just any judgments.  Finally, ‘evaluation’ and ‘experiencing certain feelings’ are not enough; conscience is incomplete without ACTION.  Not any action, but action rooted in the first two characteristics, ‘their moral perceptions.’    

So, ‘conscience’ is ‘Evaluation + Experience of Feelings + a Disposition to Act.’  Martin Luther King, Jr. caught this, I believe, when he wrote that: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ 

When have I been silent about things that really matter?  How do I define what really matters?  What if it really matters to you but not to me?  When does what matters to the community trump what matters to me (pun intended)?

When have I compromised my conscience?  Why did I choose to do so?

What has called my conscience forth and how did I respond?

Do I believe that those I most vehemently disagree with act from this definition of conscience?  Do I dismiss them by labeling them as ‘having no conscience’ or by demonizing them – a common posture in our culture today.

I am no Patrick Henry.  ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ does not attract me today.  Yet, is it possible for me to imagine or image a situation where I would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?    

Patrick Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr were, to me, persons of conscience.

For you, dear reader, who are persons of conscience?  When has your conscience been called forth?  And, how did you choose to respond?  Can you imagine or image a situation when you would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?

One more thought.  Perhaps ‘evil’ occurs or is invited in, when one does not respond to the call of conscience.

 

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NOISE – SILENCE. . .

Too much noise.  I am whelmed over by noise.  I seek relief – or do I, really?

It is easy for me to blame my culture or to blame them or to blame ‘out there.’  Too much noise.  Yet, when I am alone, in my own living space I invite noise from ‘out there’ into my life.  I turn on the radio or the television or the computer.  Too much noise.  When I decide to not invite the ‘out there’ into my space I soon discover that the more powerful noisy noise is emanating from within me, from in here.

This is when I ask myself: Richard, do you really want relief from the noise?  This leads to other questions: What will emerge if you soften your internal noise; if you turn the volume down?  What purpose does maintaining the volume of noise that resides within your heart and soul serve?  What needs are met?  What needs are avoided?  What keeps you from choosing to silence your noisy heart and soul?  

 I know it is not a matter of knowing how?  I know that it is not a matter of not having the knowledge.  I know that knowledge itself does not change provide [sounds like Yoda is talking now].  Seeking Silence requires knowledge, yes, and motivation, and commitment, and intentionality and action.  It also requires of me an acceptance of what lies behind, or is it within, the noise.

Acceptance.  Acceptance = approving reception.  Am I willing to receive with approval all that emerges when I quiet the noise.  Is what emerges simply more noise?  Perhaps it is not noise.  Noise = a din of voices.  Perhaps what emerges is a whisper.  Whisper = to make soft, rustling sounds.  Noise whelms me over and distracts me and adds to my disconnection [from myself and from others].  Perhaps a whisper invites me to pay attention, to focus, to be response-able, and to listen attentively and deeply with a searcher-seeker ‘ear.’

Perhaps, this whisper that can only be discerned amidst silence is the whisper of the wisdom that resides within or is the whisper of the divine or the whisper of the guiding spirit or perhaps the sustaining spirit.  Perhaps it is the whisper of the transcendent calling me to be, to become, and to use my self to meet the needs that exist in my world.  I am not always sure.  What seems to be clear, however, is that as long as I invite and celebrate noise in my heart and soul I will not be open to, much less be able to hear, the whisper; the whisper that is for me alone to hear.

This photo from my friend, George, invites me into the wonder and awe of silence.  This is silence captured in an image.  Within the silence I can hear the soft whisper as it moves the through the valley.

by George-12Oct2017

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Great writers use paradox as one way of bringing the reader to a ‘stop,’ thus providing an opportunity to step-back and reflect.  One of my all-time favorite books is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island; I recently re-read this wonderful story.  Stevenson also wrote, among other works, a book that captured his experiences traveling throughout America [Across the Plains is the title].  He captured the vastness of our country when he wrote: ‘We were at sea – there is no other adequate expression – on the plains of Nebraska.’  I remember driving from Indianapolis to Omaha in the summer of 1972 and affirm that it is like being on the ocean.

I found the following written in one of my older journals; there was no author listed and I am sure that it is not something that emerged from within my being so I will credit the most famous author, ‘anonymous,’ with the following: ‘A paradox is truth standing on its head to attract our attention.’

As human beings we are, by nature, searchers and seekers and one of the things we search for and seek after is truth and paradoxes help us as we travel along searching and seeking.  Katherine Mansfield offers us one to ponder: ‘If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.’  What is the story you want others to tell about you as they mill about at your wake?  Are you currently ‘writing’ that story?  If not, what story are you now writing and living out?

The Chinese offered us the concept of yin-yang [gentle reader you might check out one of my earlier postings about Yin-Yang].  Some of their ancients were masters when it comes to self-contradictory thinking.  The great Chinese sage, Lao-Tzu was one of the earliest to directly recognize the deep connection between truth and paradox.  In the sixth century B.C.E. he wrote: ‘The truest sayings are paradoxical.’  Here are some others offered to us by the great Chinese sages: ‘Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.’ [Chuang-Tzu]; ‘Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s own ignorance.’ [Confucius]; ‘Failure is the foundation of success. . .success the lurking place of failure.’ [Lao-Tzu].

We Western thinkers have also been enamored with paradox.  The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard offered: ‘The paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion, and the thinker without a paradox is like a lover without a feeling: a paltry mediocrity.’  Then there is Thoreau who was very familiar with Confucius and Lao-Tzu; he put it this way: ‘Truth is always paradoxical.’ [Did K. steal this from Lao-Tzu – see L-T’s quote above.]  Consider this tidbit from Thoreau: ‘I have a great deal of company in the house, especially in the morning when nobody calls.’  His best company, it seems, is himself.  The English historian Edward Gibbon seconded it (or was it ‘firsted it’) when he wrote: ‘I was never less alone than when by myself.’  O.K. let’s go back a bit.  In the first century B.C.E. the Roman poet Tibullus wrote: ‘In solitude, be a multitude to thyself.’  

 In closing I will leave us with a few more wonderful paradoxical statements:
‘You can’t say civilization isn’t advancing, in every war they kill you in a new way.’ [Will Rogers]

‘Thanks to the interstate highway system, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.’   [Charles Kuralt]   ‘Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything.’ [John Kenneth Galbraith]

‘Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.’  [Yogi Berra]

 

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WHAT IS A PARADOX? – PART FIRST. . .

My father was a person of few words, spoken or written.  When he spoke, we paused to listen.  One of the reasons I would pause was that my father would often say something that did not fit the context. I took great glee when he spoke this way.  For example, he was quickly passing through the family room one afternoon and I asked him where he was going in such a hurry.  His reply, as he motored by was, “I am going to see a man about a dog!’  He moved on and I stared into the empty space that was, a second before, filled with my father.  Then I laughed.

One night I had a question for my father, I was reading a story for class and the word ‘paradox’ appeared before my eyes.  I could have looked it up but I wanted a few minutes with my father and so I trundled off to his den where I knew he would either be reading or working with his stamps or coins (he had a magnificent stamp collection).  I knocked on the closed door and he invited me in.  He was reading (he was an avid reader).  I asked him, ‘What is a paradox?’  He looked up, gave me ‘the look’ that suggested that I go look it up in the dictionary; then he paused and said, ‘Among other things, it is two doctors.’  He then returned to his reading.  As I turned to leave I noticed a smile cross his face.  My father had just told me, in his way, to go look the definition up and he also gifted me with his quick humor.  I could hardly wait to go to school the next day and tell the class what I had learned.

So, gentle reader, in addition to being two doctors, what is a paradox?  The word, paradox, comes from two Greek words, para meaning ‘beyond’ and doxa meaning ‘opinion.’  Literally, then, a paradox is something ‘beyond opinion’ – today we might say that it conveys the sense of being beyond the pale of current opinion or ‘contrary to current thinking.’  In Shakespeare’s time it had a negative connotation, suggesting something that was fantastically unbelievable or even heretical (I learned this in reading Bill Bryson’s wonderful book, The Mother Tongue – if you, Gentle Reader, are not familiar with this gem I invite you to check it out).  Over time, the meaning shifted to how we use it today – something that is true even though it may seem untrue.  Here is one that was given us by the poet Robert Browning: ‘Less is more.’  We are not speaking logically when we use this now common paradox.

Now, in order to grasp a paradox one must be able to think abstractly which is probably why young children become confused when one offers them a paradox [of course, I have also met many adults whose strength is concrete thinking and they do not find them interesting and frequently experience them as a bother – the same could be said of ‘literalists’ who are not enamored with word-play].

Here’s another common paradox given to us by the French writer Alphonse Karr: ‘The more things change, the more they remain the same.’  Literally, the statement is false.  However, Karr provides us with an important life-lesson.  Even though I change, often dramatically, as I age I remain in a real sense the same.

One more before I finish today’s posting.  I am drawn to the wisdom of the ancients and one of these folks is the Chinese wise-man, Lao-Tzu.  He noted that to lead the people, walk behind them.  Followers must truly feel that the leader ‘has their back’ as it were.  Leaders must also be willing to serve the followers and one way of doing this is making space for them to choose which direction to go.

 

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DISCERN & DISTINGUISH. . .

It is early morning here; I am sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops savoring a ‘free’ coffee.  It is cold outside, the sky is clear, the sun will soon rise.  When I sat down at my table my intention was to read for an hour or two before I went off to meet my two adult-children [‘adult-children’ – that, in its self is an interesting term].   We are going to celebrate a ‘next-step’ that my daughter will soon be taking.

I settled in.  I chose a book from five I brought with me, relaxed, held the book and began to pre-savor what I knew would be a gift from the author to me.  I paused.  I sat looking at the book.  The following question emerged into my consciousness: What motivated me to choose this book this morning?  As I held this question, the word DISTINGUISH came a calling.

Distinguish means to separate by differences, to perceive clearly, to choose between or to choose among.  Generally, I rely upon my intuition as a primary guide in choosing between or among.  I also rely upon my mood to guide me; although at times I find that I must choose against my mood.  Sometimes I allow logic or ‘the facts’ to guide me, but I am more likely to lead with my intuitive sense.  So even here I distinguish between and among my inner ‘guides.’

I then choose.  Ah, or is it really that I choose?  When is what I select truly an act of choosing and when is it an act of ‘habit’ and when is it an act of ‘my first or second nature?’  I don’t always know.  What I do know is that I trust my intuition, especially when I am focusing on how I might best serve others’ highest priority needs.  Frequently after the experience I am not able to explain ‘why’ I chose what I chose; I have no words to describe the ‘why.’

I believe that we are constantly choosing what ‘guides’ to listen to, what ‘guides’ to follow, what ‘guides’ to trust, what ‘guides’ to rely upon when things get dicey [this is another interesting word/concept: dicey]; what ‘guides’ to ignore, what ‘guides’ to avoid, and what ‘guides’ to ‘silence.’

I also believe that we can, via rigorous discipline develop our capacity for discernment.  How can I, or you, truly distinguish and choose without discernment?  [Discernment = the power of keen perception]  I can, and certainly do, choose without engaging discernment.  I am now speaking of ‘truly choosing’ – that is being awake, aware, intentional, and purpose-full in my choosing.  YET, I rely upon my intuition when it comes to making certain choices [Intuition = the direct knowing of something without the conscious use of reasoning].  I trust that at a deep level I do discern and distinguish before I choose; my intuition is my guide.

Gentle Reader: What guides you in your choices?  Do you rely on more than one guide?  How do you distinguish them from each other?  When do you choose out of habit?  How is that different from choosing with discernment?  

 Well, back to my book. . . but, now, given my reflection, which book will I choose?

 

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