Archive for July, 2019

I am, I exist – but for how long?  For as long as I am thinking. –Descartes

As I noted in PART I, most of the ‘Big Questions’ I framed were not empirical questions.  The questions I framed invited deep reflection – over-time reflection.  How, in fact, do we humans even come up with the ‘Big Questions’?

In a word: self-reflection.  We humans are relentlessly capable of reflecting upon ourselves (now whether we do and to what extend we choose to do is another matter).  How often do you-I-we do something out of ‘habit’?  When we act out of ‘habit’ how often do we go back and reflect upon our actions?

We humans are capable of thinking of things and also of reflecting upon our own thoughts (again, ‘being capable’ does not equate with ‘engaging in’).  How often have you, Gentle Reader, been asked: ‘What are you thinking?  Do you know what you are talking about?’  How often have you offered one or both of these questions to another?

On a good day we might actually pause and reflect upon the questions – we might engage in ‘self-reflection.’  On not-so-good days we will not respond with self-reflection (an understatement I know).

In order to respond to these two questions (not react to them), we will need to reflect on our own positions.  We will need to reflect upon our own understanding of what we are saying – leading us, hopefully, to why we are saying it.  We will also need to explore our own ‘authority’ – am I saying what’s on my mind or am I saying what is on another’s mind (some authority, for example).  Am I willing to ‘own’ what I am saying?  AND, am I willing to be able to rationally defend what I am saying? [As essentially emotional beings we are not well-versed when it comes to rationally defending.]

On another good day we might begin to wonder whether we actually know what we mean.  We might wonder whether what we say is ‘objectively true’ – perhaps it is a reflection of our assumptions, prejudices, non-reflective beliefs, etc.  We might also begin to reflect upon the idea/concept of ‘truth.’  Am I speaking ‘my truth’ or someone else’s truth?  How do I know I am speaking MY truth?

When I search rooted in reflection and critical thinking (two processes I can do well or poorly) I am ‘doing philosophy’.  The point, of course, is to do reflection well.  Easy to say – challenging to do.

How can these thinking skills be acquired?

[Lincoln] forces consideration upon the mind. –D.H. Donald

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The Questions we hold determine the Paths we take. –RWS

Good morning Gentle Reader.

Consider this: The ‘Themes’ and ‘Questions’ that follow are not the preserve of the specialist (although the specialist does preserve them).  These are the themes and questions that we humans have been holding for thousands of years.  Together they structure the ways we think about, interact with and act upon our world and one another.  They help determine our ‘place’ in our world (the macro-world – the global community and the micro-world — myself).

The great thinkers and the not-so-great thinkers have been holding and engaging these themes and questions for good and for ill.  Any person who holds and engages one or more of these themes and/or questions is ‘doing philosophy.’  These themes and questions form the mental models that we integrate and that directly impact the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our lives.

THEMES: Here is a list of the big themes; a list that we humans have been holding for thousands of years.  THE LIST: knowledge, reason, truth, mind, freedom, destiny, identity, God, goodness, beauty, justice, mercy, compassion and empathy.

QUESTIONS: Here are the questions that anyone of us humans might hold and respond to or ‘live’ (Rilke counsels us to live the questions themselves).  Let us begin with the six questions that Socrates offered us to consider and hold: What is virtue? What is moderation? What is justice? What is good? What is courage? What is piety?

Here is a list of questions that we humans have also been asking/holding: Who am I?  What am I?  What is consciousness?  Will I survive my bodily death?  Do I always act out of self-interest?  Might I be a kind of puppet – programmed by ‘Fate’?  Am I really ‘Free’?  How do I know I have ‘Free-Will’? 

My goal is to seek to ‘understand.’  This is not easy for me – and I assume, Gentle Reader, that it is not easy for you.  For me, many of these questions continue to be baffling questions – they defy simple responses (although I often offer simple responses to them).  On the other hand, if someone were to ask me ‘When is it high-tide?’ I could set out to find the answer.  With some effort I would be able to answer the question with some authority.  This is a type of question that is called an empirical question.  It is a question that can be settled by means of agreed upon procedures – looking, measuring and applying certain rules.

The questions I framed above are not empirical questions – they are not ‘measurable’.  So if they are not empirical, what are they?

To ask new questions requires creative imagination. –Einstein

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Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and not further, but compassion, which is the thing we must strive for today begins where competition leaves off. –R.T. Williams

Generally, I am an idealist not a ‘realist’ [as in ‘wait until you get into the real world’].  Generally, I see the best in others; I see their potential not their limitations.  Generally, I believe in the goodness of others and hence trust that others are trying to live a ‘good life’ and that others act rooted in good faith.  Generally, I believe that abundance reigns, not scarcity [in that there is enough to go around if we are ALL willing to share].  Generally, I believe in high achievement more than in competition [my experience is that high achievers are rooted in an abundance mentality and competitors are rooted in a scarcity mentality].  This brief ‘context setting’ brings us to our topic for today.

Generally, I think that if we were to take a critical look at ourselves we would recognize that competition not compassion is one of our main motivators as we journey through life.  Look around. As a culture we find ourselves deeply immersed in all sorts of competition.  It seems as if our whole sense of self is dependent upon the way we compare ourselves with others and upon the differences we can identify [as an aside, when we stress and focus on ‘differences’ there are but a few steps to then being able to guilt-free harm others].

For many of us, when asked, ‘Who are you?’ our response is ‘I am the difference I make.’  It is by our differences/distinctions, that we are recognized, honored, rejected, or despised.  Whether I am more or less smart, practical, strong, useful or handsome/beautiful depends upon those with whom I am compared or those with whom I compete.  It is upon these positive or negative distinctions that much of my self-esteem depends (this is also true when it comes to relationships, teams, families, organizations, etc).

If I stop and step-back and reflect I soon begin to realize that many family problems, race/ethnic conflicts, class confrontations, religious-based ‘wars’ [the wars religions fight for our souls, for example], disputes that occur at the local, regional, state, societal and global levels – whether real or imagined – play a central role in all of this.  One consequence (partly intended and partly unintended) is that we define ourselves in ways that require us to maintain distance from one another [physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual distance].  We also become ‘protective’ and ‘defensive’ in order to maintain our differences; the variety of ‘walls’ we construct are legion.  After all, who are we if we cannot proudly point to something special that sets us apart from you?

This type of competition seems rampant today and prevents us from entering into full community/solidarity with one another – it is a major block to compassion [it is also a major tap root for ‘fear’ and high anxiety].

Compassion requires connection and connection requires relationship and relationship requires trust rooted in deep caring.  I-You-We might have to give up our identity rooted in differences and replace it with an identity rooted in commonness – the tough stuff, as most of us know, is in the giving up or the letting go.  Being compassionate requires us to be disturbed and moved in/by love; competition, for example, requires us to be disturbed and moved in/by fear.

This fear, which is very real even though it might not be rooted in the ‘real world,’ influences our thinking, our choices and our behavior; it betrays our deepest illusions: that our race, church, society, team, family, organization is NOT LIKE yours; our pride in who we are has morphed into arrogance and fear.  It is easy for us then to cling to our differences and defend them at all costs – our loss of compassion, via connection leads us far too often to being able to guilt-free engage in ‘violence’ upon the other [sometimes we say this ‘violence’ is for their own good – the Grand Inquisitor, for example, could guilt-free inflict great pain on the person in order to get the person to convert for the pain experienced now will not compare with the pain of everlasting damnation – ‘I am saving your soul, my son/daughter.’].

How about if we switch this a bit: COMPASSION TRUMPS COMPETITION?  A bit disturbing isn’t it?

Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity but as human beings. –Nelson Mandela

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Good morning Gentle Reader.  During my meditation this morning I began to think about and remember my teachers, mentors and guides.  As I reflected a poem I wrote emerged into my consciousness.  This morning I offer you this poem.


For more than forty years now
Confucius has been my teacher,
my guide, and a role-model.

I have sought and continue to seek
how I might serve others so they
choose to nurture more than deplete.

Like Confucius, I invite those I serve
into conversations; I invite them to
consider questions; I walk with them
as one who travels the same path of
seeking, searching, and learning.

When I am healthy I am a living paradox;
I am, it seems, a living contradiction.  At
my best I am able to accept others as
living paradoxes.

When I am full of dis-ease I engage
my favorite ways of depleting myself
especially my spirit.  At my worst, I
deplete others with heartless judgments.

Confucius continues to challenge me:
Serve my father as I would expect my
son to serve me;
Serve my ruler as I would expect my
ministers to serve me;
Serve my elder brother as I would expect my
younger brother to serve me;
To be the first to treat my friends as I would expect them
to treat me.

These are my challenges;
Like Confucius,
These I have not been able to do.
Like Confucius,
These I continue to strive to live.
Like Confucius,
I seek to be more and more consistent.
Like Confucius,
I know that to seek perfection
is to seek failure.                             Richard W Smith, 30 May, 2011


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Good morning Gentle Reader.  I have been reflecting upon all that continues to contribute to our dis-ease and growing un-civility.  The shroud of illusion that we have covered ourselves in has been torn away and our better angels have fled and have been replaced by our darkest angels.  As  William Stafford noted: The darkness around us is deep. 

Early this morning a question emerged into my consciousness: ‘What’s it all about?’  I held this question for a few hours and then I began to discern a response.  What emerged into my consciousness were these words: September 1, 1939.  This is the title of one of W.H. Auden’s most powerful poems.  In his poem, Auden captures for me ‘What It’s All About…’  Here is Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939.

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

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A real conversation always contains an invitation to reveal one’s self. –David Whyte

Consider that in any two person conversation there are at least four voices present.  There are two verbal voices and there are two internal voices.  Where there is alignment between the verbal and the internal voices then there is congruence.

There are times when each of us verbalizes only a part of what is voiced internally.  Frequently, the listener picks up signals that the internal voice has not been verbalized; these signals are sent to the listener via non-verbal cues.  Sometimes the listener will reflect these non-verbal cues back to the speaker and the speaker will either confirm or disconfirm what has been reflected back to him/her.  My sense, however, is that most listeners do not reflect the non-verbal signals back to the speaker; the resulting incongruence is taken as ‘the norm’ for conversations.

In conversations that we call ‘conflictual conversations’ the two participants generally make a mistake by trying to get at irrelevant matters – e.g., ‘Who is right?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?’  Consider that the following might be more helpful: ‘Why do we see things differently?’ or ‘Why do we choose different responses?’  These tend to reframe the conversation from ‘blame’ toward ‘seeking to understand’ and from ‘winning’ to ‘discerning understanding and perhaps discerning common ground.’

Consider that two types of knowledge might also be helpful:

INTRAPERSONAL knowledge helps us consider why we think, feel and act as we do.

INTERPERSONAL knowledge helps us, via empathy and respect, to consider the other’s perspective, experience, and position.

‘Why do I see the world differently from how you see the world?’  Well, I have different information and/or a different interpretation of the same information that we both have.  My interpretation is rooted in my life experiences, my outlook, my current disposition, my life-disposition, my deep assumptions, my core values [and how I interpret them], my guiding life-principles, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my biases, etc.  I also think that for the most part my conclusions also reflect my ‘self-interest’ – i.e. I ‘lead’ with my-self as the focus, not the other as my focus.

When engaged in a searching conversation, I do better when I move from certainty to curiosity, from surety to doubt, from being rigid to being flexible and when I stop arguing about ‘who is right,’ and when I stop needing to assign ‘blame,’ and when I start to seek to understand and embrace ‘your story.’

To get real diversity of thought, you need to find the people who genuinely hold different views and invite them into a conversation. –Adam Grant

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Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time to be alone with Him who loves us. –Saint Teresa of Avila

Good morning Gentle Reader.

For me, the first condition of Private Prayer is to recognize that solitude is essential and therefore, I must discipline myself in order to make it a priority in my daily life.

There is a ‘cost’ to embracing this spiritual discipline.  Conversation with God, via Private Prayer, is a necessity, not a luxury.  Fifty-seven years ago Private Prayer became something different for me.  It was no longer what happened as I prepared for sleep; it was also different from the terror-stricken appeals I sent to God [although I continue to engage in both].  I also learned that, like all searching conversations, a searching conversation with God required time – not ten minutes but sixty minutes.

It is not news to anyone who has attempted to engage in this type of Private Prayer that the simple act of setting aside a ‘sacred time’ each day for Private Prayer is, for many, a daunting challenge.  We are, in our Culture, a busy-body people; we are addicted to action and speed and noise and distraction; our ability to ‘attend to’ is measured in seconds not even in minutes.  We love swimming in the shallows and strive to avoid the depths; swimming in the depths requires discipline, time, commitment, and never-ending preparation.

To put it another way: Rather than take the time to keep a ‘written journal’ we have resorted to capturing the depth of our life in 140 characters – bytes rather than full meals.

Some of my Private Prayer is spoken – a conversation with God.  For me there is something firm and tangible and attention-holding as I engage in a prayer-conversation with God.  Hearing my own words spoken is akin to renewing a vow – it recommits me.  As I speak I image God walking with me.  God listens.  Then God speaks – I don’t always hear what God says but I find comfort knowing that God speaks to me.

In my conversations with God I speak with God just as I would speak with my closest friend.  I laugh, I cry, I feel pain, I curse, I stumble over my own words, I fight distractions and I wait with expectation to hear what my friend has to offer me – his or her laughter, tears, pain, cursing, and word-stumbling.  At times no words are exchanged; we walk together wrapped in silence.  I cherish these times of walking in silence.

I conclude my Private Prayer time by emerging a phrase – a mantra if you will – that I will carry with me during the day.  During the day I will, then, stop, visualize my being with my friend – God – and I will repeat the phrase.  I will also recall and repeat the phrase when I become stressed, angry, whelmed-over, anxious, depressed or pained.  I do not write the phrase down; nor do I ‘hold on to it’ for more than a day.  The ‘letting go’ and ‘taking on’ is a crucial discipline for me (perhaps I will write about this discipline some day).

Sometimes the phrase emerges as ‘my words’ and sometimes the phrase is one that another has offered me; a line from a poem, for example.  I will not share the context for the phrase I will hold today.  However, I will, in closing, offer you, Gentle Reader, the phrase.  Today it is a line from a poem: I will not die an unlived life!

For me, it is essential to have the inner peace and serenity of prayer in order to listen to the silence of God. –Adolfo Perez Esquivel

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