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Archive for August, 2020

I have many biases.  One of them involves ‘ethics.’  My current thinking is that what we call ‘ethics’ is a wasteland.  Thousands of books and chapters and essays have been written on the topic.  These include learned books, popular books, books that argue and books that exhort.  Many of them are empty and nearly all of them are vain (I did warn you, gentle reader, that I have a bias).  Some claim that pleasure is the good; some prefer the more seductive word happiness; others reject both and speak of equally elusive goals such as self-fulfillment.  Others claim that the good is to be found in looking away from the self, in devotion to the whole – but which whole? – in the service of God – whose God? – even in service to the State – who prescribes and defines service?  Which, if any, of these doors should one open and enter? 

Why do I think all of this?  My reason is simple: You say, “This is the way you should behave.”  But then I say, “No, that is not the way.”  You say, “This is right!”  But I reply, “No, that is wrong, and this is right!”  You then appeal to experience and I appeal to experience against you.  You appeal to authority – but this authority is not the authority I follow.  What is left we might ask (if we take deep breaths and don’t come to blows).  Well, if you are strong, you can punish me for behaving and for thinking my way.  But this only proves that you are stronger than I am.  Does your strength prove the notion that we still live with today that ‘might makes right?’  Is the slave-owner right because he holds the whip or is the Grand Inquisitor right because he can send his heretics to the fire? 

This is an ethical dilemma.  How can ethics lay down any principles, much less ‘final’ principles of behavior that are not your values against my values or your group’s values against my group’s values?  This does not mean that your rules are any less valid for you simply because they are not valid for me.  Only a shallow person or an autocratic person would entertain such a conclusion. 

Integrity is crucial [my belief].  For the sake of your integrity you must hold on to your own values, no matter how much others reject them.  Without your values you are nothing; without my values, I am nothing.  I also believe that we should search them and test them and learn by our experiences and gain wisdom where we can.  Our values can guide us through life AND we have to be awake and aware so our eyes can guide us – we can, I certainly have, be the blind that leads the blind when it comes to ‘we’ being the ones who are blind leading ourselves.  You and I will have different guides and we will then go different ways; sometimes we will have the same guide and interpret our guides words or directions differently and we will then also end up going our separate ways.  So far as we diverge, values are relative between us.  BUT your values cannot be relative for you or mine for me – if nothing else, the martyrs have taught us this.

On the other hand, the differences in values between you and me and between your group and mine and between your sect and mine and between your culture and mine almost guarantee that we will not find the common ground that ethics encourages us to find [we might well find some plots of common ground, perhaps even some acres and that might be enough]. 

By ‘ethics’ I mean the philosophy of how we should behave in our relations to one another.  I am talking about philosophy, not religion.  When one has a creed, one can derive from it ethical principles.  Philosophy does not begin with a creed; it begins with thinking about and reasoning about the nature of things.  Hence, philosophy cannot presume that the values of the ‘other’ are to be regarded less than ‘my’ or ‘our’ values.  If such happens, we move from philosophy to dogma – and, dogma is the ‘enemy’ of philosophy [I am thinking of the type of dogma that has been the source of endless tyranny and repression and I believe, gentle reader, that if you pause and reflect you will soon discern the form that such dogma has taken and still takes to this day]. 

I leave off today with a question for us to hold: Can it be a philosophy worth the name that makes a universal of your values and thus rules mine out of existence – ruling out those values that differ from yours? 

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OUR MOST POWERFUL ENEMY. . .

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. –Jesus

There is a sacredness and responsibility when it comes to giving testimony.  The first of these comes when we do not bear false witness against ourselves and thus we do not betray our inner sanctity.  This enables us to embrace the second of these which is then to not bear false witness against others.  The principle of the golden rule abides always as does the advice, ‘judge not that you be not judged.’  To put it another way: our most powerful enemy is interior not exterior to us.  The swamps, the Augean Stables are within us.  Our labors, like those of Hercules, must be performed inside and not outside of us. For the Muslim a ‘jihad’ is the inner struggle for one’s own soul.  Why?  Because spiritual and moral truth consists of an inner process; no one is perfect (without sin?) and therefore no one can cast the first stone. 

Many years ago I learned that in the language of the ancient Assyrians and in some of the Aramaic tongues, and in the Arabic tongue, the word slanderer means ‘one who eats up another man piecemeal.’  He is one who consumes another’s character and destroys it.  In ancient Greek, diabolos is synonymous with slander.  We manifest ‘satanic’ qualities; just as the Divine lives in us, so does the Devil – we are living paradoxes of good and evil, light and darkness, virtue and vice.  We are truly imperfect beings.

For the ‘just’ person there is only one course of word and action permitted: to perform what is the truth and to bear witness to what is the truth.  AND, there is another to which we owe allegiance and that is to our conscience and thus to the moral dimensions which we ourselves create. 

Consider, Gentle Reader, that the evil of false testimony emerges from a hatred of ourselves and thus, by projection, a hatred of others.  This is the antithesis of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves; it is the antithesis of treating our neighbor as we would want to be treated.  This is a ‘soul affliction,’ a ‘spiritual disease’, and it is equivalent to a type of death.

Because we are living paradoxes, we can choose the good not the evil, we can choose light over darkness and we can choose virtue over vice.  A humanist might say that we can do so because of ‘will’ and ‘reason.’  A theist might say that we can do so because of the ‘love’ and ‘grace’ of God.  Both of these permit our heart and soul to be awash with the love of others and to resist the darkness; to go in the direction of love even though it be only with a small part of ourselves.  I know from direct experience, that when I stop loving I am plunged into ‘hell’ – a hell of cynicism, verbal cruelty, and despair. 

It is in our nature to love and for theists ‘God is Love’ and since we are made in God’s image, we are also love incarnate; for a humanist it might be that because we are by nature ‘social beings’ it is reasonable and rational to love one another so that we can all survive, if not thrive. 

Even when we know that someone has sinned/committed a wrong beyond any vestige of doubt, it is not for us to proclaim this in a slanderous way.  To me it means that loving others as I love myself, cherishing the Divine in the other; I then choose mercy toward the afflicted person – as I would want others to choose mercy toward me.  I am reminded of the Amish elders who visited the man who had killed their children and forgave him; they did not judge him or slander him.  There is no deeper affliction for me – and for most of us I think – than the suffering that comes with my own sin; this is more painful than any affliction done to me. 

God is Love for me.  Thus, God is forgiving; God does not slander me to others – Love does not slander.  This gives me hope and courage.  My words are important and so I hold the following with great intensity: ‘. . .by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.’  I pray that today I will choose words that will ‘justify’ who I am called to be in my world; I pray that I will choose words of love.

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THERE IS NO DUALITY. . .

The complete whole is the complete whole. –Laozi

I continue to seek to understand China, her culture, her history and her people.  The more I learn the more I find I do not know nor understand.  For example, in our culture we often frame things as being in opposition; we value dualism: black-white, good-evil, and love-hate.  In Chinese there is no duality.  We in our culture use the term yin and yang; in Chinese, there is no ‘and’ there is only yin-yang – one complete unified expression.  There is no such thing as ‘and’ [in between].  Chinese combines and is constructed with, wholeness in mind.  Chinese is a picture language, a language of process, a language of the unconscious, a language about being.  When we translate Chinese ‘Yin-Yang’ into English we invariably add ‘and,’ we create duality.  Suddenly two things happen: misunderstanding and what was Chinese is no longer Chinese [AN ASIDE: What is worse, is that too often we add the word ‘but,’ rather than ‘and’ – and as we know our ‘but’ wipes out what came before]. 

Here is another example.  There is a word in Chinese, ‘hsing.’  This word stands for BOTH mind and heart; mind & heart are not two separate words.  In our culture we say, ‘I think,’ ‘you think,’ ‘we think,’ ‘they think.’  In Chinese there is no separation between mind (i.e. think) and heart.  As the Chinese ‘think’ they also ‘feel,’ ‘sense,’ ‘and ‘live,’ etc. 

The Chinese are also pragmatic (thanks in part to Confucius).  A Zen master once remarked that when you get up in the morning – wake up! – otherwise don’t bother.  Another Zen master noted that every morning he would look in the mirror and say ‘I don’t know who you are but I am going to wash you now.’ 

In our culture we spend a maximum amount of time fixing up our external selves, (watch T.V. for 30 minutes and see how much time is spent during commercials telling us that we need to fix ourselves up — externally).  We don’t, however, spend much time waking up ‘internally’ nor do we spend much time fixing our internal self up. We have, it seems, convinced ourselves, that we don’t have the time for an internal ‘fix-up’; nor is it really necessary.  We have become dualistic beings: we separate our external self from our internal self, we separate ‘life’ and ‘work’ – there is no ‘life-work balance’ there is, however, a ‘life-balance.’  We also separate light and darkness, we separate good and evil.  We live, as Parker Palmer reminds us, a divided life. 

I continue to believe, more than not, that our dis-ease is a spiritual dis-ease and this dis-ease is demonstrated physically (think of all of the money we spend on legal and illegal drugs each year – and we are spending more and more on drug money for our children).  Because we have embraced dualism, we focus on the physical and, more and more, ignore the spiritual. 

We have also separated ourselves from ‘nature;’ we have created another duality, the duality of human and nature.  So nature, like the spiritual, suffers because of our dualisms.  Because we are not grounded in nature nor in spirit we are, more than ever, running amok says Sir Laurens van der Post. 

We use a great deal of energy in our culture to help us avoid waking up.  If we wake up and become aware we will be disturbed by what we learn: we are full of despair and we live lives that are meaningless (don’t believe me, that is ok AND you might just check out all of the ways each day that we are encouraged not to wake up and be aware). 

My challenge is to live ‘whole’ and if enough of us choose to do so then there is hope.  Even writing this I can sense how futile it all seems for us as humans, for us as a species.  I am blessed for I do know others who are struggling to live a life of wholeness and this supports me, encourages me, and provides me, hope. 

We convince by our presence. –Walt Whitman    

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LET US CONSIDER – BETRAYAL

Perhaps the saddest thing about betrayal is that it seldom comes from your enemies. –Anonymous

One of a role-defined leader’s crucial concerns is the problem of betrayal.  Many different kinds of betrayal occur within organizations.  Leaders betray followers and followers betray leaders and one another.  Many betrayals only come to light after the fact, after one party silently abandons a commitment or breaks a trust or breaks a promise.  It seems that most betrayals do not occur because one is ‘evil’ or one is a ‘subversive’ or one behaves rooted in ‘bad faith.’  Betrayals are less likely to happen if leaders are awake and aware; if leaders are diligent when it comes taking the time to reflect seriously on what makes important things go awry. 

My current thinking is that from a leader’s perspective the most serious betrayal has to do with thwarting human potential, with smothering the spirit, with failing to deal equitably with each other as human beings.  Leaders are charged with the development of human potential; they are charged with nurturing the spirit – the ‘life breath’ that sustains; they are charged with ensuring that all are treated as fully human beings (as opposed to treating people as commodities, assets, resources, ‘cogs in the machine,’ etc) and to do so in an equitable manner.

Holding in trust in these ways is fragile, at best.  Because leaders and those who follow are imperfect the threat/possibility of betrayal is always present.  Vigilance must be maintained.  Here are some things that role-defined leaders must be vigilant about:

  •  Beliefs and Values.  These are the major tap roots that help leaders address two questions – Who matters?  What matters?  Leaders must ‘find their voices’ and then speak so that all understand the leader’s beliefs and values.  Leaders must then ‘live a story’ that demonstrates the many ways their beliefs and values are lived into and out of.
  • Leaders nurture the life-spirit that sustains individuals and relationships.  This begins with the leader ensuring that his or her life-spirit is being nurtured and sustained. 
  • Leaders serve first.  As a direct result of their serving the highest priority needs of those who follow, people grow and potential is actualized. 
  • Leaders understand the power of metaphor and ensure that the metaphors integrated in the organization are more life-affirming and life-giving than life-depleting. 
  • Leaders champion both change and transformation.
  • Leaders make space for ‘visionaries’ to emerge.  Then they welcome them and honor their voices.  Visionaries bring with them ambiguity and risk and are not easily tolerated, much less embraced, by those who are focused on the day-to-day operations.  Visionaries are frequently seen as ‘bringers of chaos and anxiety’ because they ask a lot of questions.
  • Leaders inquire more than they direct; they believe that those who follow are ‘full of wisdom’ and that the leader’s charge is to call that wisdom forth.
  • Leaders know that ‘character counts.’  They are aware of their own internal paradoxes – their virtues and their vices, their light and their darkness and they are accepting of themselves and of others as living paradoxes.
  • Leaders are vulner-able.  That is, they not only take risks and are ‘transparent’ they, more importantly, ‘carry the wound gracefully’ [Vulnerable comes from the Latin ‘vulnus’ which means ‘to carry the wound gracefully’]

Lack of vigilance inadvertently opens the door of betrayal.  As with most things, all of this begins with the leader and those who follow know this to be true.  If the leader is vigilant most of those who follow will also be vigilant.  Whether they like it or not, leaders are role-models AND what they model directly impacts the behavior of those who follow. 

Stab the body and it heals, but injure the heart and it lasts a life-time. –Mineko Iwasaki

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COMPASSION, PART II. . .

When you really look at something it becomes part of you. –John O’Donohue

Good day Gentle Reader.  I concluded PART I with this sentence: In calling us, Jesus knows what he is asking of us.

Jesus always knows what he is asking of us!  Consider that at the heart of his teachings, at the heart of Jesus, resides the tap root of Compassion.  Compassion is the one virtue that most exemplifies his life.

When Jesus urged his followers to be compassionate, he knew what he was asking.  As Jesus walked about the land his being fully present and his awareness of the others’ suffering became evident.  Jesus gave freely of his love for each person, he gave unconditionally (mostly) of his time, energy and compassion – he sought to relieve the suffering, the pain of body, mind, and spirit.  Did I mention that he gave unconditionally?  I pause, finger resting just above the keyboard…  How often do I give my time, energy and compassion unconditionally? 

Jesus was also a challenger.  For example, he challenged those whose policies, regulations, and behavior contributed to (and at times directly caused) suffering.  Paradoxically (or is it ironically) as Jesus’ voice for justice gained strength, so did the voices of those who wanted him destroyed.  Even though Jesus knew the price to be paid for being committed to compassion he did not waver.  Pause… How often do I waver because I believe the price to be too high?

The great spiritual guide, Henri Nouwen, recognized this challenge: The Gospel call to be compassionate is one that goes right against the grain, that turns us completely around and requires a total conversion of heart and mind.  It is indeed a radical call, a call that goes to the roots of our lives. 

Compassion requires discipline, practice, attitude and commitment.  It requires us to be in touch with how we think, feel and respond to the suffering residing in ourselves and others, and how we interact with the complex differences that trouble our world. 

Being a ‘living Christ’ compels us to embody compassion as he did, to strive to ease suffering – our own and others – to invite and welcome the marginalized, to provide aid to those who are most vulnerable and to toil for justice in a global community. 

Consider that one of the great, if not the greatest, challenges of living into and out of compassion is recognizing the dignity and worth of each person – no matter his or her race, gender, culture, creed, political stance, or personal behavior.  The light of the Spirit resides in each of us – no matter how hidden that light might be. 

In our Society, in our Global Community, it often seems as if cruelty is more extensive than kindness. 

Broken, wounded, violent, damaged, divisive, dehumanizing – these are some descriptions given to our current societal and global situation.  Our Society and our Global Community needs this virtue called Compassion.  By our choice as to be more or less compassionate we, each of us, increases or decreases the amount of suffering in our Society and in our Global Community. 

I leave us with the words of South African archbishop Desmond Tutu:  We are fundamentally good.  When you come to think of it, that’s who we are at our core. . .  What difference does goodness make?  Goodness changes everything. . .  Goodness changes how we see the world, the way we see others, and most importantly, the way we see ourselves.  The way we see ourselves matters.  It affects how we treat people.  It affects the quality of life for each and all of us.  What is the quality of life on our planet?  It is nothing more than the sum total of our daily interactions.  Each kindness enhances the quality of life.  Each cruelty diminishes it.

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

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