I opened a fortune cookie that had the message “There is no rose without a thorn.” Initially, I took this to mean that with every thing of beauty, there is also pain and/or suffering but the message might be deeper than a simple contrast between “good” and “bad”. Read More
Well, it’s happened again. Another school shooting. The reactions are standard boilerplate at this point. Devastation of the affected families, students and communities followed by the calls for prayer and support and lastly, the finger-pointing and political maneuvering. You name the faction, I could probably tell you, word for word, what their response will be. I could also tell you the end result: absolutely nothing. If we really want to prevent these kinds of events from happening in the future, perhaps we could approach the problem in a different way.
Filled with dread, I made my way to the local cable office. My sense of foreboding came from knowing exactly what I’d find there: technological malfunction, disgruntled customers, and apathetic customer service representatives. Upon my arrival, I was not disappointed. Read More
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Boston, united and courageous Bostonians declared the terrorists will not win. I applaud and support this defiant stance. Terrorism must not be allowed to achieve it’s goals but, to ensure it’s defeat, we must know exactly what those goals are and how we might counteract them.
The ultimate target of terrorism is the mind. Terrorism is a dark dialog spoken in the language of pain and suffering to convey the message of fear. This feeling of fear for our very survival brings with it fear’s close companions: hatred, confusion, hopelessness, vengeance and blood-lust. It is an attempt to disfigure the soul by committing acts against the body.
Throughout the history of the world, fear and grief have been used as tools to control and manipulate the heart of mankind. It works because it plays on our natural survival instinct. It’s natural to fear for our lives and grieve for our lost loved ones. It’s natural to want to strike out against that which as made us fearful and threatens our survival. This is exactly what the terrorist wants us to feel.
We are also quick to call the terrorist a monster or some other inhuman distinction. This too, is a goal of the terrorist. Calling someone a monster makes them different from being a person. It makes them an instrument of evil with no redeeming value and separates them from our shared human spirit. Seeing another person in this way helps us make sense of their actions as simply an evil monster doing evil things. This also elevates the terrorist by transforming him or her from a mere person making choices, like the rest of us, to a mythical creature of pure evil. Dehumanization is a reward to the terrorist and sends a message that a simple choice can elevate a person to god-like or devil-like status. It plays into the “beyond human” persona that the terrorist has of himself.
All of these effects seem to be natural and unavoidable outcomes to horrific acts but are they? Must we submit ourselves to the prison of fear and hatred that the terrorist wish to create for us? The answer is a resounding, resolute and defiant NO.
Make no mistake, the perpetrators of these acts must be pursued and prosecuted but this alone will not signify victory over the goals and objectives terrorism. We must refuse to give over our freedom to dictates of our fears. We must not allow our capacity of love to diminish while stoking the fires of hatred and retribution. We must resist the urge to classify the terrorist as anything more or less than human. We must defiantly proclaim the truth that there is no force on earth capable of extinguishing our spirit, corrupting our souls or limiting our love and enjoyment of life.
“America is the greatest country in the world.”
I’m hearing this phrase more and more these days. So much so, I’d even go as far to say that it’s now a political talking point. It’s no longer good enough that I love my country, I must now proclaim that it is the greatest among all others. I don’t think love and greatness are necessarily linked. I love burritos but I still wouldn’t say that it’s the world’s greatest food. Even when the “greatest” designation can be substantiated with statistical facts, we are still unable to reach consensus. You would think that the person that hit the most homeruns would be considered the greatest homerun hitter but we know it’s not that simple.
The “greatest” designation carries with it a pretty strict definition. When something is declared the “greatest”, it means that all others are lesser. It also means that if you don’t agree that we are the greatest, you are either ignorant or lying. So, what does it mean to be the greatest, anyway? If we declare that the entire country is the greatest, does that also mean that its citizens are greater than the citizens of all other countries? Deserving of more consideration? More resources? Grading the worth of a person based on where they are born creates separation and justifies discrimination. Is it possible to work for the betterment of all humanity when we regard ourselves and our interests as more important than all others? Am I making a big deal about this simple declaration? Perhaps, but I feel that it’s important to know what our words mean and the underlying feelings they generate.
I love America. My country was created based on the strong principles of freedom and equality that we boldly strive to live up to every day. I feel that America represents not only a place but a journey to toward a greater realization of these principles. Our foundation is the idea that ALL men are created equal not just all Americans. Of all American ideals, I hold this one most sacred. This is a belief in the oneness and value of all people regardless of any condition including place of birth. What makes America great is that it embraces the idea that no person is greater than any another.
I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be judged. I don’t want to be pre-judged, post-judged or anything in between. Conversely, I do seem to seek approval of others and that would mean that judgment of some kind needs to take place. In looking deeper into this paradox, I have to admit that I actually do want to be judged in all the ways I claimed that I did not. The thing is that I want to control the judgment. I want to be judged as attractive, friendly, honest, strong, wise and to have many of the other qualities that I have striven to exemplify. I feel that if I’m seen this way, I’m doing a good job as a person because these are qualities that everyone strives for. I found that I worked very hard to appear to be this “flawless” person at the expense of being a “real” person. I would hide or ignore my “undesirable” traits and chide myself for having them. The problem with that approach is that I always felt as if I had a darkness in me that would always be there and always deny me peace. Lazy, fearful, hateful, selfish… If someone saw one of these traits, I would proclaim “Don’t judge me!” with a passion driven from the horror of being seen as the opposite of who I was trying be. Seeing the part of me that I hated. An interesting side effect of this way of thinking was that I was VERY quick to condemn people whom I judged to have these “negative” traits.
I’ve come to realize that I am the sum of my parts and that sum is good. Through my laziness, I learned to appreciate the results of hard work and a job well done. Through my fear, I learned there was nothing to be afraid of. Through my hate, I found the value and limitlessness of love. Through my selfishness, I learned the joy of giving. I could go on and on but my point is that every single experience that I’ve had, good or bad, has made me what I am today. I found that the practice of loving 100% of myself has brought peace and joy to my life. I still have bouts of judgment but my rule for myself and all people now is to love first, judge second.
Alysse is my step-daughter. In recent years, I have started to choke on the word “step”. To me, its a word that separates a person from the “normal” family situation. If I say someone is my daughter, that comes with certain expectations of love, loyalty and support. Now, when I say that a person is my step-daughter, those expectations are somewhat diminished. It’s understood that I won’t love her quite as much as my biological children. It’s also expected that she shouldn’t love me as much as her biological dad. There will always be a line of love and devotion there that, everyone seems to agree, will never be crossed. At the very least, difficult to cross. I have to admit that personally, it was very hard to let anyone into my heart as much as my biological children. I felt that, if I loved anyone as much as them, I would be betraying them somehow. So, I kept my distance. Alysse, on the other hand, didn’t have these hang ups. She was around 7 years old when her mom and I got married and, like many children, had no barriers to the free flow of love. She accepted me into her heart quickly and also accepted the clunkiness that was my balancing act of carefully measured love that I was trying to give. I knew she was allowing herself to love more than I was but I just wrote that off to the ignorance of children. She just didn’t know that she SHOULD love me less.
Over the years, I have learned that there is no official rule book that defines how much you can or should love someone. Parents get this much. Children get that much. Love is infinite and is therefore immeasurable. The ONLY limitation to the amount of love we share exists in our own minds. To test this theory, I simply started to let myself love. Love by choice, not by the random circumstance of relationship. On the contrary, I can love people I haven’t even met. I can love who I want, as much as I want. Interestingly, the side effect is the experience of more love in my life.
The uncommon love of a young lady that I now simply refer to as my daughter helped me to realize that. Thank you, Alysse. I love you, too.
Human beings are animals. As such, there are certain traits that we have by nature that we must follow. When we look at other animals in nature, we observe that they are ruled by instinct. They must eat, mate, seek safety, and, above all, survive. No matter what the animal is, this seems to be the prime directive. For many animals, battle and conflict is an important part of achieving these objectives. Males often battle with other males of the species to gain the right to mate. This battle also serves the group as a whole because it ensures future generations will derive from only the strongest stock.
As human beings, we too need to eat, mate, seek safety and survive. We also have instincts that drive us to do these things but does that mean that conflict and fear are simply natural instincts needed for the betterment of the group as a whole? If this is the case, is the human race destined to fight war after war without end? Are we doomed to an eternity of fear, hatred and separation with only fleeting glimpses of joy and a limited experience of love? Yes, perhaps, if all we are is the animal but we are so much more.
What we have that is unique in the animal kingdom is the ability to make meaning and to choose what we do based on that meaning. Yes, we are driven to survive but we have the power to choose what survival means. For example, we must eat to survive but , if I decide to fast for a few days, I can choose not to eat. Not eating goes against all of my primary, animal instincts and yet, for whatever reason I choose, I can go against those instincts and take a different path. No other animal on the planet has a power quite like this. Sure, in our humble beginnings we were much closer to our animal selves, just doing what we could to survive. But, as time passed and we started to obtain a greater sense of nature and of ourselves, choice and meaning started to override our simple animal instincts.
It is a common argument that man will always be just the way he is today: warlike, selfish, fearful and self-loathing. That’s why we still have all the problems we experience around the world today like poverty, slavery and war, just to name a few. Some say that it is simply our nature to be exactly how we are today but I don’t believe that’s true. I think all our past suffering has shown us the way to end all suffering. Through choice. Through love.
Each passing moment brings with it an opportunity to make a new choice. We are not bound by our instincts. We are not bound by our past. We are not bound by our future. Each moment, the slate is wiped clean and you are beckoned to fill it with new visions of joy and love. How much can we have? All that we choose to have.