Sunday, January 25, 2015

1/26/15—Judging Yourself and Others

Tonight's post is an oldie, but a goodie. It about this thing I hear people say all the time, though fortunately not to me. But they say it about others. I even used to say it myself. But now when I hear people say it, I kinda cringe. It goes something like this:

"If she's so spiritual/religious/Christian, then how come she _____?"

The reason I cringe is because when we call out people for their own hypocrisy, we're being hypocrites. Especially when it comes to calling others out for their levels of morality, judgment, belief, loyalty or faith. 

I have yet to meet the perfect person. I have yet to meet anyone without a shadow, secret shame, unwise habit or otherwise unhealthy behavior hiding in the closet. And the degree to which we judge others for these things is equivalent to the degree to which we're in denial about our own behaviors...the degree to which we are being a hypocrite. It stings, but it's true. And this goes for pretty much everything, not just for someone's spirituality. 

Of course there have been many times in my life where I've gotten small lessons in this, but my first big lesson in it came when I quit smoking cigarettes. I had known on some level for years that I was addicted to nicotine, but I didn't understand that my need to introduce the drug into my system every 15-30 minutes was the same as "getting a fix". And that the desperate cravings I had and the depths to which I would go to relieve them (like smoking butts) on unsuccessful quit attempts made me a "junkie." 

In my journey with quitting, I learned that an addict is an addict and the thing you're addicted to is just a detail. So a lot of the judgments I had about drug addicts, alcoholics, compulsive people, gamblers and others who exhibited addictive and compulsive behavior subsided. And when it comes bubbling up again, I just have to look at the number on my bathroom scale to put myself right. 

There are a lot of ways to express addictive and compulsive behavior, from being a neat freak who just can't bear to see something out of place to being me who just can't bear to see any chocolate left in the wrapper. We both have the same urges pulling us to get our fix. And you can argue that the neat freak is healthier and therefore better than the overeater, but you'd be wrong. They've both got issues that cause stress inside their bodies and cause concern with others in their lives. A junkie is a junkie. It's like saying the murderer is better than the pedophile because the murderer doesn't harm children. The fact is, you don't want either of them living next door to you. And if you had to make a choice between the two, you'd probably move. 

This whole thing about "if she's so spiritual..." subsided when I realized that, no matter how spiritual I was, I wasn't perfect. I made mistakes. My behavior didn't always align with my beliefs. And my beliefs didn't necessarily drive all my behaviors. When I realized I was a human on an imperfect journey, working on things in one room, while ignoring things in another room, it occurred to me that others may be doing the same thing. When I realized that I couldn't always keep the 10,000 balls up in the air that I need to keep up in the air in order to be perfectly pious and servile to my higher power, I started giving others a break. And when I saw how, after I grew, I could look back and see how silly or misguided my previous ways were, I just let other be. 

There's a certain snobbery that people have over religion and spirituality. We'll say we respect other religions while we mock their gods and criticize their "stupid" beliefs. We'll question "how Christian" another person is being while we, ourselves, are refusing to let another car into traffic on the highway. We'll expect our odd little corner of belief to be respected while we criticize anyone who doesn't believe the same way we do. 

But the thing is, if we believe in being kind to others...if we believe in building community...if we believe in lifting ourselves up higher and leaving this earth a better person, then every time we make a judgment against another person, we're being a hypocrite. Because judgment is not kind, inclusive or high minded. And most of the time we're judging, we're guilty of the same or very similar sins. I know this because I find myself judging others. And then I find myself turning within and seeing that the same thing I claim to hate in others is also true about me. 

I think a lot of times when we judge or criticize others, we feel a little superior afterward. If we're honest with ourselves, we do. Because we may have a lot of issues, but we don't have THEIR issues. But as people raise their consciousness higher and as they understand more about what drives them, when they hear you criticize other people, all they hear is your own denial and hypocrisy. They don't even have to know you to know it's true. It's that universal a kind of thing. Because when we've truly recognized and healed something within us that's broken, we have compassion and understanding for those who haven't yet made that journey. Not judgment. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

1/19/15—Seeing Through the Eyes of Others

I bookmarked a conversation I had online way back in early December and am only now getting around to writing about it. It all started with something a friend of mine had read on Humans of New York.

For reference, I'll put what the gentleman who was interviewed said here:

"I always remember my mom having this hardness to her. Even if you were at the other end of the house, you could feel her presence. Not like a monster, but kinda. She needed everything to be just a certain way. She'd arrange the towels perfectly and didn't want anyone mess them up. She'd keep these detailed notes on money and daily activities and even her bowel movements. It was a diary of her anxieties. She always needed everything to be just a certain way, and she always had such a hard tone to her voice. But I loved her. I remember walking into her room shortly before she died. She was curled up in bed because she had very bad scoliosis, and she looked so small and vulnerable. And next to her on the nightstand was a picture of her as a little girl, standing with her own mother. And it made me sad, because I knew that little girl had never wanted to grow up to be a ball of anxiety." 

My friend who posted this posed a really interesting question—"how do we get to be who we are? Is there a way back to that little girl we once were before "things happened" that turned us into someone else, someone we don't want to be?"

So after marinating on this for a month and a half, I've kinda concluded, for me, this is what our spiritual journeys are about...finding some essence of who we were before humanness rained down on us. And there's a second part to all of this that has to do with forgiveness, so read all the way to the end. :)

Back when I was a kid, I was a troublemaker in school. I was bossy and argumentative, stubborn and just generally a pain in the ass. I remember there was this boy I had a crush on, so I'd knock him upside the head when I'd pass his desk in second grade. That got me kicked out of that class. Then in 4th grade, I was supposed to skip a grade, but because of my emotional immaturity, I didn't skip. Then in 6th grade, I had to spend the entire year sitting behind a closet (I could see the board and all) because I was too disruptive to the other students. That was the end of me getting in big trouble in school, but it wasn't the end of me being an asshole. The ironic thing is that, while I got attention, I didn't get the positive kind of attention I wanted. And my self esteemed flagged as a result. 

Lord only knows what teachers thought about the way I was being raised. It's the kids with the bad childhoods that make all the trouble, right? But the thing is, I had a pretty decent childhood. I was just a kid who craved more attention. Both of my parents worked, I was the youngest of six kids and my demand for attention didn't meet the available supply. Not knowing how to get more, I acted out. Somewhere there was a turning point, because with low self esteem and a bad attitude, it could have gotten so much worse. I don't know for certain when that turning point came, but at some point I veered back on to the higher road. 

What I didn't realize at the time was that, for someone interested in bettering themselves and serving God and society at a higher level, this attention issue was to become part of my life's work, spiritually speaking. Back then, it manifested at tantrum level. Over the years, this need for the ego to be noticed and recognized has mellowed into things like writing long, meandering blog posts about myself. :D I have consciously worked on and let go of many "bad" behaviors around this whole attention thing. I try harder to give others their turn. In some cases, I've managed to channel the energy into something that actually helps others (like the stuff I write about). And some of the behaviors I'm still working on. 

So, to answer my friend's question, I do think there's a way back. Her question went down some different rabbit holes about being raised by someone like the man above's mother and being raised by a mother like my other words, an effed up upbringing vs. a relatively normal one. But it's worth considering that it doesn't really matter. For better or for worse, we get the upbringing that gives us our assignment/s. And the difference between Oprah and Hitler—two people with difficult upbringings who grew up to be powerful thought leaders—is whether you work on that assignment or whether you let it work on you. 

The second part of the discussion with my friend was about forgiveness and compassion. Many times when we have parents or others in our lives who are so broken by their humanness, we put distance between ourselves and them. In fact, we do this with all sorts of unsavory people, not just relatives or close friends. We do it with co-workers and homeless people and people we see on TV who have committed crimes. In fact, there doesn't even have to be a serious issue with someone. All they have to do is disagree with us on something important to us, like politics, and that's it. They're gone. 

We justify this to ourselves as doing what's healthy for us. But is it really? Or is it healthier to learn to open our hearts to these people—to see the little girl who was doing fine until humanness hit her square in the face—and feel compassion and love for them anyway? Isn't that really the healthiest, most evolutionary choice for both us and them? 

While I might not always practice it perfectly, learning how to look at the person beneath the person is something I learned about many years ago on Oprah. When you encounter someone who is different from you or who has done you harm, realize that they didn't grow up with the dream of being reviled by others. That happened somewhere along the line when life happened. And life has happened to all of us. 

Moreover, for the people who are just different from you, realize that they have the same dreams for themselves and their families as you do. Those families in Africa that live in cardboard huts...they have the same kinds of hopes and dreams for their lives and family as you do. If that child turns out to be a thief, that wasn't part of the dream. Everyone, from terrorists to saints, just want their children to be safe and happy and their lives to be as fulfilling as possible. Yeah, even terrorists. 

Which is not to say that I'm defending terrorism. There is no defending that. And some of them may have debilitating mental issues that take them out of the "everyone wants to be safe and happy" mold. But I'm just saying that compassion and forgiveness can be given to anyone, albeit it might take a master class to give it to a terrorist. Because it's not what THEY do that matters in your spiritual practice of compassion and forgiveness. It's only what YOU do and how much you can open YOUR heart. 

Remember Antoinette Tuff, the woman who talked a school shooter into giving himself up? Her ability to do that saved her own life and the lives of countless children. It's rare to find someone capable of seeing the pain in another—especially when that other person is holding an AK-47 to your face—and focusing on that pain instead of the terror that pain wanted to cause. But she did it. And she did it because she understood that, on the way to whatever dream our parents had for their family and the dream we had for ourselves, some people get woefully lost on the trail. She had the humility to look at her own difficulties and see through his eyes and see that what separates her from him was just a few choices that could have gone the other way. 

So there's a lot to think about here. Self improvement. Spiritual purpose. Forgiveness. Compassion. And even self-forgivess and acceptance. We were all once innocent babies with simple, water, shelter, love. Then life happened and all hell broke loose. The difference between you and someone in prison or their own self-sustained misery is actually a matter of a small choice here or there to hold yourself to a higher standard...a choice each of us is handed multiple times daily in life and we usually choose not to take. So perhaps you've taken enough of those opportunities to get by, but you let a lot pass you by. Even you aren't your best all the time. The rest of the world is no different. It's all just a matter of degrees. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

1/12/15—Doing The Math on God

So I've been doing some math about God. And I think I can prove that at least some of the stuff YOU believe about God is wrong. Mathematically. Scientifically.

First, consider that everyone has an idea of who and what God is.  This includes everyone of every religion and even atheists. Everyone has an idea of what God is and almost all of them are certain they're right. A lot of people say their mind is open, but really only a few of them truly are. Most people have their beliefs and hold great confidence in their beliefs.

Second, consider that there are nearly as many different unique beliefs about who and what God is as there humans. I say this because it's rare for two individuals to agree, line for line, 100% about any belief. There are those who mostly agree, but very few who precisely agree.

So if we can agree that there are nearly 8 billion (it's really 7.3 billion, but 8 is a good, round number for math) ideas of what God is in this world and nearly all the 8 billion idea holders are confident they're right, then there are only four possibilities:

• Everyone is right
• Everyone is wrong
• Some random dude somewhere has all the answers and there's a 7.999 billion chance in 8 billion that it's NOT you
• Nobody REALLY knows what's going on for sure

Sure, there's also the possibility that roughly 25% of those have it mostly right. Those would be either Christians or Islamics. Those are the two largest religions, Christianity with just over 2 billion believers and Islam with just under 2 billion. BTW, atheists/agnostics are the #3 "religion" with just over a billion believers. And we all know that all non-Christians think Jesus is misrepresented as the savior and all non-Islamics think Mohammed is misrepresented as god's prophet and all non-atheists think atheists are wrong.

But when you see all the big numbers of people who believe in one direction or another, and when you consider all the different sects of Christianity alone, either the vast majority of humans have it wrong while a select few are the anointed who have it right (and, again, everyone is certain that's them) or the chances of you truly knowing the truth about what God is are so slim as to be nonexistent. I'm going to err on the side of "the vast majority of the earth agrees you're wrong, no matter what you believe." Pretty much everyone thinks you're wrong, no matter how deeply you feel it and KNOW it all the way to your tippy toes. Because, guess what? That's how we all feel about our beliefs.

So the math either establishes that everyone is somehow right or everyone is somehow wrong (except possibly that one guy that's not you.) And because there currently exists no way to prove that everyone's right or everyone's wrong, the only reasonable option left is that nobody really knows what's going for sure (except possibly that one guy that's not you.) We all THINK we know what's going on, but the truth is that we've all found an answer that feels right to our soul and we've called it the truth. But it's really just the result of feeling around in the dark and finding an answer that makes sense to us as an individual and it has nothing to do with the actual truth. It's OUR truth, not THE truth.

So it only follows that you're not in a position to tell someone what they believe is wrong or stupid or doesn't make sense or any such thing. Sure, you're free to say whatever you want, but it will only reveal your ignorance. Because you have no way of possibly knowing what's true. So why not just let everyone have their own truth? Why is that so hard? You know how important your truth is to you. What inside you finds it so important to take someone else's truth from them? Are you the only one who's allowed to hold a string of unprovable and often inconsistent beliefs sacred?

One of the things I've noticed from looking at religions from the outside is that so many religions have so much in common. Take for example the offense Muslims take if you draw unflattering cartoons about Mohammed. They should just roll their eyes and walk on, right? I mean, it's such a random thing for a sacred holy figure to insist upon. Unless you're Judeo-Christian, of course. Because the Ten Commandments state that it's a horrible sin to make graven images of God or to take his name in vain. Put those two together and it's pretty much the same thing as drawing unflattering cartoons, no? So Jews and Christians would be hypocrites to mock a belief like that, right? And at least half the world's population believes it's wrong to create an image of God or use his name in a blasphemous way.

This isn't to say it's right to kill someone for doing it. But everyday Muslims don't think it's ok to kill. It's the Muslim fringe. Just like the Westboro Baptist Church doesn't represent all of Christianity, neither do terrorists represent all followers of Mohammed. What doesn't make sense to me is the vigor with which some people want to demean what others hold sacred. It's not like the person criticizing the god has some special insight into what God REALLY is. I mean, refer back to the mathematical proof. None of us really knows.

This blog post isn't just about the situation in France, though. This kind of ignorance goes on in most peoples' minds every single day. Some fringe people are willing to kill over it, and you'll find them in every religion (though you don't really see a lot Buddhists perpetrating hate crimes). But most people just think snarky shit and generally think to themselves that they have superior knowledge because it came from prayer or a smart pastor or a channeling session or a lack of evidence or they "just know". This blog post is really about them, and no offense, but it's likely you're included in that group.

You don't have superior knowledge about God. Neither do I. In fact, we have no idea what we know and what we don't. So we have no idea what others know and what they don't. So I suggest we just leave people the fuck alone. Getting worked up over others' beliefs is a first-world problem and, frankly, it's ego-based, controlling and insecure. It also means you have nothing more important—like survival—to occupy your mind with. I doubt people who are starving to death give a crap about what others think of god.

Truth is, if aliens attacked tomorrow, you wouldn't give a crap about what someone calls their god either. In fact, you'd probably be applauding terrorists for forming the front lines on the war against the aliens. It's all about perspective. And if you really feel a need to control what others hold sacred inside their heads, then you're lacking perspective. Before you judge the beliefs of another, make sure your own beliefs are unquestionable themselves. Again, I refer you back to the math.

The problems in this world don't exist because one side is right and some other side is wrong. They exist because our egos need to make one side right and another side wrong. Your own ego is the problem, not other people. Because if you weren't so busy being certain they were wrong, you'd realize that we're all here trying to figure it out for ourselves and nobody really has the answers. And if you don't have the answers, then why are you fighting so hard to hold a stance you don't even occupy? And this goes for every opinion, not just religious beliefs. In the scheme of things, it matters less what others believe and more that we learn to understand, respect and love others no matter what they believe.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

1/5/15—Adjusting to Growth

There are a lot things nobody tells you when you're on the spiritual path. You just have to learn them for yourself. Tonight's post is an oldie (but a goodie) about one of those things.

One of my many book ideas, and the one closest to be submitted to a publisher, is called "10 Things The Spiritual Gurus Never Tell You". One of those things is that, for those who are really pushing themselves to grow, it can be a lonely and painful process. 

If you're like me, when you first started exploring your spiritual beliefs or personal growth, you were like a doe-eyed kid, thinking you'd be walking a rainbow path filled with unicorns to a place where happiness is more abundant than sunlight. I've been actively pursuing and observing the spiritual and personal paths of growth most of my life now and I can confidently say nobody's happy all the time. I think you become more in balance. You learn to surround yourself with things that fuel you and lift you higher. But no matter how much you stack the deck in your favor, life happens. Things suck. Balance is lost. 

Balance is lost, in fact, every time you grow. And you're always growing. You move from one level to the next and you have to find a new balance in the new place. 

For the most part, growth is slow and steady. It's manageable. But there are times you might find yourself taking a quantum leap. Let's take complaining as an example. Say the friends you're with right now get together every Friday for drinks and to complain about issues at work and in your life. And let's say this is no longer OK with you. Maybe you tell people you want to focus on more positive things, but they say they're not being negative...they're just shooting off some steam. So you no longer look forward to your Friday night drinks. And one day you don't go. And you decide not to go again. And since the reason everyone gets together on Fridays is because everyone is so busy otherwise, it's not easy to get together with people individually. So you don't see these people that much anymore. And you miss the camaraderie. And you figure they're probably griping about YOU now. 

On the one hand, you're feeling the benefits of not having all that negative energy in your life anymore. You're feeling lighter...more "at one" with the universe. You're feeling better about who you are. But you're not part of "the gang" anymore. And meeting a new gang is going slowly. And you feel lonely, even depressed.

One of the things nobody ever tells you is that, if you're really consciously trying to improve yourself, you'll lose a lot of friends. And meet new ones, yes. But in between, it's lonely. And when you draw a line in the sand in your life that says "no more complaining" or whatever, it's hard. Because the part of you that liked to get that stuff off your chest still wants it. You want that part to fade away, though, because it makes you feel bad about your life. And it will fade away. But in between, it's hard. And the whole tamale can be painful as you move from one place to another and try to find your footing. 

You know you've done the right thing and LIKE you've done the right thing, but it doesn't always feel good. You miss the comfort and familiarity of the old way and you went and leaped into a new way that isn't quite comfortable yet. Isn't quite familiar. You're like a man without a country for a while until you make this new thing your home. And it will be your home. And you will never look back in regret. But where are the rainbows? Where are the unicorns? 

I think if we knew how hard and lonely it can be, we might never push ourselves to grow. Maybe that's why this is something we have to learn for ourselves. Certainly it would be easier in many ways to just quietly conform to the conditions around us...not ruffle any feathers. I mean, some people just never seem to change much and they're good with that. But we're not really that type, are we?

I'm not sure there's a moral to today's entry. Just something they never tell you that you have to learn for yourself. If you're feeling left out and a little lost because you've outgrown friends or situations, it's normal. The same kind of situation happens when maybe you quit drinking. Or you get divorced. With everything gained along the spiritual and/or personal path of growth, something is lost...a piece of who you were is left behind. Trying to stay that person, though, is more painful than the temporary pain of change for people who have committed their lives to a path of growth. So it can hurt. And be sad. But the place you've just moved into is a place of greater freedom and firmer balance than the place before. It's just an adjustment before the benefits roll and everything else becomes a distant memory.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

12/29/14—Holding Yourself to a Higher Standard

Apparently, Ghandi never said "be the change you want to see in the
world." He said this instead. 
Last Sunday I did my annual moon ceremony and set intentions for the coming year. But ever since then, there has been a phrase interrupting my thoughts. In fact, I think this phrase could be considered a "master resolution", one we could all choose for the coming year and one that, if everyone chose it, could really change the world. So I thought I'd share it with you. 

But first, a little about New Year's resolutions and ceremonies and whatnot. I'm pretty well known in a very small circle of people for doing THE BEST year-end ceremonies. I used to do them just for myself, but about 15 years ago, I started opening them up to others, either for a fee or just for fun. I'm kind of strict about having people focus on just one thing they want for the coming year. While I think you can achieve more than one thing in a year, I think something needs to become a central focus and mnemonic aid. With more than one thing, you're juggling your focus and may not even remember what you wanted by year's end. 

So last year my one thing was "motivation" and I wrote it on seed paper and planted the seed paper. Then as I watched the wildflowers grow from it (and they are, oddly, still alive on my back porch) it would be a reminder to keep motivated. Having this one thought in my mind helped me change my behaviors and I did have more motivation this past year. 

Despite my motivation, 2014 was kind of crappy for me (and I've heard many others say the same.) It began by being betrayed and bullied in a business deal by a colleague I truly thought I could trust. I didn't write about it here, but it was toxic enough that I consulted a lawyer...something I've never done before and hoped I'd never have to do. The big thing, though, was that the general exhaustion and lack of energy I'd been feeling for a couple of years got significantly worse. I chose the word "motivation" to try to keep me moving through what was a really difficult phase for me physically and emotionally. It was so bad that sometimes I couldn't even put dog food in the dogs' bowls without getting out of breath and exhausted. I'm overweight, but this was way beyond that. Some days I was just generally exhausted and other days I was completely unable to function. 

The good news is that I've recently turned a corner on all that, so "healing" is my word for the coming year...healing physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. I created a "mojo bag" to carry with me and remind me of my goal. I put some jingle bells in the bag and have already jingled it many times to remind me of my focus, kind of like snapping a rubber band on your wrist to break a habit. But ever since I decided on that word, I've been hearing something else in my head—"hold yourself to a higher standard."

As I've thought about this phrase over the past week, I see how brilliant it is. To a certain degree, I think all of us who do our yearly wishes or resolutions hope for some sort of outside influence to help us. So when I say "healing", I'm certainly thinking that I need to do and seek out healing things. But I'm also hoping that healing things will find me. And they will. But I can't hang my entire year's single resolution on the hope healing will wash over me. Nor could I if I'd wished for love or luck or joy or growth or anything else. 

"Hold yourself to a higher standard" reminds me to put the responsibility for healing squarely on my own shoulders. And it says that when it comes time to make choices—stick with a new doctor or keep looking, indulge depressing thoughts or encourage motivational thoughts, eat ice cream or a handful of almonds—that you hold yourself to a higher standard, whatever that means to you and your goal. It says that, this year, you're going to make choices that support not only your goal, but that also support your growth as a human being. 

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but it's not. Think back on your behaviors over the past year. How many times did you choose (and stick to) a higher standard vs. how many times did you choose to do what you've always done? Choosing a higher standard means doing something differently than you've ever done it before. It means looking for the next level of growth and making choices in alignment with that. It means stepping out of your comfort zone and even doing things that are "out of character" for you, but in a good way. 

Holding myself to a higher standard would have probably kept me from entering into the bad business partnership in the first place. (In retrospect, I admit I had clues, not so much to how sleazy these people were, but to how badly the arrangement would have worked out.) It also would have definitely had me changing doctors sooner, because my doctor didn't even try to look for the causes of my health issues. And I can see how I would have been even more motivated had I simply "held myself to a higher standard" last year. In other scenarios, holding yourself to a higher standard might include not dating the same "type" as you always do, learning new ways to redirect your thoughts from negative to positive, eliminating fried foods from your diet, focusing on what already makes you feel loved or happy, rather than hoping for other love or happiness to find you...whatever your resolution is. 

The bad news about holding yourself to higher standards is that it changes you...sometimes in ways that mean relationships change. Sometimes it can leave you feeling alone, because while you know you did the right thing for yourself, the right thing sometimes means going against popular opinion. But the good news is that it frees you from things you feel bad about and it helps you achieve new levels of personal growth. And also, new people eventually appear in your life that operate on that higher level. 

What I know from my own experience, doing the right thing is not always popular. This is why we get stuck in certain cycles. Let's just take gossiping as an example. If you feel bad about gossiping, but all your friends enjoy it, you have to participate to keep those friendships alive. If you say you don't want to talk that way about people, your friends will either feel judged or they'll form a pact with you to stop. If they feel judged, they might not invite you along as often. They might start gossiping about you. So often we get stuck in certain cycles in order to maintain the status quo. We get comfortable there. And staying seems better than the consequences of losing the companionship of friends you've had for a long time. So you end up stuck at a certain stage of development, rather than face any unpleasant consequences.  

The only way we grow and stretch and change as human beings is by holding ourselves to higher standards. And it can be so comfortable to just say "I'm a good person as I am, I'm in a good place" and leave it at that. But even Oprah has ways in which she doesn't hold herself to a higher standard. And I'll bet you know exactly what you need to work on in your own life. I'll bet you know exactly where you're letting your higher self down. Holding yourself to a higher standard is a practice that says you believe you deserve better for yourself and can give the people around you more of the "you" you came here to be. 

Frankly, I think everyone could use to hold themselves to higher standards. When I look around my Facebook feed, I see people who are good at heart do and say things that they don't even see are against the things they believe in...hateful words from "light workers", hypocritical opinions from people who want a better world, etc. We are all guilty of that stuff. And none of us want to believe we're hypocrites. But we all are in some way. If you look, you'll see where the things you say and do don't align with the person you believe yourself to be. And that's where you can hold yourself to a higher standard. 

As I said before, this is kind of a universal resolution that we all can—and should—take on in 2015. If you don't believe that's what we came here for, first, I can't believe you've read down this far...haha. And second, stop reading. The rest of us feel we came here to grow and become the best we can be. Some of us might have given up on that...maybe we're happy enough with where we are or maybe it just became too taxing doing it all the time. Some of us might have just forgotten or become distracted. And some of us didn't forget, but have just neglected it. 

That's all fine. We all do all of that. But now it's time to remember. Because we can sit around hoping the world can change, or we can change the world around us. Changing the world around us doesn't require anything from anyone but ourselves. Part of it comes from changing the way we perceive things and part of it comes from changing what we put out there so what is reflected back at us is more aligned with our goals. So let's make 2015 the year we go beyond resolutions to actively change the world around us into the world we want to live in. Who's with me?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

12/21/14—Becoming Global Citizens

I no longer live in the country I was born in.

Geographically nothing has changed. But geopolitically and geo-socially and geo-significantly, everything is different. I was born in a country so powerful and so far away from any threats that it was impossible to touch us. We had fears, yes. Missiles from Russia or Cuba. But most of my life you could walk down any street in America and feel confident you were safe from foreign attack.

The country I was born in was also undeniably THE center of the world, according to pretty much anyone you would ever meet. (Because you were likely to only meet other Americans or polite visitors.) And, besides, back then we were the strong, rich, noble and powerful child in the world’s family. Our leaders were respected, as were our politics, economy and freedom.

I don’t live in that country anymore. In fact, I don’t live in that world anymore. The world has become a much more dangerous place. My country has become more callous in response. And with opinions about my country—as well as circumstances in countries all over the world—as close as my nearest computer or TV screen, it’s clear that the world doesn’t revolve around us anymore. In fact, it never really did.

With each day, I become more and more a world citizen. We all do. It’s unavoidable. Our nationality is still a source of pride, regardless of where we’re from. But, for Americans especially, there is a “learning curve” of sorts that we’re navigating as we become less insular and more established in the global arena. Americans are stubborn, though. And spoiled. So it’s not going easily.

Case in point is this issue with the Seth Rogen movie, Sony and North Korea. In the US, we have freedom of speech. Freedom of speech doesn’t protect things like slander, verbal abuse or threats against people’s lives, however. For example, if a child wrote a detailed story about the planned killing of the principal of their school, that child would be expelled from the school and put on psychological watch. What a child might call “fiction” is thought of as a threat in this day of school violence that goes from fiction to reality very quickly. Same would apply if an adult sent Obama a video depicting how they would murder him. It wouldn’t be considered freedom of speech. It would be considered a threat to national security and that videographer would likely never been seen or heard of again.

In converse, consider North Korea. In their country, there is no freedom of speech. In fact, if you say anything negative about their leader, you’re likely to get killed. So we all know that whatever negativity is put in their face about their ways is considered an insult, a threat and a crime. And knowing that, most well-adjusted adults would be sensitive to it, regardless of whether North Korea is our friend or not. After all, we all have to live together on the same planet. Just as you wouldn't intentionally offend or make enemies of your neighbors, we also don't do that in the world. It's part of being civilized. 

In a global context, America’s freedoms mean nothing. You can’t go over to North Korea and insult the leader and expect him to honor your American freedom of speech. When you put something out on the global stage, that’s what you’re doing. It’s like going into a bar in Russia and mocking Putin’s man-boobs and pasty demeanor. They’re going to beat the shit out of you and calling out “freedom of speech” is only going to get you beaten harder. And nobody is going to come to your rescue, either.  And it’s not because Russians are barbarians. You can see something similar here in the US if you go into a bar in Boston and mock the Red Sox.

Freedom of speech is an American thing that is not necessarily valued in other countries.  And, even in this country, freedom of speech is not without consequence.

So when we put out a movie into the world that depicts the pre-meditated and violent murder of a world leader, it’s not odd that the leader in question would see it as a threat. If France put out a movie about the assassination of Obama, you can bet that the CIA would be all over their French asses before the final credits were able to roll. You can also be sure a number of other countries would stand behind the US and criticize the bad judgment of the French. Actually, like the Interview, we would have hacked into their systems long before the movie was released and dealt with it before it was even an issue. Because we’re squirrely that way. And we would then celebrate it as an American win. Because we're arrogant that way. 

So how come when the shoe is on the other foot, it becomes a freedom of speech issue? And the decision to not air the movie becomes “knuckling under to terrorists”? Nobody gives a crap about our freedom of speech in the global community. And besides, the one who makes the threat is the terrorist, not the one who responds to it.

It’s not like I don’t know who Kim Jong-Un is. He is the Supreme Leader of what some call a Socialist state and what others call a dictatorship. He runs his country in a very different way than the US is run. He’s not what would be considered a “warm and nurturing” leader. There are many countries out there that most Americans would not want to live in. North Korea is one of them. As global citizens, though, we need to respect the ways others live and lead. If we insult a leader and they hack into computers to obliterate the insult, we’re culpable and can’t go crying about our consequences. Both sides are wrong. But playground rules state that the one who started the fight is wronger. 

Speaking of playgrounds, remember the big kid on the playground who pushed others around and then when they pushed back, cried about it? That kid was called a bully. And then when he ran crying, he was called a pussy. We’re acting like bullies and pussies in this situation. Nobody likes a bully or a pussy. And we can’t afford to be the hated kid on the playground in today’s unstable world. We poked a dude that we know is kind of trigger happy when it comes to protecting his ego and now we’re saying “how dare he be offended?” “How dare he respond back just as aggressively?”

C’mon, people. Grow up. Really. One of the first lessons all of us learned in life is that we have to respect others. Another is that we have to learn to think of the consequences before we act (“well, you should have thought of that before you did it, missy!” Remember that?) We don’t get to do anything we want to do in a global community. The US is no longer the country you were born in. It was NEVER the center of the world. You just had the luxury of believing that was so. But times have changed.

We are more citizens of the world than ever. That comes with both benefits and consequences. In any community, there are certain social mores you follow. We simply no longer have the luxury of being the “rude Americans” the rest of the world has put up with for years. It was fine back when we didn’t have to interact with each other very often. But the world is changing and America has to change with it. We can’t live by our own rules alone. We have to respect the mores of the global community. And putting out a movie about the assassination of a sitting world leader is totally irresponsible redneck behavior unbecoming of the country we would like to be.

See, I was blessed to be born in what I think is the best country in the world. As I grew older, I began to see that we weren’t the only country in the world with a groovy thing going. But I also got to see how truly blessed I am, because there are places on earth that brutal to live in. The fact is, our relative safety and isolation as a “strong” country sandwiched between friendly borders, is the very thing leaving us way behind the curve when it comes to being global citizens. We have three large countries over here dominating both North America and the western half of the Northern Hemisphere, insulated from the all the rest of the world by two large oceans.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has had to learn to live within a massive string of different countries, customs, languages, etc. for all their lives. Not just for all their lives, but for centuries of border conflicts and strife that we have never had to deal with. Americans are WAY behind the curve when it comes to adjusting to a global community. And because we’re late to the game, we’re not in a position to tell others how it’s going to work. We are absolutely a bull in a china shop on the global stage and we need to check ourselves. And some humility wouldn’t hurt, either.

Nor would it hurt to apologize to North Korea for our buffoonery, rather than whine about terrorist threats, Sony. Because that’s what assholes do when they realize they’re being assholes and starting international incidents with their irresponsible behavior. We Americans get what you were doing. We understand the immaturity of American humor and our hillbilly ways. We know you weren't trying to insult anyone or put Americans at risk. But a line was crossed, nonetheless. A nation was offended. You don’t get to cry because you poked a rabid dog and it bit back. It’s not the rabid dog’s fault. It’s your bad judgment’s.

Nor do the rest of us Americans get to whine about Sony being hacked or Sony pulling the movie. We are the aggressors here! In the eyes of North Korea and, no doubt, many others, at best we’re being assholes and at worst, we threatened the life of a world leader—something considered an act of war. Our job right now is to use this as an opportunity to stop being so darned myopic and pull back and see some of the consequences of our behaviors. I’m sorry, but no stupid movie that we now know is seen as disrespectful and threatening is worth standing on principle for, especially when the principle is a lamely muttered “freedom of speech” in defense of irresponsible “speech” or a stubborn “we won’t bow down to terrorists” when we’re the ones that started the whole thing in the first place.

Freedom of speech isn’t free. It comes with responsibilities and consequences. Words have power. Bandy them about irresponsibly and aggressively, and you can expect consequences. But keep in mind that the US only gets so many byes in the eyes of the global community for any good works we’ve done. If you pay attention, you’ll see that the world is losing its patience with us and some of the ways we’ve been behaving over the past couple of decades has rubbed the gilding off our “good guy” reputation. I’m not willing to risk whatever respect our country has left—not to mention countless lives—for the honor of a sophomoric comedy (not to mention the crassness of its planned HOLIDAY release. For Christ's birthday, no less. Because this is how we honor such things.) 

We have a lot of growing up to do in this country. It’s time we get started on that.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12/15/14—Looking Below And To The Left Of Jupiter

Last night there was a meteor shower. And all the shooting stars reminded me of a powerful lesson.

I went outside around 1am, my StarWalk application in tow, and checked to make sure I knew where to look in the sky. StarWalk had the meteors shooting just to the left of Jupiter and a bit lower in the sky. This was a good thing and bad thing. The good thing is that my view is relatively clear in that region of the sky. The bad thing is that, while only a half moon, the moon was very bright last night and positioned beneath Jupiter when I was out there. Ideally, you want a darker sky. 

Anyway, I got myself all comfy and glanced casually out where I was supposed to look. I didn't want the shooting stars to think I was desperate or needy or anything. There were supposed to be as many as 50 per hour, so I thought it was going to be like shooting fish in a barrel. But after about 15 minutes, I saw nothing. 

So then I decided to stare squarely at a point in the eastern sky, unblinking, as long as I could. Still nothing. By now, about a half hour has passed. I tend to see stuff in the corner of my eye, so I think I might have seen something, but there was nothing conclusive. So then I figured that maybe the moon was just too bright and they were too close to where the moon was in my field of vision to be seen. So I laid back and looked at all the stars directly overhead. It was a beautiful sight. 

Within seconds of laying my head back, however, I saw the most spectacular shooting star make a long, lingering arch across the sky. No doubt about it. I saw one! But before I was done making my wish, I saw another! Then another!

Seems that all that time, I had been looking in the wrong part of the sky. I had limited myself to what I knew—or thought I knew—about the Geminids meteor shower and I invested fully in that knowledge. But that knowledge turned out to be fruitless. I didn't see a shooting star until I put aside what I knew and looked at the sky from another perspective. 

We see this all the time, don't we? We even do it ourselves. We're so sure of something—so invested in our perspective being right—that we see it as the only way. But looking at things from another perspective doesn't have to mean you're wrong. It just means you're broadening your view of something. And as long as you hold on tightly to what you "know", you may be cheating yourself out of something quite special. 

Just to apply it to a situation, there's a lot of talk about racism and police violence going on these days. Among the things people "know" are a) the details of every police interaction that resulted in the death of a black man that has happened recently, as if they had witnessed it themselves, b) how black men should respond appropriately when confronted by the police, c) whether or not racism exists, and d) whether or not white privilege exists. 

Some of the things I see when I look at these debates is that there is definitely a dialogue that needs to happen and voices that need to be heard on this topic. For a large part of my life, I have felt the tension...the elephant in the room that we don't really talk about. Everyone has been quiet so as not to stir up crap and upset whatever balance has existed since the late 60s and early 70s when discussion of race were topmost in peoples' minds. For the most part, we all got back to a comfortable place, but clearly, it wasn't that comfortable. Or balanced. Or we wouldn't be back to where we were in the early 70s. Or in the early 90s with Rodney King. What I see is that we have these discussions, we don't agree, we don't make much progress, then we all get quiet again. And both sides go back to the way they were before, neither side seeing their role in the continued tension. 

What I also see is a bunch of white people in various stages of "not understanding" why all this is happening. We say things like "when the police approach you, just say yes sir and no sir and be polite." Or we say, "there is no racism in this country. There is no white privilege." Or we insist there's not a trace of racism within us or anyone we care about. When we say these things, it's like we're looking directly below and to the left of Jupiter in an attempt to see the shooting stars. Because we're only seeing things from the perspective we know and the perspective we know is that of a white person. 

And that is why we never solve things. That is why every 20 years or so streets break out in riots and the country talks about racism and white privilege. Admittedly, I see way more people "getting it" these days. But it works both ways. For every white person looking below and to the left of Jupiter, there's a black person in this debate doing the exact same thing. Then there a whole bunch of people in the middle showing some understanding for what it's like to be a policeman and some for what it's like to be a black person in this country. 

IMO, we've come a long way in my lifetime in regard to this, but still have far to go. But that's my view as a white woman. I can't possibly speak for black people. No matter how hard I try to understand the perspective of a black person, I will always be lacking, because I've never had to live it. And, again, the reverse is also true. 

I didn't write all this to start a debate, though it might. I wrote it to illustrate how we tend to keep to a particular part of the sky when it comes to race relations, politics, squabbles with friends...pretty much everything in life. We invest in a perspective and ride it for a lifetime. Then we wonder why certain things never change. How can they if we're not willing to broaden our view?

The truest thing I know about life is that none of us holds the truth about anything. We hold just one piece of the truth, a piece viewed from our unique viewpoint. But staring at and knowing and being certain about your part of the cosmos doesn't mean you understand the cosmos. The next time you're sure of something, remember that the magic comes not from being certain, but from opening yourself up to a part of the sky you never thought to look at. That's where the streaks of new enlightenment can be found, arching their way across the sky.