Believing is Seeing


I’ve been thinking.  Why is it that on the one hand we are so terrified of change we’ll go to extreme lengths to avoid it, while on the other hand we are told – and tell ourselves – that real, sustainable change is impossible?

These are contradictory beliefs.

I believe all change – including change for the better – is totally possible.  But we have to want it and also really sincerely believe it can happen.

Have you ever misplaced a shoe at home?  You know it’s somewhere in the house.  Maybe the dog hid it under the sofa?  Maybe you accidentally kicked it under the bed.  Maybe one of the kids ran off with it.  But you know it’s there somewhere so you keep on looking until you find it.  You truly believe that all the frustration and searching is going to be worthwhile because it simply has to be in the house somewhere.

Social change is the same.  It is completely within our control, even if it doesn’t seem that way.

Traditions are man-made and not immutable, no matter what anybody tells us.  Traditions and practices can – and must – be changed if they are harming us.

Step one = we have to do whatever it takes to convince ourselves that this change is possible.

Try something.  The next time someone says to you – ‘Yeah, I know it’s terrible/wrong/unjust – but that’s just the way things are – you have to accept it.’  Instead of accepting this awful ‘truth’, try this for an answer –

‘No – if we all agree it’s wrong then we don’t have to accept it – we just need to change it.’

Love Your Enemy


We love our families.  

Our friends.

Our neighbours.

Our towns.

Our countries.

But our enemies?

We’ve heard it lots of times but somehow it still doesn’t seem like a good idea – or at least not in practice.

Why should they get our love as well as everything else they’ve taken from us?

I don’t know the answer to that but I wonder what happens to us if  we do manage to love our enemies?

Is it possible that we get something bigger and better than whatever it was that was taken from us in the first place?

I don’t know.

Maybe.

What do you think?

Not Just a Material Girl Part (1)


Two things can be true at the same time.

In order to create harmony within our societies we need to first create harmony within ourselves. How many internal and external struggles exist because we try to style ourselves as entirely one thing or another?

On the one hand we might see ourselves as totally rational beings, devoid of a ‘higher nature’ and motivated only by narrow self-interest – we’ve even given that story of ourselves a name – homo economicus.

On the other we might try the ascetic route and disappear into our non-material side to the extent that we deny – or at least don’t entertain – our physical/material selves.

Maybe it’s time we dropped the dichotomies?  Maybe it’s time we recognised them as the unhelpful and fragmenting conceptual constructs that they are and instead tried to see the whole picture in everything?

On an instinctive and intuitive level we know we are multi-dimensional beings – emotional, physical, mental, spiritual – we call our ‘dimensions’ by different names but we really do know our reality is much more than a simple physical, or even psychological, truth.

As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist points out,

Modern people are fundamentally materialistic…and the fact that we’re materialist in our scientific philosophy has made us extremely powerful, maybe too powerful for our morality but extremely powerful from a technological point of view. But it’s also blinded us to certain things and I think one of the things that it’s really blinded us to, is the nature of our own being.

Because we make the assumption that the fundamental constituent elements of reality are material we fail to notice that the fundamental constituent elements of our own reality are not material. They’re emotional, they’re motivational, they’re dreams, they’re visions they’re relationships with other people, they’re conscious, they’re dependant on consciousness and self-consciousness and we and we have absolutely no materialist explanation whatsoever either for consciousness or self-consciousness and we don’t deal well from a materialistic perspective with the qualities of being.

And everyone knows those qualities exist I mean for most people there’s nothing more real than their own pain. Pain transcends rational argument – you can’t argue yourself out of it, it’s just there. And materialist or not there are very few people who will allow the claim that their pain is merely an epiphenomenon of some more material process. Pain is fundamental. Consciousness is fundamental. (1)

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

Photograph – The photo of the Schie sisters at 71 – is part of a larger series, taken by photographer Barbro Fauske Steinde in 1989.
See the rest of the photo series of the Schie sisters on our web sitewww.arkivverket.no/webfelles/manedens/mars2009/hovedside….

(1) Jordan Petersen – Virtue as a Necessity

Let’s Dance


And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  – Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s easy to believe in war and injustice

in greed and corruption

in hatred and prejudice and violence.

It’s harder to believe in equity and justice and unity and peace.

But once upon a time…

Slavery was the norm – nobody thought it unreasonable that one human being own another.

Everybody believed women were inferior to men.

White people were genuinely thought to be superior to everyone else.

Appendicitis was usually a death sentence…

The thought of human beings flying was ludicrous and nobody had ever dreamed people all over the world could communicate almost instantaneously…

All change happens because at the very, very start someone believes it is possible.

We see what we believe so if we believe something is possible then we will search and search until we find the way to make it a reality – for better or worse.

So – while peace, love, understanding, equity, and justice might not be that easy to envisage, the first step in attaining any of those things is to believe they are attainable.  Strain your ears until you hear the music and then – dance…

________________________________________________________________

Learning to Live Together


Reciprocity – the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit – is widely recognised as an important feature of successful co-operation but how does reciprocity between ordinary people actually work?

Mary hits Joan.  Joan is angry so she hits Mary back – repaying her in kind.

An eye for an eye.

Tit for tat.

Revenge.

Justice.

Positive and negative, it’s a if there is a hidden balance that must constantly be maintained.  Impulses like revenge solve nothing of course but this striving for reciprocity appears to be deeply rooted within us. It’s naturally occurring and is neither good nor bad in itself – only in its application.

If we look at our instincts as tools to help us survive and develop, rather than tie ourselves up in knots either suppressing or exalting these naturally occurring impulses, then maybe it might be easier to use them properly.

Instincts are simultaneously wonderful and problematic – like any tool. Even a humble hammer is all about application – it is enormously useful and – literally – constructive, if you want to hang a picture or build a cabinet or a wall but in other circumstances it can also be used to destroy or kill.

The solution is not to get rid of hammers but make sure we use them properly.  Just like our instincts.

Sometimes a Trail of Tears can lead to Kindness


The Trail of Tears is the name given to the forced relocation of Native Americans following the Indian Removal Act of 1830.  The relocation was mostly from the southeastern United States to present day Oklahoma.  The removal included the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw nations.

This forced movement not only dispossessed many Native American nations, it also resulted in thousands of deaths from exposure, disease and starvation. The name, Trail of Tears, originates from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.

Sixteen years later, in 1847, the Choctaw survivors of the Trail of Tears heard of the Great Famine in Ireland. They heard about the dispossession and starvation that had been going on in Ireland since 1845. Though clearly not wealthy or advantaged themselves, they responded by collecting $710 and sending it to help starving Irish men, women and children.

According to a written account at the time, “Traders, missionaries, and (Indian) agency officials contributed, but the greater part of the money was supplied by the Indians themselves.“(1)

The Choctaw sent the money to Memphis – one of the cities in which the military had gathered them before they set out on the Trail of Tears.  From there it made its way to Irish famine victims.

The astounding actions of the Choctaw are an example of how suffering acquires meaning when it is transmuted into understanding and generosity.

___________________________________________

Photograph – Famine Memorial, Dublin, Ireland.

(1) https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/michael/www/choctaw/retrace.html

If You Saw A Child About to Fall in a Well…


Picture of the Confusian philosopher Mencius.

Mencius a fourth-century BCE Chinese thinker and disciple of Confucius, taught that human beings have within them everything they need to live together in harmony  – it’s just a question of developing these capacities in the correct way.

All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others.  My meaning may be illustrated this way: if men suddenly see a child about to fall into a well, they will without exception experience a feeling of alarm and distress—not so they may gain the favor of the child’s parents, nor to seek the praise of their neighbors and friends, nor from fear of a reputation of having been unmoved by such a thing.

From this case, we may perceive that the feeling of commiseration is essential to man…The feeling of commiseration is the principle of benevolence. The feeling of shame and dislike is the principle of righteousness. The feeling of modesty and complaisance is the principle of propriety. The feeling of approving and disapproving is the principle of knowledge…

Since all men had these four principles in themselves, let them know to give them their full development and completion, and the result will be like a fire which has begun to burn, or a spring which has begun flow. Let them have their complete development, and they will suffice to love and protect all. 

Modern science is tending to support Mencius’ two and a half thousand year old view – mirror neurons, oxytocin, automatic empathy – so, what are the steps we need to take in order to translate our innate capacities for peace, love and understanding into reality?_______________________________________________

Material World?


On an instinctive and intuitive level we know we are multi- dimensional beings.

As Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist points out,

…the fundamental constituent elements of our own reality are not material. They’re emotional, they’re motivational, they’re dreams, they’re visions they’re relationships with other people, they’re conscious, they’re dependent on consciousness and self-consciousness. (1)

In modern times, it can be a contentious viewpoint to see human beings as being not just material. Especially if this view of the human being is taken to include a spiritual dimension.

This is, no doubt, the result of the very real issues surrounding religion. However, as the twentieth century has shown, just as much damage has been done in countries where religion was outlawed as in countries where religion was enforced. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn describes this phenomenon as a problem of ideology and describes it thus,

Ideology – that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination.  That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honours…the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills; by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers by civilization; the Nazis by race; and the Jacobins (early and late) by equality, brotherhood and the happiness of future generations.

Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions.  (2)

People are most definitely more than simply material beings – even amongst people who don’t practise any religion there is still broad agreement about the existence in human beings of a transcendent faculty.  As Danah Zohar describes it,

The transcendant gives us a taste of the extraordinary, the infinite, within ourselves or within the world around us.  Many who experience the transcendent call it ‘God’; some say they have a mystical experience; others sense it through the beauty of a flower, a child’s smile, a piece of music. (3)

We need to use all of our faculties if we are to make balanced and healthy decisions and choices.  Ironically, our spiritual or transcendant dimension is the very part of our nature we need in order not to become consumed by the excuse of misapplied ideology.

It’s important not to lose touch with it.

___________________________________________________________________

(1) Jordan Peterson, Virtue as a Necessity – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwUJHNPMUyU

(2) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, p. 174

(3) Danah Zohar, Spiritual Intelligence, p. 69

The Trouble with Genocide


The trouble with our definition of the crime of genocide is that it doesn’t go far enough. 

Don’t get me wrong, the coining of the term genocide in 1943 by Raphael Lemkin, was an important conceptual advance for humanity.

Lemkin combined two root words – genos (Greek for family, tribe, or race) and the Latin suffix –cide (which means to kill) – thus creating the word genocide as a description of the deliberate and systematic destruction of any ethnic, religious, racial or national group.

It was also an important advance for humanity when, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide.

The definition and outlawing of genocide was largely undertaken in the 1940s in the wake of WWII.  It was a hugely important departure and a giant leap of understanding. But now we need to redefine it.  Now we need to come to an understanding of genocide which will help us deal with the needs – and crimes – of our time.

Because the trouble with genocide is that our definition of it is based on the notion of otherness. It is an altruistic notion of otherness.  A tolerant and well-meaning notion of otherness but a notion of otherness all the same.

As a consequence, many atrocities are still taking place in the world because there is international disagreement as to whether or not the crimes constitute genocide.  Very often these situations are recognised as genocide when it is too late to intervene and save the victims.

We need to move towards a situation where we see the entire human race as one genos – one family, one tribe, one race.  Instead of otherness we need to develop our ability to understand and operate a system of oneness.

If we do that, then whenever anyone is targeted for harm as a result of his or her individual belief, race, background or nationality – we will define it as genocide and no longer need to waste time with semantic arguments and bureaucracy.

All crimes against humanity – our family – will concern us.  All injustice.  All suffering.

The nobility of man and his spiritual development will lead him in the future to such a position that no individual could enjoy eating his food or resting at home while knowing that there was one person somewhere in the world without food or shelter. (2)

___________________________________________________________________

Related articles

(1) http://www.preventgenocide.org/genocide/officialtext.htm

(2) ‘Abdu’l Baha – quoted in Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, vol. 3, p. 126

Threshold of Goodness


Wanted poster for the International Criminal T...

Wanted poster for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

Nobody is born evil.

Nowadays we tend to connect evil with suffering insofar as we explain away acts of evil by describing the suffering of the perpetrators.  But is this really sound logic?

Some people experience great suffering, but not everyone who suffers passes on the pain.  On the contrary, many people who have suffered choose to dedicate their lives to alleviating, rather than causing, pain.

Which means that it isn’t a simple equation – suffering does not necessarily mean that the victim automatically becomes a perpetrator. This fact suggests that, regardless of how we are treated, and the fact that this is often outside our control, how we act is always inside our control.

So then, given that most of us are just regular people, why do some of us end up choosing to act in ways that can only be described as evil?

In 1994, over a period of 100 days, approximately 800,000 people were killed in the small East African nation of Rwanda.  It’s hard work killing 800,000 people in a hundred days and it took thousands of murderers.

It’s extremely unlikely that such a large number of irredeemably psychopathic killers lived in Rwanda in 1994.  Which is a scary thought as it means that these murderers weren’t a different creation – they were just regular people – like us.

No matter who we are, or what we think about ourselves, potentially we are all capable of evil because, as Alexandr Solzhenitsyn says –

…the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? (1)

So.  How does a human being take that step too far and move from being merely flawed to being evil?

In the Gulag Archipelago, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn presents a very interesting hypothesis about this transition from imperfect to evil –

Physics is aware of phenomena which occur only at threshold magnitudes, which do not exist until a certain threshold encoded by and known to nature has been crossed… You can cool oxygen to 100 degrees below zero centigrade and exert as much pressure as you want; it does not yield but remains a gas.  But as soon as minus 183 degrees is reached, it liquefies and begins to flow.

Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude.  Yes a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life…But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope.  But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return. (2)

This is such an interesting hypothesis, especially if you add it to the idea that there is real choice involved.

However, once we accept the possibility of each and every one of us being capable of evil, we also need to accept the possibility that we are also, each and every one of us, potentially capable of extraordinary goodness.

It’s vital to see our potential for goodness just as much as our potential for evil, as otherwise we will tend to become paranoid – terrified that any minute we are all about to cross over a threshold into being evil.

Rather than worrying about how we may be bad, perhaps instead we could concentrate – and teach our children to concentrate – on aiming for the threshold of goodness at all times?

Evil is the absence of good, just like darkness is the absence of light.  We ‘defeat’ darkness by turning on the light, in the same way we can ‘defeat’ evil by ‘turning on’ goodness.

Simple really, don’t you think?

__________________________________________________________________

(1) Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, p.168.

(2) ibid,  pp 174-175