Do You Feel The Love?


The first step in changing our world is an examination of what actually constitutes reality. We are all products of our environment and as a result we inevitably take many things for granted, believing them to be the natural order of things.

Social reality is an expression of human agreement, someone is the president of a country and has the powers of that office because a system of government is created and acknowledged by the inhabitants of that country. When the fundamental agreements which frame belief and behaviour change, social reality will change.(1)

In the early twentieth century, Antonio Gramsci, who spent most of his life in one of Mussolini’s prisons, identified a phenomenon he called cultural hegemony. Gramsci used this term to describe how we all believe that the way things are is the natural order of things.

A good example of how cultural hegemony operates is slavery. There was a time in the Western world when slavery was considered ‘the natural order’. Certain people were seen as a slave class and were owned by other people. Social realities, and even the economies of the time, were built around this idea and nobody – even the slaves in all likelihood – thought there was anything that could be done to change it.  Slavery was, in fact, so much part of social reality that wishing to escape from it was seen as an illness.

In 1851, American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright described a mental illness he called drapetomania – an illness he believed afflicted slaves who were inclined to run away. Cartwright said this illness was a result of masters who, “made themselves too familiar with [slaves], treating them as equals.“(2)

He went on to say that,

“If any one or more of them, at any time, are inclined to raise their heads to a level with their master or overseer, humanity and their own good requires that they should be punished until they fall into that submissive state which was intended for them to occupy. They have only to be kept in that state, and treated like children to prevent and cure them from running away.“(3)

It’s now clear to us that slavery is not the natural order of things but rather a social reality based on economic motives and mistaken ideas. People like us made that reality.  And, equally, people like us changed that reality.

So, how do we tell the difference between unchangeable reality which is outside of our control and reality that can be changed? As someone pointed out to me recently not everything is possible.  But what happens if we just accept the limitations (as we see them) and don’t try to change things? If God had wanted us to fly he’d have given us wings…

The question is tricky.  How can we tell the difference between mutable and immutable reality before we begin?  Maybe there is a solution just around the corner which we can’t see from where we stand?  Which seems like a good reason to start out.  And yet it is true that some efforts to effect change will be futile – so, how much banging our heads against the unchangeable can we stand before our heads explode?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, by the way.  Sorry.  But maybe you do.

I have been thinking about it though and all I can come up with is that I wonder if the answer is something to do with love?  Not Hollywood love but real, raw, visceral, never-giving-up love.  The kind of love that parents have for their children.  The kind of love that holds the atoms of a stone together.  Where nothing is too hard or not worth the effort even when the chances of success seem slim.  The kind of love that makes us try and try and try even when we fail and fail and fail – and then when we’ve tried everything possible – we try something else.  Maybe we try the impossible.  Because it matters.

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1) Paul Lample, Revelation and Social Reality, p.9

2)  Cartwright, Samuel A. (1851). “Report on the Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro Race”DeBow’s ReviewXI.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4h3106t.html. Retrieved 2007-10-04.

3) Arthur L. Caplan, James J. McCartney, and Dominic A. Sisti (2004). Health, Disease, and Illness: Concepts in Medicine. Washington, D.C.:Georgetown University Press. p. 35 ISBN 1589010140.

The Road to Self-Knowledge


Reza Fani Yazdi is a human rights activist, writer and former political prisoner but this recounting of his story is remarkable precisely because it is, in many ways, a common-or-garden ‘how I met my wife’ story .  There is something wonderfully and touchingly ordinary about him and his story.  Boy meets girl.  Boy loves girl. Boy kisses girl for the first time in an interrogation centre…

But there is something very unusual about Reza Fani Yazdi – even more unusual than the backdrop of his love story with his wife, Sohaila Vahdati – and that is his clarity about who he is and what he believes.  He has come upon this knowledge in the most difficult way imaginable but he has come upon it nevertheless.

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Man is a Mine Rich in Gems…


Nature or nurture?  Are we empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and virtues or is there at least some stuff we might already have inside us that could be accessed?  A seam of gold?  A mother lode of virtue?

Perhaps if we had a little confidence that the good is there, deep inside – especially in children – we’d be pleasantly surprised?  And more likely to find it.

Here are two true stories…

Trusting The Truth


Do you love your children?  For most of us the answer is Yes.

Child 1

Child 1 (Photo credit: Tony Trần)

Do you sometimes make them do things that are unpleasant – or even painful – for their own good?

Again the answer is Yes and we do this because we love them, don’t we?

All the doctor and dentist appointments.  The homework and discipline and training in the face of reluctance and protest.  But parents suck it up because they know it is for the future well-being of their child.

My niece had very serious scoliosis and had two extremely painful surgeries when she was just 13.  I am happy to say that they were fantastically successful surgeries but there were no guarantees beforehand and they did involve a lot of pain and suffering for her whole family – and especially for her.

What would you do to prevent your child being ostracized, cut off or rejected?  If she might be condemned to never being respectable.  Never finding a husband.  Never having a family of her own.  You’d do a lot – most of us would – even if it was a risky and painful road, we’d be frightened not to take it.

It takes immense courage to stay with what you know to be true in the face of social pressure and tradition.  What if you are wrong?  It’s a scary place to be.

We can’t always trust our gut.  Our gut will tell us to fit in and do whatever the herd does because there’s ‘safety’ that way.  The people in this video are showing magnificent courage.  Their capacity to hold fast and stay with the truth even while they recognise the pressure around them is inspiring.

I am in awe.

Blind Spots


Nowadays it’s widely accepted, in our rapidly shrinking global village, that we need to learn to work together – learn to live together.

And yet we resist it.

We insist on concentrating on the differences between us.

Colour, race, nationality, religion, politics, culture, gender, age, status, beliefs, thoughts.

Sure we’re different.

There’s no doubt about it.

But how about the ways we are the same?

Why don’t we really concentrate on what we share instead of what separates us?

I really mean that as a question – why don’t we?

What stops us trying to work together?

What are the obstacles to our seeing our similarities?

Can we talk about that?

Green Eggs or Ham?


When my eldest son was little, I’d pick him up from play-group and we’d walked happily home discussing what had happened that  day, what we were going to do or where we were going to go or the many adventures of Superman.

Mother and small boy happy and glad to see each other – until…

“OK – so, what would you like for lunch?”

He’d have a think before he answered and then he might say – “I’d like chips”, or “I’d like potatoes and chicken,” or “I’d like ice-cream.”

So, I’d say – “No, no – you can’t have ice-cream or chips for lunch, you need to have something that’s healthy.”

“Like potatoes and chicken?”

“OK, like potatoes and chicken – you can have that later.  Not for lunch.”

“But I want it for lunch!”

“Well, you can’t have it for lunch – choose something else – how about beans on toast or a cheese sandwich?”

“But I don’t want that!  I want chicken and potatoes or ice-cream…”

Anyway, you get the picture – he’d be angry and upset and I’d be angry and upset and both of us would be full of self-righteous indignation as we stomped home.

And then, one day I finally realised what was happening.

He was answering the question I’d asked.

Which would have been fine except that I was actually asking a different question than the one I was forming with my words.

I was asking him what he wanted to eat for lunch and, as he was a small child, he was taking me at my word and answering the question.

The fact was, though, what I was really asking him was, “What you would like for lunch from  a) the food at present in our house and b) food present which also satisfies my criteria for what constitutes a healthy lunch.”

So, I changed my questions.

“OK – what could you like for lunch – eggs, or cheese or bananas?”

“Ham sandwich or peanut butter?”

“Chicken noodle soup or cheese on toast?”

And because he was as reasonable as all small children, he immediately adapting by answering the question and choosing between the options I presented.

Problem solved.  Happy walking home for mother and boy after that.  Back to talking about important things like Superman instead of bickering about lunch.

As adults we ask – and answer – questions and unconsciously try to interpret the background nuances and circumstances and expect others to do the same.

We rely on other people to do some of our thinking without our ever stating what we really think – “I can’t believe she asked me to do that!”

We rely on others to make it alright for us – “How could he accept that second cup of tea I offered – didn’t he know I was tired?”

To second guess our needs – “I know I offered but…”

Maybe we should try being more accurate when we express ourselves?

Would it prevent more misunderstandings?

First, though, we’d have to know what we want to say ourselves – and maybe that’s the really difficult part?

What do we truly want to say?

The Power of Unity


This is an amazing talk.

If you are short of time watch the last three minutes – from 15.00 onwards – as there is a beautiful potted version of the entire talk at the end of the presentation.

If you have 18 minutes, watch it all.

It’s worth it.

Alo read a very interesting piece on this very presentation, over at CreativeConflictWisdom’s Blog – http://creativeconflictwisdom.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/religion-transcendence-and-group-selection-jon-haidts-view/

Miss Guided


Recently I’ve been thinking – and talking – a lot about how women are portrayed in the media.  I’ve also been thinking about how women are seen in society – and in, particular, how they see themselves.

Yesterday I watched the aptly titled, MissRepresentation, a documentary that explores the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America in particular, and the role the media plays in this. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth watching.

There is no denying that women used to be seen as possessions for the convenience and entertainment of men.

There is no denying that that is possibly even more the case than ever.

Women are increasingly packaged as sex objects and everything is now sold to everybody, using women’s bodies.

I am not suggesting that women are to blame for this phenomenon.  I don’t think it’s caused by hormones or cattiness or any of the other rubbish accusations designed to disempower women.

But I am suggesting that women stop supporting it.

Stop believing the illusion that tells you that being thinner, younger-looking, compliant and presented like a sex-object will make you happier.  It won’t.  It can’t.  And when you aren’t happier even though you are complying it isn’t your fault – you’ve been sold a big, fat lie.  Even if you have to wrestle with yourself until you retrain your psyche – do it – that might actually make you happy.

Don’t buy the handbags or the magazines or perfume or clothes that are advertised by women portrayed as objects of sexual fantasies or with distorted, unnatural body-images.

Don’t watch the films or TV shows that reinforce the stereotypes.

Do watch the films and TV shows that don’t.  One of the interviewees in the movie (a man) makes the point that in the cinema of the 1940s and ’50s, women could get to play real people in movies – bitches, saints, moms, murderers, adventurers – not so nowadays, shockingly.

Stop believing that you have to be like a man – or be liked by a man – in order to make a success of your life.  Let’s face it, men are not any happier than women and have, largely, made a very unfriendly, unhelpful, unsafe and unsatisfying world for themselves as well as women.

Don’t get me wrong – men need to get on board with this boycott as well.

But women – come on – let’s stop waiting for the men to come along – maybe they’re not the early adopters they think they are?

How about we just stop supporting the system and stop accepting the stereotypes and stop conforming to the ‘way things are’ and try to create a new way for things to be – a way that is good for everyone, not just women (let’s not make the same mistakes as men).

Worst case scenario, if it all blows up in our pretty little botoxed faces we can always go back to what we have now…

Can You See Now?


A mother and daughter travelled the world to film stories of ordinary people making a difference.  This is their story –

http://openingoureyes.net/our-subjects/

Thanks to Katherine at Bowl of Miso – http://bowlofmiso.com/2012/02/18/opening-our-eyes/ – for pointing me in the direction of this very interesting video.

The Contagion of Sadness


 

Sadness is not contagious.  In our valiant efforts to be constructive and positive in a world full of difficulty, we can mistake avoiding the distress of others for a way of maintaining our own positivity.

Thanks to our mirror neurons and our natural empathy with other living creatures, encountering sadness most definitely touches us and can even make us feel upset.

But while avoiding the pain of others may momentarily make us feel better, it doesn’t really contribute to our own well-being – or even our own happiness.

Engaging with others in their suffering has an important place in our development as individuals and as societies.

The Charter for Compassion, founder, Karen Armstrong, has some interesting points to make about this subject.

In Buddhism, compassion (karuna) is defined as a determination to liberate others from their grief, something that is impossible if we do not admit to our own unhappiness and misery…It is, of course, important to encourage the positive, but it is also crucial sometimes to allow ourselves to mourn…Today there is often a degree of heartlessness in our determined good cheer, because if we simply tell people to be ‘positive’ when they speak to us of their sorrow, we may leave them feeling misunderstood and isolated in their distress.  Somebody once told me that when she had cancer, the hardest thing of all was her friends’ relentless insistence that she adopt a positive attitude; they refused to let her discuss her fears – probably because they were frightened by her disease and found it an uncomfortable reminder of their own mortality… (1)

Life is hard and trying to maintain a constructive and positive outlook is both necessary and challenging.  The distress of others will seldom prove to be a cause of unbearable suffering within ourselves.  Occasionally, someone else’s story may resonate so strongly with our own that we do feel pain – but that pain is not caused by anyone else’s pain, it is our own pain. It is already there and might just need an occasional remembrance if we are to maintain a mostly positive and constructive outlook.

There are consequences for us collectively, and as individuals, when we intentionally turn away from the pain we encounter.  We might believe we are better off because we have avoided any collateral sadness involved, but we may well have paid a very high price for this momentary comfort.

Because when we do this we lose something so important it isn’t worth the tiny gain – we lose not only an opportunity to bring comfort to another human being but also the strongest thread that can bring us to our own happiness – a connection to our personal suffering.  Without this connection we can’t offer compassion to ourselves and so, we will struggle with our quest for happiness, no matter how often we look the other way.

As Karen Armstrong puts it so beautifully,

…make a conscious effort to look back on the events that have caused you distress in the past…Make a deliberate effort to inhabit those moments fully and send a message of encouragement and sympathy to your former self.  The object of this exercise is not to leave you wallowing in self-pity.  The vivid memory of painful times past is a reservoir on which you can draw when you try to live according to the Golden Rule.*  By remembering your own sorrow vividly, you will make it possible for yourself to feel empathy with others. (2)

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*There are many variants of the Golden Rule but they all boil down to the same message – Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.

(1) Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, pp 72-3

(2) ibid, p. 73

Two young children, one crying. 1922. Stanley Field Expedition to British Guiana

Participants: Bror E. Dahlgren and John R. Millar