The prison of our ego

Intolerance is the most socially acceptable form of egotism, for it permits us to assume superiority without personal boasting.  Sydney J. Harris

Superior people are only those who let it be discovered by others; the need to make it evident forfeits the very virtue they aspire to. Sydney J. Harris

A good friend recently began writing his thoughts publicly and in a form that was revealing, unguarded and authentic. He wrote one line toward the conclusion of his piece that captured my own sentiment on the subject – on ending the polarized times in which find ourselves; ” … one way is to find the truth in what the other person is saying.”

Sounds very simplistic. It is obvious right? Why not? Even if they are wrong? Gotcha! My friend wrote that it is hard to accomplish – and it is. It goes against what has been ingrained into us since we were children, since we attended school and grew up socializing within our environs – home and elsewhere. We have attended church, synagogue, mosque or temple listening to the parochial discourses within that respective assemblage or merely subjugated to the atheistic or agnostic idiosyncrasies of others close to us. We learned and absorbed – a lot.

eye-prison-photo

And when our “knowledge” or subjectivity is challenged, our ego awakens and we steadfastly hold on to our entrenched positions. I have seen this first hand attending vulgar and violent rallies across Canada, witnessed it over political debate including the omnipresent social media variety where nary the opposition voice or word sways an opinion and sadly – I have observed this within families. How many of our dear friends or loved ones so resolutely clutch on to their predisposed opinion so much so that the relationship itself is being challenged? And to be authentic about this matter, how often do we see it is as “us” who are implacably stubborn? This breeds intolerance, it fosters enmity and accompanied with back and forth or tit for tat recriminations. The US Presidential elections are Exhibit One as a prime example. In what way can we ever move forward and approach civility, rapprochement and stem all this anger if we don’t somehow abandon the encumbering armour of ego and I dare say – superiority?

Superiority. It is a fascinating display of one who possesses or has characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). We have no doubt seen some of this in others.

The Mayo Clinic has in layman’s terms defined NPD: “A mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. Behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that is vulnerable to the slightest criticism. If you have NPD, you may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious, you often monopolize conversations, you may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior, and you may feel a sense of entitlement (when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry). At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior.”

Most of us despite our imperfections are nowhere near possessing NPD – I want to simply illustrate a point. But negative personality traits such as those described by the Mayo Clinic are evident all around us – especially nowadays on social media.

Clearly YOU are not absolutely right nor are YOU absolutely wrong. The opinion-holder of your opposite viewpoint should be viewed likewise.

Let’s start from there. What if we really did begin from that point? If we can ease off on the ego and allow some humility to seep into our thoughts, wouldn’t that would be a wonderful genesis towards our common goal? It is a common goal is it not? For somewhere within that opposing viewpoint to ours, there must be some element therein that we can say with all sincerity and authenticity that they are correct.

Can we try and see the truth in what another is saying? And if we are not yet ready for that, can we at least acknowledge the role that our ego has in our lives?

Who has influenced you? Are you even aware?

“We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far. “ Swami Vivekananda

 

It is easy to say our parents influenced our thought patterns – positively and or negatively. One might also suggest a political theorist we studied shaped who we are today. There are countless inspirational theorists, like the late George Dyer who in particular has guided conscious thought of legions of followers. Perhaps the music of an era’s iconic master, whose lyrics and composition was able to touch deeply into our soul, moulded us into the us we are. For many, Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna or God via the hand of Moses, represents a timeless spiritual guidance that strongly influences our being.

My opening question today is, “Do we even recognize who or what has truly impacted who we are today?” The second question is, “Why does it even matter?”

An oft-used expression that can depict this learning cycle is “Life is a Journey.” But a journey is the planned traverse of moving from point A to point B. It theoretically implies that conscious or conscientious thought has been employed to go from “here” to “there”. We may drift through life unconsciously, not engaging in concrete or self determined actions and somehow we end up somewhere we never planned or intended. I am not sure that isn’t more an illustration of being caught up in a tidal wave or flood and being unceremoniously carried away without benefit of utilizing Google Maps or the Waze app. To me, that is not a journey. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident and can prove dangerous. That can also turn out to be a glorious opportunity.

We make mindful decisions based on knowledge, which may be imperfect, but at the time of that fateful decision we went into it with the desire to make a good decision replete with all the accessible information available to us at the time. No one wilfully proceeds on a course one knows in advance to be deleterious, disastrous or senseless. The only manner in which we make decisions is based on current knowledge (or emotion), and whether a bad decision was made and we wish to correct it, or a great decision was made and we hope to repeat it, recognize who or what influenced that decision and how you arrived at it. This is not easy work. Over the many years of our life we have been modeled or cognitively programmed (sort of brainwashed) to act in a certain way. What if that “way” is becoming progressively clearer to us as no longer serving us well?

Not serving us well? Are you angry a lot of the time? Have a short fuse? Are you often demoralized? Are you blaming others for your own shortcomings and failures? Do you often find yourself judging others? If you answer yes to any of these questions, then perhaps elements in your life are not serving you well. In other words, such a person may be leading an inauthentic life – not being true to who we are and finding ourselves in conflict with the person most important in our life – us.

I expect asking my second question is now redundant. If we are truly on a journey through life, we must first learn by adding newfound knowledge acquired through experience. As we prepare to adapt and to incorporate the lessons learned only then can we ultimately actualize the change we desire to see. We are given the gift to use the lessons presented before us and make the most of them. Whether we stumbled and failed, or soared and succeeded, harbouring gratitude to all those who were a part of our experiences is in my opinion – essential. Be grateful to your boss. Be grateful to your partner – past or present. Be grateful to your children. Be grateful to the songwriter. Be grateful to the Instagram message you read that shook your soul. Be grateful to the date turned bad for now you know.

Gratitude is the appreciation for all who touch us. Gratitude for all that we have learned. I am learning gratitude each and every day. To all those I have learned from, I am eternally grateful.

The Alchemist – read it for the first time – over and over again

“Why don’t people’s hearts tell them to continue to follow their dreams?” the boy asked the alchemist. “Because that’s what makes a heart suffer most, and hearts don’t like to suffer.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

Find your self. Return home. Or as Coelho famously scribes, “follow [your] dreams.” After the miles I have proverbially travelled I am still bewildered that up until a couple of weeks ago I had never read The Alchemist. I can’t ever recall being more than abstractedly familiar with this classic. I appear to be in the minority – at least in certain circles. Even the young cashier clerk at one of the largest national bookstore chains in Canada upon seeing my purchase proudly proclaimed he reads it several times a year! Wow – I was filled with anticipation of what awaited me.

As the title of this blog suggests, I encourage you to read it for the first time, or if you have not read it for a while, read it again. Why you may ask?

We question our choices and ourselves continually. Some of us also do it for others – that is called judgement – another topic for sure – not unfamiliar in this space. We hesitate in making those big decisions. We ponder the efficacy of a possible directional change in our life. We give pause to our choice of a potential life partner or to our current one. We have ambitions for that dream job but settle for something inferior or below our capabilities because after all, we have to put food on the table etc.

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation.” – from The Alchemist

This is an illuminating line. At first glance one might presume this to be a selfish statement or goal in life. But I think it is entirely the opposite. I believe that realizing one’s destiny is demonstrating our ultimate strength, self-awareness, aptitude and mission in life, not selfishly, but for all those encircling our sphere in life. Think about it. If we are engaged in the ultimate quest for achieving our destiny, our loved ones, friends, acquaintances, colleagues and co-workers, heck even the person sitting beside us on the subway are all benefiting from our purpose in life. And for believers in a higher source or power, God, whatever that may be, what could be a greater calling than completely fulfilling that journey as it has been written? Coelho uses the Arabic, maktub.

A friend recently told me that if she were to die today, she would be at peace with that fate. At the time, her bold statement troubled and disturbed me feeling that she had so much more to yet realize in her beautiful life – and then I came across the following passage in The Alchemist:

“And, as the camel driver had said, to die tomorrow was no worse than dying on any other day. Every day was there to be lived or to mark one’s departure from this world.”

If anyone has been with a loved one as they ceased to breathe, to live, you know what that is like. It is almost indescribable – all those emotions, sorrow, but it is the same fate that awaits us all. How will we do it? What will it look like? But it will come. It will be that one day to “mark our departure.”

And let’s end here with love and the heart. We have all had heartbreak haven’t we? And not just from romantic relationships: Heartbreak from professional disappointment; Heartbreak from family anguish; And yes, heartbreak from a failed romance. It is all heartbreak. But what of it? What does a fulfilled heart and love mean?

“Because it is not love to be static like the desert, nor it is love to roam the world like the wind. And it’s not love to see everything from a distance … Love is the force that transforms and improves the Soul of the World … It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse.” – The Alchemist

Go buy the book and read about the Soul of the World.

When people surprise us

“Sometimes people surprise us. People we believe we know.”

Joyce Carol Oats

 

Aren’t surprises wonderful? Well, sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not. Receiving an unexpected phone call or text message from an old acquaintance – well, it depends right? Getting a perfectly appropriate and awesome birthday gift from a special friend can be both heartening and exhilarating. What does it mean when WE are surprised by certain actions, words or deeds from within our circle of friends, family or acquaintances?

We lead busy lives, and depending on the phase of our life at any given point in time, it can be excessively consumed by our studies, building a career, looking for a “life” partner (first, second or third time around), raising children and often times our busyness is a simultaneous combination of more than one of these key life stages. Compound all of that with the instantaneousness of our social media frenzy – we have an increasing proclivity of missing beautiful moments and people in our lives because we are just so damn busy.

I had a delightful opportunity recently to enjoy an evening out with several colleagues. We had a few beverages together before heading out for an elegant dining experience. “Letting our hair down” is an oft-used idiom implying foolish behaviour possibly induced by the consumption of alcohol or other substance yet it can also signify the lowering of personal walls that we build up and use as a protective barrier surrounding our interactions with those we encounter. These walls conceal who we truly are or mask our intentions deluding others into believing we are someone we are not. But on this evening, some of us exposed ourselves – not in a lewd or illegal manner of course, and it is entirely conceivable that the beverages induced this relaxed state, but I think it had more to do with slowing things down and providing our complete attentiveness to those surrounding us. And guess what? Many of us learned new attributes of character in the other that we never knew existed before. I for one was surprised.

Think of a normal day, with typical interactions with the usual cast of individuals within our circle of influence. What do we all talk about? Often it is about other people. People we think we know and we freely judge in discussion. Did you hear what so-and-so did? How dare they do that – who do they think they are? And we think we know of whom we are speaking – at least well enough to cast aspersions and judgment. Or it can be more subtle and less negative by having only a surface understanding of one’s character. People we think we know.

 

“Sometimes the most shocking surprises are also the most beautiful surprises.”

Lori Wilhite

 

So, is it worthwhile to get to know one another in a deeper manner? Perhaps we are still too busy for that. Sometimes it is blissfully too easy to continue our steady and familiar behaviours. Just moments ago on Facebook, a friend announced she was doing a “social experiment” to be nice to people on Twitter who disagree or have been mean to her. Imagine that – in this politically charged environment where we are often facing fiercely opposing viewpoints, to be nice to your antagonist? One of the first responses she received from one such individual was a lunch invitation.

I believe that we need to figure out how to slow things down or approach people differently, allowing us to better appreciate and respect one another, to judge and criticize less. Maybe by choosing this attitude, we will get to learn something new – not just about other people, but even more importantly, about ourselves – and wouldn’t that be the greatest surprise?

Where have you gone? Where have they gone?

“Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you

What’s that you say Mrs. Robinson

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”

Paul Simon

 

People in our life come and go all the time. Sometimes we learn a lesson from the experience yet we should forever try to seek out that lesson for it does continually exist – always. I am thinking a lot about the people who are no longer in my life – some living – some deceased. Some by their choosing – some by mine. Some I am sad about – others not so much. Some may be permanently gone to me (the ones living I mean) – others I hope that is not so. And for them in particular there is a titanic void. I am sure you feel it as well in your own life. There are people who were once in your life – a vital, active and fulfilling part of your existence who you may have counted on for companionship, for laughs, for love, for guidance or nurturing and who were just beautifully there when needed or not. We want them back. We yearn for that – time will tell how that future will unfold. For some of those souls absent, it is our choice to repair the damaged relationship. And for others, we mindfully await their awakening and accept that it is their decision – not ours to make.

The experience with my late father had a bit of everything. Abandoned by him as a teenager, I had no decision in the anguish I felt. As I grew older, matured – to a degree – I still felt that it was his choices hardening the bitterness and the decades old estrangement until I finally figured out something entirely different and only months before he left this life. Are there any relationships that you can think of where you might be able to reframe the animosity and take some personal responsibility for it?

I am not here to preach anything to you. I try to understand more and more each day – for me. I want to learn why some people have left my particular piece of this beautiful world and what if anything can I do about it. Because the more I learn, the better I can cope with disappointments, other heartbreaks and avoid the negative spiral of emotions that can accompany such thoughts. It is purely for the self that I do this.

 

“You may think that in life, a lot of things happen to you along the way. The truth is, in life, you happen to a lot of things along the way.”

Dr. Shad Helmstetter

 

With my father and others, I have come to accept my role in outcomes, negative and positive ones alike. We can constantly play victim, pigheadedly doubling down on our errors, or “person-up” and acknowledge the impermanence of life’s ride. What role does judgment have in all of this? Well, I think that is for us to answer individually to genuinely gauge the impact of that destructive thought process. It took a brutally honest self-appraisal for me that resulted in reconciliation with my father only months before that opportunity was lost to me forever, and the closure, which I achieved, would have forever been absent in my life had I procrastinated any longer or felt forever the victim. The gifts I receive from this experience continue every day despite his passing eighteen months ago.

But I can’t end on that note. Dwelling on what is no longer is neither productive nor helpful to me. To those who have more recently entered or re-entered my life – I have deep and eternal gratitude. You saw me as I have never been seen before. I think however one person was able to see me first – and that was me.

How to survive friendships during the election

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.”

Shannon L. Adler

 

Lose any friendships over a spat on social media? Get so angry with someone or them with you over a political or religious issue that you are no longer on speaking terms with him or her? Regret any Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts or emails? Well – I have been there – done that. And I can now accept responsibility for my actions. But I am learning – slowly I am learning.

I love Shannon Adler’s take on “a page.” I could easily have used Kenny Roger’s famous lyric on “know when to fold ‘em,” but alas I can’t sing. Each of Shannon’s three options is our choice to make. The trick is in knowing which one is the preferred option at the time. Over the past year, ever since I began writing in this space I have been at loggerheads with one friend I will name Jacob. Jake, like some of my other friends from my recent past have taken issue with my evolved approach to the world, to politics and to religion – I have indeed changed in countless ways and was much more aligned to them and their views than I am now. Many of the social media exchanges between Jake and I became rather acrimonious – and a couple of weeks ago it happened again. To me this one was particularly awkward and uncomfortable, and I did not feel good during the give-and-take. I am sure many of you have been there too. We get caught up in the debate, can’t for the life of us understand someone, least of all a friend, who can become so irrational on a point that seems to us immensely sensible and even objective. And of course, I become the same illogical bloke to him. So the question we face almost on a daily basis it would seem, is what to do about it? Do we fight? Shall we turn the other cheek? Do we focus on “one-upmanship?” Let’s delve into that latter one at bit.

When I fall victim to my ego on social media encounters I believe it is because of time. Time to think. Time to come up with that ever so clever, “I’ll show you” ridiculing statement that not only is directed towards my opponent but to everyone else who may be reading my brilliantly eloquent, irrefutable rejoinder to that outlandish, inane and dense comment I just read “of yours.” But what if we remove time and audience from the mix? I turned to private messaging and suggested to Jacob that we meet to discuss. He quite cheerily and swiftly accepted. The social media exchange – on this topic – ended there.

Sometimes the divisions we face are purely ideological, sometimes they are personal, oftentimes they are centered however, on ego. The distance and sometimes anonymity of social media has many downsides towards human understanding. In fact, we tout the wonderful benefits of social media to shrinking the world and opening doors to common understanding amongst a diverse audience but too often the opposite occurs. What we are witnessing now is that due to the reliance on social media to communicate, we are slowly losing the ability to speak and share ideas one on one.

Though Jake and I disagree on many matters today, we had no issues at all face to face. In fact, meeting over dinner, for the first ninety minutes we discussed everything but our disputes. We talked about his retirement plans and business matters, about women and the dating scene (we are both now single and middle-aged), and we also discussed – no, that was it, just business and women for the first hour and a half. We finally did get around to talking very specifically about the online issue we had. There was no acrimony and in fact the discussion was perfectly respectful. There was no yelling. We both listened attentively to the other. Speaking for myself I learned to better understand his perspective.

Though I am grateful to Jake and I feel emboldened by the actions we took together, I can’t say that it always works out that way.

I had another exchange where it went badly and again I reached out on private messaging to attempt reconciliation to the dilemma. My approach was rebuffed. His public pronouncement against me was condescending and exceptionally judgemental. Upholding hollow religious rituals were once again front and centre in my life but this time it was reminiscent of me looking into a mirror from the past.

We are entering unprecedented times. What is going on south of the Canadian border is to say the least, unbelievable. Though as Canadians we have no horse in the race for the White House, the moral dilemma our America friends face is powerfully drawing us in. Let’s hope that we remember how to properly and respectfully communicate with friends and family. It won’t be easy. And sometimes you’ll have to “fold ‘em.”

 

 

 

 

Anger and Accolades

“The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman statesman

 

What will become of this week? More violence? More bigotry? More anger? I expect that an endless supply of anger triggers will be reverberating over the airwaves, social media and into our email inboxes all week long. Are you ready for it? How do you expect to react to it? And this week, anger will also be in our everyday lives, as it was last week, the week before last and throughout much of our time on earth – anger was and will be forever present, just waiting for the next trigger to unleash undesirable actions.

I have not attended synagogue much lately, but I chose to go last Saturday morning. Funny how I seem to enjoy going much more when I choose to go instead of when I feel the obligation to go – but that is another story. Our synagogue has an assistant rabbi; a common practise for synagogues of a certain membership dimension, and this past Sabbath service (unbeknownst to me at the time) was to be his last one before most deservingly heading off to lead a congregation of his own in the United States. This young, articulate, passionate, brilliant and soulful communicator left this congregant immensely joyful and uplifted by my choice.

Too often, we hear of negative influences of religion upon the flock. Terms like, blind-faith, non-relevance, archaic or incitement are just a few of the less than stellar descriptions commonly attached to really any of the monotheistic religions. The weekly sermon, whether on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, is the clergy’s opportunity to influence the congregants, with an unimpeded, unidirectional lecture of laws, guidance and observances. Rabbi Eli (not his real name) spoke of the famous incident involving Moses, where out of anger he struck the rock to draw out water. As his punishment, God did not allow Moses to enter the promised land of Israel and instead would live out his remaining days only able to view the land from on top of Mount Nebo. But from this story, Rabbi Eli connected the biblical interpretation to everyday life like I have never heard before and his was anything but unidirectional.

Anger. It was the theme of anger that Rabbi Eli spoke of. And – normal is how he described the emotion of anger. Not a guilt-ridden emotion. Anger is an almost instinctual reaction to a trigger we have encountered. But while the feeling of anger is understandable, he said, acting out our anger is not. That is when he drew me in and I believe the rest of us present in the sanctuary as well. As I wrote last time, we cannot deny what someone feels since that is what he or she is feeling. There is no biblical punishment to simply feel anger. Reacting to anger however is a choice. As a radio personality said recently, “acting out anger never ends well.” Many of us need help in preventing our anger from manifesting itself in tangible or explicit actions. Acknowledging that is step one. For some, that is enough to be able to catch oneself and not allow the anger to present. If self-control is not enough just yet, then please reach out to the multitude of available resources for assistance. Anger has ended relationships of all sorts, careers, one’s self-esteem and sometimes lives.

Sadly, we will be tested more this week. I hope that we can recognize the anger we hold inside ourselves, and heed that warning or trigger that Moses himself was not able to contain. He paid a high price for his unforgiving action. Can we then learn to delay our anger?

I wish that there were more rabbis, priests, imams, ministers, pastors, preachers, vicars or reverends like Rabbi Eli. Even in giving a sermon, Rabbi Eli I know received much of what he gave. In that sense his sermons were not unidirectional. That and more he will take with him to his next assignment and his new congregants have much to gain and to learn from this beautiful religious teacher.

Black Feelings Matter

“The issue isn’t with individual police officers who abuse their power.

The issue is a system that supports police officers who abuse their power.”

 

I was driving back from a country outing on the beautiful long holiday weekend we had recently. Up ahead on the road I saw police stopping vehicles before being allowed to pass through. “I wonder what’s going on? Maybe a child is lost or missing. Perhaps the road is closed for an accident.” A smiling police officer approaches the driver side of my car and I roll down my window. “Have you been drinking alcohol today?” “No officer,” I replied. “Have a nice day then” she said and that was it.

Not for a moment, nor a split second, did I have any fear or anxiety; that I could potentially be mistaken for a suspect in a crime and wrongfully arrested, that I could be dragged out of my car and beaten, that the police officer might shoot me while sitting in my car and bleed to death. Nope, not a thought at all from any of those hypothetical scenarios entered my carefree holiday mind. But then again, I am a white guy.

We are living in amplified, hyper-sensitized, polarized times. Black Lives Matter or #BLM, and it’s unfair counter – All Lives Matter is causing numerous visceral reactions across the political and social spectrum in the USA and also in here in Canada. I am not sure that it is a case of political correctness run amok but I am beginning to believe the Caucasians amongst us just don’t get it. We are trying to appear fair, understanding and balanced, but we are badly missing the mark. It appears that we are telling #BLM and their supporters that they are wrong to suggest the singularity of perceived injustice is transpiring in their community, and unless we emphasize the totality of the collective human condition, highlighting one group in such a manner is prejudiced toward all others.

No, I believe we are hijacking the symbolism of #BLM and advocating an improvement or modification like All Lives Matter and in some cases dismissing #BLM in its entirety. It is almost analogous to redefining what Holocaust means and applying its use more broadly and thereby watering down its true and accurate representation. I know how apoplectic many fellow Jews become when “Holocaust” is used in a context not related to WWII. “How dare they use the word Holocaust?” Well, I wonder how African-Americans feel when we are attempting to redefine or diminish their own intentions and meaning of #BLM?

I read the quote above, a Facebook post by a friend’s husband in the wake of the death by police of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. One may choose to agree with the statement or not. But reading those words helped me to begin to understand the feelings, frustrations and anger within the Black community, concerns that I couldn’t possibly have when I was stopped by the police on that long weekend trip. How can we tell anyone how he or she should feel or that they are wrong to feel a certain way?  One feels what they feel. That is not up for debate. I believe that our inability to be fully empathetic to the Black experience is perchance unconsciously rooted in our own fear and judgment that we carry with us. Not of the African-American individual, but in the unknowing of who we truly are. The walls preventing us from understanding something or someone dissimilar from ourselves needs a wake-up call in self-awareness in order to begin to tear down these destructive barriers and allow for our individual liberation, freedom and inner peace.

Don’t think you are not like me

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” Linda Ellerbee, award winning American journalist.

I was recently watching a late night 9th anniversary episode of Seinfeld where a portion of the show highlighted in rapid-fire succession numerous personal smears, childish insults, mockeries and criticisms – all humorous mind you. Though that season aired eighteen years ago and it was unqualified comedy, I felt I was watching US presidential politics in 2016. Day after day whether it is viewing political theatre, observing and I dare say participating on social media, invective after invective, antagonism after antagonism, we are at one another’s throat with polarized accusations, intolerant viewpoints and abject disrespect for a dissimilar opinion. Sometimes and tragically this had led to deadly violence.

Is it just me or have you also observed this changing social condition? As I have broadened my horizons, invited those in where otherwise I had built-up walls to keep them out, I am beautifully reminded more each day of our similarities than ever before. We are after all, similarly created. The basic building block of who we all are is our DNA. What is increasingly evident to me at least, is the role played by the social construct that is exacerbating not just racial tensions but so too tensions of opinion. It can also be labeled as a state of separateness. People who one might guesstimate to be “like me” or “like you” are locked in a thought battle of intolerance and anger against us. Or as you may have read from visiting here before, the battle is often within us. Us vs. Us. But that is not for this post.

We often mistake this construct as an inherent difference of background, culture and fundamental belief system. But while many may turn to our existential confrontation with Islamic extremism erroneously reassigned into an anti-immigrant backlash witnessed real time across the globe, we can be as indignant towards the former as against and within our own community and within our family as well. Our children, born of our genetic make-up, with like abilities, temperament and failings can be our fiercest critics yet they are most like us if anyone is. Still the battles rage on.

I choose to believe and act in a manner (as often as possible) that underscores our similarities. I do fundamentally believe that you are very much like me and I am very much like you. I remember a speech given by Angelina Jolie a couple of years ago where she ostensibly opined how if not by the quirk of birth, what really makes us that different.

“We are all, everyone in this room, so fortunate. I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had—with this path in life. And why across the world, there’s a woman just like me with the same abilities and the same desires, the same work ethic and love for her family who would most likely make better films and better speeches. Only she sits in a refuge camp, and she has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe, and if they’ll ever return home. I don’t know why this is my life and that’s hers.”

As I re-read that quote by this exceptional person, I am pained by the increasing vitriolic debate on gun laws, Republican vs. Democrat (USA), Conservative vs. Liberal (Canada), refugees and immigrants, and the holier than thou proclamations emanating from the nationalistic, protectionist and isolationist corners of where we live, when it is only by an accident of birth that we are here and they are there, or by lessons learned that I think this way and you the other. What if we spent as much energy on looking for the likenesses between people and not the divisions?

 

 

 

An Open Love Letter

“If you are pained by external things, it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that judgment now.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It has been quite the horrific and surreal past couple of weeks for Orlando. First came the shocking news of the murder of Christina Grimmie, a beautiful and talented young singer many of us watched blossom on NBC’s The Voice. Her death was a senseless and terrifying reminder of what can tragically happen with fame. Then just the next day, also in Orlando came the bloodthirsty tragedy that befell the gay nightclub Pulse, and murder of forty-nine souls committed by an Islamic extremist. Two days after that at Orlando’s Disney World theme park, we learned of the gruesome death of a toddler snatched at the shore of a lagoon by an alligator as the little boy was wading in shallow water. So much to bear for one city within such a short span of time.

In the last two of these tragedies, there was blame, recriminations, anger, even an immediate and repulsive, “I told you so” by a male US presidential candidate within hours of the murders. Inside the same day of the killings the battle lines were already drawn by the sanctimonious rhetoric of the pro-gun, anti-gun and anti-Islam positions. In the wake of the shootings, my mind has been littered with feelings of bewilderment, helplessness and bitter sadness. To the parents of the dead toddler, my heart bleeds for you both. Not only have you endured an unthinkable horror, but also you have undoubtedly heard the shock and consternation on social media and the airwaves accusing you of not properly caring for the welfare of your child directly resulting in his death. Who can say that to these grief-stricken parents?

If only the Pulse patrons had weapons, the killer would have been eliminated sooner therefore saving lives, says the same male US presidential candidate! If only Muslims were banned from entry to the USA this tragedy would never have taken place – ya, by the same male US presidential candidate. If semi-automatic weapons were not for sale, this wouldn’t have happened. If the government did its job the murderer could not have made the legal gun purchase he did. Now the world knows what Israel goes through, so do something about the Islamic terror network! How could those parents not have held their child’s hand, AT ALL TIMES? Why didn’t Disney have proper alligator warning signs posted by the lagoon’s shore? Disney should have neutralized the known threat that alligators on their property presented. The blame and judgements have been incessant. And also deeply troubling is us. We are a big part of the problem. We become apoplectic. We take sides but zealously only one side. The polarization is now of epidemic proportions. For example, why can’t we be against the existing US gun laws and at the same time also seeking legitimate solutions to the dangerous radicalization of Islamic fundamentalists? Must it be a zero sum game? But that argument has been an impossible one to have this past week or so. By ostensibly assigning cause to unlike positions, proponents of the other accuse you of being soft or worse, ignorant of their raison d’etre and vice versa.

So what is all this? It is fear. Fear of what you may ask?

It could be very much related to our general anger at strangers. Anger at ourselves. Frustration with others. Intolerance of others. Self-loathing. Hating others. And Confucius says, if you hate then you have been defeated.

My fear is only a self-reflection of what I desire. My fear is rooted in wanting something I cannot have. My fear is for the future and the uncertainty that awaits. My fear is that I expect you to behave in a certain way – and you don’t. My fear is that I know what you are thinking. My fear is that I see what is not there. My fear is that I don’t understand the understandable. My fear is that you can’t understand me. My fear is that I see me in you. My fear is based on ignorance. My fear is that I am dependent on what I hate, what I want and what I see. But the answer is love. Love of oneself – fully, completely and without preconditions. The more we love ourselves, the less room we have to fear anything. So my promise to me is hopefully found in my fulfillment to you. If I am pained by your actions, I now know that it is not you that needs to change, it is I.