My hometown was bombed – I still cannot hate

It was just shy of 7pm in Toronto; I pulled into my driveway and was about to turn off the ignition when I heard that startling interruption on the radio “late breaking news – an explosion has been reported at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester England – there are casualties.” MANCHESTER? While my parents and I left Manchester to become new immigrants to Canada as I was but an infant, my frequent visits and strong family bonds make that northern city of Britain forever a second home. I franticly began texting and reaching out to family and friends seeking assurances of their safety. “Everyone okay???? I just heard the news.” A cousin responded back several minutes later, “What news?” Such is the reality of today’s world of instant information – I was aware of the bombing 5700 kilometres away before my Manchester cousin who is living there. As the tragic and horrific magnitude of the cowardly suicide attack unfolded I was sickened by this latest act of nonsensical violence. I have daughters the age of many of the concertgoers. I intensely watched news of the bombing over the next several days and most chilling to me was listening to that all too familiar and distinctive Mancunian dialect uttered by grief-stricken eyewitnesses and the parents and relatives of the missing and killed. A dear Manchester friend posted the following on Facebook days after the attack:

“We’ve had 2 teenage girls, separately, with their mums come in to the shop this afternoon … both were at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. One was too scared [to have] me closing the curtain to the fitting room to try a top on and the other wouldn’t talk at all – it’s so scary and when they left, I burst into tears.”

In addition to the shock and horror, not surprisingly the chorus of hate and venom appeared from the usual quarters both here in my community, abroad and from the White House. The edicts of anti-immigration, “send them back” and impose the Muslim travel ban rang loud and clear once again. One of my ongoing struggles is to try and comprehend what the haters hope to achieve in a practical sense by indirectly slinging their invectives at a broad group of Muslims or any identifiable group for that matter. I say indirectly because they habitually preach such nonsense and vitriol to their own choir of haters – their base! Former Vice President and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore said on TV in the wake of yet another UK terror attack and other disconcerting news (attack in London and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change):

“We have a saying in Tennessee, if you find a turtle on top of a post you know he didn’t get up there by himself.”

Such is the underlying message of our own individual responsibility and ability to confront the hate we see in our daily lives. We, I am entitled to express sadness and outrage at the senseless loss of life and innocents maimed for life, but it ought to stop there. I am neither a politician nor a member of our police or armed services. Neither are most of you. All we can do is to either show love or hate. That is a choice. Therein lies our genuine power and ultimately the ability to make a difference.

In the wake of what are likely to be more terrorist attacks to come, I hope we can stand up to intolerance, to polarization, to incitement and see the good that is inherent in most living all around us.

 

What are you putting off until tomorrow?

“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”

Pablo Picasso

 

Should I mow the lawn today or wait until next week?

Can my hair go another few days until I get it cut?

Should I clean my bathtub today or try doing it tomorrow?

I am terrified of calling my estranged father today because of what he might say and how he will make me feel – and besides, he treated me so poorly.

We all recognize the signs of procrastination. Sometimes it is based predominantly on laziness – no harm no foul by delaying the action that will get done sooner or later.

However, where one is unsure of the outcome resulting from a perceived dreaded action, where deep down we feel it is a matter that we should take care of, fear and uncertainty takes over and can often paralyze us into inaction. We become so anxious and fearful of the outcome – sometimes we never embark on it and perchance – it becomes no longer possible.

Never does a day go by that I am not grateful for taking the bold and challenging step to reach out to my aging and estranged father – with one last gut-wrenching effort. And rarely a day goes by when someone I encounter does not own up to having their own family separation they are battling and yes, procrastinating over.

Ask yourself this … how long do you plan to wait until the choice is taken away from you?

That can of course mean one of two possibilities. You die first or they do. Then the choice is no longer a choice, but now the survivor of the bitterness lives forever with the reality confirmed as a permanent state. It is funny, we avoid the hard decision, one that can ultimately bring relief or resolution, but by not making the choice, the upshot is a life sentence of a painful matter unresolved that could have been undertaken.

 Once the choice has been taken away – now what? Guilt? Remorse? Regret?

So taking action is hard? You feel the other person should make the first move. They were in the wrong you were the wronged? They need you more than you need them. The hell with ‘em!

Is it your pride that is holding you back? Stubbornness? Refusing to give in? Feel it is a characteristic of weakness?

One last thought. Think of the example we are setting for our children. What are we teaching them? What if the shoe were on the other foot?

I do hope that someone out there reads this and chooses a different path and as a consequence receives an unexpectedly wondrous result … just one of you.

“We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. Never glimpse the truth – then it’s far too late when they pass away”

George Harrison

Resilience

 

“The easy days ahead of you will be easy. It is the hard days – the times that challenge you to your very core – that determine who you are.”  Sheryl Sandberg

All of us have suffered. Pain, sometimes resulting in trauma of some sort, has and always will be a part of our lives. We have failed. We have been ill. Within our close circle of friends and family we bore their hurt and anguish as well.

Life is regularly interrupted by emotional if not physical ups and downs – sometimes both at the same time. We question; why me, why me again, why now, why like this and when will it end? During this disturbance and sorrow we seek comfort. Comfort can take many forms through both healthy and unhealthy choices … physical and non-physical remedies. We also us seek out other people with whom to share our sorrow or alternatively seek the nonjudgmental, pure love and affection of a cherished pet.

These upsets, setbacks or just feeling out of sorts is a commonplace circumstance that befalls us every now and then even sometimes without any explanation or apparent causal effect. I have read recently that this phenomenon can be best described as being out of alignment. The natural or safe state of our emotional equilibrium can be jolted out of place – leaving us with a sense of searching, questioning, and fidgeting towards righting our position.

On Being, a broadly listen-to podcast by Krista Tippett recently aired a discussion with Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook fame and Adam Grant – a renowned multidimensional author. Adam, a friend to Sheryl and her late husband David, together wrote a book after her husband’s very sudden and untimely death titled Option B. I admit I have not read this yet but I plan to. However, this beautifully woven and stirring podcast on Resilience – is a lesson for all of us. Personally, it struck a resounding cord, and took me back in time as I reflected on aspects of my own ups and downs and up journey we call life.

Shit happens to all of us. And when that happens, we wipe it off, clean up and move forward again. What other choice do we have? But, we do have a choice in how or even if we pick ourselves up off the ground. We too often become absorbed in those “whys” noted above. We succumb to self-pity, leading to self-doubt and perhaps even a fatalistic view of our future.

Sandberg said that when bad things happen, one should seek to find the balance between no control and no order and the emotion one feels … and learn to accept this lack of control when bad things or hardship occurs.

Perhaps like you are doing now, I became motionless upon hearing those profound and deeply meaningful words uttered by Sheryl.

What did that symbolize in my life? “No control and no order” and “to accept the lack of control …”. Each one of us will have a unique interpretation of what this means only if we first make an attempt to decipher its adaptability into our own lives.

You see, whatever is going through your mind at this moment is proof that choice is an option even during the most difficult times of your life. Autopilot is only operational while cruising at 35,000 feet, but is not turned on when landing a plane. Autopilot is also not an optimal state during personal adversity and challenge – whatever form that may take.

This is the time to ask ourselves questions, for example, “what can I do now?” Not the reactive and reflex leaning “why” but the proactive, action orientated “what”.

But what prevents us from acting, doing and thinking differently from how we are accustomed is conditioning. Only as one arrives at the conclusion that the old ways are no longer serving us well can walls be torn down and in their place bridges constructed towards a new, fresh and liberating methodology. It is this psychocultural rigidity that inhibits our growth as truly evolved human beings. Not an easy lesson …

To put it another way, Adam Grant wrote,

“Too often, we get stuck in defending our old views instead of being open to exploring new ones.”

I believe that an emotionally healthier resilience for all life’s challenges that awaits us depends upon us moving closer to that which we are all capable of – exercising the choice that we have in most facets of life.

 

Is it just me?

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

Elie Wiesel

 

Do you ever feel alone, alone in the sense that you feel yourself to be an outlier? That in your group, your family, and your religious circle or within your political affiliates that on “big picture deliberations” you think differently than the rest? Is there something wrong with me? Why can’t I be like them, behave like them, react as they do to the environmental stimuli that is common to our coterie?

On the one hand, differences are what make us human and individualistically unique. Sometimes, I say to myself that I am glad that I don’t think as my cohort does and many of them I am sure opine as they read these words; “here goes Stuart again, he just doesn’t get it.” Or, those that know me may mutter to himself or herself disbelievingly, “What ever happened to him?”

So here I go.

I am observing a significant rise in unconcealed racism across the USA and in Canada – hopefully not an earth-shattering revelation. Over what period of time you may be wondering? Let’s say in the last half a year. The fact that not everyone agrees is obvious yet disturbing to many others and me. I am not necessarily positing a cause of the racism, just the recent increased frequency of it.

Is it just me?

An alleged and heavily armed white racist walks into a mosque in a suburb of Quebec City murdering six Muslim worshippers. Numerous Jewish cemeteries have been vandalized across the USA and multiple bomb threats phoned into Jewish Community Centres in the USA and in Canada. In a Kansas bar two East Indian men are shot with one dying in the attack. The motive? The white perp mistakenly thought they were both Muslim yelling, “Get out of my country” as he took aim! And listening to the announcement for the creation of Homeland Security’s V.O.I.C.E. – Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement, an immigrant only crime reporting structure sent chills down my spine. Shall I go on? In the past few months the unrelenting list of hate inspired; statements, executive orders, posts, rants, tweets, threats and tangible violence has swelled beyond anything recognizable in decades.   And this: The following is a tweet this week by Steve King, a Republican sitting member of the House of Representatives from Iowa, “We can’t restore our civilization with someone else’s babies”. That tweet was in support of Dutch leader of the Party for Freedom – Geert Wilders, who can at minimum be described as an extreme nationalist.

These facts are irrefutable. They are not “alt-facts”, this is not “fake news”, and this is what is happening. The dead Muslim shooting victims are in fact dead and were buried. Family members did in fact find their relatives gravestones toppled and the aggrieved families did not bring it on themselves as had been suggested. Oh, the ban on Muslim entry into the USA (from the now six Muslim countries – down from the original seven – how did one country become good so quickly?) to ward off the rise in terrorism on USA soil, well, there has been no such causal rise in terrorism in the USA (yes, many will say it is a pre-emptive action however with limited justification). FACT. Most if not feasibly all Mexican illegal immigrants are neither rapists nor criminals. FACT. But someone of importance, in a position of power is instigating and spreading this hate via lies and innuendo or worse, turning a blind eye as it goes on unopposed under his nose. This new American leadership is spinning a racial web of mistrust and malicious insinuation. These actions have tapped into the hate, intolerance and ignorance that indeed EXISTED six months prior. It is not new. But the underbelly of society that has been harbouring such tenacious racism has been liberated and has come out from the xenophobic rocks under which they dwelled.

Is it just me?

On the brighter side … I believe that all this must lead to a brighter side.

Something is changing. The apex is approaching. I am beginning to see harmony “outside” my group whatever that group is. Imagine, me, a Jewish would-be writer in Toronto being on common ground with a White Methodist farmer in Wyoming? Picture an African-American Catholic teacher in Detroit united against hate with an Atheist LGBTQ investment banker in Tampa? A laid-off Lutheran Pennsylvanian coal-miner and a Muslim Syrian refugee who works at McDonalds in Saskatoon both being on the same page if-you-will united as human beings, both blind to our physical and cultural differences. It is happening. But it needs more of all of us to break down the barriers and the walls of intolerance towards those not like us … whoever the us is.

Many have seen it before OR it was our forebears who bore witness. We have a collective responsibility to stop it and call it out for what we recognize once again.

Is it just me?

It’s not the politics … it’s the hate

You have no doubt witnessed this yourself. The hate, animosity and recriminations coming from the left and right are occurring unabated everywhere from social media, to home and in the workplace.  Friendships have ended, families have been fractured and the increase in depression and anxiety amongst many is palpable. In other words we are at each other’s throats. And I can’t imagine any scenario where this is a healthy phenomenon.

One person is to blame. Actually two. You and I count as one.  No one forces us to do anything we don’t want to – think or act. However, one other is fostering this hated making it rather easy to tag along, perpetuating the vicious cycle, encouraging and leading in the vilification of anyone who disagrees or heaven forbid criticizes the PEOTUS. And that is Donald J Trump. If you are still reading – great – please hang on a bit longer.

I generally don’t know if this or that policy is better economically, socially or politically. I suppose it matters for who is better with this or that policy! I have voted in the past as a liberal, a conservative and as a conscientious protest voter so I am not ideologically bothered with a Republican or Democrat in the White House. Even though I am not an American, but were I, I would be considered an independent – one of those swing voters persuaded by the issues or the candidate of the day both nationally and jurisdictionally.  My vote might also at times be predicated more on international politics than domestic ones or vice versa in any given election. In the meantime governments come and go … And a new one arrives on January 20th.

We are often initially disappointed or conceivably even angry at the eventual decision of the electorate. Our guy or gal lost but we get over it and live to fight the good fight next time! Then as the mandate progresses sometimes we become quite upset with the government of the day, with the leaders or specific decisions (or inaction) they take. Some of us loathed George W Bush. Some despised Bill Clinton and someone (or an entity) hated John F Kennedy enough to assassinate him.  However in this most recent election between Donald J Trump and Hillary R Clinton something distinctive happened. We not only hated one of the two candidates (dare I say a normal election emotion) but we began hating one another in direct correlation to which side we took and “bigly”. So even as a Trump supporter, can you not see how it is so different this time? Please hang on a bit longer.

Why is personal animosity a product of our opposing political leanings and why now? Why not before? What is new and different this time? This bothers me to no end. I am fearful for our future if somehow this torrent of hate is not immobilized and if not entirely destroyed (naïve I know) at least recognized individually as an abjectly destructive and debilitating force for each and every one of us personally.

Everything has its reasons. There is a reason we feel and contemplate matters as we do. Whether it is our upbringing, our influences, our fears, our insecurities, or our prejudices (most of us have them), once we recognize the source or cause of the malaise only then can we begin to rectify the situation – but only IF we choose to see that it is in fact a problem – our problem.

The demeanour of the President Elect is shall we say; crass, uncouth, demeaning, derisive, loud, unsympathetic, narcissistic (sorry for those that disagree with that categorization or the next) and deceitful. He has sunk the discussion across the many platforms and settings where we all discuss this circumstance. This is not about any policy (yet), but a tone. It is an unmistakable tone that transcends policy to intolerance, anger and hate. Maybe we are better off with improved relations with Russia. Perhaps Obamacare can be replaced with a superior health coverage program. Possibly a President Trump can bring back better jobs for the displaced American worker without triggering a worldwide recession. Great. Love to see it. But the other stuff need not be a part of the package – that is what he does not get or simply underscores incapability. And we need not fall into line and follow as deficient a human being as is one DJT. It is our decision and choice how to act towards our fellow and who to follow as an example and who not to.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; True nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway

P.S. By the way I am definitely not in favour of walls …

Distant from others suffering …

“Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action.” David Brooks

At this time of the year we are quite naturally reminded to “count our blessings” – with or without anyone inspiring our consciousness to do so. In December there is a holiday for many. In order – Mawlid an Nabi, Bodhi Day, Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas. The latter, even to this non-Christian has always been a time I have enjoyed due to the enhanced mellowness that exudes from so many even during wicked rush-hour traffic in Toronto during a seasonal snowstorm, such as we experienced last week. I surmise this personal observation is true for many of you as well – Christian or otherwise.

For me this year, despite it being December, I am in a sulking disposition all too aware of the suffering of others – but is that enough to matter? The daily tragedies I am reading about and brooding over from Aleppo Syria in particular are beyond heartbreaking – they are demoralizing. I know that some will claim “Fake News” reporting is coming out of Aleppo – fine. That is all I can say of that to those holding such viewpoints. Aleppo is a chilling reminder that man’s inhumanity to man is not a relic of the past but is still dishearteningly present today and must be fought and contested whenever and wherever it is surfaces.

The story of a child dying in Santa’s arms in a Tennessee hospital now appears to be a deception and those of us who were so moved to tears are now supposed to feel bad for feeling. The very act of feeling is now unhappily to be questioned and needs authentication first before we display our emotion.

And certainly other tragedies have befallen previous Decembers, but it feels different this time around.

I am fretful about the state of the world and the United States in particular. More than anything, I am despondent about my observation of a dismissive callousness towards minority groups and individual rights and the feeling of suffering many of them / us have. I recognize these serious apprehensions from within; the LGBTQ communities, Mexican and Latino groups, Muslims, Jews, Pro-choice groups, women, African-Americans, immigrants, people representing freedom of the press, liberals, those genuinely anxious over cyber security, native Americans and more. Most ominous perhaps emanating from some quarters is a collective obliviousness over the famous passage; “First they came …” by Martin Niemoller;

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Some people who should know better seem to have forgotten.

Thankfully, many remind us of what they see as being wrong in the world. One may at times object and find disfavour with their words, but they have the bravery, determination and audience to be heard and for that I applaud them and hold immense gratitude towards them all. I am speaking of insightful writers and thinkers like; David Frum, Summer Brennan, Peter Daou and others. Then there are the more apolitical types who simply write from a universalist heart embodying their fortified truth, like Sheri Eckert (aka Dear Human) and Monique Hohnberg.

But the words of David Brooks above still bewilder me. Are we even making a difference when we have genuine empathy for the suffering and the vulnerable amongst us or far from us? Are we accomplishing anything by raising awareness of peoples suffering anywhere on this planet, whether within our respective local and national jurisdictions or abroad?

So I am not able to offer up an answer to Brooks’ quandary. My only wish is that through our societal consciousness, a resurgent attentiveness of the marginalized or perchance could be marginalized and by the inculcation of Martin Niemoller’s warning, may we all have self-awareness and mindfulness to somehow come closer to other peoples suffering – as a start, through empathy which is a fundamentally good place in which to dwell.

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.”  Moshin Hamid

 

 

 

 

Trying not to be a Hypocrite …

Definition of Hypocrite;

‘A person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.”

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I have been nonexistent here for over a month … but not on social media. It has been perhaps the most challenging period for me since I began sharing my written thoughts with you eighteen months ago.

Like so many of us, the American election, for Americans and non-Americans alike and its excruciating aftermath, has consumed me, infuriated me, emboldened me, depressed me, “created” acrimony amongst friends/acquaintances/relatives/strangers and has left me with an omnipresent feeling of guilt.

These are not the mindsets I want to hold as I wholeheartedly believe in my “new view of the world”, as one friend recently pointed out to me in deriding fashion, however, he is correct – in a manner of speaking. Fortunately, I recently caught myself spiralling into a trough of vacillating bitterness with my cousin on the other side of the pond and on the other side of an issue. We both stood down and pursued love and respect – which I know we both have for one another. But it was work! Should it be?

If you haven’t yet followed me on Instagram – I hope you will. And if you have not hitherto embraced Instagram I encourage you to do so. On that platform, dissimilar from Facebook, Twitter or to any number of morose pundits one may subscribe, I for one have been able to perfectly insulate myself and escape from divisive politics, rancour, or any debate and instead, have been successful in submerging myself into and/or posting only “good vibe images” of love, peace, universal friendship and the power to change ones life through resolute personal choice.

My dilemma and guilt is found between what I have been sucked into on Twitter and Facebook (my choice entirely – my bad) and the dichotomy of my Instagram activity. In a nutshell – I felt my varied actions to be hypocritical.

Do you agree? Or have you similar personal misgivings about your own inconsistent actions and thoughts? We all strive to be the best we can be within the current boundaries of our imperfect amalgamation of knowledge we have acquired thus far. Is it fair however to be so self-critical?

Endeavouring to be consistent in our lives has a number of meritorious elements for us. People understand what we stand for. There should be no surprises. One would expect fewer misunderstandings and mixed messages (my issue). Perhaps more people would respect our views despite the fact that one may genuinely deviate from them.

On the other hand – we are complex cognitive beings. We are multifaceted in thought, actions, love, empathy, jealousy etc.

We are naturally wired to think critically and therefore I believe, that as a cognitive mammal it is unnatural or better said disingenuous to force oneself into a hermetically sealed box (blindly or otherwise) of one politically or socially circumscribed philosophy. I am quite sure I would make for a lousy politician.

So in this doctrinally polarized environment, if one takes a stand where one feels, “it is just too important to be silent”, personal assaults will be inevitable and one must be prepared for them. If I am sending out peaceful vibes on Instagram and sharp digs out on Facebook or Twitter, so be it. It is what I believe in. And, notably – I am prepared to face the music. It is our choice that allows people to get “under our skin” and feel unsettled. In the international best selling book, The Four Agreements, author Don Miguel Ruiz expounds on the Second Agreement, Don’t Take Anything Personally.

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. You become immune to black magicians, and no spell can affect you regardless of how strong it may be. The whole world can gossip about you, and if you don’t take it personally you are immune. Someone can intentionally send you emotional poison, and if you don’t take it personally, you will not eat it.”

Being authentic is not being hypocritical. Being a critical thinker is where we find genuineness and objectivity. That is what I always strive to uphold. If I remember that, I might also remember ALL of Ruiz’s four agreements.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

Aristotle

 

truth-and-post-truth

So there …

 

To those who support Donald Trump – you are forgiven

“As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re gonna be dizzy and we’re gonna make mistakes.” Mel Brooks

As this blog is about forgiveness, allow me to start by asking for your forgiveness. Some of you have seen me tweet or post articles about my concerns of an American presidency under Donald Trump. Just to be clear, I have never posted a favourable (Canadian spelling) endorsement of his primary opponent – Hillary Clinton. Some of you have attempted to read between the lines and put words into my mouth – that is fine and that is your prerogative. I have nonetheless been against Trump – period. And now for asking forgiveness … I am not an American citizen.

Who am I to stick my Canadian and British nose into your very serious business of a national election?

Some Americans have encouraged my voice – and I thank you for that. But to those of you who are offended in any way, I do apologize for voicing an opinion into your election where I have no vote. But I will ask for your consistency. You will of course refrain from criticizing or showing support of any foreign governmental entity or election outside of your own national jurisdiction.

As you are aware, this has been an election, #Election2016, like no other. The acrimony, the name calling, the anger, the vitriolic accusations have all been an unremitting existence on the daily news and social media feeds flooding our brains and souls for months.

It has been reportedly causing anxiety, depression and as a recent The Toronto Star editorial quoted below says, it has also “ … led to an unprecedented wave of bigoted bullying in schools…” I for one will be glad when it is over, but fret what is yet to come.

I have tried to understand why approximately half of the American electorate are in favour of The Donald. The same goes for non-Americans who too favour his ascendancy to the highest office. I fear what is represented by the fact that so many of you seem to adhere to the clarion call to lockup #HillaryClinton for crimes not only where she has never been convicted but also never even charged. Is this the America we all know and dare say respect? How do you, the rational, intelligent and accomplished, many friends of mine, have the ability to look past the blatant and outright misogyny and degradation of the individual consistently coming from Trump’s mouth and “smartphone”?  I have heard from some of you that it is for religious reasons that you support Trump despite your acknowledgement of his well-publicized and copious deficiencies.

Insofar as small “c” conservative politics / economics goes – most of you do realize that Trump has never been nor is he now a true conservative. He is however, sadly, YOUR GUY! And you are likely to #vote for YOUR GUY. Even House Majority Leader Paul Ryan has reluctantly come out and said he has voted for #TrumpPence and every Republican on his ballot. That is a sad state of affairs when intelligent people park their brains at the door because of partisan politics. Surely there are some exceptional Republican candidates on the down-ballot ticket but likewise some are not.

But as I alluded to earlier, my overarching concern is for November 9th and the next four years. I fear for the demagoguery that I opine is one #DonaldTrump. No other Republican candidate would have whooped up such insanity, as has this man.

I cannot better articulate the distress felt by so many than by the words of that Toronto Star editorial of November 4th 2016.

“Trump has unleashed a flood of nativist feeling and outright racism that will pollute American political life for a long time to come. His attacks on Mexicans, immigrants, Latinos, Muslims and others have already led to an unprecedented wave of “bigoted bullying” in schools, according to one survey. He’s given public permission for the worst kind of prejudice, always simmering below the surface of American public life. Once released, this cannot easily be put back in the bottle.”

Naturally we support one side over another. Too often we fail to see the other perspective. I too in this election am extremely challenged on that front. I admit it. Normalcy – a term coined by then Presidential candidate and eventual victor Warren Harding in 1920, is a state in which I yearn we can ascend. So when this election is done, and regardless of who wins, I hope we all have the desire and intestinal fortitude to reinvigorate relationships with; friends, confidants, colleagues, associates, casual social media followers and family members.

Now more than ever, wise words of almost a century ago ring true today.

“America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.” Warren G. Harding

 

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.