When did it Become Acceptable?

pompeoWhen did it become acceptable in America for a man to mistreat a woman? When did it become acceptable in America for an American government official to take a woman in a back room and scream profanities at her? How does it come to pass that an American Secretary of State, a position that traditionally seen a diplomatic, is reduced to profanity laden back room thrashings of not only a woman but an educated woman with a Master’s Degree in the very field he then presumes to demand a pop quiz on, which she of course passes with flying colors – and then the Secretary of State turns around and lies about it? When did integrity become a thing of the past? When did honesty become optional? When did it become 1952 again?

When did guys like the guy pictured at right start to have even a sliver of a chance at getting angrymanelected or appointed to national office? When did guys like him start calling the shots in national elections? When did people who claimed to be people of faith start trading that faith away for a chance to grab temporal power and then still have the audacity to show up at a place of worship on Sunday claiming to be a believer? When did it become acceptable to slap on your snazzy Nazi uniform and stroll down to the park for a festive rally with your Nazi friends? When did the ability to burp slogans in an alcohol induced haze become more persuasive than informed discourse?

When did oaths stop meaning anything? When did it become perfectly acceptable to slander a decorated purple heart recipient, but unacceptable to expect the United States Congress, President, and his cabinet to be true to their oaths to protect and defend the

grab-my-pussy
I will take a pass.

Constitution? When did it become perfectly fine for Congress to decide to deliberately¬†not do its job by taking up legislation? When did it become okay for the President to “grab them by the pussy?”

I am not an old fashioned guy. I’m actually pretty forward thinking about most social issues. I am just wondering where common courtesy and common decency have gone. And before you start saying, “yes, but he did this and she did that,” you should know that you are just proving my point. We do lack self respect and a sense of self worth that we are more than willing to denigrate ourselves at the drop of a hat for a shot at momentary fame or momentary power. I want us all to understand that the bill is going to come due on these self destructive practices, and when it does we all will suffer the consequences or realizing how little regard we have for ourselves and each other.

$2.49 a Gallon!

mitt-pumping-his-own-gasSo declared the man on the other side of the gas pump last night. The amount represented at least a twenty cent increase from the day before. It was late, and although I am usually more diplomatic than this I responded, “Assassination is expensive!” He looked rather shocked, and I surmised that we didn’t share the same political perspective – or the same perspective on reality. I wished him well and put my hose away.

One of the key principles of Buddhism is known as dependent co-arising. It’s the idea that everything that happens is caused by a number of other factors. On a simple level, when you plant seeds in the ground in the spring they will need good soil, rain, and sunshine in the right amounts for the seed to grow. If you reverse the process, you can surmise that if you water good soil and the sun shines on it, if there is anything in the soil waiting to grow, it will. This is the origin of the weeds that cause people like me to stop gardening!

Whether we are national leaders or just trying to manage our lives, we need to recognize dog crappingthat everything we do has a kind of ripple effect and generates consequences. Let your dog crap on the neighbors lawn and the odds are you won’t have a friendly relationship with that neighbor. Parking your car in front of your neighbor’s garage will have the same effect. Grab women by their genitals and you might end up being President of the United States. These things don’t always make a whole lot of sense, but we do know without a doubt that since none of us lives in a vacuum, actions do have consequences – intended and otherwise.

Before we act, and before we support potential actions of our leaders, we should consider the realities of dependent co-arising. Oh, and gas at that same station today is $2.35, reminding us of another truth of Buddhism – Impermanence.

The End of Hate

I find it amazing that, in a civilized society, it would be necessary to write this post. Although we may at one time have been a civilized society, we have slipped off the mark in an orgy of selfishness that is the result of a profound distortion and perversion of rugged individualism.

The first time I wrote this post, about four hours before the second time, it was very different that the post you are about to read. Then I read something from Pema Chodron that made me see that I was way off base. I was going to tell you how we could stop people from hurting other people and stop the ignorance that caused hate. Those are good and noble goals I still endorse, but my thinking was all wrong.

hate-has-no-home-here-bumper-english-print-2-2Have you ever been forced to do something? As children we all were, or at the very least we were forced to not do something we wanted to do. How did you respond? You probably complied at the time, and then once whoever told you not to do the thing wasn’t looking you did it anyway. When I was young I heard Richard Prior tell a story about his uncle telling him, “Don’t ever eat a pussy, boy.” Richard admitted that as a result of that instruction he couldn’t wait to do precisely that! The truth is when I heard the story as a young teenager, I couldn’t wait to do the same thing – once I figured out what it was!

Can you see the irony in that when we want someone to stop doing something that hurts people our first instinct is to force them to stop? And can you see from your own experience just how ineffective that strategy is? Most of us have probably seen someone protesting war with an angry expression on their face. While we might not be able to articulate right away why that leaves us feeling uncomfortable, the fact is we are uncomfortable with the incongruence between a person’s behavior and their message. A parishioner of mine used to say, “that’s like screwing for chastity!”

If we want to change wht we see as negative behavior, in ourselves or in others, we needdalai_lama_10_15_2012 to understand why the behavior occurs. Maybe the person feels misunderstood, or ignored, or cheated, or that they have been the victim of injustice. Negative behavior and belief almost always originates because the actor feels hurt. The precise cause isn’t all that important when formulating a response.

I always shake my head when I hear people who have expressed admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, or the Pope, or any of the great spiritual teachers turn around and advocate violent intervention or forcibly restraining people who do things with which they don’t agree. I’m not talking about someone who poses an immanent threat to the physical well being of another, they do need to be restrained. I’m talking about Republicans, or Democrats, or Protestants, or Catholics, or Chicago Bears fans, all of whom might be seen to have taken on an unreasonable belief that is detrimental to others, or in the case of Bears fans to themselves. I’m talking also about antisemites, bigots, racists, NRA members, abortion protesters, and any number of objectionable characters who act out in ways we find unacceptible. If you want to lock these people up or force them to do as you wish, you don’t really respect the spiritual leaders you claim to respect. You haven’t listened to them.

The only thing that heals emotional pain is love and acceptance. The only way I can heal you is to heal myself, too. We need to learn to avoid knee jerk reactions, to avoid criticizing the person of the other even when I disagree with their behavior, and to always look for way to reconcile and make the other person whole again. As the great Hindu master Neem Karoli Baba taught, never put anyone out of your heart. This take a tremendous amount of practice and patience. We better start right now!

Who Are We to Be?

I confess that, watching the political discourse over the last few years I have become increasingly discouraged. I have watched American politics, not as an obsession but as a citizen interested in public discourse, since the late Johnson administration. To my more smart assed younger friends, I should specify that I mean the Lyndon, and not the Andrew Johnson administration. What I have noticed, at every level and in every party, is a loss of any sense of value or integrity. People just seem to feel fine about dishing bald faced lies to the American public if doing so advances their cause, career, or (more likely) lines their pockets.

If we are honest, these are the kind of people we wouldn’t want to invite into our homes for dinner for fear they would steal the silverware. Like a drug addicted child, we would have to exert so much energy monitoring their behavior while they were visiting that we couldn’t possibly enjoy the visit. If we are honest, we don’t have to stretch our imagination too much to imagine a current politician or one of their employees searching through our bank records while ostensibly on a trip to the bathroom.

As someone who has spent the vast majority of his adult like studying and working in the fields of spirituality, religion, and psychology, it is clear to me that a significant segment of our population has come worship power and money above all else. Values such as integrity, truth, loyalty, and dependability take a back seat in these belief systems. Perhaps even more telling is the truth that the worship of power and money arise in a person who is profoundly fearful and lacks a way to understand and process that fear. They become a starving man in front of a tray of food, who takes it and eats it without regard because he knows he must do so to survive – except that most of these people have more than enough to survive. Their starvation is a starvation of soul, and the result is an ego run amok. The result of their strategy is a life chasing something they will never catch.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Moslem, or a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You might be a Jungian, a Freudian, or a follower of Fritz Perls. Maybe Elkhart Tolle helps you make sense of your world, and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday makes all right in your world. Whatever it is, the human psyche needs a way to make sense of its world and to find in it something bigger than itself. It doesn’t need to be complicated. The Dalai Lama reminds us the his religion is kindness. Each of us must find a way to care about something other than ourselves at least some of the time. If we can’t do that, we are likely to find ourselves trying to lie, cheat, and steal our way to happiness – and pondering a run for political office.

What We Are Missing

It seems to me that we have lost sight of a basic ethical principal. I would state that principal as follows: An action is right or wrong independent of the impact of that actionBurning-House on me. Stated another, perhaps less gentle, way no one of us is the center of the ethical universe. Indulge me as I offer some examples.

If it is wrong to set fire to my neighbor’s house, it is wrong even if he offers to share the insurance money with me. My personal profit is irrelevant in making decisions about right or wrong. Similarly, telling someone at the bar that I am personal friends with Brad Pitt is wrong (unless of course I am), even if telling them that makes it far more likely they might go home with me. It’s wrong to lie, even if it means I stand a better chance of getting laid. This is the same principal at work as in setting fire to my neighbor’s house: My personal profit is irrelevant. Taking this to the employment environment, it’s wrong to lie on my resume or CV even if I think doing so offers a better chance of me getting hired.¬†Again, same principal.

I am afraid that we have come to conflate and confuse several related topics. We have decided that lying by a politician isn’t lying, it’s just “playing politics.” As Shakespeare said, “A rose (or in this case a turd) by any other name is still a rose (turd).” There is nothing about our goal in lying to people that makes lying a moral virtue or even morally neutral. Politics and integrity should walk together, not be opposed to one another. When that’s not the case, the result wide ends snlis what we have today in both parties: a highly corrupt system.

The idea that the ends justify the means may have valid applications, but we have pushed it too far and find ourselves left with, in practice, a system in which some believe that if the ends are of value then any means to achieve them are valid. That is absurd. If my wife asks me if a particular dress makes her ass look big and I want to stay married, a nuanced my answer may be justified. If I can make more money by lying about the environmental impact my actions will have, an impact that endangers countless lives, no level of nuance is acceptable. Nuance is okay if it saves marriages and avoids being needlessly cruel, but it’s not okay if someone becomes sick or dies. That should be as plain as the nose on our faces, but we’ve lost sight of it. We desperately need to correct our vision!

Much ado about nothing

The truth is that the divisions we create between Spiritual and political perspectives are most often a way to pump up our own egos and little more. We imagine there is some qualitative difference between a Buddhist and a Christian and theologians on both sides make a very tidy living perpetuating that misperception, but mystics on both sides agree that our commonalities far outnumber our differences. The same could be easily said of republicans and democrats.

If we look closely we will see that underneath every assertion that I am right and you are wrong lies the unspoken belief that I am better than you. That [erroneous] belief is the product of an insecure mind driven by an out of control ego. In truth we are not better and worse, just diverse, and that is really quite lovely – hardly something we should be trying to eliminate!

From what do you hide?

I happened to be out in the country the other day, about forty minutes west of downtown Milwaukee. It’s beautiful out there in what’s known as the Kettle Moraine part of Wisconsin. It is here that the glaciers did some of their most beautiful work during the ice age, and the countryside rolls in a way that would make you forget you were in the Midwest. It’s the part of southeastern Wisconsin where people own horses and their yards almost look as if they are part of a pine forest. Some of the homes are modest, some far from it, and one in particular was a festival of excess larger than a small office building.

I started to reflect on who might need that much space. I wondered if the escape into such space might be an attempt to isolate themselves from a world they is afraid of, yet from which they extract a rather exorbitant living. Then I happened to stopped at a home with a rather large American flag, under which flew an equally large Trump 2020 flag, making America great again by flying in a yard so protected by tall pine trees that nobody could possibly see it, an insulation against the intrusion of a far less idyllic but far more real world that contains a diversity the home’s owner simply cannot tolerate. MAGA is a prison of its adherents’ own construction, and with it comes only the illusion of freedom. An ironic prison is still a prison.

It is easier to understand moats and draw bridges when you see homes like this – homes with slightly more subtle but no less real barriers to intrusion by those perceived to be the enemy. The acquisition of material goods has not brought happiness but rather fear that someone will come along and take those goods. The god of materialism then compels the construction of a fortress to protect the goods, which itself requires even more materialism to pay for the protection,resulting in more anxiety for fear the protection will fail. When will the condom of materialism burst, and rather than semen mad hordes who want our stuff will come rushing in? This is the picture of the contemporary American dream, a dream that if someone is not careful leads to early departure at their own hand.

Morality is not a Popularity Contest

I have noticed that, quite often, when an organization determines that a certain course of action is the right course of action their next step is to enter into a long process to determine how to best implement that course of action. What they really seem to be doing is determining how to implement their decision in the way that will create the least amount of public relations damage possible. While I agree with the old adage that fools rush in where angels fear to tread, there are some problems that require action sooner rather than later. If your house catches fire, you want the fire department to arrive as soon as they can rather than wait until they determine the route that will offend the fewest people with their sirens and horns. The humanitarian crisis at our borders is a house on fire, but the issue is being referred to committees at a frantic pace.

second-guessingI understand that everybody wants to afford everybody else the illusion of empowerment (God help us all), but in some situations the reason we have placed leaders in¬† position is to take action while some well meaning soul forms committees in hopes that nobody gets offended. We have so battered many of our leaders that they are afraid to take action because they don’t want to weather the second guesses of their constituents, and so they fail to take action when required. We have a lot of damage to repair!

We might start that repair by learning to trust our gut. I believe there are many ways in which we communicate with one another that we can’t see or measure, but they exist nevertheless. Whether we call it intuition, a hunch, or trusting our gut, we respond to that information that is subtly communicated. How many times have each of us ignored our hunches only to later discover we should have listened to them? Sometimes we just need to take action. If we lose our position for doing the right thing, or the best thing we could, we need to ask ourselves if we would have wanted to remain in a place that confuses popularity with right action. I hope not.

Thoughts on the Weekend

Who is to blame?
Shooters keep killing
Moscow Mitch keeps on ducking
Problem will remain unchanged

The Lie
Guns don't make a man
Violence is always wrong
Real men suffer with

The Truth
Feel less than manly?
The problem is not outside
You must look within

Honesty is Such a Lonely Word

Billy Joel was right, not only about love but also about spiritual and religious circles – though he may not have had that in mind when he wrote his song.

There is a practice that I have seen both in Newage* circles and in Evangelical circles of 220px-Honesty_singleblatant dishonesty about the ideas and even the integrity of other teachers and preachers. If you run in the motivational speaker/Chicken Soup book circles, the odds are you do nothing but heap praise on others in those circles. According to these folks, everyone is wonderful at everything they do. Indeed, some of them are. Others mostly push content that is rather vacuous, largely rehashed and diluted ideas from long ago. The problem is that when everyone says everything is wonderful, people tend to believe them and go out an spend their hard earned money on books and conferences that are largely newage.

In Evangelical circles, particularly the Jim Bakker/Jimmy Swaggert circles, the same sort of things happen on a regular basis. I have seen it for myself. Almost every one of these high profile organizations gets hit with a scandal sooner or later, and they run to each other’s defense – especially if the person currently in the fire stood behind others when they were in the fire. I have witnessed these discussions. The problem here is even worse than it is in newage circles, because quite often what is being covered up and dismissed is serious misconduct that is abusive toward those the offender is supposed to be serving. If you think that only the large denominations traffic in cover ups, you are fooling yourself.

What we need in all corners of our world is a lot more honesty, no matter what the consequences may be. This may cause some sort term discomfort, but it will protect people from getting hurt by the unqualified and disqualified charlatans posing as authentic teachers and leaders. Imagine what might happen if we went so far as to require honesty from politicians!

 

*I borrow the term “Newage,” which rhymes with “sewage,” from Lama Surya Das to distinguish between solid and dubious New Age teaching.