Monday, March 26, 2012

                     Did You Ever Notice – 

                         Hearsay & Heresy 

              Differ by a Mere Two Letters?

The Self Psychology of Gossip

Our credulity is greatest concerning the things we know least about. And since we know least about ourselves, we are ready to believe all that is said about us. Hence the mysterious power of both flattery and calumny.                                                                                              
                                                                                      Eric Hoffer (1902–1983)
                             U.S. philosopher. The Passionate State of Mind,(1955)

Criticism is sacrilege, doubt is heresy.

                                                                                                                               Ben Hecht (1893–1964)
                                                                            U.S. journalist, author, screenwriter. "The Captive Muse,” (1954)

There is no worse heresy than when the identity of the person alone is enough to validate their hearsay in the eyes of others                                                                                         
                                                                                        Natalie Frank, Writer, 2012

A Brief Thought from the Land of Alternatives

Lest you have experienced it firsthand, it is naught by hearsay
Choosing to believe naught but hearsay
gives birth to the power of destruction
If I refuse to play by the rules of your hearsay,
rejecting your assertions of groundless hatred
with all my senses & thoughts & feelings
I render you powerless over me
your hearsay negated everywhere that matters
It is not that your hearsay no longer exists
It is that it never came into being to begin with
Now that all which maintained you never existed
It is you who are naught
And I pity you

Monday, March 19, 2012

Is Morality Dead?

So did you see anything in the mirror?  Did you look?  (See previous post).  As for me there were several things that came to mind not all of them necessarily complimentary or positive, including the necessity to make some decisions that have been a long time in coming and are well overdo. 

Last post I discussed the increasing belief that living a pleasing life and getting whatever we wanted had been transformed into a right and the growing number and kinds of justifications that allowed us to continue doing whatever it took to make this happen.  I also mentioned how we have learned to stretch of the “within reason” boundary to include what never would have been previously.  The more “modern” we become the better we get at compartmentalizing such that what was wrong yesterday just may be right today.
Yet as things always flow downhill, we couldn't stop rolling and gaining momentum until we shattered the boundary of a dual polarity categorization of morality - that of right and wrong.  This gave birth to the doing-allowing distinction.  The distinction here is between doing something bad ourselves and standing aside while allowing something bad to happen. 
The former, we decided is far worse than the latter.  Murdering someone is horrific, not preventing someone from being murdered - not actually so bad.  That made things far simpler.  Most of us can go about our lives doing what we need to do without murdering anyone.  Yet working towards preventing all those who are dying for lack of food or medical care around the world by joining Doctors Without Borders, well now we’ve just made things a whole lot more difficult.  But we had entered an era where it was considered perfectly fine to say, “I’d prefer to stick with door #1 please, Alex.”
There are those who are extremely socially adept, able to read exactly what another wants to hear, use an innate ability to act in a way that attracts attention.  They can cause others to become attached to them by gaining trust until they are automatically and instantly believed even when contradicting themselves.  Many such individuals are so desperate for the attention this behavior attracts that they are willing to create a hated other, causing the social network they are within to come to see the person based on whatever they were told. 

In terms of the doing-allowing distinction, for such individuals, it isn’t enough that they don’t use their skills to manipulate other, or  hurt others in the process, to obtain the attention and reputation they desire. Unless they do everything they can to use truthful, accurate information and deal fairly with others based on who they really are not who they pretend to be, rectifying any perceptions that are falsehoods, they are failing and badly.

Being good, or moral – doing the right thing – isn’t necessarily going to get you what you want or make you happy all the time.    Plus it’s hard predominantly because doing the right thing doesn’t just mean not doing the wrong thing.  It means taking definitive action to prevent yourself and others when appropriate from acting in a manner that is wrong.   
At times that may mean we don’t get what we want or are unhappy.  

When others are treating us badly for doing the right thing, we realize that the reality is that this idea we have that doing the right thing always results in positive outcomes is a bunch of bunk.  It sucks to be abused for taking the high ground.  Those rewards we all seek – most often it’s not the virtuous they go to but those who seemingly have no conscience.  Sometimes the life of being the good guy is miserable and incomprehensible.

I suppose it all boils down to one thing – who do you want to be?  Are you willing to become one of the immoral beings walking this earth illogicality your calling card, the prospect of hurting others to get what you want easily justified?  Or will you refuse to give in to your baser nature refusing to sink down to the level which may seem at times to be where everyone around you is hanging out? 

Who among us has the strength to become and remain this morally grounded person?  The truth will out.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Morality Isn’t So Hard – The Psychology of Self Protection

In the previous post I talked about how far we’ve traveled away from the time when doing the right thing was what truly made us happy, until we have become a race that defines right through justifications that legitimize our own happiness without taking into account how we might be hurting others.   So what happened to us?  It seems we lost our understanding of logical reasoning and failed to see the flaws, even as we introduced them into our moral code.

The changes began with an ego flare.  This sudden eruption of ego caused us to question the accepted belief that if the only way to get what we wanted or what would make us happy was to do the wrong thing, then we didn’t actually want what we thought we did and it would never lead to true happiness. 

All of a sudden we started asking ourselves, “Who said I don’t really want that or that it won’t make me happy?   It seems like it will.  So if the Moral Life and the Pleasing Life are the same, gaining pleasure will not affect who I am morally.”  You don’t have to be students of logic to see the flaws in this reasoning.  It’s a simple transformation from A is a necessary condition for B although they exist simultaneously, to A and B are the same so when B exists A must also exist. 

Luckily, before we’d traveled too far off into the wilderness, religion stepped in to clean up this misconception.  Religious leaders admitted that doing the right thing wouldn’t always make us happy or get us what we wanted and that it was indeed a hard path to follow.  What religion added was that despite all this, doing the right thing was still in our best interests.  This was accomplished by introducing us to the concept of Heaven and Hell.  So while we may actually lose what we want and not be happy all the time in this world, doing the right thing will get us into Heaven, a very good thing, while doing wrong will send us to hell, a very bad thing.

But then we lost our footing once again when our intellect became dominant and faith without proof was no longer enough for us.  We entered an era when we believed nothing was required to earn being happy or getting what we wanted, because we had come to label these things “rights”.   Everyone had the right to be happy and have what they wanted.  So those running around talking about responsibility to ourselves and others just didn’t get it.  Morality was supposed to be natural not hard. 

We’d done a 360, arriving back at the belief that doing what it took, at least within reason, to be able to experience the pleasing life, now an actual right for all, was the proper order of things.  And since the moral life and the pleasing life go hand in hand, morality couldn’t really be compromised by exercising our right to happiness, to advancement, to admiration, to attention, to gain in all manner of things.  Logical flaws, anyone?
Unfortunately, although by this point we’d significantly shifted our moral code regarding what we believed defined the members of that magic circle, to the point of overcrowding, we weren’t done yet.  We had begun our struggle with what was becoming the ever expanding “within reason” criteria for what was morally right and there’d be no regaining control of the reigns in the foreseeable future. 

And then there’s the contribution of psychology which suddenly began to fascinate everyone so they learned just enough about the topic to create a huge amount of trouble.  As each day passed, more and more psychological verbiage was thrown around as justifications despite the complete lack of understanding of what we were holding up as to champion our words and behavior. 

And if others were hurt by what we did or say that wasn’t our fault it was theirs.  Entirely blameless, our moral selves could not be touched.  We created the adage that no one could be hurt unless they let themselves.  This allowed us to take it another step further.  Since we weren’t responsible for others pain, we became convinced it was our moral right to judge, deemed fully within reason (alas the slippery slope).  

However, we also refused others the same right.  Thus, any attempts at working through an issue or problem which entailed the slightest suggestion that we possibly could have played some part in whatever had gone wrong triggered our defenses.  Out they came in full force, disguised by what were now automatic justifications though accepted as absolute truth.  
First, the other was clearly, undeniably wrong.  Then came the reasoning or attack showing just why they were wrong.  Their oh so obviously incorrect position was based on low self-confidence, self-hatred creating the inability to respond to others in any manner other than hate, lack of self-esteem and poor self-concept.  Add a few maladaptive coping strategies the individual was clearly using to cover all this up in particular repression of self awareness and projection of their negative traits onto others.  Now mix well and bake.  What comes out of the over is the justification of all justifications, “Well, heck that person should be hurt, needs to be hurt so they can self-actualize.” 
While I find I’m still working through this topic, I’ll end here for tonight, but not before I challenge you to perform one task when you finish reading this.  Don’t worry, it’s simple, at least on the surface.  Take out a mirror, and look into to it for at least several minutes, longer if you dare.  For some nothing may happen other than confirming the exercise was as stupid as originally thought; for others it may trigger something.  I can’t say what exactly, as its specific to each person.  But the results are up to you.  For you will only see what you allow yourself to see.   Do you have the courage to permit even a sliver of the illusionary self we all hide beneath to be revealed?   And lest you think I hold myself apart as being above such things, be assured that you won’t be alone.  I’ll see you at the mirror.    

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Social Underpinning of Morality - Please Ignore My Intent to Harm

In today’s world it seems that few are willing to do what it takes to live a truly moral or ethical life.  That’s part due to changing definitions allowing behaviors previously considered outside the realm to be justified such that they can still remain within the magic circle.  The other part contributing to this newly emerging narcissism is, well, let’s face it; doing the right thing can be really hard.  And actually, the opposite can be said of some individuals, doing the wrong thing can sometimes feel really, really good.  Especially, if we gain rewards for our words or actions, a result that we believe would never have occurred if what we’d done or said were really all that bad. 

As we are social creatures the rewards are usually interpersonal in nature. Suddenly we belong to a group in a way we’d always pined for; we mean something special to someone we believe to be a person of worth, it gains us attention when don’t know how to do so since it was always automatic, a given taken for granted, but now we’ve lost the sources we’d relied upon.  

So considering the significance of such magnificent rewards, some of which we may feel we can’t live without, is a little give here or there, a slight loosening of a boundary on this side or that really bad?  How can it be if our behavior, despite having previously been convinced of its wrongness and if observed in another person still judged wrong, results in something we have convinced ourselves is necessary to our very survival?

Yet as a race, we weren’t always this way.  At one time we understood that at its extreme there were times that in order to do the right thing we had to give up what we wanted most in life.  And we did so as doing the right thing was what we couldn’t live without.  We didn’t just believe that doing the right thing would make us happy; it truly did make us happy.

Yet that is clearly not the way today.  We seem to have no qualms doing the wrong thing, even if it hurts someone else, wounds them beyond repair, as long as we can point to a justification repeated so often as to be delivered and accepted just as easy as you please. 
Is there a way to undo this?  Somehow turn back the clocks to a time when right was right and wrong was wrong, when we continuously attempted to see through others eyes, take their perspective before doing anything that might affect them, this an integral part of our moral code? 

For morality is meaningless in a world of one.  It is in the arena of human interaction where we can understand why it was accepted that the moral life and the pleasing life must go hand in hand.  For when the pleasing life with all its desires and ego syntonic rationalizations slips the grasp of the moral life, it will repress the separation.  And on its own, while there still may remain vestiges of its moral counterpart it develops its own definition of morality.  Without its true twin to provide the way the version it comes up with is bound to be skewed and anything but moral.  

I’ll continue this topic next post as there’s much to say and from what is shown on the news day after day, with all manner of violence, dehumanization and untold harm that we perpetrate against each other, we seem to have lost our moral sense of True North.  There appears to be a growing tolerance in terms of what it takes to horrify us.  Where along the way did what previously was considered entirely unacceptable without exception and enough to make us shudder in disbelief at the cruelty we were witnessing, become something we now respond to with little more than a halfhearted, “Isn’t that sad?” 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Anyone Can Teach If We Are Willing To Learn

Never Lose Hope

Today I was contacted by a former student, one who’d undoubtedly taught me more than I’d taught him.  He’d also caused me to think about normality differently from even the multifaceted way in which I’d previously viewed it.  His name was Rip, short for Euripides, he had once explained to me, as his mother was into Greek Tragedy.
Rip was extremely bright though this description doesn’t do him justice.  There are many bright individuals walking the earth who use their knowledge only to gain admiration. Rip simply loved learning new things and discussing them with others.  Unfortunately, there were few he could find who would engage with him.  He had what would probably be labeled as Asperger’s Syndrome.

As the weeks passed we began to discuss all types of subjects and their implications.  I was fascinated by his reflections on the wide variety of topics he’d read about, all by choice.  I also came to be amazed by the seemingly limitlessness of his interests, and his ability to apply them to his life.
One day, after a lecture about social development Rip approached me looking out of sorts.  His shifted from one foot to another, remaining silent, a sure sign something was bothering him.  Then suddenly without uttering a word he began to walk off.  I sensed there was something he needed to say but that he feared the possibility of rejection.  Though desperately wanting to ask, I knew pushing him would result in a melt down and forced myself to let him go, despite the knots forming in my stomach.  I left in the opposite direction, feeling inept as my feet dragged me away.

Then, from behind, I heard Rip call me.  I turned towards him, noticing a pained look on his face.  He held my eyes silently for a beat then asked, “Why do I feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole?”

I struggled to come up with an answer that would speak to what I knew he was asking.  Before I could manage this, he asked an even more difficult question.
“What do I do?  I don’t want to be round.” 

Undoubtedly unprofessional, though I admit I wasn’t feeling particularly professional at the time, angry that he’d been made to feel this way, I responded from sheer emotion. 

“I think you should be the person you want to be, whether it’s square, triangular or hexagonal for that matter,” I replied.  “Whatever shape you choose to assume, I know it will be real, filled with meaning and possess the very potential of the Universe itself.” 

I think I shocked him and know I shocked myself with my rather unusual and forcefully uttered reply.  A moment passed.  Then another.

And then a smile slowly lit his face.  Without another word he walked toward the door at the other end of the hall leaving me standing stone still contemplating the lesson he’d taught me that day.  When able to move, I turned toward the door opposite where Rip had exited.  As I walked, having lost the drag but gained a slight bounce, I felt a smile grace my face which tumbled into laughter.  For once I couldn’t have cared less about the odd looks I received.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Asking the Right Questions

As the days have passed, I have continued to struggle, sinking back again and again into the viper filled pit.  I knew I was failing Jack, and if seen from what I believe would be his perspective, failing myself.  Then as a last resort I fell back on what I thought was a clichéd cop out – I asked myself what he would do with all this anger.  As I rolled my eyes at the thought of him in the midst of such a struggle in the first place, another question popped into my head.  

But why wouldn't he find himself in the midst of such a struggle?  Everyone has those moments when they’re so filled with anger over something they feel like they are going to explode.  Even if rare to the point of practical non-existence everyone knows on some level what that feels like.  Don’t they?  Though something I took for granted as just a part of the business of being human, I now began to wonder.  Was it really?

Lying back on my bed, I started thinking through all my memories of Jack, of the time we spent together.  I laughed and cried alternately, as one wonderful memory after another flooded through me until I realized what I was seeing.  Nothing but wonderful memories.  Happy memories.  Carefree memories even against the backdrop of an illness he was at the same time fighting against with all his might.  I suppose it’s natural to focus on the good times we had with someone when we’ve just lost them, yet some of the bad times, fights, flaws couldn’t help but sneak in.  Right?  So where were they? 

I don’t intend to suggest Jack was perfect.  He was simply a man who saw a need whether that of another or one within himself, and acted on it.   And that was where I began to find my answer, my remedy to the anger that had possessed me from the moment he left this world.  I was letting the experience take control of me, bend me anyway it chose.  I was viewing this whole thing as something that was happening to me. 

It was then I no longer saw my question as a cliché.  Because I suddenly knew what Jack would have done.  I knew why he wouldn’t have found himself in the abyss I couldn’t seem to climb out of.  When things happened to him, around him, to others he loved, he didn’t take the easy way out.  Instead of acting like a tantruming child, repeating “It’s not fair,” over and over, he would have responded. 

He would have found a way to make sense of it somehow, to learn something from it, then assimilated this new understanding into the way he lived his life.  The lesson incorporated, it would have become a subtle addition to that which he unknowingly taught the rest of us, modeled for us on a daily basis. It was all about how to construct a life in which just by living you made things better.   Better for someone else, a relative, a friend, a stranger, better for the world, better for yourself by changing something in need of changing or seeing something through different eyes.  And as simple as it sons defined through meaning no matter what circumstance we might find ourselves in.

As I reach this point in my writing I feel the fury I have allowed to violate my very being starting to give way.   While it may not be automatic to me as it was to him, as I reach for that place he so naturally existed in, striving to figure out how I might turn intention to learn from him into the act of change, I find the anger is letting go.  It’s not gone entirely, I won’t lie.  

But my breathing has eased and I see the fog beginning to lift.  Because I have realized it’s not about what happens to you.  It’s not even about the cerebral activity of reflecting on what you may have learned from a situation.  It’s about your response, what you do about it, how you use it to learn something about yourself and find some positive action that can result from even what may appear at first to be the ultimate tragedy.  It’s about making something even just a little better for someone else. 

I know even as I reread what I have written, I have stooped to more clichés, but they work.  The real question to answer was never “Why do bad things happen to good people?” because in this world at least, that question can never be truly answered.  It can only serve as a prompt for a philosophical debate.  

The real questions that we must answer as we go through this life when faced with situations that seem insurmountable are “What will I do about it?  How will I respond to this?”  For me, today, I will work to take all he gave me, showed me, taught me, and use it to try to figure out where change should begin.