We each began a (more-or-less) weekly blog in February, 2006. In part, we're do this to keep our writing noses to the grindstone, and in part to reveal some internal dialogue to our nearest and dearest - and any other interested website readers. The most recent blog entries are at the top of the page.
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| Bill's Blog About Bill
|| Pat's Blog About Pat
[Ed Note: Bill has taken a temporary vacation from blogging, at least we hope it's temporary. For the moment, guitar work has taken over his life.]
I heard Alberto Gonzales' testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. He is disconnected from reality. His babbling inconsistencies and ‘I don’t recalls’ (over 70 of them) to try to convince the committee that he was merely incompetent, not devious in his handling of the firing of U. S. attorneys, completely failed. This whole episode (politicizing the justice department) is coupled with all the other unconstitutional manipulations by this administration in which Alberto Gonzales had a major hand:
The hearing brought one of William Butler Yeats’ poems to the forefront of my mind. He wrote it over 75 years ago and it pinpoints for me what is going on in our world now.
I just watched Vice President Cheney on Face the Nation. If you can you accept his basic stance, then his thinking is in fact rational. He is a perfect reminder that we humans fabricate reality, and then respond to the reality that we fabricated as though it were fact.
Mr. Cheney swerves away from the overwhelming evidence that the country was lied to over and over again in order to get us to accept the Iraq invasion. He avoids the overriding evidence that 9/11 was sanctioned, if not planned and perpetrated with the full knowledge of members of the Bush administration. He ignores the massive demonstrations in Iraq to get the U.S. to leave. He dismisses the fact that most of our primary allies (France, Germany, Italy, etc.) disagree with what we are doing. He denies that Iraq is now in civil war.
He doesn't accept that the administration has lost credibility - in spite of unanimous signals from polls. He weasels on the lack of WMDs, paucity of Hussein/Bin Laden connections, the Scooter Libby perjury conviction, and Atty. General Gonzales' difficulties. His stance is entirely predicated on spinning the notion that the terrorists are out to get us because of our values, and so we have to be vigilant at all times.
He avoids the reality of climate change and other global problems affecting all humanity while living with a fabricated rationale that makes the next step easy - stop Iran at all costs.
About 135 years ago, at the age of 26, Frederick Nietzsche said:
He meant, I think, that Rome was about expansion and power, military and imperial might; whereas Athens focused on beauty and aesthetics, the development of insight and physical strength - as in the Olympics.
How well that statement fits the U.S. today. More strength to the leaves and stem. Increase the military budget, send more troops, and yet more again. What is our ultimate for the creation of an ideal society? Is it ethical or only economical? Is it merely more is better, bigger is better, perpetual growth is better, more stuff is better? How will we tell when we've achieved it or even when we are getting closer to it? Where is our flower? What is our vision for ourselves and our world? And how could we ever hope to move toward its fulfillment if we don't even know what it is? Is it any wonder that more and more of our children when asked what their hopes and goals are for themselves say they want wealth, to be rich? Is it any wonder that our teenagers 'hang out' at malls?
Nietzsche also said that life needs to be more than a thoughtless accident. Surely it is time for an ongoing dialogue among individuals, groups, institutions, schools and in the political arena to address what we want for ourselves, for our society, for our world, for our children. Perhaps a position to initiate such a dialogue would be Ernest Becker's suggestion that the criteria by which to measure a society should be the extent to which it seeks to maintain the greatest degree of individual freedom in balance with the greatest degree of social harmony.
In the U.S. we are systematically forfeiting the representative democracy which our forefathers founded. Over this past century our culture has been transformed from one that was essentially ethically driven to one that is economically driven. Capitalistic consumerism has evolved through corporate globalization into a driving force wherein economic interests dictate both domestic and foreign policy. Citizenship has largely been reduced to consumerism, membership in a spectator democracy with optional voting for affirmation or dissent every four years. Meanwhile elected officials who profess to represent us govern with ongoing indifference to the expressed will of the people.
How have we become so passive a citizenry? How is it we accept living without meaningful input into our society and simply put up with whatever transpires?
I nominate our educational system as a primary culprit. It is the only public institution tourching the lives of every citizen. If you're sick you go to the hospital, if you're bad you go to jail, if you're a child you go to school. And what is the essential social dynamic which our schools model? Our children learn in institutions in which they have zero input into the rules by which they are required to live. Students are expected to be quiet, obedient, and compliant, to study what they are told to study and to fit into a system that they are powerless to influence or modify.
Is it any surprise that we breed passive adults who don't expect to have any meaningful influence on the society in which they live? Where would they ever have learned the skills necessary to critically evaluate the culture of which they are a part or how to make suggestions for its improvement? Where would they learn that each of us has a social responsibility to evaluate and assess our institutions and governmental policies, to take a public stand and to inform our representatives about what we want, and what we want changed or stopped?
Cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker suggested that an ideal social model would be based on the dual values of maximum individual freedom and maximum social harmony. He proposed that a primary goal of education should be to teach students:
Our educational institutions ought to be charged with operating as representative models of systems adhering to these dual goals with ongoing input from students and faculty. Then, they could consistently make modifications to move closer to the stated ideal. This approach would teach students to become responsible participatory members and critics of the institutions of which they are part. It would teach:
Some years ago Alice Miller said "If you don't like the way the world is going, rear your children differently." Acting on Becker's suggestion for schools would certainly be one way to do that.
Hypotheses in science are analogous to ideas in economics and political affairs. A hypothesis or idea is the first step in the creation of a theory which is held to be good until it fails to work in practice and then must be revised. Superior theories are superior because they are better able to explain relevant data, facts, or observations.
The question for testing scientific theories is: "How well does it meet the standards of predictability, repeatability and comprehensiveness?" if the experimental observations fail to meet these criteria, the hypothesis is refuted. If a hypothesis survives efforts to falsify it, it may be tentatively accepted as a theory. No scientific theory, however, is ever conclusively established. Newton’s theory revised Aristotle’s and then Einstein’s revised Newton’s.
We ought to apply these standards to so-called economic "theories" but we don't. Consider "theories" such as trickle down economics or the notion that lower taxes leads to economic growth and therefore there's more more for everyone, or the benefits of corporate globalization. They completely fail the predictability standard. Not only the number, but the percentage of people below the poverty line has skyrocketed, both at home and abroad. A glance at the outcome of the efforts of the World Bank or Agency for International Development (AID), to facilitate growth in 'developing' nations indicates ballooning increases in international debt for those nations, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of peasants thrown off the land in order to grow products for export to repay debt rather than to grow food to feed the local populations, and a handful of industrialists becoming wealthy while additional millions of people fall below the poverty level.
One might conclude that our economic "theories" are in direct competition with astrology for making false and unverifiable predictions. Clearly it is time for us, the US and other first world industrialized nations, to move on to new and better economic policies aimed at improving the quality of life of those living below the poverty level both at home and in the third world.
This is a tribute to Jack R. Gibb (1914-1995) and his book TRUST: A New Vision of Human Relationships for Business, Education, Ramily and Personal Living.
Years after I read this book, I met and spoke to him at a workshop he gave in Washington, D.C. in the early 1990s. One thing he said to me continues to stand out in my mind:
The central issue becomes do you trust life or don't you? Dr. Gibb clearly identifies the dynamics of fear and trust at both the personal and organizational level. His book identifies the terrible destructiveness of fear within organizations and individuals. He does not, however, like so many others just leave us with an understanding of what's wrong. Based on his life's work (research and working with individuals, groups and organizations) he provides powerful and useful suggestions of how to discover and apply the power of trust in our relationships with others.
For me that early decision determines whether our default setting in life will be trust or distrust, whether we approach life from a "yes" or a "no" stance. When we are in mistrust stance, we always question what others say and do, and never question our own perceptions and conclusions. We enfranchise ourselves to fabricate the motivations of others and then act on the assumption that our fabrication is based on factual data and fully justifies our response.
Sadly, it is evident that the current default setting of the USA is "no." Don't trust! Don't trust Iran, the UN, Castro, immigrants, the World Court, our French and German allies, international treaties (such as , the Kyoto Protocol, the Landmines Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Chemical and Biological Weapons Treaties) or, as the Homeland Security Act indicates, don't trust our own people. Habeas corpus is no longer a trustworthy policy. The Bush administration has shattered all prior records for the quantity of information it has classified. Citizens cannot be trusted to read it. Apparently we are bent on establishing a new world order based solely on distrust. With pre-emptive strike it seems that the U.S. default setting is now 'we hit back first!'.
A paradoxical byproduct is that we are being trained to distrust our own government. Distrust, like love, seems to be an appetite which feeds upon itself. Where shall we turn for the trust, belief, vision and hope that we need and owe to our children?
In his book, The Discovery of Being, written a quarter of a century ago, the existential psychologist, Rollo May, explicates what he calls 'normal' anxiety, and 'normal' guilt. He holds that because we humans have self-consciousness we are consciously aware that we exist and are thus capable of, and therefore responsible for, choosing how we live our lives. To what extent do we choose to go at life with conscious intentionality, and to what extent do we allow it to be, as Nietzsche said, merely a thoughtless accident?
May contends that 'normal' anxiety is a characteristic of the drive within us to fulfill our own individual potential, to be 'ourselves', to play our own song as it were. When confronted with the issue of fulfilling our potentialities we experience anxiety. When we deny these potentialities or fail to fulfill them, we experience guilt. To that end all humans experience both normal anxiety and normal guilt to some extent because none of us perfectly fulfill all of our own potential. Notice that May is not talking here about neurotic anxiety or guilt, but ontological or existential anxiety and guilt. That is to say, if you are born a human being these come with the package just as self-awareness does.
May identifies three forms of ontological guilt:
May contends that normal ontological guilt does not carry the negative connotation of neurotic guilt. It is not the guilt that arises from our upbringing, religious beliefs or one's culture. This onotological or existential guilt has constructive effects in our personality development. To that end it is a useful element in helping us to develop such characteristics as empathy, compassion, tenderness, humility, benevolence, modesty, sympathy, altruism, good will and sensitivity to others.
He further points out that both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, as well as the existentialist philosophers who followed them, indicated that the two chief sources of Western man's anxiety and despair were: (1) loss of a sense of being as a unique creative individual - as compared to a cog of mass culture; and (2) loss of contact and communion with the natural environment.
At a time when our government is engaged in: an illegal war; in mass detention of citizens as 'enemy combatants'; using torture in violation of the Geneva Conference; wiretapping U.S. citizens in contravention of FISA ; and subverting international efforts to alleviate the effects of global warming, it would appear that our current state of affairs bear out the accuracy of May's perceptions.
We are indeed alienated from ourselves, from our fellow man, and from nature. Our ever increasing level of personal and collective isolation and alienation suggests that it may be time for us to go back and read (or reread) Riesman's The Lonely Crowd or Becker's Denial of Death and Escape from Evil. Or perhaps, watch or read Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, and begin acting on some of the ten things he suggests that any individual can do to help stop global warming.
From what I've been reading in the news these days, the alternative seems to be to sit around getting fat while our democracy and our planet go down the tube. All this leaves me to wonder will our 'normal' anxiety about the state of the world ultimately move us toward action, or 'normal' guilt?
Karl Rove has left George Bush hanging with his trousis down. Mr. Rove operated as if winning was the only thing and damn the torpedos. We all now have to live with the torpedos, the work of a powerful man with no ethical compass. Some say he had a brillant mind. Perhaps. A brilliant understanding of how to manipulate the masses, especially the right-wing Christians, but deeply tarnished by a failure to understand that life is more than "us" against "them." Gone from the White House may be a great intelligence, but one that didn't show much evidence of wisdom. Let us all hope he learned a bit from his time "in office."
Scenic Trails is a campground in Hancock County, Mississippi, 30 minutes away from the nearest town. Not that different from other campgrounds in the neighborhood, Scenic Trails is filled with FEMA trailers that house evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. This County alone is "home" to 2,000 evacuees living in several former RV campgrounds selected because they have hookups for the FEMA trailers. Nationwide, two years after the hurricane, 35,000 Katrina evacuees still live in FEMA trailers, many in isolated areas. If they can get there, some trailer residents have found low-paying jobs of some sort but are still well below the poverty line.
Scenic Triails houses a demoralized population that has given up hope. Violence and criminal behavior are rampant, and depression and suicidal thoughts fill the days of the non-violent. The cost of rental housing is beyond their reach, trapping them in hopeless and fearful circumstances. Unless and until the federal government provides housing vouchers to assist them, they are pretty much stuck, miserable in a forgotten backwater. The Bush administration has amnesia about these people; those in power find it easy to blame the evacuees for their predicament. So... How does one reconcile one's comfortable life with the abject misery of so many? Makes one think, too, about the millions of refugees who fill the corners of the world while those of us on top of the heap just turn a blind eye.
Like most, I am aghast at the collapse of the I-35 bridge across the Mississippi yesterday; the photos in the news look like they were taken in Baghdad - but, of course, it can't happen to here. Well, by gum, it can. For decades, our so-called leaders in the White House and Congress have been so enamored of the military-industrial complex that they ignored and/or brushed aside the advice of numerous public managers and citizens that the nation's infrastructure was crumbling. Ever since Ronald Reagan abolished Federal Revenue Sharing to states and localities for public services and projects, the allocation of federal funds to arms and weapons manufacturers has grown while spending on domestic needs has shrunk. This country's safety depends on domestic strength not imperial ambition. That means a rethinking of our national priorities. The military shell around the USA cannot mask its putrefying interior, despite Mr. Bush's fighting words. Mr. Giuliani taunts those who want to attend to domestic needs as wanting "Nanny government." Well, what we have right now is "Ninny government." Give me a Nanny at the helm over a Ninny any day.
Sadly, however, it's "we the people" who are the true Ninnies. We elect Ninnies to do what we want, and not what we need: We think we want:
It's time we the people grew up, got real, and paid attention to the facts of life. There are no free lunches and politicians who promise 'em are frauds..
[Ed Note: Pat is on a temporary vacation from blogging - enjoying views in Alaska and processing the photos of our trip. She'll be back soon.]
Shortly after the world's scientists warned there are only a handful of years to act on greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst of global warming, the aviation industry reported record increases in the number of commercial flights worldwide--and we suspect the number of military flights are up too. The release of greenhouse gases at great heights compounds, by several times, the effects of such gases released at ground level. Next, NASA's scientists announced that we are at a "tipping point" for climate change, with the distinct likelihood that the planet will become a different place within the lifetime of our grandchildren, if not that of our children. Once across that tipping threshold, there will be no going back. Yet the general public proceeds on its merry way, as if nothing is up.
Mark Ellingham, founder of the Rough Guides, says there is no such thing, now, as an ethical vacation. Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the 1997 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics says "If I were emperor of the world, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation for the next decade." Unfortunately, most global leadership positions are currently vacant. Meanwhile, scientists are thrashing around looking for geo-engineering options despite knowing that we don't understand enough to tinker with the climate. All of which means it's up to each individual to act as best s/he can. And that means now, not later, 'cos there ain't going to be any later.... So, me, I'm giving up flying except for emergencies with no feasible alternative. And I'm going to become a nagging beast with my dear ones.
I found a column this morning by Joseph Galloway, the former senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. He's also co-author of the book, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young.
Mr. Galloway's column is entitled "Hang in There America: Competent Leadership is Just 600-plus days Away." Please read it. The author read my mind.
The armed idealogues in control of our country have done it immense damage. I pray that, in 2008, our democratic process and the American people will rise to the occasion and find a better way. As for now, the leaders of the USA have lost their path in an overpowering and self-righteous fog of vitriol sprayed at those who disagree with them. There is an elephant in our collective living room, and no-one is calling or identifying it--although John Edwards made a start today.
I listened to some of the debate among the Republican candidates for the presidential nomination in 2008 (why, for Pete's sake, have we allowed the election period to become so extended?) where it seems that the main topics is "abortion." Not, what to do about global climate chnge, or what to do about the dysfunctional healthcare system, or what to do about Iraq, or what to do in Afghanistan, or what to do about immigration, or what to do about the financial hole the Bush administration has dug for our country. The BIG topic is pure idealism - how to force a particular religious tenet down the throats of the entire populace. How irrelevant can you get.
An important part of my day seems to be reading something or other. I'm grateful to have time to do this, one of the many blessings in my life. I usually have (i.e. I try to limit myself to) three books going at one time. One for what Bill calls "mind suicide" or needed diversion, a meaty one about the state of the world or humanity, and one other for the flavor of its writing. At the moment I have at hand:
The last mentioned, a heartfelt memoir of a pig's life wirtten by his guardian, describes the author addressing a batch of students. She tells them:
My lifestyle is full of blessings, too many to record here. Perhaps the greatest is the time and inclination to notice them. Each passing decade seems more blessed than the last - whilst doing its job of transforming the next.
First, some definitions:
An article in today's Independent will make you blanche. It describes how wildlife filmmaker Rebecca Hosking found hundreds of albatross chicks dying on a remote Hawaiian atoll amid a sea of plastic rubbish. "It was impossible to walk in a straight line without standing on them - the dead chicks were everywhere," she said. The cause of death was plastic. In the course of an hour Hosking and a colleague picked up, among other things, 400 cigarette lighters and 800 toothbrushes.The female albatrosses fly up to 2,000 miles to forage and bring back food for their chicks. They pick up colourful objects on the water and later feed them their offspring. The nestlings' stomachs fill up with plastic and they then die of dehydration and starvation. Returning home, Hosking has become a leader in the battle against the scourge of plastic products that litter the world and the devastating effect they have on the environment.
Elsewhere, today's news announces that the Arctic Ice is melting much faster than forecast and, amid growing concern about climate change, a raft of alternative energy initiatives are gaining priority all across the globe.
So, maybe the world's wildlife will benefit from synergism as humanity's fear of climate change lead it to end its dependency on carbon fuels at the same time as it reduces the unnecessary and excessive production of ubiquitous deadly plastics made from oil.
Next to us in the campground at Arches National Park was a group of twenty or so youngsters and staff from the Jefferson County (CO) Open School. Given his long-standing interest in open schools, Bill went a-visiting and came back with a brochure for me to read. The kids were at Arches on a geology field trip. According to its brochure, the 500-student school (K-12) is in its 35th year and explicitly seeks to achieve impressive goals for its students:
Through a program of self-directed learning, students learn to think and apply knowledge, develop a strong sense of self, and create and maintain healthy relationships. They set goals, plan and carry out projects, and evaluate their own performance. Six "Passages" are required for graduation:
Would that all children could be exposed to such a rich educational environment. The primary obstacle it seems to me is the lack of political vision and will, wherein each child is valued for his/her uniqueness. If we want to change the world, we need to change the way we raise our children. The Jefferson County Open School is making a valiant start.
It's the day after the shootings at Virginia Tech. Sporadically, we catch snippets of how our country, and the world is reacting and responding. We spent the day breaking our gaspers in Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park. That is reality. Millions (?billions) of years in the making. I will work on the photos I took tomorrow. Meanwhile, this incident, so major for the moment, is doubtless less than a grain of sand in the grand scheme of things, but for now it is huge. The world has reacted to the shootings on the issue of gun control. What is wrong with the US? Why do we love guns and violence so? Does our country see freedom only as the ability of the individual to violate the community? That's absurd.
Virginia Tech so far has responded admirably. Professor Nikki Giovanni wrote and read a poem about the Hokies, resounding with the words: "We are Virginia Tech!" . It is clear that the college community wants to make something good come of this tragedy. The news media coverage is mixed. The talking heads are happy they have a big story to focus on. They can publicly scratch their humanity and exude empathy.
I listen to reports of how young people are responding. On YouTube, on MySpace, and other Internet social places. Makes me reflect on the person I was at that age. I do not know that me. I am no longer that person. I cannot draw her up into my consciousness. She sits across the gulf of my experience. I am unable to imagine what it was like to be so experienceless. I cannot stand in that person's shoes. I cannot see out of that person's life window. I raise my hand and look at it. The veins stand out, the skin is weathered, the lines display age. Did I ever look at my hand when it was young? With taut sweet skin. What thoughts did that hand elicit? Was it the same hand? I do not know.
I seem to have gotten stuck in regard to both blogging and our monthly action day. Bill too. Going to Mexico broke my routine, and I haven't regained it. Or maybe I'm focused on too many things at once. Working on the website is a hobby that I enjoy and at the moment I seem to be focused on making slide shows and travel maps rather than blogging and political action. I'm rading too much about the end of oil, problems of coal, climate change: our leaders seem to be clueless and the media now mention the latter with frequency. Not that we don't talk about political action, often think about digging seriously into doing that in a major way. We can't quite figure out how, though. Public recognition that we are in deep shit seems to be awakening. How will we adapt? Stay tuned, and in the meantime enjoy the slide shows and travel maps. I certainly am.
You can tell from this website that I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. How things might be for our grandchildren, for example. It seems abundantly clear that the direction humanity is heading, especially in the U.S., is a dead end street. It is obvious to me that population pressure, the end of the oil-based era, depletion of other resources, pollution and toxins, climate change, technological invention, violent conflict, economic make-believe, and social upheaval are all about to come together in a clanging culmination - bringing unimaginable changes to our way of life. If that doesn't get us, then climate change surely will. Yet most people aren't paying attention, aren't aware of the global picture, and don't want to think about it. Mindless materialism, infotainment, being bigger and better than the Joneses', and thoughtless busyness diverts their focus to priorities other than saving our species from the self-imposed destruction it seems bent upon.
If it weren't for the fact that an increasing number of respected writers are raising the same alarm, I'd feel that I was almost alone in holding this view. When oh when, dear public, will you wake up? The emperor is naked! This way of life is unsustainable! We are not entitled to anything!
It is by now too late to avert disaster so all we can do is try to prepare our dear ones for it. Look over the cliff and pick the rock you want to land on. Thank goodness I live in this time and place else I'd probably end up in a padded cell or burned at the stake. Of course, at other times and places I wouldn't need to hold this view. Aw shucks.
Moving around from place to place, I've become intimately acquainted with numerous campground bathrooms. When we're driving Clemmie to our next stop we often use public toilets. These experiences have exposed me to bathrooms of all types, and to how scads of other people approach their bathroom duties. It's quite an education. Some people and some cultures are perfectly comfortable with the bodily functions that go on in bathrooms, while others are quite squeamish and prefer that such activities be hidden and ignored. Interesting!
Due to limited space on Clemmie we use her shower as storage space, so we must rely on campground showers. On Callipygia, we could take a bucket bath or shower on deck or in the cockpit (enjoying our nudity preferably after dark.) If we were lucky, we could dinghy ashore and use a marina shower. Of course if we were docked in a marina, we didn't need a dinghy trip.
Bathrooms I have known range from the most primitive of pit toilets to upscale facilities matching the most luxurious of hotels. Some places we've been have limited water, and in some places what they have is not hot. Sewage disposal is often a problem. I have used and learned to accept:
As we've travelled I've learned that bodily hygiene isn't linked to flush toilets and a long hot daily shower. A nice luxury but neither a necessity nor an entitlemen. What we in middle class America expect in our bathrooms is just not available to much of the world's population.
We've travelled (so far) on our Mexican birding trip a total of 1,193 miles in Clemmie since we first convened with the group on January 6. About average for our land cruising experience. One or other (sometimes both) of us have also hitched rides in the tow car or truck of another birder for an additional 850 miles. Clearly, this kind of birding trip could not be done without a car. Unlike the birding activities we're accustomed to (we go on foot or on our bikes) it's heavily car-dependent. Having done without a car for so many years, they've begun to feel more like a trap than a convenience. It seems that if you have a car, you use it. It's a doing machine and kills the being time.
World-wide oil production is known to have passed it's peak. The easy part is clearly over. The USA's entire way of life (not just its car dependency) is predicated on a continued flow of oil and it has no Plan B for a future without it. With rumblings of global climate change finally beginning to percolate through the consciousness of the populace, there's still no indication that the general public has a clue about the massive social and economic disruptions heading our way as the supply of oil disappears. Uninformed thinking assumes a magical fix based on coal, solar, hydrogen, wind, nuclear energy (or something else) that will allow us to continue our way of life, entitled to endless motoring and suburban ambience.
Believe me, it can't happen. There are too many technical hurdles to overcome. We're sleepwalking into a very difficult future. For sure, it won't include using cars as we now do or living in the suburban enclaves that are so dependent on them.
I often wonder "who have been my best teachers?" I've learned many things from many people: my parents; grandparents; aunts and uncles; cousin; Ivy, my mother's house cleaner; neighbors; those who taught me in school and college; bosses; subordinates; colleagues; friends and lovers; etc. The situations in which I've done most learning about myself-generally painful--are those in which inter-personal conflict has forced me to look at myself. But in all truth my most important life teachers-at least those from whom I'm aware that I learn the most from--are a select small group. Authors who keep me supplied with reading material; and my children, each wonderful one of them.
Many years ago, my oldest son asked me "what makes you tick?" To my eternal regret, I never directly answered him-until now--yet the question has stayed with me. It's one helluva question. Think about it. "What is it that makes you, you?" In part, it's my physical form, my genetic and cultural inheritance, but mostly it's the way I behave. And why do I behave the way I do? Because I think the way I think. So what do I think? I spend a lot of time thinking, and when I'm not thinking if I've got time to kill I watch my mind wander. Great entertainment.
I mostly think about the meaning of life, and-to rephrase my son's question-what makes humanity tick. I spend a lot of time thinking about morality; how do you tell what's right from what's wrong? At some times I thought I had the answer, but then later I wasn't so sure. All my life I think I've tried to be a "good" person. As, I firmly believe, by and large do most people. I'm guilty of the customary small dodges-white lies, evasions, and flirting round the edges of rules and regulations but my intention is generally positive. Whether or not I've actually done any good is not for me to answer, but that's been my intent. Will the world be a better or worse place if I do "X" rather then "Y"?
Nowadays, in the luxury of retirement, I can choose how I spend each and every moment of each and every day. What a gift! Plenty of thinking time, and the leisure to savor what I read. So exhibit A for today is the question, "What is moral behavior?"
Of one thing I'm sure. Those who are certain they know how other people should behave, don't have the answer. Their certainty is a clear indication; they may have suggestions, but it's advisory only. As Bill says, "once you know you have the answer, you've lost your capacity to listen." Morality is about how I should behave, not about how you should behave.
As with most people, my personal beliefs and philosophy lead me to take positions on political issues. I've noticed that my positions tend to change over time. I learned from Don Beck to put my hands on my knees so I could notice when they jerked. I wish more people would do that. I've learned that if I have a knee-jerk reaction to something, I better look into it because I'm likely to be missing something. To quote Thic Nhat Hanh "Wherever there is perception, there is deception. Most of our perceptions are erroneous. We have to keep asking ourselves: Am I sure?"
I'm immersed in birding culture as we do our Adventure Caravan "Birding Western Mexico" trip. We're with 7 other RV's, including our leaders Terry (birder par excellence) and Pat (organizer ditto) Sissons. So far I've seen 40 or so new birds, learned a lot, and improved my bird observation skills.
There seem to be several different kinds of birders, many of which I'm not, some of which I am, and others I am intermittently. I'm slowly learning how to pace myself on our long daily birding outings - I'm definitely not a hard-core birder. My interest in birds has a major spiritual component. My greatest pleasure comes from simply watching or communing with a bird that hangs around for a while. That said, here are some birder types:
I read recently that ten or twenty years ago if you asked a child what she or he wanted to be when they grew up, you'd get a response like: a doctor; a truck driver; a fireman; a farmer; etc. But nowadays the response is more likely to be: get rich; make lots of money; live in a big house; have an airplane, etc. The consumer culture has indeed targeted and polluted the minds of the young with its mindless materialism.
Then I thought about the notion of property. What an absurd idea. We thought the indigenous people just didn't "get" it, when we took over their land. They had no word to express the concept of property. Yet we instill it into our little ones from the moment we can communicate with them. This one is yours, and that one is mine. We humans unthinkingly say that we own the land, or at least our little bit of it. But do we really? Can we? The land is there to be used, for sure. By us, by the birds, the wildlife, the ants and worms, the soil bacteria, the plants and trees. But don't we all have an equal claim on it? And if we own the land, wouldn't that mean we owned the plants and animals, the other life that happened to be on it? Do we think we own worms, bacteria, and cockroaches?
So what does "ownership" entail? Surely it simply means we have custody (ie responsibility) of something for the time being. And doesn't custody mean the obligation wisely and carefully to tend to the needs of that which we have in our custody? We serve it, not it serves us. So isn't custody simply an obligation rather than a right? It just happens that we humans are usually the most powerful inhabitant of a place at any given time. We are the alpha species. Too often, unfortunately, we fail to recognize the responsibility that accompanies our status.
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