Monday, February 6, 2017

RIGHT SPEECH

I've been giving a lot of thought to Right Speech in recent days, for reasons that must be obvious: the new administration and the new president in Washington offer a nearly irresistible target for intemperate language and verbal invective. Their actions have been so immoderate, so rash, so ill-considered as to virtually demand condemnation.

How, though, to condemn? The immediate temptation is to speak out of anger, contempt, or bitterness, but to do so is in some way to own the anger, contempt and bitterness--and not without personal cost.

I don't know about you, but I don't need those things in my life. Some claim that simply to utter them is to get them out of the system. I'm not so sure. They are pollutants, and they pollute not only the mind that entertains them, no matter how briefly, but also the non-material environment. They pollute the cultural/spiritual/intellectual air we breathe in daily.

Condemn politely, then? That feels like weakness, at a time when strength of opposition is called for.

Can we condemn fiercely, and still escape the pollution?

I think so. Right Speech, we might say, demands it. To suppress my views, to remain silent when I see harmful actions being taken, particularly when those actions are taken, however remotely, in my name, is to avoid my responsibility to the truth.

So I am required to speak, and to speak with a forcefulness appropriate to the situation. To indulge in simple insult and invective, however, will result only in further entrenchment on the other side. If I am told I am an idiot for believing such and such, or behaving in such and such a way, my reaction is to reject the basis for the argument as I reject the insult. It's reasonable to assume that others will do the same.

I think it comes down to the need to point, as forcefully as possible, to the harm that's caused by unskillful action and unskillful speech, and to condemn the action rather than the actor. Better--though hard!--to send thoughts of goodwill to the latter, along with the hope that he or she will find a path that leads to happiness for self and others, and away from harm.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ARE WE SAFE YET?

Are we safe yet? No. Are we safer than we were fifteen years ago, at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center? No. Can we be protected from everyone who wishes us ill? No.

The current American delusion about safety has become the source of misguided political fear-mongering, major policy blunders, and cruel abdication of compassion and responsibility toward our fellow humans suffering from realities far worse than our childish fears.

When did we start to believe it our right, as Americans, to be protected cradle to grave from every one of life's dangers and adversities? At this point, it has become an obsession that suggests, to me, that the terrorists we so fear have already achieved their purpose.

We live in uncertainty. It's the condition of our lives. Just a couple of weeks ago, a number of people lost their lives in an earthquake-triggered avalanche that destroyed a hotel in Italy. Only yesterday, five were killed by a deranged gunman in Quebec. Who knows but that the next time I venture out on the Los Angeles freeway I'll have a fatal encounter with a truck? The chances of being killed in an attack by an Islamic terrorist immigrant are statistically minimal. Reason tells us that this, amongst all our other fears, is one of the most irrational, baseless, and absurd.

And still we have political leaders who manage to drum up those fears, and then exploit them. If we are to be the nation we purport to be, if we are to bravely assert the freedoms of which we sing in our national anthem, we must stand up to those who would steal them from us in the name of some dubious safety. We must tell them unambiguously that we don't need the illusory protection they are offering us in exchange for our freedoms.

As I hear often in the political discourse these days, on the other side: This is not America. We are better than this. Aren't we?

Oh, and... just for fun, there's this:





Friday, January 27, 2017

A REMINDER

I'm also posting on my Boyhood Memories blog, and hope you'll visit me there. Today, a memory of my own, Plum Brandy--a little boy's first love.

Monday, January 23, 2017

LISTEN, PLEASE

Those planning to rush ahead with plans to "repeal and replace" ("replace"? really?)) the Affordable Care Act owe it to their constituents to listen to what they want--in some cases, not what they say they want, but what they really want, which is often clearly different: there is plenty of evidence to show that many Americans don't realize that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are one and the same, and that many of the features of the ACA are precisely what they want and desperately need by way of health care coverage. The Republican mantra of "repeal and replace" denotes nothing more than a dangerous and irrational act of spite.

Listening is rapidly becoming a lost art. We are all so busy airing our own opinions that we have little time for, or interest in, listening to the opinions of others. This seems especially true, regrettably, of the man to whom Republicans now pay obeisance as their "president." It is also true of Republicans themselves, who turn a deaf ear to the wishes of the people they are elected to represent in their rush to enact a decades-old agenda to dismantle not only social programs but also the government that provides them. Their other mantras, "small government" and "lower taxes," are easily taught, parrot-like, to an electorate persuaded with false promises that they will benefit from these platitudes. They are less easily put into practice. In the coming months we shall see how successful the Republicans will prove, now that they are in the majority in both the House and the Senate and have the White House in their hands.

A genuine effort to listen to the wants and needs of real people dealing with real challenges in their lives, as well as to the voices, opinions, and proposed solutions of political opponents, would lead, I believe, to the kind of mutual respect and collaboration in government that would bring about the results from which we all will benefit; and eventually, perhaps, to what Obama aspired to as a "more perfect union." Closing ears, along with eyes, heart and minds is not only supremely arrogant, it's also destructive.


Thursday, January 19, 2017

ILL WILL

I'm with John Lewis. I plan to boycott the Tr*mp inaugural. Not in the flesh, of course, but at least on television. I'll not watch it. I'm in agreement with the Congressman that the Tr*mp presidency is not legitimate. There are just too many indications that the election was not "free and fair." There is, just this morning, this story in the New York Times. In itself, perhaps, it would not be troublesome; but replicated likely many times by mischief-makers on the Internet both here and abroad, it suggests that fake news stories played a big part in the eventual result. Then there's the Russian intervention, by now beyond doubt.

Most disturbing to me is the part played by sheer ill will in the election. The Tr*mp team and the "President-elect" himself--sadly, this is likely the last time I'm able to use that term--whipped up so much hatred, not only directed against his opponent in the national election but also against the media, his rivals on the Republican side, indeed against anyone who dared oppose, or even criticize him. Throughout, he encouraged his supporters to indulge the worst of their primal instincts, and managed to generate a swelling flood of ill will on both sides--those who opposed as well as those who supported him. The anger and mistrust is everywhere.

Since his election, Tr*mp has done nothing to stanch that flood. No olive branch to those who disagree with him, despite numerous opportunities. Instead, he seems to have gone out of his way to engage in impetuous and petty acts of spite. Where he could easily have engendered some goodwill from opponents, he has--perhaps thoughtlessly, perhaps intentionally--provoked them further with his words and actions. He does not make it easy for any of us to modify our opinion of him, to "give him the chance" his acolytes have been pleading for, let alone to like him. He seems to enjoy the act of being ill will personified.

But we emulate him at grave cost to ourselves. My meditation group met for a sit last night, and I opened up the session with the invitation to join me in taking a close look at the ill will this man has provoked in our own minds. It will serve us better now if we manage to develop strategies to convert that feeling--no matter how righteous!--into its opposite: goodwill. To return ill will for ill will is to participate precisely in what we deplore. Which does not mean capitulating, condoning, or excusing. It does not mean suspending judgment. It does not mean sitting by and allowing ourselves to be steamrollered by untruths and injustice. It means rather to avoid being sucked into the vortex of ill will that Tr*mp has created. It may feel uncomfortable, even wrong, but it will not hurt us to send compassion out to one who shows so little of it. And who knows, it might rub off on him. It will certainly be better for our own peace of mind, which is something worth preserving.