Today I am thinking about conversation and the demonization of dissent.
We hear a litany of truisms every day.
Proportional representation is good. Buying 'local' is good. Generic versions of prescription drugs are good. Big pharmaceuticals are bad. Genetically modified food is bad. Case closed.
The media is a great developer and supporter of new truisms. I was surprised to hear of a course in a journalism college called 'Transformational Journalism.' But there we are. Early on, potential truisms are often called 'issues.' Potential truisms gradually garner support from concerned and interested individuals who listen and believe. The truist is born. And the truist must act.
How many of us have heard a recent convert say, "What can I do about this? I must do something!" So they begin to gather like-minded people together in order to 'do something good.'
We have all heard the dreaded invitation, "We need your support!"
What truists really mean is, "We expect your support!"
If anyone approached by a truist has a differing opinion about a truism, the offer of a clarifying and informative 'conversation' ensues. "Oh, you aren't on board yet? No problem. We should have a 'conversation.' " Or, "I would love to have a 'conversation' with you about this!"
Of course, after a reasonable amount of time participating in this 'conversation,' it becomes ever more clear that there is a tacit expectation that you will eventually 'understand.'
I don't know, but I suspect many of you are like me.
When invited to participate in a 'conversation' about 'the issues,' I grope wildly for ways to head the 'evangelist' off at the pass because I have had no success in having any dissenting point of view regarding a new 'truism' heard - ever! I remember how shocked a person was one day when I declined the opportunity to sign a petition. "But, this issue is crucial! We need your support. Do you need to know more about it? Here, I have important information for you." I did not agree with the truism contained in the petition, but the 'conversation' was beginning. I pathetically said, "Actually, I don't sign petitions." And I escaped. I admit I was a coward. I am not proud of what I did. But no one wants to be singled out and potentially publicly shamed for not supporting the truist and their truism.
On the surface it looks like I might be saying that today, truism and the truist using the 'conversation to conversion method' wins.
Not at all. I am saying that this invitation to 'conversation' with a view to 'conversion' is not unifying and life-giving. This method is divisive and destructive.
How many dissenters, offered the opportunity to participate in a project based on a truism and promoted by a truist, simply say, "Maybe - let me think about it," even when they have no intention of supporting the project?
How many dissenters become so anxious, they are even driven to lie, for example, when they sign the petition in order to avoid having the 'conversation,' even though they have no intention of supporting the cause?
And of course -
How many projects crash and burn because the 'assumed' support for the proposed activity was not material?
In the context of truisms, the word 'conversation' has lost it's meaning. 'Conversation' now means 'conversion' - which we all try to avoid like the plague.
The respect for differing opinions is indeed a lost value today.
The demonizing of dissent by truism and truists is a great evil.
It has made the mutual exchange of ideas - conversation - impossible.
And that makes it very, very difficult to get anything done well.
The best colour for today is a reassuring Cobalt Turquoise.
Today I am thinking of Canada ... and remembering how it all started for me.
My family was poor. My father worked at two jobs saving and saving and saving. My mother worked hard too. We lived in a 'skid' shack. It was one room with a divider - a living area and sleeping area. I remember it was a very small room. You had to be careful not to stub a toe or whack a shin.
We had lots of food because my mother's family had farms. We had lots of warm clothes for the winter and light clothes for the summer because our relatives gave us "hand me downs." We had twelve close neighbours in a circle. We all lived in the same small one room shacks. We shared two pit toilets with our neighbours. We shared one water well with everyone... moms and dads pumping water as needed.
I was very young. I didn't think anyone else lived any differently. I took a school bus to a one room country school. An older girl taught me to print by making letters in the frosty condensation on my black lunchbox. It was fun.
When I look back at precious photographs that were only taken at family gatherings, on holidays, on our 'first day of school' or on our birthdays, I see happy, smiling faces with everyone wearing starched, ironed clothes and polished shoes. My mother used a washboard. Monday was laundry day. I remember frozen sheets coming in off of the clothes line, sheets that smelled like heaven to me ... although we were not church people.
In the backgrounds of the photographs, I see the grinding poverty. I see clapboard covered here and there with peeling, faded wall paper. I see lovingly crocheted doileys covering threadbare second hand sofas and chairs. I see jack frost gloriously painting the leaky windows. I remember my father scraping all of the bubbled and peeling paint off of the clapboard outside of the house every summer... right down to wood. And I remember him repainting our little house. Every year.
In my mind, I remember Saturday night baths. I see my mother putting the galvanized square tub in the centre of the living area. I see my father going out and coming in, going out and coming in, going out and coming in... bringing buckets of water for my mother to warm on the stove. I see the steam pouring from the tub as 'pickling pot' after 'pickling pot' (the largest pot we had) of boiling water was dumped into the tub until it was full. I remember immersing myself in the warm (not too hot) water and being soaped and rubbed. I remember being dried and kissed and hugged. And I remember my mother putting fresh pajamas on me. And I remember sitting on my father's knee for a bed time story - he told wonderful stories. And I remember my mother tucking me into my cosy bunk bed.
Once when my baby sister rolled out of her bunk and fell onto the floor, I pretended I was asleep. My mother picked her up and comforted her and tucked her back into bed. The lower bunk used to be mine until she came along.
I think people ask for and expect too much today. All of that stuff is so hard to keep track of. The insurance alone will kill you.
"We collect things because our hearts are empty."
The Heart of the Enlightened by Thomas Merton
The best colour for today - for Canada Day 2012 - is Red!
Evil versus "I have done all I could do".... or ... The Reality of Freedom and of Evil
Today I am thinking about Mary. The Mother of God.
Mary must have been worried, concerned and probably sometimes even disappointed with how things were going for her Son Jesus. As her life with her Son progressed, she probably mused about evil from time to time ... and how to protect her child from evil.
I know I do.
I am a mother. I pray for only the best for my children. "Deliver them from evil." Of course, sometimes the answer to my prayers is "no." And this reality is very difficult. Evil exists. Children get hurt. Children get in trouble.
Like Mary, I don't pretend to understand these things ... but, like the Mother of God ... like most mothers ... I treasure these things in my heart while living my own life. Have I done all that I could do? That is the question.
In this world, not all problems have solutions. Evil exists. We know this. We see it every day. Not everything can be fixed. It's sad, but not hopeless. We are free to act, and react. We are free - but our freedom is constrained both by reality and by the reality of evil.
Today is Good Friday ....
Look what we did to Jesus. A healer, a teacher, a good man. Mary's Son.
I have just re-read Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen. I finished the book today, on Good Friday. I may read it again this time next year.
Here is a slice:
"Maybe the question of evil is the central mystery of existence, even more fundamental and pervasive than that other ubiquitous question: What is the meaning of life? Maybe these two questions are so inherently entwined as to be inseparable. "
She has something here! Freedom is real. Evil is real. The meaning of life is to understand that you live only your own life. So, choose only paths that are life-giving, realizing that these paths will not be easy.
The best colour for today is Blue - any Blue!
Today I am thinking that we can at least partially blame the invention of the printing press for the death of conversation. We are surrounded by signs telling us both what to do and how to do it -- signs that give us 'information' that is really unsolicited advice. I know signs are meant to be helpful, to ensure our safety, etc. etc. -- but so many signs? Do we really need all this advice?
Oral exchange of sentiments, oservations, opinions or ideas.
Recommendation regarding a decision or course of conduct.
I saw a sign that said, "Could you please try and not let the door bang as you enter and exit the building." A simple conversation between people might have led to a solution for an obviously disruptive door banging situation.... but no. Easier to just post a sign -- to give advice. The tone in "try and not let the door bang" sounds like there might be some unfinished business along the path to a solution....
Lately, I have been experiencing a distinct change in the temperament of society. All and sundry seem to believe they have the right to impose advice. And, it is no longer a requirement to be polite. There seems to be a 'no holds barred' attitude empowered by political correctness pervading most communication.
Sadly, I find that more often than not, a conversation consists of an offer of and then a defense against unsolicited advice.
I find it wearing and wearying to be barraged with advice more or less constantly. Increasingly, I find myself in a quandary, both longing for and, at the same time, dreading social situations. This is a great shame. I'm sure I am not alone.
Recently, I was in a group of people and mentioned a minor ailment - an aside really - and despite begging and pleading with a group member, "Please, don't give me advice... please no...," the person simply had to do so. My choice in such a situation was to sit in uncomfortable silence until the advisor was finished and thank her or to interject periodically in my defense. Neither option is 'conversation.'
And even more recently, I was in a group where each individual felt they had to give a detailed account of how they overcame a great obstacle (an obstacle I currently face) -- four people, 10 or so minutes each -- it was exhausting. The plethora of advice on how I could 'overcome' was dizzying
Opportunities for real conversation these days don't exactly abound so I'm a lot out of practice.
So, horror of horrors, last night, while entertaining, I found myself offering unsolicited advice instead of participating in an "oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions or ideas."
Unfortunately, advice givers -- including me -- are woefully unaware their evangelical efforts disguised as conversation contribute in an insidious way to an increasing alienation between individuals and groups in society.
So I will have to do better. And it's simple.
One of the wisest people I ever met sagely counseled:
"Never give advice... especially when someone asks for advice!"
That way, you can enjoy a real conversation.
The best colour for today is Rose Madder Genuine.
Today I am thinking about how I usually have a theme that I'm struggling with but I think this image pretty much tells the whole story.
And the best thing is that it is written in stone.
Interestingly enough, I run into this all of the time.
There is a call for volunteers. You join the organization, you offer to volunteer, you have an idea ... you find out - almost always in a very indirect way - that that the organization is quite happy with its 'organization' thank you very much. What we need is someone to carry on our fine traditions.
Change is difficult. It takes time for preconceptions of you to change from Marauder to Pioneer.
"When you feel how depressingly slowly you climb, it's well to remember that Things Take Time." Grooks by Piet Hein
The best colour for today is an optimistic Cadmium Yellow but we will keep it a "Light" for now (don't want to be too optimistic - patience, patience, patience).
Today, I am thinking about jealousy.
I had an interesting experience. During a lighthearted banter with someone, her final retort was, “the Lord your God is a jealous God.” It was a signal the conversation was over.
But it really caught my attention. So I did some digging.
There’s lots of talk in research about how the ‘jealous’ God is like a faithful and passionate bridegroom that watches over his betrothed. So if he is jealous – it’s a ‘good’ and righteous jealousy.
Other writings concentrate on differentiating jealousy from envy and how jealousy is usually good but envy is almost always bad.
Others spoke of the Hebrew word having been mistranslated into English - it really means zealous.
Still others emphasized the importance of taking into account the culture and context of the time when the words were originally written:
“God’s attributes… tell us something about the feelings, yearnings, and customs of the people during whose lifetime they are ascribed to him. The texts, which in the Old and the New Testament were culled from a doubtless much greater number of extant texts, belong to societies that disappeared long ago….”
Hildegard Baumgart “Jealousy – Experiences and Solutions”, 1985
So ‘jealous God’ could be interpreted in different ways.
All I know for certain is that in our post-post-modern world, although I often hear people quoting from the Bible to emphasize their points, it is the ‘literal’ meaning of the text that is most often used. Curious, because paradoxically, our current western intelligentsia is adamantly anti-‘literal.’
Fundamentalism, accompanied by a literal interpretation and understanding of ancient scriptures, is the second greatest fear of our age (the greatest fear being ‘aging’ itself).
The majority of Western literature we are asking today’s students to learn about is grounded in a culture of Christian thought. But we do not teach about Christian thought in our public schools. And religious studies courses are optional courses in our universities. So how are those who study, or more importantly, those who teach, to interpret the text beyond a ‘literal’ understanding?
As it stands, all we expect people to know at present is that a “jealous God” is a bad God.
After all, everyone knows that ‘jealous’ is bad.
The best colour for today is Sap Green.
Today I am thinking about how I'm lost. But I know I am not alone.
My feelings were hurt today.
I want to contribute. To help to make the world a better place.
I try, but I find I often cannot make myself understood.
I cherish opportunities to meet with those who have different ways of thinking.
I want to talk and discuss, to share and learn, to understand.
Time to go back to the desert.
"Sharp teeth are intended to eat meat, but we have only two sharp teeth.
That means that we're supposed to eat mostly vegetables and very little meat."
"Factory Girls" Leslie T. Chang
The best colour for today is mud.
Today I am thinking about opinions.
Today I was asked my opinion on an issue - public school education... how to fix the system. It's a big topic in the news these days. Now, I am not an educator. Most of what I know about public school education is what I have learned through personal experience... my own education... the education of my children... educational experiences shared with me by others... that's about it.
I find it exhausting that everyone is expected to have an opinion on everything. In order to have an opinion, you need to prepare, to find out about the topic. You should do research. You should think about it. Ideally, you should discuss the topic with others and then finally come to a conclusion. That takes a lot of time.
But this 'expectation' that you 'must' have an opinion is so pervasive that we are subliminally coerced to express opinions on pretty much everything despite the fact that in most cases we are woefully unprepared to state our case.
I remember I had an ailment of some kind that required medical attention. I made an appointment with my doctor. And then I prepared for the appointment by doing copious amounts of research and arriving at a probable diagnosis. The doctor issued me into the examining room and said, "What is the problem?" And I told her. I explained everything very carefully including the onset and progression of the symptoms as well as the probable diagnosis. After I was finished, she said, "That sounds pretty good to me, I think you probably have it figured out." I felt quite pleased with myself.
Then she said, "You don't mind if I have a look, do you?"
After you have invested so much time and effort developing your opinion - done so much work that you are satisfied your opinion is correct - you run the risk of forgetting you are not the expert.
There's where the danger lies.
Socratic Intellectualism is not so popular today in our climate of suspicion of everyone and everything... but perhaps there is some wisdom here:
"...Only a fully accomplished expert in any field who can claim knowledge or wisdom of that field ... can train others to do the same...."
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition
The best colour for today is Quinacridone Gold.
Today I am thinking about gifts.
I fear the very concept of 'gift' is in peril.
I have been thinking about giving gifts and gift giving in general. We really only know we are alive, truly alive, when we give and accept. Without coercion.
The giving heart seems to be part of what it means to be fully human. We are programmed to give, to offer... accepting is more difficult though. Remember how you felt when you received that unexpected kindness - that special gift... humbled, surprised, thankful, noticed, singled out, uncomfortable even... .
Today, I gave a ride to someone who needed help. I felt good - glad to do it. The person seemed so surprised though - that anyone would go out of their way to do something for them - reluctant to accept and at the same time very glad to be helped.
This led me to muse about giving and then about poverty ... the lack of something ....
In current culture poverty is being gradually redefined. Poverty is now applied to all areas of human existence. Here is a list I found that is like many others:
There are seven poverties that are affecting us:
Economic poverty: lack of food, clothing and shelter
Bodily poverty: lack of health and hygiene, malnutrition
Mental poverty: lack of thinking and education
Cultural poverty: lack of cultural activities and practices
Spiritual poverty: lack of mental peace and feeling of brotherhood
Political poverty: not casting one’s vote, lack of development
Societal poverty: lack of unity and neighborliness
Bhagavatula Charitable Trust © 2006
Public policy people of good will are moving us in the direction of a 'just' society, one that will guarantee the right to alleviation of every kind of poverty. This is a noble goal.
We do want all to lack nothing - to have enough.
But, there are consequences to every action, and often these consequences are unintended.
Let us assume that we have achieved this goal. Our 'just' society has decided that freedom from all kinds of poverty is a simple human right. This is good.
Even better, we have found ways for our 'just' society to guarantee these rights to all.
The unintended consequence of this achievement, noble in intent, is that giving becomes unnecessary - even frowned upon. We cannot give something to someone who is entitled to it. We cannot receive something as a gift if we are entitled to it.
So now a wall has been inserted between human beings, between the giver and the receiver. The very laudable goal to stop every kind of poverty - to fashion a more human and 'just' society has eradicated the only real connection between human beings - gift and reception.
A child's, "Can you tell me a story?" becomes, "It's story time."
So, I give these musings to you while I am still allowed to give.
The best colour for today is Titanium White.
Today I am thinking about water.
It is raining and drizzling and wet and late autumn.
There is a little bridge over a winter creek that I must cross to reach my studio. When I was thinking about building this bridge, I thought a slightly elevated and curved profile would be more lovely to look at. It was summer. And it was dry.
Now it is almost winter - and everything is watery. The creek is roaring along nicely under the pretty curved bridge. But the bridge is very slippery - wet cedar.
I should have built a flat bridge. This grates on me.
"The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. It is content with the low places that people disdain. Thus it is like the Tao.
In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple...." Tao Te Ching Translated by Stephen Mitchell
The best colour for today is Ultramarine Blue Deep.
Today I am thinking about pathways to war and pathways for peace.
Today, I tried to explain myself during a discussion and found myself becoming angry - I felt the anger rising in my target zone - my gut. Then I felt the familiar movement of anger from "fight" to "flight" - I felt a need to flee - I wanted to be anywhere but there. I wanted peace but I wanted it cheaply.
"The real problem of war is ... in the instinct for violence and for resort to force which has become inveterate in the human race. Is this something that man can learn to change? If so, how does he go about it? What should he do? Where should the study of this dreadful problem begin? Who can say? Perhaps our first problem is to get rid of the illusion that we know the answer...." Thomas Merton, "Love and Living"
The best colour for today is Red Ochre.
My tall blonde Dad serving food in World War II - Daniel Kroshewsky (d. 2000).
May he rest in peace.
Today I saw someone. I have a history with this person and that history is not "life-giving" for me. My heart is so tired of struggle and sorrow.
"We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer."
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison
Today I was very much looking forward to being alone. I worked very hard last week and weekend.
I slept late. I awoke to the sunshine. And then everything flooded into my brain. All the appointments and undone work. I would like to go to the desert and rest.
"Through the Thou a person becomes I." Martin Buber, Ich und Du (1926).
Hansa Yellow is the best colour for today.
Today, the traffic is heavy. I am running late. I miss the ferry.
Now everything must be reprogrammed, rearranged, reassessed, reprioritized.
The heron catches my eye. Reality.
I remember "... and you will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well." Julian of Norwich, "Showings"
Paynes Grey is the best colour for today.