Friday, May 21, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 22, 2021 - Putting Our Quacks in Order

What is your general rule of thumb when spending money? For most of us, we buy what’s convenient, affordable, and has a level of quality to it that we are willing to sacrifice to various degrees according to convenience and affordability. You get what you pay for. That’s how we shop almost all of us, almost all the time. Few of us ever spend very much time considering what it actually is that we’re truly purchasing when we buy something. Some of us know full well what’s at stake, but we justify our behavior because of convenience and affordability. 

But you get what you pay for. We have expectations of the things we purchase. So check your expectations for a moment. What do you really expect from the dollar you spend? Do you expect that dollar to save the world? You darn well should.

Buddhist teachings say that money viewed through the principles of right view, right thought, right speech, and right conduct help one to perceive their own money as a positive influence in the world, as honored as any form of abundance. Yet still cautioning against attachment to it. Now, to remove attachment from our money is not to give it away, it’s to spend it! Enjoyably and wisely and compassionately because we are more relaxed about it. And when we are more relaxed, we make better decisions about where to spend and what to sell. 

When we are relaxed into our best version of ourselves we are able to take the time to see a broader list of ethical choices we often miss when we’re busy and frustrated. When we’re like that we just want to get dinner over with, get the school clothes for the kids, whatever, so long as it fits, they don’t complain, and it’s cheap, I don’t care. But those are the moments when we must care the most.

This from Benjamin Franklin: “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” If you think money will make you happy you will put all of your resources toward it. Because happiness is what we most desire as a species. We will do almost anything to cause our happiness and to prevent our sadness. So if you think, “I could be happy if only I could win a million dollars. A million dollars will make me happy.” A lot of people would agree with you, but none of them would be right. The money itself will not provide you happiness. You could use a million dollars in many ways. And some of them could legitimately make you happy. Probably many of them. But unless you are taking the Buddha’s advice when spending it, it will be gone, and with it, your expectation of happiness. And for those who worship money who do not win it in a lottery, they will do literally anything to get it. But those who imagine the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence never had to fertilize it.

Confucius said, "Wealth and rank are what people desire, but unless they are obtained in the right way they may not be possessed." See, here too, it’s all about the fertilizer. Unless they are grown the right way the flowers will fall over and be useless to the bees.

I believe that love can exist anywhere. I have seen what the rich can do with money when they have integrity. The temptation to become corrupt is real but not futile to resist. Our culture has made us ashamed of money, mostly because we see what many people who have it do with it. And we are ashamed of many of them. We have a complicated relationship with money because we need it at the same time as we are afraid of it, or feel unworthy of it, or believe to our core that we are poor and always will be. This is the way of thinking that complicates our relationship with money and commercialism both. This is the way of thinking that makes us feel the victim of commercialism rather than recognize that our vulnerability is an illusion.

We are the ones with the dollars, folks. If they want them, they need to be more accountable for how they get them from our hands. And if we have them, we have to be more accountable for how we spend them. 

The word capital means money and wealth used to produce more money and wealth. Capitalism works by encouraging competition in a fair and open market. Sadly, our markets are neither fair nor open. Ergo capitalism becomes too easily twisted and corrupt, and the system which surrounds it supports the continuation of that model. It’s why the income gap in this country is especially unbalanced. It’s why the truly rich are so few and the truly poor are so many. The markets are not fair. They are biased in favor of the belief that we cannot be both good and wealthy.

In the United States, however, we are not purely capitalist. The opposite of capitalism is socialism, where all business is owned by the community as a whole. And whether or not we choose to comprehend it, we are actually a combination of both. In truth, we in the United States are a socialist people who operate under an economic philosophy of capitalism as its self-sustaining model. We are socio-capitalists. A purely capitalist society would have no public schools, no public parks, no social services, and the roads would need to be maintained by the businesses and residents utilizing them. There would be no taxes, because you would pay for every service you use. Life would be entirely a la carte. A purely capitalist society would never allow state-owned liquor stores, or state-run gambling, or state-run healthcare. So let’s make sure that we know what we’re talking about when it comes to whether or not we truly seek Socialism as a model of life here in America.

But must all capitalism be free from integrity? Capitalism by definition is value-neutral. It is neither good nor bad. It's much like a car. Sitting in the driveway a car does neither harm nor help. It just sits there until an operator shows up. Until it has a driver it's little better than a concept. But once someone is given license to operate it, the car becomes a potential vehicle for transformation, freedom, change, and growth. It also holds the potential to be a deadly weapon. It has the power to terrorize, pollute the air, and remembering Steven King's film "Christine," even play the villain in a movie. But there was also "Herbie the Love Bug." Capitalism, like cars, can go either way. Just like people.

Conscious capitalism is borne of an awareness that the "car" can be driven anywhere. It can be electric. It can carpool. It can be fun and fancy and free while still remaining mindful of the impact it makes upon the world.

So who’s trying to convince us otherwise? How come we don’t realize that we are the ones with all the power? Because we listen to quacks. Charlatans! Ignorant practitioners of mindless, selfish commerce! Dishonesty and even death masquerading as public service. Corrupt corporations have done much to destroy this planet and its people in an attempt to sell them something. They are guilty of the worst crimes against humanity, make no mistake about that. But their power, just like the fear they use to promote it, is an illusion.

But we must now put these things in order. We must understand what the real pecking order is around here and start asserting our right as consumers to stand up to the quacks who would murder us for a dollar. We must demand fair treatment for workers, fair markets, fair pricing, consciously raised food. Workers’ rights. 

And we assert these rights by putting our money where our mouth is. Stand up to the quacks. Support the companies that do well by doing good. They already exist. Support social enterprise that partners the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. They are not mutually exclusive. And many of us, even the companies themselves, often don’t realize that what they’re already doing is social enterprise, aka conscious capitalism. 

Vote with your money and put some thought into it. There are good people in this world who need our support and we can do it best by doing what we already do every day. Buy stuff. But buy it mindfully. If you’re a meat eater, insist on the ethical treatment of domesticated animals. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, be sure that your foods are as ethical as you are. And when business leaders say it’s not cost effective to be good, they’ll learn soon enough how wrong they have been.  You have all the power to define this world. Now go out there and use it.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 15, 2021 - The Noble Goal

What does the term “woke” really mean? To some people it’s a battle cry, to others it’s an inspiration for eye-rolls or snide comments. Most of us fall in the middle. Like many things that have a tendency to confuse us, it’s an intention. The term ‘woke,’ in the broad sense, references a desire to be more aware of social justice issues. 

In the minutia, however, there are great variations to the community of woke-ness. Those who tend to be more extreme in their views are the ones who also tend to be the most noticed, and therefore become the defacto prototypes of how a concept is publicly defined. That’s unfortunate, because the social justice community, by and large, is an extremely loving, gentle, and compassionate one, who wishes for unity among us all. It just doesn’t always look like that. Because that’s not the view we’re often given.

The same is true on the opposite side of the social and political spectrum as well, of course. The more extreme someone’s perspective, the more likely it is to find its way into the news cycle. Why else do you think the face-painted, bare-chested gentleman in the furs and horns known as “the QAnon shaman” became the predominant media face of the January 6 insurrection? Because he was the weirdest one. 

Though I personally disagree with the politics of that group, and certainly disavow their actions that day and since, I am quite certain that not all of them were accurately represented by the QAnon shaman as their media spokesemblem. Even other QAnon’s probably winced.

So let’s take a lesson from that. Let’s remember how things are presented to us, keep their reporting methodologies in mind, and figure out for ourselves that these extreme ideas and individuals act as only a tip of an iceberg; a portion, by the way, which cannot accurately describe nor represent the experience occurring among the rest of it. The tip of the iceberg does not speak for the whole. The tip of the iceberg barely even knows the rest exists beneath the surface of the water. They think their small portion in the sun represents a totality. Have compassion for their misguidance, even as we work toward preventing them from causing harm.

There are a small percentage of people in the social justice advocacy community as well whom I find to be a little tiresome. I won’t presume to psychoanalyze them. But I will always honor their intention. They seek for an improvement in the world. They seek equity among us. They are advocating for fairness. That will always be an intention that sits on the right side of history. It is honorable work. Thank God for them.

Sometimes, however, when we overlay good intentions with challenging personalities, the resulting behavior and rhetoric ends up becoming a distraction to the honorable work attempting to occur. Their extremism becomes an obliterating factor, even a hindering one, to their stated objective. But this is part of the learning curve. 

What else should we expect? Humanity is dragging itself from the dark ages still. And when you step back a few paces you can see how far we’ve come in just a few hundred years. True progress expresses itself in milestones spaced often farther apart than a human lifespan. It’s hard to really appreciate just how much we’ve accomplished since the invention of the printing press over 500 years ago. Maybe we should cut ourselves a bit of slack.

The full spectrum of those whose intention it is to create equality in the world, including both social justice extremists as well as those just slightly left-of-center, collectively accomplish the objective together. We need loud activists in the streets as well as those who quietly vote with their dollars. Both should develop a greater appreciation for one another.

When someone with extremer views than yours from either side of the spectrum presents themselves to you, be kind. Be compassionate. Keep it in perspective and remember that extreme views never truly represent the whole. And because of that, they may live out their chapter in the sun, but they will not last. All pendulums tend toward the center over time. Patience is asked of us even though it requires a lifetime of effort. We will not enjoy the shade of the trees we plant today. Be at ease with that.

Have patience with the fact that we are currently engaged in a very good fight. And we are winning. Look at what’s occurring in the world with a hopeful eye. You’ll see the trend as well. We are trending toward unity. Don’t mistake one step back for an undoing of two steps forward just made. Progress is a cha-cha. Be a comfort to those who fear it and remind them that history is on their side. Keep working.

Criticizing the woke community will get us nowhere. It’s just fighting amongst ourselves, and that’s not a sibling battle we have time to pause for right now. Pay attention to the ideas they are trying to express and if they are loving, if they are expressing a desire that all people be treated equally, live up to that idea in your own way, and with your own words. Be a part of the solution.

The military tactic to “divide and conquer” is an old method of keeping power. It still works, but not as well as it used to. The Internet is a savvy mechanism, and has a way of keeping us connected even amid an onslaught of untruths about one another. Unenlightened people still find ways to employ the divide and conquer trope, however, in order to retain their power. Rival countries manipulate our social media to keep us fighting amongst ourselves, and no less is true for some of our own domestic powers. Don’t let them win.

The best news is they aren’t really winning, anyway. The most they can hope to do is slow the progress they fear so much. Or at least manage to prolong its existence for the rest of their own lives so they don’t have to experience it for themselves. 

Take the time to notice what the majority of people in this world want: peace. Even though they all have their ways of bringing in about, and their ideas of what will constitute it, peace is the goal. Thousands of years of gradually decreasing warfare, despite an orders of magnitude increase in population, is evidence that goal isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is winning its slow and steady race.

You don’t have to go to the protests in order to be a part of that progress. You don’t have to make a demonstration of your position in the world. Simply voting is enough. But keep in your prayers and good thoughts those who are moved to do differently. Their goal is no less noble than yours. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, May 8, 2021 - Intrinsically Human

My first memories, at least those about others, are of wondering about what people believed, religiously speaking. I’m not certain of the foundation of that curiosity. I have no memory of religion in my life until my brother and sister and I began attending Sunday school later in childhood. And even then, it was an opportunity presented to us, not forced upon us. 

My parents did not really attend church. Eventually my brother and sister stopped attending as well. But I kept going. Walking down into the valley at ten years old every Sunday morning and getting a ride home from someone after coffee hour. Free range days long gone.

So I’m not exactly sure where the early question mark came from about the nature of other people’s beliefs. But I remember the wondering distinctly. 

My first formed thoughts about religion, once I had started to discover traditions outside my own, were that they all felt very similar in some ways and extremely different in others. But it was the similarities that attracted my attention. I recognized the differences as being somewhat more of the clothing one wears rather than the person inside. 

As much as I loved the church in which I grew up, and in which my parents and grandparents were married, I wouldn’t say that it was an education in world religions. But it did open the door for the safe exploration of them in my own life and search. 

In my pre-teens, I asked the minister what we (meaning our congregationalist denomination) believed. The question was a little too simply made, but was meant to ask for the distinctions between our tradition and the traditions of others. I wanted to know what made us different, mostly so that I could understand how we were the same.

The answer I got, however, was that we all come with our own individual perspectives in order to share them with one another so that we may all be transformed. I appreciated that sentiment at the time, but nowhere near as much as I do now.

That was probably the most important thing a religious professional has ever said to me in my life. At the first opportunity to ask a minister what we are supposed to believe I was humbly told that we are the ones who decide that for ourselves. 

Every day I value that thought more.

In all likelihood I would have been just as curious about other peoples’ beliefs had I not been directly given permission to wonder. But at what cost would that curiosity exist? I have known people whose curiosities about other faith ideas have led them to feel unwelcome in their own. Questions like that were, and still are, not allowed in many places.

But I was given a freedom from that burden. A freedom I recommend we all make it a priority to claim for ourselves. We should demand the freedom of our curiosities. And no priest or pastor should limit that search in any way.

To limit questioning is to declare the uncertainty of your own position. To prevent others from wondering about and respecting the ideas of other people is to admit that one’s faith does not have all the answers. But there should be nothing wrong with admitting that none of us has all the answers. Certainly no one religion. Religious professionals should be more comfortable with the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Any good truth worth its salt should have no fear of competition. 

As I’ve gotten older, my curiosity no less enthusiastic, I’ve begun to realize what three things most major faiths have in common: namely, advice on how to get along with one another. But also the impact of the seasons on our emotional health. And thirdly it is the nature and/or existence of our eternal selves.

These three things are the recurring themes in virtually all forms of organized religion. The wheel of the year, our relationships, and the dispensation of our souls. They are almost like an intertwining helix of realities and bridges across, reaching toward one another to form the cultural and philosophical building blocks of our species and its future. 

The most tenouosly discussed of the three is the soul. Sometimes thought of as the higher self or higher mind. If real, it is a consistent aspect of our human existence. Yet organized religion seldom deals with this higher self except to reference the danger in which it exists without the careful adherence to the faith. Beware for your immortal soul. Do as you’re told.

Of course not all faith systems dispense fear as a method of controlling the outcome of our eternal souls, but it exists more often than not. 

I think that’s an abuse of our relationship with our higher selves. And it’s gotten us into trouble, this tradition of accomplishing obedience through fear. It can’t be the intention of Spirit to shame us or make us afraid in order to love one another more. That just does not possess any spiritual logic. Punishment does not teach love. And, ultimately, the teachings are only about love.

The wheel of the year is often the sometimes quiet or unnoticed component, except for those who still honor the old earth traditions. But even in the most high-church forms of Christianity the wheel of the year is omnipresent. It is the liturgical calendar; the schedule of holidays, festivals, feasts, and observances. These directly correspond to how we feel at different points in the year relative to the amount of sunlight or nourishment we receive through our cyclical movement through the seasons. 

For instance, in February we often light candles in the northern hemisphere as part of our religious traditions. In the fall we all have traditions that revolve around the harvest. And in the spring we honor rebirth. The indigenous traditions of the southern hemisphere have their own versions of these as well, although their seasons are reversed. But the Christian traditions, largely begun in the northern hemisphere, maintain these same liturgical calendars in the south which are out of sync with the seasons. They potentially miss the mark for the intrinsic human needs they are meant to fulfill. 

My ultimate question, when it comes to religion, is a search for that which is intrinsically human. Noticing what all faiths have in common and then using those to ask a question about what it is we all have in common. What existential questions do we all have? How do we address them? What influences our concerns?

We find that all religions deal with the four great relationships: that with others, with the self, with the earth, and with God. What might we make of these recognitions? 

Of course I’m not listing all of the various commonalities here. There are far too many in number to observe in a single essay. But they each reveal that which is intrinsically human in us. The more we explore and ask, the less we are fearful or apprehensive in our approach of the religious or cultural other, the more we understand how beautiful our own individual traditions truly can be. 

I constantly learn surprising nuances of my own faith tradition in the process of discovering how others answer their own questions about the nature of the Ultimate Reality. We all co-inform one another, intentionally or otherwise. We are all in this one great big soup together and each of us brings our flavor to the broth. 

Be fearless in your curiosity of other people. Asking sincere questions is the highest form of respect. Be comfortable with allowing those around you to have their own search and affirm it. 

The farther we go, the more we explore, the more we witness our great commonality. How can anything but peace on earth be the ultimate result of that?