Saturday, February 4, 2017

The vision of health

You know how, if a person gets the winter flu or other illness, they often experience a lapse into feeling like holy hell before they get back to feeling healthy and strong?  I think that is what American society, and maybe the world as a whole, is experiencing right now.  I was born the year of Martin Luther King's March on Washington, and have watched over the past half century as society advanced in recognizing the human and civil rights of increasing numbers of people.  And now, in recent years, we've seen increasing visibility of white nationalist and other bigoted groups that seem bent on undoing the gains of the past fifty years.

What's happening, I think, is part of the process of progress and growth.  Growth is almost never linear, personally or socially:  There are setbacks as well as gains.  My best understanding at this point is that we have seen tremendous advances in human and civil rights at the external levels of legislation and public policy and official societal standards. However, at the personal level, not everyone has internalized the values on which these changes are based.  There is still a lot of personal and cultural growth--inner transformation--that needs to take place in order to create a solid, lasting cultural shift towards human equality.

So what we're seeing right now are the symptoms of sickness in the process of working itself out so that the body may be healed, healthy, and whole.  And as with physical healing, we do not get healthy by fixating on how godawful we feel; we stay focused on the vision of health and keep doing what we need to do until we are living that vision of health.

Keep the vision, fellow travelers.  Keep the vision.  Blessed Be.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Building OUR America

 Written on January 21, 2017, the day of the international Women's March.
Today, for many Americans, it feels like we are now faced with a federal government that is hell-bent on reversing the progress of the past eight years.  And we are tempted to despair.

We do not have the government of our dreams?  Well then.  Face what is, and move forward.

"Get over it?"  Never.  We accept the reality of the situation as it now stands; we do not relinquish our values, our vision, our principles of what America is and should be:  a place of liberty and justice for all; a place of inclusivity, not exclusivity; a place that sees itself as part of the wider world rather than an island set apart.

We hold our vision.  We stand by our vision.  And, to the best of our ability, we live our vision.

When we see civil rights ignored, minimized, or eroded, we stand up for the equality and basic human rights of all people.

When we see LGBT people spoken of in a derogatory way, we speak up and affirm that they are our neighbors, our friends, our family, and that we will not tolerate any treatment of them as less than that.

When we see immigrants treated with suspicion and hostility, we remind everyone that America has always been a nation of immigrants--and no, our ancestors did NOT all arrive here "legally."

When we hear rhetoric about "America first!" and "America great!" we continue to recognize that while it is our homeland and our beloved nation, America is just one nation among many, not God's Chosen Nation Among Every Place In The Cosmos.  We are all citizens of Planet Earth.  We are all human.

When we see people being ridiculed for their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, we hold fast to the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and of religious expression, including the freedom to hold to no religion at all.  There is no one true religion in the United States of America, and we will do everything in our power to keep it that way.

We do what we can, where we can, whenever we can.  We hold to our vision, we speak and live our vision, and so we eventually shift the collective vision.

This is not to say that government policies have no role.  Yes, they have an important role.  Yes, a social safety net matters.  Yes, protecting basic human rights matters.  Ultimately, we need those protections established firmly and universally across the nation.

Meanwhile, we each do what we can, where we can, with what resources we have, to weave that net for one another.  We speak up, we stand up, we support and encourage and empower.  We live our vision, moment by moment, day by day, in this time, in this place.

As President Obama reminded us in 2008:  WE are the ones we've been waiting for.

It is in the lives we live, the choices we make, moment by moment, day by day, that we build the America of our dreams.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Becoming Contenders

Every presidential election, year after year, the third party candidates emerge out of nowhere, offering themselves as alternatives to the "Establishment" candidates.  And every presidential election, the same mantra goes around:  Sure, they might not win the election, but if enough people have the guts to "vote your conscience, not your fears," then maybe they will at least gain the magical five percent of the vote that will boost them into major party status, thereby gaining the funding and exposure to be a Real Contender the next time around.

Thing is, making additional parties become Real Contenders isn't really about the money, or the exposure.  It's about the lack of foundation upon which these presidential candidacies are built.

It's like the fantasy many people harbor about winning the lottery or gaining a similar financial windfall:  If only they had X amount of money, all of their problems would be solved.  And time and again we see, from experience, that simply having a large amount of money is not enough to solve all of one's problems.  It sure can help in a pinch, but beyond the initial relief, a person has to learn to MANAGE all of that money.  The ones who have built a sound foundation of money management prior to winning the lottery are the ones most likely to successfully manage their newfound wealth.  The ones who did not develop those skills generally find themselves broke within a few years, and not understanding why.

In the past, third parties have gained major party status in some states.  But rather than taking that new windfall and building upon it to gain traction, they tend to fizzle out back into minor party status.  It's not because, ya know, The Establishment, Conspiracy, or The Illuminati.  The explanation is much more prosaic:  They were not prepared to manage major party status and leverage it to their advantage.

If you want to see a multi-party system in the United States at the highest level of national elections, YOU HAVE TO BEGIN BUILDING LOCALLY.  There is no shortcut, no magic fix.  Focus on building the foundation, gaining the experience, learning the mundane minutiae of running an organization that puts people into political office.  Eventually, you will have a pool of candidates who become elected officials--not with the high profile of the presidency, but at the local and state levels, doing what they can to influence policy and serve their communities.

Then, and only then, will there be a REAL chance of third-party candidates getting elected into the House, the Senate, and the Presidency.

And one more thing:  Keep in mind that as soon as Establishment-challenging candidates become elected, THEY THEMSELVES BECOME PART OF THE ESTABLISHMENT.  That is not necessarily a bad thing, because the Establishment, after all, is shaped by the people who comprise it.  No less an icon than Paul Wellstone learned this lesson in the course of his Senate career, and before he died tragically in a plane crash, there were plenty of folks on the Left muttering he had become a sell-out to The Establishment.  In other words, he took his progressive ideals and learned to work with people on both sides of the aisle, and learned that sometimes compromise is necessary in working toward the bigger picture.

But if we cling to visions of maverick outsiders whose primary motivation is to Stick It To The Establishment, that is what alternative candidates will always remain:  maverick outsiders.

The choice is ours.  Choose wisely, and keep in mind the bigger picture.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Beyond the community of dysfunction

There is a popular myth that takes place long ago in a small kingdom in a mythic land far away.  In this land, the people lived in happiness and harmony with their king.  The king would frequently ride out from his castle to mingle with the people that he called his own, and the people in turn welcomed him as one of them.

Then one day, the community well became poisoned:  One by one, the people of the community became stricken with madness from the poisoned water.  The king alone was spared, because he had his own private well at the palace.

The king was saddened by the news, and frequently visited the community to see how he could help.  His sanity was perceived by the villagers as madness, and soon the cry of, "Something is wrong with our king!  He is not well!" resounded throughout the community.  The more the king tried to appeal to them to see reason, the more the people thought he was mad.

There are two variations on how this story ends.  In one, the king resigns himself to drinking from the community well, joining his people in their madness; and the community celebrates that their king has returned to them, mad no more.

In the other version, the king, unwilling to let go of his healthy perspective, sadly resigns himself to remaining alienated from the people that he once called his own.

Sometimes we find ourselves ostracized by the very people we thought were our own.   Whether it is family, neighborhood, workplace, or faith community, the people around us are sending us the message that they think there is something very, very wrong with us, and that they really wish we would just keep silent and fade away.

One impulse is to rebel against their judgment.  Okay, so they think we are freaks?  I'll show them a freak!  And we go out of our way to be as outrageously nonconforming to the community as possible.  Another, far more common, response is to internalize their criticism and judgment, to be shamed into silence and self-doubt, even self-loathing, carrying within us the belief that we are horribly, fundamentally flawed in some way.

The best response, I think, is to seek balance, both in our lives and in our perspectives.

How do you know that your impulses are healthy, rather than simply another variation on the theme of dysfunction?  Look outside of your dysfunctional community to the larger community.  Gain information and perspective from others who are not part of the circle that has deemed you flawed.  Everyone has their own unique takes on what is healthy and normal, what is valued and what is not, and by expanding your perspective beyond the narrow definitions of your accustomed tribe you can get a pretty good idea whether there really is something out of whack with you or whether you are simply an individual expression of a fundamentally healthy personality, struggling for validation in an invalidating environment.

Probably the simplest, and best, litmus test is this:  Are you being true to yourself?  Are you following instincts that spring from within you, instincts to simply follow your own bliss, instincts that are not in any way objectively harmful to yourself or to anyone else?  I mean really harmful, not the perceived "harm" of not fitting in with someone else's expectations.

As the Wiccans say, as long as it harms none, do what you will.  Seek community that uplifts and affirms you, and allows you to be you.  In the words of the beloved children's television icon Fred Rogers, seek people who like you and appreciate you just for being you.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bathroom bull can be a bear

Many people, if not most, have experienced having their trips to the restroom monitored in at least one workplace.  From a mild, "Again?" to more intrusive questions--"Why do you have to go so often?  Why did it take you so long?"--to the extremes of timing and logging and even attempting to schedule bathroom use, some employers and managers behave in ways that at times border on harassment.

In some cases, it is unquestionably harassment.  A well publicized and widely criticized story in 2014 reported a workplace that had installed an electronic monitoring system, requiring card key access into the restroom.  The new policy penalized employees who used the bathroom "too much" and offered incentives to "reward" employees who kept bathroom use to a minimum.

This compulsion to monitor how often and how long people go to the bathroom seems to be rooted in a fear that people are just looking for an excuse to avoid doing their work, or a way to goof around online, or a chance to play games on their phones, away from Management Eyes.

Maybe, just maybe, people make all of those trips to the restroom because THEY HAVE BODILY FUNCTIONS.

What a radical suggestion.

Let me ask you this: Do you think the upper management has to account for their every trip to the restroom? Do you think anyone is asking the CEO, or any other executive, why they were in the restroom for so long? Do you think reporting the details of their bodily functions is listed among their duties?

If they don't have to do it, why does anyone else have to do it?

And if your answer is that they hold a higher rank in the company, they've earned the privilege of freedom, congratulations: You are part of the problem.


Ultimately, corporate bathroom b.s. is but a symptom of the larger problem, viewing some people as "below" other people, rather than viewing everyone as capable self-directed adults who can be trusted to use their own judgment and should be treated with basic human dignity and respect.

If people really do hate their jobs that much that they would rather hide on the toilet than do their work, perhaps it's time to ask what kind of work culture your company is fostering that such desperate escapism would be a widespread pattern. Most people normally don't think of a public restroom as an appealing place to hang out; they just want to do their business and move along.

To deny an employee's basic right to use the restroom at will is to treat them, not as fellow human beings, but as mere cogs in the machine in the service of ever-increasing "productivity." In the modern corporate world, productivity has become an all-consuming idol, trying to always extract more work from fewer people in smaller amounts of time, squeezing every last drop of potential profits from every possible minute of the day.

Sustainability is a much healthier vision for creating a business that is truly functional and beneficial for all people concerned. When the goal is to be sustainable, rather than merely "productive" and "profitable," a business seeks balance: finding ways to do the work that needs to be done that will create a healthy income with everyone working at a reasonable, healthy pace, leaving breathing room for things like relieving oneself or taking care of one's period without being subjected to an inquisition.

Remember that a business is there to serve the employees every bit as much as the employees are there to serve the business. It's a collaborative, cooperative relationship: Human beings working together to meet one another's needs. Every employee, at every level of the company, is contributing to producing the goods and services that meet the needs of the people who buy those goods and services, and every employee deserves to be respected in meeting their own needs during the course of the work day.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The business of business is PEOPLE

At the first hint of questioning the idea that "profit" should be the goal of doing business, even liberal, progressive people tend to do a double take.  It's as if you had walked into a medieval cathedral in the middle of Sunday mass and questioned the authority of the pope.  Profit is something we just don't question; so we have been dutifully conditioned.

Yet profit is not essential, at least as a primary end goal, to creating and sustaining a healthy business.  Profit is simply the surplus income after expenses are met.  And guess what?  The wages and salaries of employees are considered an "expense" in the reckoning of company finances.

That means that the money you are paid to make your living is not, traditionally, a reward for your talents, time, and skills.  It is an expense to be minimized, while maximizing the amount of work you produce, in order to maximize profits--financial surplus--for the corporate shareholders.

You are an expense to be minimized.  That is the bottom-line perspective of the traditional profit-driven model of business, even if most businesses are smart enough to avoid stating it in so many words.

Many of the issues people have with their workplaces, the way employees are treated and the way business is done, are rooted in this fundamental idea that profits, not people, are the purpose for doing business.

To shift this reality, we need to address and shift the ideas that support it.  We need to question, challenge, and change the beliefs, the values, the principles upon which business is built in our culture.

We need to envision a model of business that centers upon meeting the needs of people, focused upon providing as good a living as possible to ALL of the people working in the business, and upon providing goods and services to the community that enrich the community.

We need to envision a model of business that moves beyond the old "capitalism or communism" dichotomy.  We need to move beyond the false choice between corporate oligarchy and government oligarchy, and envision ways to create a system that is human-centered and market-based with a solid safety net undergirding it.

Most important, we we need to envision and create checks and balances that prevent any few individuals from hoarding the majority of power and resources, be it governing power or economic power.  We have enough to meet everyone's needs; it is possible to create a more balanced economy, built on healthy, respectful, mutual workplace dynamics.

What's NOT possible, under such a model, is for a few people to maintain control over the lives and livelihoods of many.

The business of business is PEOPLE.

Let this be our guiding principle, our vision, our statement of purpose.

And so it is.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

It IS okay to throw things away!

It is okay to throw things away!

Seems like an obvious point, and a not terribly profound affirmation, but really it goes right to the core for many of us for whom clutter has been a challenge.  On some level, we have internalized the belief that we must hang on to everything that isn't complete and total garbage.  And in some extreme cases, people have been conditioned to hoard even garbage:  useless waste, broken items, and so on.

And so it's very important to affirm that it IS okay to let go of what we no longer want or need.

Stuff that's obviously still useful and in good shape to donate is easier to part with.  But many of us have internalized a belief that we should never throw away a "perfectly good" item--meaning something that isn't obviously worn out or broken beyond all repair.

And so we feel obligated to keep things we no longer like, things that are stained or scratched or are torn or broken, "but just need to be fixed!"  Sure, the shirt may be stained or yellowed or dingy with age, but it's "still wearable."  Okay, the furniture looks like crap, and yet "it's still perfectly good, you can't throw it away."

Throw it away.

Ultimately, hoarding clutter is a denial of entropy.  It's a denial that things do eventually wear out, diminish, get scruffy.  We want to pretend it's still fresh and new, as we remember it.

Part of life is recognizing that we do periodically need to throw out the old and bring in the new.

If we can't do this with even our material environment, how can we bring ourselves to do it with our lives?

It is okay to throw things away.  Don't be fooled by the illusion of "someday."  Look realistically at what you know you will need, here and now and in the reasonably foreseeable future.  For example, you know that seasonal decorations will be used in the coming year.  Ditch the junk that has no real purpose, but yet, "I hate to throw it out..."

Throw it out.

Be spacious.  Be free.

Focus your life, here and now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's okay

It's okay to make mistakes.
It's okay to try and fail.
It's okay to stumble and fall.

Get up. Brush off. Move forward. Carry on.

It's okay to be youthful and naive and make decisions that prove to be poor.

There is no shame in not knowing what you have not yet learned.

It's okay to be naive and trusting at any age, to realize you will never know everything there is to know, that no matter how carefully you live and learn, sometimes you will still find yourself being taken for a fool.

It's no shame on you when others take advantage of your trust.

There is no shame.
There is no blame.

Life is a lifelong process of learning, discovering, trying and doing and sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, and sometimes just saying, "Well, I learned something new."

It's okay to be simply human.

You don't have to have all the answers.

You don't even have to know all the questions.

And when you do have some questions, it's okay to question the questions as well as the answers.

You will never, ever "get there."

You have been here all along.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Positively speaking, this needs to change

Recently I ran across a meme with words worth pondering:

Ever known a narcissist? They will verbally and emotionally abuse you, using put downs, criticisms, and insults. Then when you stand up for yourself, they come unglued and say you are the toxic one.

That really applies to the pattern of emotional and verbal abuse as a whole, not just to narcissism, and it is exactly spot on. It got me thinking about the times, from childhood on, when I experienced bullying and abuse, and about the pattern I saw more often than not: When I would say or do something to protest the abuse, I was the one who got in trouble for "making a fuss" or such like. From what I am told about the experiences of others, that is the typical pattern.

Why is this? Why is the tendency to blame the victim rather than the bully/abuser? Why do people tend to want to sweep it all under the rug, or say, well, you must have played a part in provoking the bully/abuser, or just look the other way and say nothing? Why do we shame the child for pointing out the truth that the emperor is buck naked?

A part of me really just wants to live a quiet creative life in peace and solitude, making nice writing and nice art and having no ripples in my pond, and chasing away those who would disturb my peace. Then another part of me remembers that disturbers still disturb, whether it's my peace or someone else's, and that part of me wants to speak out and use my considerable voice to help effect lasting social change.

In any case, whatever my particular role on Planet Earth, we as a society need to change the messages that ignore or excuse abuse. Positive thinking means recognizing our power to create positive and permanent shifts in our lives and in our culture. It does not mean pretending everything is fine just the way it is.

So I am positive that the simple act of speaking my truth is one step towards creating the vision of a safe and healthy society for all of us.  And so it is.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Pride Arises, After the Fall

Can you be proud
    of me
for having survived abuse,
    for growing to become
confident, strong, secure?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of me
for making the best of
    a bad situation,
a night I never wanted,
    a life-changing detour
of my dreams?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of me
for finishing college
    with an honors GPA
while raising a child
    all on my own?

Can you be proud?

Can you be proud
    of the hours I worked,
    the persistence that paid,
    the betrayals I endured,
    the judgments I overcame,

the triumph
    that, in spite of the mudslingers,
    became my life?

Can you be proud
    that I spoke out,
    that I still speak,
    that I keep speaking
    with the strength of

my loud, proud voice--

Can you be proud?

Can, or cannot,
    I suppose,
es macht nichts.