Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

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I have put together a selection of short stories that I have published over the years on my blog.  I thought it would be nice to have them all in one place.  If you have enjoyed any of my tales, I think that you will enjoy this book.  It contains 25 of my favorites pieces of writing. 

 

The fables in this book are unique and cover a wide range of topics.  It is a book of make believe that is designed to challenge the way that you look at life.  Some of these stories are Aesop like, and some are Mark Twain like.  Some of them will make you laugh.  Some will make you cry.  Some contain morals and parables that may help you think differently about your life and the world.

 

 Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think    Kindle Edition

by John Persico (Author), Socorro Luna (Editor) — Feb, 9, 2021, Kindle Edition, $4.99

 

If you prefer a paperback edition, it is available at the following link for $9.99

Intriguing Stories for the 21st Century: To Make You Laugh, Cry and Think

The Seven Greatest Appreciations of Life: Music

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What would life be without the things that help us to appreciate it?  I listen to a superb singer and think how fantastic it is to be able to have this kind of talent in the world.  I visit an art gallery and look at the magnificent paintings and think about all the people that have created works of art which beautify my life.  I journey to a library to find a good book to read and I am inundated with literature that will open vast new horizons for me intellectually and emotionally.  I am sometimes ashamed that I am not grateful enough for the many appreciations that life gives me.

I started thinking a few days ago that the issue of appreciation would make a good subject for a blog.  I soon realized that the subject would be good for several blogs.  Thus, I have decided to write about the greatest appreciations in my life.  Of course, life itself is a given as the greatest appreciation of all, so I will skip it for now.  There are hundreds of things that I can appreciate.  I will limit my list to the top seven things that I am grateful for or that I appreciate on an almost daily basis.  I will try cover each of these in my next blogs.

  1. Music
  2. Art
  3. Literature
  4. Travel/Food
  5. Friends/Family
  6. Health/Fitness
  7. Peace

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Music:  Something to Appreciate

This week I will discuss the joys and happiness that I find in music.  Karen, my wife is a musician.  I am unfortunately not among the musically gifted.  I am left to be the audience for Karen and other people with the talent to perform.  I have hundreds of artists all over the world that I admire and listen to.  Many people have a steady diet of music from a particular genre.  I consider myself fortunate to have quite catholic tastes when it comes to music.

I love opera, country, blue grass, gospel, classical, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, as well as music from almost every country in the world.  Have you ever listened to Enka music from Japan or Fado music from Portugal?  There are hundreds of styles of music all over the world.  Increasingly I find what might be called fusion music that blends a multitude of styles.

the hu

One currently popular group is called the Hu.  They are a rock band from Mongolia.  They use traditional Mongolian instrumentation, including the Morin khuur, Tovshuur and Mongolian throat singing with a rock beat.  They say that they are inspired by the Hunnu, an ancient Turkic/Mongol empire.  I discovered them on YouTube and liked them so much I purchased one of their albums.  I listened to it every day for a few weeks.  I had never heard anything like it before.

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Yesterday on NPR they had a music session with the noted African American operatic baritone Will Liverman.   It was an interesting conversation.   There has been a systematic exclusion of information concerning Black singers and composers in the realm of classical music.  Mr.  Liverman talked about his upbringing and how surprised his parents were that he became interested in opera and classical music.  He pursued his interests and has become one of the great operatic singers of our time.  Will observed that many great Black composers were virtually unknown to the public and even in the music world.  He decided to remedy this with an album of songs by Black composers.  You can find his album on Amazon and many of Mr. Liverman’s songs on YouTube.

The music world is full of variety, mysteries, contradictions, challenges, and respite from a world all too often full of dreary news and mayhem.  I have briefly touched on some of the variety in the music world, but what are the mysteries?  Well consider the talent that it takes to become a good musician.  Many people think that musicians are simply born with the talent.  A little knowledge of musicians will soon show you that music is a combination of talent and hard work.  Few of us will ever know if we could have been a great musician because most of us do not have the discipline to put the effort into music.  This includes me as well.  I am amazed at the practicing that Karen does each week.

Karen performing with the Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble

Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble Visits The Fountains – The Fountains at La Cholla in Tucson, AZ

Karen has taken dozens of classes to help develop her skills.  There never seems to be a time when she will simply quit and say, “I have become good enough.”  She is always working and striving to become better.  Every year she develops more skills and then challenges herself with more difficult pieces, not to mention adding more instruments to her repertoire.  And here is the mystery.  Where do these people get the energy and courage to keep on challenging themselves?  Most of us would rather listen to music.  We marvel at the fantastic talent that is in the music world, but we seldom understand the practice, discipline and hard work that is involved.  I gasp in amazement at a man like Jake Shimabukuro whose fingers move over the ukulele faster than I can see.  I cannot comprehend pianists that can play an entire Beethoven symphony without looking at a music sheet.  These are all mysteries to me.

What of contradictions?  The music world is full of contradictions.  Talented players and singers who never seem to achieve the stardom they deserve.  One-hit-wonders who can create a dynamic song that tops the charts but are never heard from again.  Five-year-old wunderkinds who display abilities that defy logic.  Singers who develop followers that worship the ground they walk on.  Performers who last a few years, disappear for many years, and then make startling comebacks.  Singers who are still in the music business in their eighties.  Artists who seem to have little talent but make tons of money.  The music world is full of contradictions.

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What of the challenges I refer to?  For a musician, the world is one giant challenge.  Can you imagine getting up in front of 100,000 people or more to sing the national anthem?   Can you imagine facing the expectations of an audience that has paid a minimum of 100 dollars a seat to hear you perform and some may have paid thousands to hear you perform?  Could you handle the pressure?  Can you imagine a road tour?  Leaving your home for a year to travel the world and play in dozens of different venues in front of many different audiences.  I get anxious not sleeping in my own bed for one night.  I think the challenges also show up in the chaotic drug filled life that we often see in some musicians.  Stars like Elvis, Michael Jackson, Prince, and hundreds of other great musicians who met an early and untimely death.  Is it any wonder?  The challenges may be too much for anyone.

Finally for me, the respite that music brings to my life could not be purchased for a million dollars.  It is said that “Music soothes the savage beast.”  Music takes the stress out of my life.  Music is like meditating.  It is often better than eating or sleeping.  I can watch an Andrea Bocelli performance, and everything is okay with the world.  Music helps me to forget the vicious daily news, the angry divisive politicians insulting each other, the legal eagles trying to entice me to sue someone, the maniacs on the road in a hurry to go nowhere.  I can forget the dreams I had that never materialized as I listen to Rhiannon Giddens sing, “Wayfaring Stranger” or Miley Cyrus sing, “A Man of Constant Sorrow” or Bob Dylan sing, “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.”

I fear I have not even begun to explain the joys, beauty and wonders that music can bring into our lives.  The subject is so deep and wide, that my short missive here does not even begin to do it justice.  My goal is to inspire and entice you to find more time for music in your life.  It is truly one of the great appreciations that life brings us.  Sean Combs said that “A life without passion is unforgivable.”  It is even truer that a “life without music is a terrible shame.’

Next week I will talk about Art and what it can do to help us appreciate life more.

 

Do you read enough? Do you love ideas and books?

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

Book time is my favorite time. This is when I am already past the “startup” of a new novel or the introduction to a new book and I find the time to just sit down and relax with it. I often go into an old bedroom in our house as it somehow seems more peaceful. It might be just before going to bed or sometimes when I have nothing to do. The world never seems more peaceful. It feels like hiding in a cave. When I was a child, book time was when I would go to the library. I discovered libraries at an early age and it was like discovering paradise.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  ― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

Libraries were peaceful and quiet and full of all the ideas, fantasies, mysteries and great things of the world. I fell in love with books there. I probably love books more than anything in the world. I love them not only because of what they represent, but because of where they can take you and what they can make you. When I was young, I was taught that knowledge was power and information was a precious resource. The balance of power has shifted now due to modern technology and the internet. Perhaps today it is more important who you know than what you know. Nevertheless, I persist in my love of knowledge and theory and ideas. I am bothered however by one major shift in our culture.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  ― Charles W. Eliot

We seem to live in a society that is more and more obsessed by sports. It is a society where star athletes are heroes and computer geeks are nerds. It is a society that places more value on baseball, football and basketball than on books and reading. Perhaps foolishly, I dream of a society where towns have signs up for leading academic students , leading music majors, leading drama classes, leading art students and not just for the “Football champions of 03” or the “ Class AAA Baseball Champions of 2011.” I dream of a society where drama coaches, music coaches and art teachers are as highly paid as NCAA athletic coaches. I dream of a society where as many students show up to watch the debating matches and chess matches as show up for the basketball games. I dream of a society where there is no such thing as nerds and geeks and where developing brain power is as sexy as developing muscle power.

Questions To Think About:

Do you read enough? Do you value ideas as much as you value “who won the Super bowl?” Would you pay as much for a beautiful work of art or a ticket to the symphony as you would for a ticket to an NBA playoff game or a Super bowl game? Do you spend as much time reading as you do watching sports? Do you concern yourself with politics and culture as much as you do with popular NASCAR and Hollywood celebrities? Do your children? Why not? Do you think your life might be different if you valued ideas more? What might change?

The 1st of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Wealth without Work.

Once upon a time in this great country, a model for attaining wealth and a set of rules to accomplish this objective stemmed from 3 basic beliefs.  These were:

  1. You worked hard, long and industriously.
  2. You attained as much education as you could absorb and afford.
  3. You treated all of your engagements with absolute honesty and scrupulousness.

Somewhere during the later 20th Century these 3 Cardinal beliefs (Above) about attaining great wealth were replaced by the following beliefs:

  1. Wealth can be attained at a gambling casino or by winning a lottery if you are lucky enough.
  2. Wealth can be attained by suing someone and with the help of a lawyer who will thereby gain a percentage of your lawsuit.
  3. Wealth can be attained by finding some means of acquiring a government handout for the remainder of your life.

Admittedly, not all Americans subscribe to the second set of beliefs and fortunately there are many who still subscribe to the first. Nevertheless, I think you would be hard pressed to argue that gambling, casinos, government handouts and lawsuits have not multiplied exponentially over the past fifty years.  The following are some charts which I think illustrate my points rather graphically.

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The nature of human beings is to want things fast and with a minimum of effort.  This is normal and not to be thought of as deviant or unusual.  However, as we age and develop more self-control and wisdom over our daily affairs, we learn to temper our desire for instant gratification with a more mature perspective.  Noted quality guru, Dr. W. E. Deming maintained that people wanted “Instant Pudding.”  For Deming this meant, change without effort, quality without work and cost improvements overnight.  Added together, “Instant Pudding” was Dr. Deming’s metaphor for the desire to obtain results with a minimum investment of time and energy.  Dr. Deming continually warned his clients that there was no “Instant Pudding” and change would take years of hard work and could not be accomplished without continued dedication and focus.

Unfortunately, our media and even schools today seem to emphasize the possibility of achieving success and wealth overnight.  Sports stars are depicted as suddenly being offered incredible contracts.  Movie stars are shown as going from unknown to overnight fame and fortune.  Singers and musicians seem to suddenly achieve fame despite being barely out of their teens and in many cases barely into their teens.  It would appear that everywhere we look fame, fortune and success happen overnight.  All it takes is to be discovered. This might happen if you can get on American Idol or be found by the right booking agent or obtain a guest appearance on a celebrity TV show.  In some cases, all it takes is the right YouTube video to accomplish overnight success.  One day PSI was an unknown Korean musician and in a few short weeks, he was celebrating success by a dinner in the White House and appearing at the Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.  How can anyone dispute that all that is needed for fame and fortune is to be in the right place at the right time?

You may be asking “yes, but what exactly did Gandhi mean by this “sin?”  The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence gives the following explanation:

“Wealth Without Work: This includes playing the stock market; gambling; sweat-shop slavery; over-estimating one’s worth, like some heads of corporations drawing exorbitant salaries which are not always commensurate with the work they do.  Gandhi’s idea originates from the ancient Indian practice of Tenant Farmers.  The poor were made to slog on the farms while the rich raked in the profits.  With capitalism and materialism spreading so rampantly around the world the grey area between an honest day’s hard work and sitting back and profiting from other people’s labor is growing wider.  To conserve the resources of the world and share these resources equitably with all so that everyone can aspire to a good standard of living, Gandhi believed people should take only as much as they honestly need.  The United States provides a typical example.  The country spends an estimated $200 billion a year on manufacturing cigarettes, alcohol and allied products which harm people’s health.  What the country spends in terms of providing medical and research facilities to provide and find cures for health hazards caused by over-indulgence in tobacco and alcohol is mind-blowing.” ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’, Gandhi said.

There is a visual problem here that perhaps underlies much of the current thinking about success.  The media loves to trumpet short success stories that will grab anyone’s attention. We are constantly bombarded with headlines such as:

Each of these sites (click on to hyperlink to the actual site) promises you overnight success or at least success in a much shorter time span than is realistic.  These ads are in the news, checkout stands, on TV and just about anywhere you turn around.  The constant daily bombardment of such ads creates a zeitgeist in which overnight success not only seems to be possible; but it actually seems to be the norm.  If you are not an overnight success, if you cannot become rich in days rather than years, if you contemplate a life of hard work to attain your fame and fortune, than something is wrong with you.  Anyone subscribing to the first 3 sets of beliefs I mentioned in the opening is a peculiar species today.  The most common belief about success in the new millennium can be summed up as:

I don’t have time to wait. I don’t have the patience to wait.  I don’t want to spend my life waiting.  I am entitled to success now.  Why should I have to wait?  I am as good as any of these rich successful people. If only everyone could see how good I really am, I would get the fame and fortune I deserve now.  If you expect me to shut up and work hard, I will leave and go elsewhere.  You need me more than I need you.

I believe that Gandhi and many of my generation would find such ideas very peculiar not to mention that they contradict certain universal principles.  Every time I hear of a new terrorist attack in this country or a new massacre at some workplace, I wonder how much the instigator was influenced by his or her desire for overnight fame and fortune.  In some bizarre out-of-this-world thinking, these maniacs equate their picture on page one of the news with a sort of glory that is accomplished by their bizarre and cruel rampage.  The more they kill or maim, the greater they think their glory will be.  We can look for all the “reasons” why but we will never find any “good” reasons for anyone to take such anti-social actions against others.  The paradox is that often the very people they hate are the ones they wanted attention or recognition from.

Ok, time for questions:

Have you raised your children to believe in hard work?  Are you one of the parents who want to make sure their kids have it easy?  How do you know how much hard work is enough?  Do you think you are entitled to success because you work hard?  What other factors play a role in success?  Is it fair that some people do not seem to have to work hard and yet still reap big rewards?  Do people today have it too easy compared to the immigrants that founded this country?

Life is just beginning.

The Great Divide:  An America Torn Asunder by Divisions

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The number one subject for bestselling non-fiction books in the USA today concerns the chasm that separates Republicans from Democrats.  Rural voters from urban voters.  College Educated people from non-college educated.  Conservatives from liberals.  Fox viewers from CNN viewers.  Your facts from my facts.  Your truths from my truths.  Your lies from my lies.  Your views of reality from my views of reality. 

This divide is decried by all the pundits and experts.  Not one of the writers on this subject has anything good to say about the divide.  Perhaps they harken back to the old saying, “United we stand and divided we fall.”  Or the adage that, “A house divided cannot stand.”  Whatever the reasoning, no one thinks that a USA as divided as it is with nearly 75 million people voting for Donald Trump and 80 million people voting for Joseph Biden is helpful for our nation.  Keep in mind, it is not just the sheer numbers that alarm people, it is the magnitude of the crevasse that scares people.

hate-spesechThe abyss It is so big that there is no bridging it.  None of the sides can see the other side.  None of the sides has any common ground with the other side.  None of the sides understands the language that the other side speaks.  We might as well be earthlings talking to Martians.  There is no lingua franca.  Many of the “well-meaning” experts exhort both sides to try harder to bridge the gap or to work more diligently to listen to the other side.  It seems to be assumed that all it will take to jump the gulf is good intentions.  I cry bullshit on this.  As the old aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It will take more than good intentions to heal the wound that infests our country.

Before we can fix what ails America, we must clearly understand what brought this divide about.  What are the causes for this divide, and can they be healed?  I see three main causes for this chasm.  They are: 1. Greed, 2. Demonization, and 3. Media.  Let’s look at each of these three elements and see how they contribute to the divide and what if anything can be done about them. 

Greed:

Corporate greed and materialism have driven a wedge between the haves and the have nots in America.  A larger gap than ever before exists between the rich and the poor.  The number of people seeking free food and standing in line at food banks has only been higher during the Great Depression.  The requirements for a digital elite versus a computer illiterate fuels the growing income gap.  The Opioid Epidemic is only one symptom of this inequality in the USA.  Many people cannot afford medical care or adequate housing as well as food. 

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For years now, materialism has been touted as the backbone of American commerce by corporations and the media.  Inflammatory news events sell advertisements which drive people to the shopping malls, ball parks, restaurants, and performances.  Special events like “Black Friday” abound where people, “shop till they drop.”  There is a vicious spiral to these events since the final outcome is to keep people needy and wanting more.  The theologian Matthew Kelly says you can never satisfy wants only needs.  Pursuing wants will always leave you wanting more.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and love are needs that can be satisfied and will bring you happiness.  You can never be happy pursuing wants.

materialism and spendingThe wants advertised on the TV and in the media are never fulfilling.  We have a nation of brainwashed consumers who mistakenly think that more toys, bigger houses, more guns, and luxury cars will make them happy.  We are a nation on a never-ending treadmill of consumer materialism where like rats we keep spinning the wheel and hoping to find happiness, but happiness never comes, and drugs take its place. 

There is no sanity in our economic system.  It is a zero-sum game.  It is a great deal like the lottery.  Next week there will be 100 million losers, but one winner will get a billion dollars or more.  The value for the lottery keeps going up which entices more and more people to buy lottery tickets, but the number of losers also keeps going up.  Where do the profits for the lotteries go?  Not back to the people, regardless of what they tell you.  Our society is being sold hope where hope is the most elusive product in the marketplace. 

imagesAs the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the tensions in society grow ever more divisive.  We see more road rage, more senseless shootings, more violence between men and women, less loyalty between employers and employees.  The underpinning of society that should be based on human integrity and morality is replaced with an opportunism based on an amoral value system.  Whatever we can get as long as we break no laws is considered to be moral.  We see most politicians that have no commitment to anything except to collect more money so that they can stay in office.   Their highest goal is to help the rich get richer, which of course includes themselves. 

Jesus said that money is not evil, it is the pursuit of money that is evil.  The evil in America comes from a frenzy for more that separates Americans from each other.  Like a horse race where there can only be one winner, there are only going to be a few rich Americans and many more poor people scrambling to be the “King of the Hill.” 

I do not believe that the divide in this country can be erased until we eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.  It is not simply a matter of conversation or discussion.  It is a matter of inequality.  A poor person cannot talk to a rich person unless they can shout over gated walls and armed security guards.  The biggest divide in America is between the haves and the have nots.  It is between the will haves and the may never haves.  The haves in America expect to have more and probably will get more.  The have nots do not know where their next paycheck will come from or whether they will be able to buy food for tomorrow.  No amount of discussion or listening skills is going to solve this problem.  

Demonization:

Speech-Bubble-Montage_2-1 (1)I am not talking about the devil here or about spirituality.  I am talking about a kind of insidious propaganda that has been spread by many groups and individuals.  In this propaganda, one side of America is labeled as moral, ethical, righteous, and just.  The other side is the opposite.  The other side is everything negative.  The other side is a composite of all the demons and evils that Americans believe in.  The other side are communists, fascists, atheists, anti-democratic, anti-patriotic and un-American.  One side is good.  The other side is evil incarnate.  You cannot talk to evil.  You cannot discuss with the devil why he wants your soul.  You cannot debate with Satan over the values that he has.  Heaven and hell do not have weekly discussion groups.  The language heard today, and what the media publishes drips with hate, innuendo, and disdain.  The language fosters violence.  I doubt the Founding Fathers ever conceived that the First Amendment would protect such speech.  There are three elements that contribute to a hate speech culture that demonizes the other side: 

  1. Malicious Labeling:

freehatespeechMalicious labeling is the name calling that goes on between both sides today wherein each side is labeled.  You can hear it on almost every talk show program in America today.  Name calling and name labeling.  Commie pinko leftists!  Intellectual elites!  Radical socialists!  Racist rednecks!  Fascist dictators!  Politicians, commentators, newscasters, and radio talk show hosts all use malicious labels to insult and demean those they disagree with.  What have we let this country become when we allow such name calling?  This kind of hyperbole demonizes the other side and creates a divide that cannot be overcome by rational conversation.

“I think the political process has degenerated into name-calling and extremism, and I think that that’s unfortunate.” — Bill Bradley

  1. Anti-Government Diatribes:

extremismword_hp111319.1200x0I do not think that the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that Government was evil.  Certainly, they felt that there could be too much government intrusion on the rights of the populace.  They invoked certain safeguards to protect both human rights and states rights.  Nevertheless, they did not demonize government and not a single one of the Fathers ever referred to government as evil.  Edmund Burke, the famous English conservative said, “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  He never said, “government was evil.”  It has become common place to hear refrains denigrating the role and necessity of government.  This steady drumbeat of antigovernmental rhetoric has created a group of people that have no value for government and who support the idea that government should be abolished.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”  — George Washington

  1. Legal Advocates of Violence

loyal white knights and aryan nations in texas july 2016 from vkdotcom_0A few years ago I began to wonder why groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Antifa, The Proud Boys and many other such groups advocating violence against the government were not labeled as Terrorist Organizations.  I asked a lawyer this question and he replied, “it is all politics.”  I found that almost all the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” were designated as “extremist groups.”  This means that they are not illegal, and they have the right to organize, march, rally and basically spread their hate across America.  In 2019, The SPLC listed 940 hate groups across the USA.  If any of these groups was labeled as a “Terrorist Group,” they would be on the same list as the Taliban, Boko Haram, The Mafia, Mexican Cartels and Al Qaeda.  What is the difference between an extremist group and a terrorist group?  It might surprise you to learn that a terrorist organization is defined as follows:

In the United States of America, terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.

In general, terrorism is classified as:

  • The use of violence or of the threat of violence in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological, or social objectives
  • Acts committed by non-state actors (or by undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments)
  • Acts reaching more than the immediate target victims and also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.

15963If this definition does not apply to the groups that tried to storm the US Capital on January 6th, 2021, I do not know what does.  Just yesterday the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys as a Terrorist Organization.  This delegitimizes the group and takes their rights away.  For Canada, it is a start.  I am wondering when we are going to get started in the USA on such an effort.  The First Amendment was never construed to allow hate speech and the advocating of violent actions to overthrow the government.  Why do we not have the political will to outlaw these groups?  We seem to have little compunction in penalizing Black groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Black Panthers.  We have a different standard when it comes to White Supremacy groups. 

The Media:

000f25f2-6bf0-11e9-994e-1d1e521ccbf6_image_hires_015902The newspapers, TV and the Internet are today the major carriers for the hate and vituperation that has spread across America.  On one side of the divide, we find the NY Times, the Washington Post and CNN News.  On the other side, we find the NY Post, the Washington Examiner and Fox News.  There are countless other purveyors of extreme and fanatical views.  Each side reeks of headlines supporting nonobjective views and biased reporting.  If objective reporting ever existed in the USA, it has been murdered and buried by the most pervasive media to ever exist.  The media carries the hate and violence that is created by politicians, pundits, radio commentators and hate groups and ensures that it gets widely disseminated.  Without the media, much of the divide would never have occurred.  Hate needs a platform to be spread and the media is more than happy to host anything that it believes will sell itself and its advertising. 

Conclusions:

We are not going to overcome the divide that separates Americans today by platitudes and wishful thinking.  No amount of holding hands or singing kumbaya together is going to unite Americans.  We have a systemic rot in our system that is caused by the extremism in politics and media that has created this divide.  We need to enact reasonable laws to stamp out this rot while also protecting free speech but not hate speech.  There is a difference between hate speech and free speech.  If we cannot figure this difference out, we will never close the divide that exists in America today.  You can defend the First Amendment all you want, but there are limits to everything and that includes so-called Free Speech. 

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Courage: The Seventh Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Courage is number seven of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Sunday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Give me the ability and courage to make a difference today, no matter how small.

 I have been thinking about courage now for quite some time.  One of my favorite quotes is as follows:

“The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” — Ralph W. Sockman

Courage has been one of the most salient virtues in my life.  I think about it often.  I am afraid to be a coward but wonder if I am brave.  Is it courage to do things because you are afraid of how you will think about yourself if you do not?  I have tried to test myself often to prevent feeling like a coward.  Caesar said “Cowards die many times before their deaths, but heroes only die once.”  Perhaps, it was Shakespeare who really said this, but the point remains the same.  My father hated cowards and more than once chastised me for being afraid of something.  I can think of too many times in my life when my father would have been sorely disappointed in me.

When I was young, I always took the side of the underdog.  I would defend anyone against a bully.  I hated bullies with a passion.  I still prefer the underdog.  This might explain to some degree why I care about the poor, the sick and the homeless.  Psychologists would say I was overcompensating to try to win my father’s approval.  It really does not matter to me what they say.  There is something poignant and sad about people who have less or are needier than I am.  There is something despicable about people that only care about themselves and are too ready to say “I did it myself.”  One of my favorite poems is:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
  — John Donne

In thinking about courage, I have found that the subject is more complex than it would appear.  I believe that there are five kinds of courage.  Some of us may be stronger in one while others are stronger in another kind of courage.  I would like to list each kind of courage, give you my definition and then say a little about each one.  The five types of courage I have found are:

  • Physical courage
  • Intellectual courage
  • Emotional courage
  • Moral courage
  • Spiritual courage

Physical Courage:

physical courageThis type of courage is the most obvious and perhaps least subtle.  The mountain climber, the motorcycle racer, the football player, the sky diver all display what to some of us would seem to be a reckless disregard for life.  Each of these individuals risk life and limb for either fame, fortune, fun or to achieve some goal.  Often money is the least of their motivations for risking their lives.  These people do things that leave most of us awestruck but also inspired.  We watch their events on TV, in the movies and at live shows.  We never fail to be impressed by the exploits and daring do that such individuals undertake.  Risk is the hallmark of their efforts and we note that many of them pay for their risky behaviors.  Death is an ever present companion for these people.  Somehow though, they rise above the fears that chain the rest of us to the TV and they are out there doing what many of us only do in our dreams.

There is another group though that exhibit raw physical courage and they do it for a different set of reasons.  Soldiers, police officers, emergency medical people and fire fighters all risk their lives on a daily basis.  Most of these individuals do it for altruistic motives.  There is not enough money in the world to convince the rest of us to risk our lives like these people do.  No one can say they only do it for the money, since sadly these occupations are not very well paid.  We pay accountants, Wall Street brokers and MBA’s many times more than we pay the people who risk their lives every day to protect the rest of us.

Intellectual Courage:

Death of Socrates JacquesLouisDavidWhat do you do when someone tells you that your ideas are stupid and that you will never amount to anything?   If you are like most of us, you give up and go on to something else.  The person with intellectual courage though is different from the rest of us.  They don’t give up on their ideas.  They plod forward in the face of distain, insults and criticism.  Many times they are dead and buried before the value of their ideas are recognized.  Darwin, Mendel, Pasteur and Copernicus were all ridiculed and ostracized for many years before their ideas were accepted.  Socrates was executed for his ideas.  Indeed, here is what Socrates said at his trial:

“But some of you will ask, ‘Don’t you regret what you did since now it might mean your death?’ To these I answer, ‘You are mistaken.  A good man should not calculate his chances of living or dying.  He should only ask himself whether he is doing right or wrong—whether his inner self is that of a good man or of an evil one.’  From Plato’s Apology.

Now I ask you, was Socrates a brave and courageous man?  Would you have the conviction to die for your ideas?

Emotional Courage:

moral courageI have a good friend of mine who will not go to funerals.  They make him feel very sad and he tries to avoid such feelings.  No one of us likes to feel sad.  It takes a kind of courage to go to a funeral.  What do you say at a funeral to the friends and relatives of the departed one?  How do you act?  What if you did not know the person very well?  There are many ways to feel embarrassed or like a fish out of water at a funeral.  Easier to stay home then go.  But it takes a certain kind of courage to deal with emotional risk.  Any courage is difficult because of the risk.  Emotional risk entails looking stupid, feeling stupid or having to deal with difficult feelings.  A person with emotional courage confronts these situations with a degree of bravery and élan that escapes many of us.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.  The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  — Nelson Mandela

emotional courageOne of the greatest fears that many people have is called “stage fright” or fear of public speaking.  Many professional speakers and actors/actresses feel significant stage fright.  Actress Carol Burnett was so nervous that she threw up before many of her performances.  Most of us would never think of getting up on a stage.  I know that people call it stage fright, but it is not really about the stage, it is really about us.  Who wants to look stupid and particularly in front of hundreds or people?  It takes emotional courage to deal with life.  All of us have it, but we often choose not to exercise it.  We simply spend our lives trying to avoid situations that might make us look dumb or embarrass ourselves.  The people with emotional courage deal with these situations and take the risk that the rest of us hide from.

Moral Courage:

malalaThe world is full of examples of moral courage.  However, to my way of thinking, the amount of moral cowardice far outweighs the shining examples of moral courage.  The number of Martin Luther Kings, Gandhis, Mandelas, Parks, Kellers and Kyis are dwarfed by the number of moral cowards who turn the quote I noted above around.  These are the people who when in the majority would tyrannize the minorities.  They are the moral cowards who use their positions to foster hatred and bigotry and intolerance towards the disadvantaged and weak.  They prey on the sick and quote-moral-courage-is-a-more-rare-commodity-than-bravery-in-battle-or-great-intelligence-robert-kennedy-345839hungry and would deny benefits or help to anyone who is not a member of their tribe or affiliation.  They go through life pretending to be good people and deluding themselves that they are.

Conversely, we have those cowards who when in the minority are afraid to risk.  They are afraid to speak out when they are surrounded by racists and bigots.  They are afraid of what their friends and neighbors might think if they stand up for their beliefs.  So they say and do nothing.  They find it easy to ignore the admonition that:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”  — Edmund Burke

This group of moral cowards also includes the pious so-called Christians who feel that all they need to do to guarantee their ascent into heaven is to spout religious slogans from the bible.  They conveniently forget what Jesus himself did and what the apostle James noted:

“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” — James 2:17

Jesus said:

“So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” — Matthew 7:21

I understand both of these passages to mean that a good person must do good deeds.  It is not enough to have good thoughts or to say “I believe, I believe.”  You must also be able to say “I do good.”  “I do good.”  And what good do you do?  Do you stand up for those who are being persecuted or do you join in their persecution?  Moral courage is standing up for your beliefs.  It is standing up for other people.  It is not just thinking about “What would Jesus do?”  It is doing what Jesus would do.  Jesus would not be silent in the face of persecution of others.

Spiritual Courage:

Spiritual is the ability to face the uncertainly of life and to greet each day with a sense of awe and hope that in the world I can be a better person and that I can help make the world a better place.  If we look at the word spirit, we find the following definition:

“The inner character of a person, thought of as different from the material person we can see and touch.”  — Cambridge Dictionary

The world greets us each day with new possibilities.  Many of these possibilities entail risk.  Risk of dying in a car accident.  Risk of dying in a shooting.  Risk of being raped.  Risk of losing a loved one.  Risk of disease.  Risk of unhappiness.  The list of risks we face each day is endless.  We are sensitized to these risks by the onslaught of news and media that bombards us minute by minute and second by second with ghastly deeds that journalists love to print.

Fear is ever present in our society today and is it any wonder?  The media exalt in horror stories that should have most of us seeking sanctuary in a deep dark cave.  We long to be  hidden from the persecution that seems to engulf our daily lives.  Catholics fighting Protestants.  Jews fighting Muslims.  Shia fighting Sunnis.  Tea Party people hating liberals.  People of different cultures and ethnic groups inflicting insults and defamations on each other.  Women and children subjected to abuse every second of the day.  Wars raging in one country or another.  The wealthy despising the poor and the poor envying the wealthy.  Life is portrayed as nothing but an unmitigated disaster waiting for a tragedy to befall us or so the media would seem to have us believe.  The news becomes a drug whose side effects are to convince each of us to drop out of life and to give up on the world.

“During my 2009 service as an Air Force chaplain in Iraq, I saw countless examples of heroism.  However, the most spiritually heroic act I witnessed was the prayer of a soldier who asked God to forgive the insurgents who had killed his battle buddy.”

Hero’s Highway: A Chaplain’s Journey Toward Forgiveness Inside a Combat Hospital

I wonder that anyone has the courage to get out of bed each day.  It is astonishing to me that any of us has the desire to do good for the world or to make a difference.  It hardly seems possible to roll back the evil and injustices that pour forth each day from every corner of the globe.  So why bother?  One atrocity surpasses and begets the next atrocity.

courageroarNevertheless, in the face of all this iniquity, the majority of humankind has a spiritual courage that defies logic.  The majority of people want to do good for the world. The majority of people are good and most people try to leave the world a better place then they found it.  This is truly an amazing observation.  More people are spiritual heroes than not.  Every day those who have the courage and strength to get out of bed and to start a new day show a sense of spiritual courage.  It would be easier to hide and to do nothing then to face the daily rigors of life on our planet.  Yet, that is what the majority of people do each day.  They get out of bed.  They go to work.  They volunteer.  They innovate and create.  They campaign for their ideals.  They build.  They love.  They pay taxes.  They die.  And the cycle starts all over again for the next generation.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.” — Helen Keller

Time for Questions:

What kinds of courage do you have?  What kind of courage do you wish you had more of?  Why?  What could you do to find more courage in your life?  Do you think it would make a difference?  Why?

Life is just beginning.

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.  Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency.  We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” — Maya Angelou

Rights Versus Responsibilities

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We have an epidemic of rights today and a drought of responsibility.  A number of years ago when I was a first-year teacher I had the following experience.  I was teaching at Guadalupe Area Project (GAP), otherwise charitably known as a “dropout school.”  It was mostly a school for students who had been kicked out of the St. Paul Public School System for a variety of reasons.  The school was started and run by a Sister Giovanni.  She was a leader in migrant relations on the West Side of St. Paul.  It was a largely Latino community.  Many of the residents on the West Side were recent immigrants from Mexico or Central America.

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Sister Giovanni believed in giving kids and people a second chance.  She started GAP to help students who were displaced from the public school system.  We had kids of all types and most were not traditional “school material.”  Some were chronic truants, some were chronic troublemakers, some had chronic learning difficulties, some had chronic behavior problems, and some were just lost souls.  It was a challenge working with these young folks but one I relished at the time. 

D943_130_551_1200One day a young student came to me and complained that he felt that his rights had been violated.  At the time, I took any students complaints very seriously particularly when it concerned rights.  I listened to his problem and asked him what he wanted me to do about it.  He asked if I would intercede on his behalf with Sister Giovanni, who was our principal.  I wanted to show the young man that I was concerned and caring and so I agreed to carry his problem to Sister G as she was known.  She was feared and loved by almost all students so it did not surprise me that he thought I might have more luck with Sister G than he would have. 

unnamedI went to Sister G’s office and knocked on her door.  She opened it and welcomed me in.  We exchanged some pleasantries and she asked me what I needed.  I began to explain the issue that the student had brought to me.  Sister G listened attentively.  When I was done, she smiled and nodded reassuringly.  I thought “Great, I have been successful.”  She then spoke, “This is your first year teaching right John?”  “Yes, it is,” I answered.  “Well, I have heard the issue and I may address it later, but I want to give you an important piece of advice now.  Students just like the majority of people will always demand their rights, but they seldom demand their responsibilities.”  Then, she gave me the philosophy that I have never forgotten.  “John,” she continued, “for every right there is always a responsibility.”  That was the end of our discussion.

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It is now fifty some years later and I see a government under siege by gun toting extremists demanding their first amendment rights.  I see citizens screaming their rights to not wear a mask when required by businesses or government offices.  I see women and men yelling about their rights to get grades that they believe they deserve or that their children deserve.  Everywhere I look it seems some American is on a YouTube video attacking someone because they believe that their rights have been infringed upon.

The people that invaded the US Capital were loudly proclaiming that it was their building.  The implication was that they had a right to enter it if they choose to because they owned it.  But ownership of property implies a stewardship relationship.  If you own property, you have a responsibility to take care of it.  The vandals that broke into the Capital destroyed property, stole goods, and even shit on the floors.  Is this the way anyone takes care of property that they own? 

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Rights:

Do most Americans even know what a right is or what it means to have a responsibility?  A right is defined by “Webster’s Online as:

1: qualities (such as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval.

2: something to which one has a just claim.

In the definition above, the “just claim to something” seems to be the most common usage as it applies to U.S. citizens.  A large majority of people think that they deserve something or are entitled to something.  We have heard many pundits bemoan the entitlement mentality that is immensely popular today.  I believe that the concepts of entitlement, narcissism, and rights weave a peculiar pattern on the psyche of many Americans.  The mindset that results is overly sensitive to any behaviors or efforts that impinge on the so-called rights of these Americans. 

The Founders of the USA talked about “inalienable rights.”  An inalienable right can be defined as, “a right that cannot be restrained or repealed by human laws.”  Some examples include the following rights that are deemed as inalienable:

  • To act in self-defense.
  • To own private property.
  • To work and enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.
  • To move freely within the county or to another country.
  • To worship or refrain from worshipping within a freely chosen religion.
  • To be secure in one’s home.
  • To think freely.

There is an International Bill of Rights which lists the following rights:

  • The right to equality and freedom from discrimination.
  • The right to life, liberty, and personal security.
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment.
  • The right to equality before the law.
  • The right to a fair trial.
  • The right to privacy.
  • Freedom of belief and religion.
  • Freedom of opinion.

There is even a list of 30 Basic Human Rights.  Such lists are impressive if a bit naïve.  To say that rights cannot be taken away is ludicrous.  Rights hardly existed for many people even through much of the Twentieth Century.  Freedom and rights grow out of power.  They always have and they always will.  Without power, one may claim a right but never have any opportunity to practice it.  Government power, military power, police power and personal power all either defend or attack our rights.  Some governments giveth rights and some taketh away rights.  It is inspiring to think that we have “inalienable rights” but without power, an appeal to our rights is hollow and worthless.

bill of responsibilities

Responsibilities:

“Webster’s Online” defines responsibility as:

1: the quality or state of being responsible: such as

a: moral, legal, or mental accountability

b: RELIABILITY, TRUSTWORTHINESS

2: something for which one is responsible.

Looking at the definition of responsible, I wonder if any of the extremists ever considered the idea of moral or legal accountability?   Obviously no more than they thought of the idea of reliability or trustworthiness with the constitution of the laws of the country they profess to love.  How ironic, that they were chanting USA, USA, as they attempted to tear down the foundations that America is built on.  Nothing is more sacred to American democracy than a free and fair election.  However, these fanatics were willing to follow their deluded leader in his attempt to overthrow an election that was certified free and fair by almost every court in the country. 

Responsibilities do not grow out of power.  Responsibilities are the currency that we use to pay for our rights.  Nothing is free in this world.  Rights come with a price tag.  The price tag is paid for in responsibilities that accrue to our “inalienable” rights.  For instance, I have a personal right to swing my hand.  However, I also have a responsibility to stop swinging it when it interferes with the mobility of another human being.  I can ignore this responsibility, but the consequence can easily be the loss of my own right.  In a society we have many laws which become the responsibility of people to obey.  In return for this responsibility, personal rights are granted for a wide range of endeavors and activities.  This is the quid pro quo of rights and responsibilities. 

Another example is my right to my own opinion.  I may dislike a particular minority.  I may well be prejudiced against another race or ethnic group and believe them to be inferior to my own group.  There is no law against prejudice.  Nevertheless, we have a responsibility while a member of a multi-cultural society to avoid discrimination against other people and groups. 

Discrimination is an overt act and not simply an innate prejudice.  A society can tolerate a great deal of latitude when it comes to the stupidity of prejudice, but that latitude disappears when individuals are subjected to harassment and abuse because of the color of their skin. 

It is sad that everywhere we look today, individuals in America are clamoring for their rights.  Yelling in restaurants, offices, planes, schools, and private businesses that they have rights.  Screaming that the constitution gives them the right to do something without any responsibilities.  They protest that they are going to contact a lawyer and intend to sue someone since their rights were stolen.  None of these people want to recognize much less acknowledge that they have responsibilities.  They want their rights, but they do not want to pay the cost of their rights. 

Conclusions:

we-are-a-nation-of-narcissists-300x198-1What is the solution to the problem that we are facing today?  A poisonous cultural stew of narcissism and entitlement driven by a rights only oriented mentality that thinks they are above responsibilities.  I have reached the point in this essay where it would be easy to say, “Sorry, I don’t have the answer.” Or else, I could now list several bromides which may or may not have much effect.  I have the following solution which I believe in 100 percent.  I doubt that it would be acceptable to Americans as too many people have grown privileged, lazy, and indulgent in this country. 

imagesMy solution is for a National Required Service (NRS) that starts at the age of 18 for every man and woman in America.  Upon finishing high school and before starting college, every American would need to attend the National Required Service.  They would have two options.  The first option would be to choose between a two-year service or a four-year service.  A two-year service would be the minimum.  The advantage of a longer service would lie in the educational benefits that would accrue.  Serve two years and you would receive two years of financial credit towards any public education institution of your choice in the country including vocational education as well as liberal arts.  Choose a four-year tour of service and you would receive four years of financial credit towards the public institution of your desire.

The second choice facing the individual entering the NRS would be which track to join.  The NRS would have two tracks.  A civilian track would involve services like the Peace Corp or the AmeriCorps.  A military track would use the various branches Army, Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force to recruit soldiers from the NRS enrollees. 

Students would not go directly into college or the work force from high school.  Every 18-year-old youth in this country would have a responsibility to give back to the country that sustained him or her. No one except someone with a severe medical or family emergency would be exempted from this service.  No matter how much money you had or how influential your parents were, you would be legally required to attend the NRS.  Many enrollees would benefit from a chance to experience life away from home and to grow up some before entering into college or vocational training.  They would further benefit by having enough monetary credits to pay for their education or training and not to come away from school in debt for the next twenty years of their lives.

This program would convey rights to millions of youths and also a sense of responsibility.  The lingering miasma of entitlement that exists today would be dispelled as American youth learned about their responsibilities to their country.  They would be gratified by the role that they played and proud to have served their country.  We do not need a war to teach people about service to their country and to help them obtain the pride that so many military people have achieved upon completing their tours of duty. 

 

 

Compassion:  The Sixth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Compassion is number six of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Saturday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • Help me to be strong and kind in the face of adversity, attacks or injustice perceived and help me to always be Compassionate in dealing with others.

what is compassionCompassion is the most important of the seven virtues.  Compassion is just one stroke short of love.  Compassion leads to love but it takes some doing to get there.  The journey involves a number of steps each predicated on a trait or behavior that is uniquely human.  In this blog, I want to describe the journey to compassion and beyond to love.   Each step of the journey is a commitment to humanity.  If you do not care about others, you will not be interested in the journey.  Compassion is the opposite of narcissism.   A narcissist loves them-self.  A person with compassion loves others.  With a narcissist, it is “all about me.”  With a compassionate person, it is “all about them.”

5aHomeless-Corbis_435_290The journey starts with sympathy.  We think of sympathy as “feeling sorry for someone.”  It is the ability to have feelings for another person.  We see another person who looks hungry or unhappy or ill and we feel some sense of remorse or regret for the other person.  We might be distressed for them or we might simply be glad that we are not in their shoes.  A part of us hurts or aches for the other person, but we do not identify with them on a deeper level.  Our sorrow goes no further than to perhaps wonder what had befallen them to bring such misery.

“Sympathy is feeling bad for someone else because of something that has happened to them.”

compassion two childrenOur next step in our journey to compassion takes understanding.  We need to try to understand others and to put ourselves in their shoes.  We must avoid separation and thinking that we are so different from others.  We must avoid judging others.  When you couple understanding with sympathy, you have taken the next step.  You have now arrived at empathy.  To have empathy for others, is to combine sympathy and understanding.  You are sorry for those who are less well-off then you are, but you do not separate yourself from them and instead you seek to find the common ground that links you to the other person.  Sympathy involves the heart.  Empathy involves both the heart and the mind.

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” — Andrea Arnold

By the way, not everyone thinks empathy is a good thing.  Paul Bloom, psychologist and Yale professor, argues that empathy is a bad thing—that it makes the world worse.  While we’ve been taught that putting yourself in another’s shoes cultivates compassion, he says it actually blinds you to the long-term consequences of your actions.  He blames empathy for war and many other social injustices.  You can see his argument for his case against empathy at:  “Against Empathy.”   This is a short 3 minute video where Bloom makes his case.  I personally think his case is fraught with logical fallacies and unproven assumptions.  However, I suppose the fact that he is a Yale professor will sway many people.   

we must actThe next step in our journey is action.  All of the empathy in the world will not make a difference if we do not take action.  Empathy + Action = Compassion.  Compassion is the way we make a difference to others.  Jesus said “Feed my sheep.”  He did not say to just take pity on them or to simply have empathy for them.  Empathy by itself does not clothe the poor, feed the hungry or help the weak.  We must make action and doing a part of our empathy for others.  This is true compassion.

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As I said before, compassion is the opposite of narcissism.  Compassion is about what you can do and will do and are doing for others.  There are many stories of compassion.  Hollywood, novelists, ministers and pastors of all stripes will tell us story after story of compassion.  We hear these stories and are touched.  We sympathize and empathize with the victims in these stories.  But are we moved to take action?  Unless we take action to help others, we can never get to true compassion or love.  Love goes beyond compassion.  Love entails pro-active measures to care for others.

Compassion + Pro-Action = Love

Compassion can involve two types of action.  It can entail reaction or pro-action.  Compassion that is reactive takes place when you see a need and do something about it.  However, there is a final step in the journey.  Love is our ultimate destination. When you love others, you do not wait to be asked or wait until the need is apparent.  When you love, you are pro-active.  You reach out before you are asked.  You seek for those that need help and you do not simply wait for them to arrive or show up on your door step.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” — John 15:13

I can recall a situation where I once had a friend in need.  I called Mike up and asked him if there was anything I could do for him and he said “No, he was ok.”  I thought that I was doing a very fine thing by being pro-active and asking if Mike needed any help.  A short time late, I found that another friend (Bob) had gone over and actually rendered some assistance to Mike.  I asked Bob how this came about as I noted that I had called Mike and he said that he did not need any help.  Bob replied: “Yeah, he told me the same thing, but I did not believe him.  Mike will never ask for help.”

acts of loveBob’s actions made a great impact on me, since I had seldom gone further in my life than either waiting to be asked for help or sometimes asking others if they needed help.  It would never have occurred to me to just show up and help.  Perhaps, you might think that simply showing up and helping someone is going too far.  However, think about yourself.  Would you really ask others for help?  I know I probably would not.  Pitching in to help when not asked may not always be warranted but I now see it as something worth endeavoring to do more often than not.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I did not include love as one of my seven greatest virtues.  This was no accident.  Many writers have described love much more adequately than I have.  The Greeks over two thousand years ago described four types of love.  Love has been the subject of more novels, poems and songs than there are stars in the sky.  We are constantly bombarded by the use of the word love.  How many times have you been told “I love you” by some relative or perhaps a friend who seldom goes any further than their admission of love for you?

I am skeptical of love for two reasons.  First, I am still not sure that I know what it is.  Second, I hear the word used so often that I doubt anyone else really knows what it is either.  If everyone in our world who was professing love really loved, I cannot believe that we would have the wars and violence and cruelty that we see every day on the TV and in the papers.  I think “true love” probably exists but I do not think it is practical for my daily journey through life.  It is one of those things that like happiness we do not seek but it finds us.

free sandwiches for the homelessCompassion is a much more useful and practical virtue for my life.  I can deal with compassion and I can be more compassionate if I really aspire to.  I am not sure I can be more loving.  I have a hard time “loving” others whom I dislike or who do unkind things to people I do like.  I more often “love” others who think and act like I do.  I may be taking the easy way out, but if I can be more compassionate to others and if someday I am thought of as a compassionate person, that will be enough for me.  If you are further along in your journey through life, then you should consider including love as one of your “most” important virtues.  No one will be a worse person for it.  For me today, compassion for others is enough of an effort.

Time for Questions:

 Are you a compassionate person?  Do you have compassion for strangers as well as friends and relatives?  Can you be compassionate towards people of different ethnicity, philosophies, religions and political ideologies?  What makes you a compassionate person?

Life is just beginning.

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you.  If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”  ― Barack Obama

Faith:  The Fifth Most Important Virtue for a Good Life

Faith-of-a-childFaith is number five of my seven essential virtues for leading a happy and successful life.  Every Friday I start my day with the following prayer:

  • “Help me to be as well as to do and to have Faith in the future by living today the best that I can.”

 Please listen to Pete Seeger’s rendition of:  “You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” for a musical version of what Faith is really about.  Read the comments about Pete Seeger.  He was a prime example of a man that had Faith. 

Faith is the first of the three major theological virtues.  As I thought about preparing this blog, I asked myself the question, “What is the difference between Faith and Trust?”  Or perhaps there is no difference?  I wondered if one has to be religious or have a religious affiliation to have Faith.  Most people think of Faith in terms of a belief in God or some other deity.

faithI decided that I must first understand what Faith really means.  To do this, it is helpful to deconstruct how we think about Faith and how we use the word.   I thought about how we use both Trust and Faith in common language.  For instance we use trust in English as follows:

  • Trust me!
  • Do you trust yourself?
  • Have a little trust in me.

Now if you try substituting the word Faith for Trust, it is obvious that in the first two instances, it just does not fit:

  • Faith me!
  • Do you Faith yourself?
  • Have a little Faith in me.

You will notice that in the third instance, you can substitute the word Faith for the word trust.  A grammarian would quickly note that the word Trust can be used either as a noun or a verb whereas the word Faith is primarily a noun and cannot usually be used as a verb.

It might be interesting to compare dictionary definitions of Faith and trust.

Faith: http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Strong belief or trust in someone or something
  • Belief in the existence of God : strong religious feelings or beliefs
  • A system of religious beliefs

Trust:  http://www.merriam-webster.com

  • Assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
  • Dependence on something future or contingent :  hope
  • Reliance on future payment for property (as merchandise) delivered : credit <bought furniture on trust

mountain climbingI think you can readily see that there is a certain degree of overlap between the two concepts. However, Faith generally seems to convey a more sectarian or theological concept of belief whereas Trust is generally used in more secular terms.  Thus, we don’t “trust” God but we have Faith in her.  Faith seems to be a term that is not contingent upon any kind of physical or logical proof.  We might not trust a person with our money without proof that they are “bonded” or trustworthy, but we would not expect such displays of material evidence when it comes to having Faith in God.  So what is the relevance to this in our lives?  What good is Faith if we can substitute trust for faith and have more security in the long run?

He replied, “Because you have so little Faith. Truly I tell you, if you have Faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” — Matthew 17:20

childThe answer seems to be (IMHO) that sometimes we can trust without evidence but generally we are better off trusting with some element of surety that can mitigate the risk of our trust being unfounded or mistaken.  Whereas, there is little or no evidence that can prove your need or desire to have Faith.  You must have Faith like a parent has love for a child.  It is unconditional.  You have Faith simply because you want to believe.  You have Faith because you accept something without conditions.  You need no proof or evidence to support your Faith.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?   Should you have Faith without proof?  What would a life without Faith be like?  Would we be safer or happier with less Faith?

“On a long journey of human life, Faith is the best of companions; it is the best refreshment on the journey; and it is the greatest property.”  — Buddha

Buddha thought that Faith is a companion that we cannot ignore on our journey through life.   There is a story about Mother Teresa that when she was visiting Iowa many years ago and was being interviewed by a somewhat cynical journalist; she was asked if she really thought she was making a difference to the poor in India.  Her reported reply was “I am not called upon to make a difference.  I am called upon to have Faith.”  If that sounds somewhat evasive, consider the following professionals who toil diligently and with great dedication:

  • Teachersblack couple
  • Doctors
  • Psychologists
  • Writers
  • Philanthropists
  • Artists

There are no doubt dozens of other professionals who toil in areas that are not readily amenable to evidence that they are “making a difference.”  As an educator and consultant, I can readily attest to the fact that seldom if ever is there “evidence” or concrete proof that my actions and thoughts have made a difference on my students or clients.  Most of us work on day after day, motivated by one force and one force only.  That force is the power of Faith.

You must not lose Faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Each time I write a blog, I write with the hope that something I say will help someone have a better day or lead a better life.  I have now written over 800 blogs and I have received about two dozen or so letters or emails telling me how much they appreciate my writing or how much it has helped them.  The percentage of letters received is about 3.4 percent of the blogs I have written and whose readers have been moved to write to me or drop me a comment.  And that is fine.  People are busy and many times the thought of writing to a writer is something that readers never think of.

big-challengesFortunately, the 3.4 percent of respondents have been more than enough to help me keep my Faith.  (Should I really need such sustenance if I have Faith?) Yes, I have Faith that my writing is making a difference to the world but alas, I have no proof for the empiricists, the materialists or the skeptics.  I have to ask you as well as myself to believe that I am.  It is Faith that keeps me motivated.  Without Faith, life would appear to be a futile waste of time.  Faith helps us to carry on when everything and everyone is saying to quit.  The woman in the life raft, the athlete with a severe injury, the parents with a disabled child, the poor fighting hunger, the righteous fighting injustice are all sustained by the power of Faith.

19176-Have-FaithFaith can believe everything
That we say.
Belief can increase the strength
Of Faith.
Belief is pure,
Faith is sure.
Belief looks around
To see the truth.
Faith looks within
Not only to feel the truth
But also to become the truth
.  —- Sri Chinmoy

Time for Questions:

What do you have Faith in?  What helps you to maintain your Faith?  Where would you like to have more Faith?  Do you think we have too much or too little Faith in the world?

Life is just beginning.

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —- Saint Augustine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Lying Statement from Donald J. Trump

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This morning Donald J. Trump released the following statement. This comes on the heels of spending nearly four years with the help of Republican leaders and sycophantic followers trying to destroy the democratic foundations of America and nearly succeeding. Thus, as his one time followers flee the White House, like rats leaving a sinking ship and some Republicans call for his impeachement, he issues the following statement:

“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20. I have always said we would continue our fight to ensure that only legal votes were counted. While this represents the end of the greatest first term in presidential history, it’s only the beginning of our fight to Make America Great Again.” — Donald J. Trump 1-7-2021

IF you believe this man who has repeatedly lied and lied and gone back on anything he has said, you are a total fool. He has only said this so he does not get removed from office and so that he can continue to try to destroy this country. Even in this statement, he is denying reality and waiting until January 20 for an “orderly” transition.

This man needs to go to jail. There have been few people I can think of who deserve to be behind bars more than Donald J. Trump.

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The following article was written several months ago. It should now include treason as well as the deaths of thousands of people due to his handling of the Coronavirus Pandemic:

The A to Z of Things Trump Could and Should Have Been Impeached For:

Here is what some of the rest of the world is saying about Trump and his supporters.

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