I’ve been reading that pretty much everyone, when asked, can provide a personal life-narrative that sums up or provides the gist of who we are as individuals. Apparently, usually, these personal stories are arrived at after the fact, post-hoc, and are largely fictions we construct in order, I guess, to have something to tell those who wish to know us better. Or something.
Well, maybe our stories aren’t total fiction but they are likely to be exaggerations, elaborations and/or simplifications that we deem make us appear better and more empathetic to those we wish to impress. So, anyway, this has me thinking about what my own story might look like if I were totally honest. How honest would I be in spelling it all out?
The thing is, next to every experience I can recall that puts me in a pretty good light there exists, in the shadows, an embarrassment, something I would prefer not to share no matter how much sympathy it might elicit. When I think about my childhood relationships with my peers, the challenges of reaching adulthood, what I’ve learned along the way, accomplishments, deficiencies overcome…..or not, I think it might be best to avoid offering a personal narrative at all. Those who are put off by my reticence will just have to find someone else to be touchy-feely with.
I’ve been reading, lately, that we apparently don’t all live in the same ethical world, that our moral perspectives diverge sometimes pretty dramatically, and, that this fact may very well account for the conflicting religious and political stances which seem so prevalent these days.
On the one hand you have those who champion the individual, operate according to the ethic of the golden rule: do no harm, treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated and exercise compassion for all vulnerable living things. And then you have another sizable constituency whose ethics centers on a sense of sacredness, pledge loyalty to a higher authority and firmly believe one’s social benefits be tied to one’s contributions.
It certainly seems to me both of these ethical worlds exist upon pretty sound foundations and I suspect the residents of each respective world probably have more in common, ethically speaking, than the on-going, divisive, media narrative presents. Maybe it’s time to invite my neighbors (who I’m pretty sure are firmly ensconced within the opposing camp) over for tea. As long as I can come up with conversational topics that don’t involve politics or religion.
I’m being led to understand, these days, that there are certain innate values within the human genome that when melded with cultural norms pretty much define irrevocably who we are (not discounting the onward march of evolutionary change).
Tendencies toward care for others, loyalty to our own, recognition of higher authority and above all the deep-seeded need to seek out and find sanctity are so deeply innate that reasoned explanation, reliance on an exclusive rationality as ultimate explanation for how and what things are can be embraced only by those who fight off what we innately feel to be true. And, further, such vehement denial of one’s true self isolates from the sort of social cohesion necessary for anyone to reach beyond ego and be truly open and happy.
Being a fairly private individual myself and always having been kind of averse to group bonding of any sort I found these ideas required a bit of thought. Initially the saccharine notion of sitting around a campfire singing Kum ba yah came to mind. But then I realized there were groups of more or less like-minds that I more or less fit into. And that I found the interactions (usually sports related) with these groups rewarding and important parts of my life, really, which makes me think the conception of some sort of innate need for social bonding is probably accurate. I still wince at the thought of singing Kum ba yah though.
I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by a moral psychologist who claims pretty much everyone lies, cheats and steals. Apparently most all of us have such a deeply-held, innate self-interest that, given the opportunity, dishonesty is inevitable.
Excuses made to avoid an unwanted invitation are likely to be lies. We do this, I guess, because we all want to be well-thought of and it’s pretty clear unremitting truth will make anyone pretty unpopular. And when it comes to cheating, laws are set up such that everyone who drives a car will inevitably cheat in some way, at least in terms of speed limits. As far as theft goes, ‘borrowing’ items from one’s workplace, even if justified as improving one’s work efficiency is never the less stealing.
So, as I think about it I guess I have to admit I fit the profile. I can claim, I suppose, I do no grievous harm to any individual. I do have to admit, though, I’m a liar, cheat and thief. The worst of it is I still think I’m a pretty good person.
My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.
In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.
The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.
Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.
I read the other day that someone claims to have discovered a new shade of blue. I guess that may sound fairly reasonable in some ways but when one realizes that, when white light is separated through a prism the spectrum that results will contain all possible blues; there really can’t be a ‘new’ blue can there?
As I cogitate on this conundrum it has occurred to me that there probably are all sorts of discrepancies with regard to what ‘is’ and what is thought to be. Even if we set aside the obtuse political rhetoric we are fairly constantly bombarded by and contextualize the organization of ‘facts’ with which those in the sales professions wish to convince us……..and even if we eliminate those presentations that precede obvious ulterior motive there are still concepts and perceptions that fall through the cracks in otherwise impermeable rock-hard inescapable truth.
Which, I guess, makes me think that maybe sometimes I need to lighten up a little, maybe not try so hard to clasp onto the definitive answer. The world before my senses, delusional as it may be, is never-the-less pretty satisfying.
I’ve been thinking about the rejuvenating powers of spring; not exactly a profound realization, I know, but still. In addition to the obvious rebirth of the natural world, plant life rebounding, animals extra motivated to procreate, the psychological effects on humankind are undeniable. The energy of youth is renewed (well, remembered, anyway), people are out and about doing yard work planting gardens running 5 milers, setting off on long hikes, harboring romantic inclinations and optimism abounds.
Historically, vernal renewal has seen humankind shake off the imprisoning shackles of political tyranny: think Cinco de Mayo, Syttende Mai, Canada Day (probably not a lot of testosteronal energy needed here), the 1848 Revolutions in Europe, the Arab spring, the list goes on and on. So, it seems to me, something clearly does happen to the human psyche somewhere around mid-April into early June (after which time we can expect ennui to set in in preparation for the doldrums of fall and the small death of winter).
One would think the realization of our innate ties to the rhythms of nature should be sufficient motivation to maintain the health of the natural world. There are daily indications this may not be the case.
As abrasive, ugly and, I guess, pretty comical public debate has become these days maybe it’s time to extol the virtues of the high energy levels our contentious philosophical exchanges generate. However distasteful, things are certainly better than the political structures in other parts of the world that are inclined to censor oppositional views of any sort (that couldn’t happen here, could it?).
Still, I have to question motivations sometimes. I’m afraid rather than championing fairness and what’s best for all, it appears, often, folks’ primary concerns center on me and mine, my own situation and how it measures up to what I see around me; seems like arrested development sometimes; a perpetual adolescence.
The 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill reminds us that in any debate, both positions will contain a certain degree of truth; issues are never simply black and white. So, it’s up to us all, I guess, to try to make reasonable sense of the oppositional view rather than mindlessly rely on logical fallacies, strawman simplifications and ad hominem put-downs to bind us with our allies and reinforce what we wish to be the right and only view.
As I contemplate these ideas I’m fully aware of my own complicity, my own inclination to jump on my preferred band wagon, you know, thumb my nose at the opposition. But, at least it gets my blood pumping, raises the old energy level; better than wasting away in lethargy ville I suppose.
I was reading, recently, that science, in the broadest sense is simply the systematic knowledge obtained through observation and experimentation, which means, I guess, that our earliest ancestors were practicing science as they observed and learned the habits of their prey and the locales where edible vegetation could be found. And then, later, our forebears developed a pretty sophisticated understanding of stellar and planetary movements affecting seasonal change and growing seasons: science without question.
There have been, of course, a few observational glitches along the developmental path. Grasping and accepting heliocentricity involved overcoming considerable cognitive dissonance (which might be attributed, to a considerable extent, to the Catholic Church). And, I guess, religion has thrown a monkey wrench into the workings of scientific progress on a somewhat regular basis through the ages. There are still quite a number of folks out there suspicious of ‘science’ when it questions long held beliefs or offers inconvenient truths.
But, it’s hard to argue that our very existence today isn’t due to a significant extent to our embrace of science. And, as we understand more and more about the workings of the natural world and even more questions arise we will trust science to address the questions with the knowledge that a definitive explanation of how it all works will probably never be seen. Progress will continue, nevertheless, new ideas will be presented and peer reviewed until established facts present themselves.
I can only hope education will prevail. Science, after all, is without ulterior motive; the betterment of humankind is its only goal.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when the powers that be exercised what we all thought to be altruistic tendencies in the selection and dissemination of public information. We folks got to hear and read what was thought to be most important to make us informed and responsible citizens. And, while censorial editing isn’t exactly consistent with first amendment freedoms, most allowed that the narrative presented was basically accurate and, at any rate, in the public’s best interests.
And then but so things began to change: market share became an issue, advertising dollars; profit motive began to compete with program content. Sophisticated analysis of the target consumer determined a bit more ‘colorful’ (as in lurid and debased) programming was needed to draw and keep more viewer/readers. In addition, it was learned that stories eliciting anger and outrage tended to be a lot more compelling than ‘feel-good’ sorts of things; conspiracy theories were also found to be useful in maintaining viewer loyalty.
Well, the next thing you know, we have competing narratives out there designed to appeal to particular constituencies, reinforced daily, convincing folks of the truth of their chosen perspective and the blatant inaccuracy of any other.
As philosophically divided as we are, I guess it would be in everyone’s interests to look inward to our common humanity and seek out, once in a while, the values we share.