Saturday, April 30, 2011

Simplicity

One basic method of my daily practice is simplification in all things. A lawyer whom I was consulting on a real estate matter once chuckled and said to me, "Paul, I'm going to give you a kiss." Shocked by what seemed an inappropriate suggestion, I instinctively backed a bit from him. "He laughed and said, I meant a K.I.S.S., which I learned years ago in the Navy: Keep It Simple, Stupid!" In that moment, I knew why he seemed so familiar to me. He was very much like some of my mentors when I was involved with Japanese Buddhism.

Simplicity works from inside out and also from outside in. As some Japanese Buddhists say, "Man and environment are one." By simplifying my environment, which includes my home, my workplace and my daily habits, I managed to simplify and clarify my thought, my internal process. As my internal process became simpler, less cluttered with obsessions, compulsions and anxieties, my outer life became cleared of many obstacles to my peace and joy. Decisions became easier. Ethical decisions became less complicated. I could more readily see those who live in truth and those who do not.

We live in a society of adding things. New gadgets. New technologies. All geared to sell us things to do the same things over and over again with different software and hardware. The income from these so-called advances build massive fortunes for wily capitalists, who have managed to convince millions, perhaps billions, that they have made the whole world's life easier and happier. Is your life easier and happier?

Yesterday I tried to buy small blank notepads for my task lists and shopping lists. Having struck out at a major stationery chain, I then had to go the three stores before I found them. In this case, all this technology had not made my life easier, since some corporate buyer decided I needed to buy a smart phone with an expensive monthly contract to do my shopping or plan my day.

Simplicity entails doing things as needs arise or on a set schedule that makes sense. In the home, it means being thoughtful about space and cleanliness. Putting things away after using them, for example. In diet, it means choosing wholesome food which will promote health and energy. In exercise, it means doing a sustainable daily routine throughout each and every day. Resistance to doing these things is what complicates them. Committing to them and practicing them simplifies the process. Closing your ears to those who would complicate your life by selling you more things also helps a great deal. For example, I do not watch any television or listen to any radio with inserted commercial advertisements for products. As a former cigarette smoker, I know how powerful the subliminal messages of these ads can be to subvert your own healthy self-interest.

Having what you truly need is happiness. Wanting what you don't need is misery. Finding your personal truth is essential to make the choices simple. Your personal truth often lies behind illusions and misconceptions about who you are or who you think you should be. By being one person, your true person, in the moment, honest and vulnerable, life becomes quite simple with accompanying peace and joy over time.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royals

My Yahoo homepage proclaims, next to a picture of the newly wedded British royals, "History in the making!" The irony of this proclamation was probably wasted on its writer. History in tiresome replay is more like it.

The royal wedding included the King of Bahrain on its guest list. He declined. Too busy mowing down anti-royal protesters in his country with arms provided by Britain and America. This was most likely not on the mind of the sanctimonious Archbishop of Canterbury as he blessed the anachronistic union.

Louiss XVI of France (1754-1793)
Royal weddings represent the god-given riights of some to be superior to all others. Royal weddings represent the principle that he who rewrites history and controls it rules. Royal weddings represent billions in media advertizing revenues. Royal weddings represent the enshrinement of heterosexual marriage, motivated in provenance and wealth preservation, as the iconic ideal of civilization. Royal weddings are a subtle justification of oppression by virtue of historical precedent.

There is no place for royalty in a world of universal human rights and economic justice. Common people who idolize royals are either ignorant of history or infected with a bourgeois aspiration to privilege at the expense of others and society in general. The British insistence upon propping up its royals represents the same false ideology that is represented by those conservatives who sanctify the Founders of the United States. It is a defense of economic injustice and a false history, written to protect those who are against economic justice and universal human rights. As a humanist, whose personal practice is geared to supporting human rights and economic justice, I find the very existence of royalty in the 21st century a sad indication of how far we as a species have to travel to actualize our full humanity. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Disaster

The southern United States was plagued with horrific tornadoes last night which leveled cheaply constructed houses and blew away mobile homes. To those who live under the illusion that everything is an act of God, these catastrophes are most devastating. Like abused children, they defend their abusive parent, God the Father, even more vigorously after being punished for some imagined transgression. Stone Age thinking in the twenty-first century.

There are long-studied and understood tornado zones in the southern United States. Engineers, architects and other scientifically educated experts have the tools to design infrastructure to anticipate and minimize the effect of tornadoes on human populations. Then why hasn't this been more thoroughly implemented? The answer is simple. People would rather cling to their traditional way of life than invest the money and time into scientifically improving their circumstances. Religion is a factor that helps them to believe they are doing the right thing by digging in and refusing to move on.

While it is impossible to eliminate risk through science, it is a better gamble than living with the illusion of a caring deity and just doing the same old thing that has not worked before. Learning from disaster is scientific. Resigning oneself to "God's will" is masochistic.

I fully understand that religion is consolation for some of the afflicted. Prayer alone, however, is the last resort of the impotent. Poverty and ignorance incapacitate those who have been stricken by disaster. Religion thrives amid the poor and the ignorant. Why then would those who garner their livelihood from religion promote scientific education? Why would they support technological and scientific advances for day-to-day living in their flock's environment? This would uplift the quality of life and education of the people whose ignorance they exploit.

Disaster can happen anywhere. The recent devastation in Japan, a highly advanced society, illustrates that for all of us. However, unlike the Japanese, many communities which live through disaster after disaster which could be anticipated and mollified by technology refuse to turn to science and turn to religion and conservatism instead. As a humanist, I see this as a greater detriment to social progress than religious bigotry. The cycle of reliance upon religion rather than inquiry in the face of human suffering simply propagates more human suffering.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Creativity


The Industrial Age has previously led to the need for vast amounts of human labor to mass produce the materials for consumption, the driver of capitalism. China of today is comparable to the Europe and America in the height of their Industrial Age. The overpopulated poorer classes provide the laborers to make the products for the more affluent. The sales of these materials fill the pockets of the wealthy, who invest in industry. The wealthy are satisfied that their wealth stimulates a trickle-down effect to those less fortunate, less aggressive or less privileged. Crumbs from their oversized loaf.

The cost in human lives can be seen in the stifling of human creativity. Factory workers in China, like their Western forebears, work 14-16 hours a day six days a week. Many are still adolescents. They live in dormitories. They wash their clothes in buckets on the floor and hang them to dry wherever they can. The factory supplies inexpensive meals. The wages are low and are usually sent home to a rural village, where even poorer parents struggle to scrape together a living on overcultivated land with bad water.

Portrait by Peter Petraitis

Too often stifled human creativity is channeled into reproduction. The exploited see having a child as a way of personal empowerment, a way to do things differently. "When I have children they will have a better life." This is their anthem. Unfortunately, in most of the world, economic class boundaries are quite rigid and will become more rigid with overpopulation and environmental degradation. Rich people do not readily pay taxes to uplift the minds of surplus workers. Look at the current political position of the Republican and Tea Parties in the U.S.. So, this desperate form of human creativity leads to even more stifled and frustrated workers to fuel economies for lower wages to maintain the position of the aristocrats.

The free-marketers have an easy answer: Let's all be entrepreneurs. While this works for those with middle-class educations, who can manipulate tax codes, work their middle-class networks and have the means to do market research, it does absolutely nothing for the working class, subjected to inferior public education in alienating environments. The self-satisfied bourgeoisie, the lower tier of the wealthy class, always sing the praises of a readily available upward mobility which is an illusion. It is their way of rewriting their own personal histories to justify their privilege.

As a humanist, I have always tried to encourage personal creativity in the people I encounter in my life. Perhaps this accounts for the number of writers, visual artists and musicians I have known and loved. From my work with those who suffer from mental illness, I know that drawing, poetry and journal-keeping are just as powerful tools for recovery as medications. From my work with the dying, I know the power of art, reading and music as tools for making peace with the past and the inevitable end of life.

Liberation often begins with one creative idea or inspiration, stimulated by art. Freedom is not a political gift to be dispensed by politicians or revolutionaries. Freedom is something that human beings must grab and embrace in moment-to-moment consciousness. This is what frees a slave, who then leads others to freedom. And this is the ultimate creative process in my opinion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Uprising

Last evening I watched the PBS American Experience presentation, Stonewall Uprising. This documentary, directed by Kate Davis, is a montage of personal recollections and archive film footage about gay life in New York City before and during the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969. Annual gay pride parades began in Manhattan in June, 1970 to commemorate the event. This was the beginning of the current Gay Rights Movement.

The title of the documentary is an indication of how far we have come in 42 years. Stonewall was indeed an uprising, not the drunken riot of drag queens presented in the mainstream media for decades after the fact. This film is an example of a people taking ownership of their own history. The wide-view exposition of police persecution and outright torture of gay men on the streets of Manhattan before Stonewall elevates its significance from street brawl to revolutionary uprising against politically and religiously motivated atrocities. It is a story representative of the worldwide persecution and uprisings of LGBT people, a minority which lives in all nations, races and cultures across the planet.

My gay pride is based in the dignity with which my minority has protested nonviolently for over 40 years against violent bigotry which still exists openly and vocally in nearly all the countries across the planet. I cannot help believing that my minority has continued to present a model of nonviolent protest for human rights which has inspired revolutionary protest ever since. If we, who any heterosexual bigot cannot disparage with impunity in the great majority of human society, are willing to march down the street with our heads held high, we are offering a symbol of hope and courage to anyone who feels down-trodden or disrespected. We have not stopped marching. I hope we never will.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Relationships



frail drooping houseplant
roots rotted by my caring
haunts my living room

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Be

On this traditional day of celebrating mythical resurrection, I would encourage the reader to consider being. I am not a liberated slave in ancient Egypt or resurrected martyr in ancient Jerusalem. I am a human being in this moment looking at the light of day and working toward making my day an expression of my values, my hopes, my love. This is all I am in the fragile, fleeting moment in time and space.

Be. That is what I suggest to those whom I love and to those for whom I wish peace. Be your ideal. Be your future. Be your finest self. Get rid of the "if only" factor in your life. "If I only had a million dollars...If I only had thick hair....If I were only taller....If I were only younger..." Get rid of the "if only". It is useless time- wasting and brain-wasting.

I use my environment to help me be in the moment. If there is something that displeases me in my living situation or my physical space, I fix it. If I do not like where I am living, I move. If I do not like how I am living, I make changes. It still amazes me how effectively moving my furniture around or getting rid of clutter changes my attitude and makes me think differently. Think this is silly? Try it. It works better than buying more things to make myself happy.
 
Ancient Tomb in Palestine
The symbol of the stone portal being rolled away from the tomb of the resurrected Christ of myth has always appealed to me as a symbol of lifting depression. The weight of the boulder of depression is unbearable until it begins to give way just a little with sustained effort. Each budge builds slowly into a momentum. Resurrection comes when depression becomes manageable, movable.

The decision to be is the decision to stay in the moment, the one place where I can effect change in my life. For some, the decision to be is the first straining push against the boulder of depression. Waking to simply being the best version of me, according to my own best values and best aspirations, every day gradually rolls the boulder of depression away. A deep well of creative energy is accessible, when I focus on being my best self in physical health, mental health and social health.

Many of us are entombed in stagnant family roles, social conformity and competitve materialism. These are depressive processes, developed by dependency and addiction to things that do not really bring sustainable joy. We are encouraged by the power-hungry and greedy to be good consumers and followers. This is not being our best selves. I have found the great liberation of humanism to be the awakening to my own being, my own better self. By allowing myself to express my natural desire for love and peace in my life, I have discovered what it means to be my best self. This requires hard work. I will not deny that. But, it all begins with the decision to practice being my best self moment to moment without holding back or making excuses for not trying. This is my humanist practice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Humanism


Several people have commented to me recently with amazement that I write here every day. I wonder sometimes if their expressions hold a question of my sanity as they make that observation. I routinely respond, "It is part of my daily practice." And, that is all it is really.

Some writers write because they must. There are actually brain conditions which compel people to write incessantly. Temporal lobe epilepsy is one example. I do not write from compulsion. Writing for me is more akin to doing push-ups. Many days I take a deep breath, release a resigned sigh and start typing away. Occasionally I have that wonderful inspiration that makes the process a joy ride. Only occasionally.

This action, this blog, forces me to examine my values and practice of them at the beginning of each day. It is as much reflective as it is expressive. These essays are not sermons. They are the revealed rumblings of my searching mind, trying to make sense of the world and the me in that world. That's all. No sexy gossip. No naked celebrity photographs. No self-serving political agenda.

Someone once suggested sardonically that I may be seeking to be a "Pope of Humanism". The absurdity of this amused me. I am openly anti-establishment in just about everything. Anyone who reads this blog would probably know that. The establishment of clergy, dogma and uniform liturgy in Humanism would give me cause to disassociate myself from that movement. I would still maintain my humanist practice, as I have done for decades.

I leave the deep philosophy of Humanism to those who have spent years in Academia. I am a practical humanist in all things. This expression of that practical humanism is in itself practical. It is my reflective tool and attempt to share my process as an open and candid person. My intent is simply that. If this should help someone else in some way, I would be very pleased. If it annoys someone, I am always interested in hearing about it. I highly recommend this process for anyone who is putting their humanism into practice.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Philosophy

We think in generalities, but we live in detail.
....Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)

Whitehead's words succunctly describe the Middle Path of my humanist practice. My mind is in the sweet, lofty cloud of personal truth and universal justice. My actions are a constant struggle of adaptation, compassionate patience and hard work. This is the balance of practice for propagating individual and general good. When my practice is challenging and dynamic, I know I am being true to my values. Questioning and reshaping are intrinsic to the creative process. It takes a great deal of creativity to remain healthy and mentally alive. The minute-by-minute details of my life comprise my practice of the next moment. My job is to moderate those actions in tune with my overall values of non-violence, peace and understanding. I see this as the joy and responsibility of being human.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Naps


Ray LaHood

Our government is obviously not humanist in its attitude toward its own employees. The recent flap over the sleeping flight controllers illustrates the reactive and unscientific nature of the U.S. government. The Secretary of Transportation, a notably rare Republican in Obama's administration, loudly proclaimed that no flight controllers would be paid for naps under his watch. Well, Secretary LaHood seems to be napping on the job himself.

In 2000, NASA did research for the FAA on the effectiveness of planned nap breaks for pilots to diminish the hazards of flight fatigue. The extensive and doubtless expensive study basically said, "Yup, if they nap, they are safer pilots on long flights where there are two pilots in the cockpit." So, what did our unscientific government do? It continued to ban any sleeping in cockpits despite the scientific findings. Pilots, in their wisdom, have planned naps anyway apparently with the probable effect that flying at night is safer for it. And, if the flight controllers were allowed proper staffing, they could be doing the same.

So, Secretary LaHood, like a mad Queen of Hearts, is shouting "Off with their heads!" to assuage uninformed public outrage. Scapegoating rather public education and practical remedy,  based in available, paid-for science. This is very medieval and symptomatic of a government ruled more by public "faith" than public education. It is also an illustration to secularists how far we have to go to get a government based in scientific rationality.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sleepwalking

Living a life in wakeful practice can be more difficult when confronted with the chaos of sleepwalkers. I recently had an experience which brought this to my awareness. It involved assembling a project I had designed for a friend.

I approach projects scientifically. I accumulate data. In this case, I went to my friend's apartment and measured the spaces where I was to create shelving areas. I remeasured and then drew a schematic drawing to scale. I sent that to my friend for approval. I calculated the linear feet of lumber needed. I assessed what tools my friend would bring to the project. I made a plan for the purchase of materials, hardware and tools. I then calculated a budget, based on the retail prices I researched from that plan. I submitted that to my friend for approval. I then worked with him on a plan of execution: Purchasing materials, storing materials, staining the lumber, assembly.

In my practice, I tend to take even these informal volunteer commitments seriously. Two months of delays and confusion about the project followed. There was trouble getting the wood stained. My friend's schedule was repeatedly changed. Weeks came and went. My creative energy for the project depleted, as my own need to get on with my life's priorities and scheduling took precedent. I made my peace with all that, because I respect my friend's challenges and commitments.

The time came when my friend was ready. I assembled the necessary tools. He had procured a helper to do the actual physical labor. I went to his house. My friend was not home and the helper was not there either. I called my friend. He was rushing on his way back home. Eventually, we were all there. No planning had been done for the project space. The spaces were still occupied with furniture and plugged-in electronics, still running. When I asked why, the response was, "Well, I didn't know what you'd want me to do."

The project was completed. It took about two hours longer than it should have. Neighbors were interrupting. The landlord came by and complained that the basement was being utilized to cut lumber. All of it unnecessary chaos, if my carefully laid out plans had been followed. The result may have been more satisfactory as well.  My friend was appreciatve.

I realized that this was a microcosm of my life as a person who has become accustomed to living in a wakeful and scientific life practice, my humanist practice, as I interact with those who do not live in conscious and intentional practice. Living like a pinball, bouncing off the bumpers of circumstance, is not a conscious and intentional process. It is sleepwalking through the shared world while dreaming an internal reality.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with choosing to sleepwalk through life. I truly love my sleepwalking friends. However, I believe sleepwalking increases the possibility of going wrong by impairing the ability to make responsible and rational choices which impact others, who do not necessarily understand the internal reality of the sleepwalker. Frankly, sleepwalkers seem to be in the overwhelming majority. Look at the world scientifically to see what I mean.

As I see the ideals of humanist thought, they hinge on wakefulness. Humanists prize education and science as tools to extinguish ignorance and misery. Education is the process of awakening, when it is actually applied to the student's life. Science is the discipline of staying engaged, staying awake, by methodically testing and challenging the wakeful experience to intentionally improve the quality of it. I can see no way of living this kind of life without a daily practice, specifically evolved and refined by each awakened individual.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ethnocentrism

My Irish-American grandfather, born into destitute poverty in a Massachusetts mill town in 1883, once said to me, "Paul, the only difference between bog Irish and lace-curtain Irish is that the lace-curtain Irish have their names painted in fancy letters on their trash barrels." He had grown up under the weight of waning W.A.S.P. oppression of the Irish into the servile class. Despite obstacles, he had achieved personal happiness at a relatively early age by educating himself through reading, writing poetry and extensive travel. He had opened his mind and his heart. He spent his life in service to his commmunity as an avid New Deal Democrat.

His second wife, my grandmother, was born into wealth in a mid-Atlantic city in 1884. Her bourgeois German-Dutch family had relocated from Amsterdam for her father's managerial job under a major American industrialist of the early Golden Age, as it is considered only by those who profited from it. They lived in a large house. They had many servants. From my research, I believe they were Christianized Jews. When my grandmother eloped with my grandfather, her father disowned her outright, because she married outside her ethnic and social class. She left home and never saw it or her family again for the rest of her very long life. About this she was quite stoic. She spoke freely of her childhood privilege and asserted that she did not miss it. She had the life she wanted, the life she chose for love and personal freedom.

I have learned to dislike ethnocentrism from my own experiences of it in those who promote it. I consider it the most un-American of attitudes. I perceive it as a sign of ignorance and closed mind. It is inconsistent with what I see as humanism. It is perfectly clear to me that the ethnocentrism of 20th-century Fascists, White Supremacists, radical Islamists, Mexican reconquistas and radical Zionists is the same. It is based in a deluded belief in genetic superiority. It is a dysfunctional family value, an impedance to progressive social development.

I see a problem in some current social movements. The broad-brush terms of "pluralism" and "multiculturalism" are popular among a certain class of thnkers. The indiscriminate use of these terms tells me that those who employ them have no on-the-ground knowledge of what these terms can mean to the less educated and more narrow-minded. To those who are unwilling or unable to access education, these terms are often perceived as encouragement of ethnocentrism at the expense of social integration. Societies coping with massive migration are struggling with the impact of this entrenched ethnocentrism. It is often seen through the lens of cultural dissonance. However, the reality is that some people wish to impose their culture on whatever new environment they occupy. The attempts at introducing Shariah Law in Canada and other Muslim conclaves outside of Muslim countries are examples of this. The protection of pedophile priests from civil authority in ethnocentric Catholic congregations is another example.

I like the concept of panculturalism as described in an essay on education by Terry Moreland Henderson. I share the perspective that multicultualism, as it seems to be promoted by those who equate it with ethnic cuisine and pretty costumes from a dilettante's perspective, is actually divisive on the ground. I believe that some who promote multiculturalism or pluralism are part of an elite who see themselves as benefiting from the upside of this kind of diversity and immune from its downside, such as the deterioration of public communication, the corrosion of public education and abandonment of shared civic values.

My own humanism has fueled my determination to transcend cultural barriers in my nursing practice and my daily life. As a medical caregiver, I know that cultural differences impede more often than facilitate health promotion and healing when they are based in sexism, religion and ignorance. As a low-income American, who utilizes public transportation and has lived in diverse neighborhoods my whole life, I know that some cultural mores of newcomers to this country are inconsistent with the best of American civic values.

As a humanist, I believe in the use of rational thought and scientific inquiry. There is no room in that perspective for indiscriminate acceptance of any cultural or ethnic behavior. This is as inane, in my opinion, as blind ethnocentrism itself.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Privilege

Even democratic societies indulge hereditary privilege as a right. In significant ways, this loyalty to hereditary privilege is a major obstacle to universal fairness and equality. The current debate in the U.S. concerning government budgets is actually closely related to the concept of hereditary wealth. Family values include hereditary entitlements. Hereditary entitlements trump social entitlements in the minds of the affluent. 

The vicious hatred of taxation on the political Right is rooted in this sense of hereditary entitlement, I believe. It is the same hereditary entitlement that has always been the foundation of aristocracy.  Julia Child summed it up when she advised her readers to "choose good grandparents", when asked to what she attributed her long and interesting life. I admire her honesty.

Of course, the implication of hereditary entitlement is that those without them are doomed to a life of struggle and uncertainty of the basic securities of life. If you are unfortunate enough to be born to drug addicts in a slum, tough luck! This is the basic attitude of those who see their hereditary entitlements are God-given or deserved. It is unfortunate that even among secularists one might find those who feel this way. Opportunism is a natural force in all living things. However, living beings with frontal lobes can be expected to have the ability, with privilege, to go beyond opportunism to some degree of social conscience.

We're not there yet. However, there will come a time, if current trends of wealth disparity and human overpopulation continue, when human beings with privilege will be forced to choose social justice in order to preserve their lives and the lives of their offspring. This is the way of human history.

As a humanist, I do not accept the concept of hereditary privilege. I do not honor titles or crowns. I do not accept that someone with a trust fund which enabled them to attain an elitist education  is somehow superior to me or anyone else. I do not feel that a rich person deserves his wealth on face value. Many people are wealthy at the unjust expense of individuals and society even in a democracy.  I do judge the actions of the privileged, because I feel it is a rational expectation that the privileged should at the very least contribute to society in proportion to their hereditary privileges. And, in the current U.S., any individual who has a secure income over $100,000 a year is privileged. I also believe that anyone who inherits hundreds of thousands of dollars is privileged.

The amount of individuals who actually increase their economic status from their birth status in one lifetime is small. Even in the U.S., where the wealthy and powerful  foster the illusion that everyone is on the road to success by simply being an American, economic class sticks to most people from generation to generation. There is a stream of people who break class barriers and become the cheerleaders for the power structure as it exists. Why would they want to change something which has afforded them privileges over others? Yes, that is the question I feel every true humanist must ask. Perhaps the answer is, "Questioning hereditary privilege is the first step to universal equality!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Practice

My earlier working life was unconventional. For many years, I worked as a nurse on evening and night shifts. I worked during the day as well at small businesses I contrived to make ends meet. I wasn't the tech entrepreneur looking to make millions and be famous. My nurse's salary, humble by today's pay scale for nurses, would not support high city rents. I worked for money to live. I did not live to work.

Working nights and days took its toll, even on the strapping young man I was then. I recall looking on in awe as my friends with conventional jobs flew off to exotic places for a weekend. How do they do it, I wondered. It didn't occur to me how much energy I would have if I wasn't working so many hours a week. My work was simply what I felt I had to do to be a responsible person.

I realize now, as I see some of my peers struggle with aging, that I developed my own center of being throughout those hard years. I learned a kind of balancing habit which has served me well as I have dealt with severe disease and aging. My consciousness has a center which is firmly rooted in what I have discovered and nurtured as my better self.

I know this sounds like psycho-babble or self-help pablum to some. Unless you have been under some form of serious duress, I doubt you will understand me. If you have experienced trauma in your life, you may well understand me, or you may think I am just fooling myself. However, I am sharing this with those of you who may need encouragement in your search for your center, your balance, your peace..

I believe that mental exercise is no different than physical exercise. Just as a gymnast easily balances on a beam after years of practice, so the person with a daily mental practice balances when assailed by the unavoidable gravity of a mortal  existence. Some of us resign ourselves to being self-soothing klutzes. But others embrace the challenge and rewards of the hard work of balancing. Practice is simply the mental and physical work of achieving that balance, that personal center, rooted in values and aspirations. Humanist practice is rooted in humanist values and aspires to promote peace, justice and a better life for all. All practice exists in the moment.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Waste

"The waste in  Medicare and Medicaid...", a phrase often chanted by those on the Right and the Left when budgets are debated by the U.S. Congress. What waste? As a subscriber to Medicare, I get a written statement in the mail whenever I access Medicare-paid services. It is an accurate accounting sheet on what has been purchased on my behalf by Medicare. It shows what was billed by the medical provider, usually an outlandishly inflated amount, and what Medicare actually paid out, a much more reasonable amount. The statement I receive also encourages me to report unauthorized services or abuse. The waste, as I see it in black and white on these balance sheets is not on the part of Medicare. It is the wasteful and unrelenting attempts to cheat Medicare by greedy medical providers.

Let's talk about waste. The military cost of the "minor" intervention in Libya is estimated now at $550 million. It is speculated that it may climb to $800 million. Since 2001, the U.S. has given over $20 billion to Pakistan, a country which executes people for blasphemy. Then there's the $19 million we gave in military assistance to Bahrain in 2010. That military assistance in the form of military technology and hardware has been used to massacre democratic protesters. Then there's the additional $130 billion dollars the U.S. government spent in Afghanistan and Iraq last year on top of the $533 billion annual Pentagon budget.

Let's talk about waste. The U.S. farm subsidies in 2009 were $15.4 billion. Much of this money goes to growing environmentally degrading corn by big agricultural corporations, who then use that corn to produce ethanol for gasoline dilution and food which has low nutritional value, linked to obesity, diabetes and cancer. In 2005, the U.S. government paid $25 billion for medical research and development, much of which funds the development of drugs and procedures which then make nearly ten times that amount in profits for pharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals. The government doesn't get a piece of those profits. Instead, it ends up being billed through Medicare and Medicaid for providing those products to the taxpayer who already paid for the research and development of those products.

Let's summarize: 

It is wasteful to carefully pay out taxpayer money, which they have contributed to in an insurance plan (Medicare), to provide for their health and well being. 

It is not wasteful to
  • try to blow up dictators whom you have propped up and armed previously
  • support the elite of a country which executes people for blasphemy
  • help a king massacre unarmed, democracy-seeking demonstrators
  • promote a war of aggression against two countries in the name of promoting U.S. values
  • subsidize bad food and the gasoline-production industry
  • fund medical research which is then packaged and resold to taxpayers for outrageous profits
The real waste in America is the wasted voting power of Americans who do not pay attention to what their government is doing, rather than what it is saying in its corporately controlled media.

Friday, April 15, 2011

E-quality

As I listen to the current ravings of Paul Ryan, the New Gingrich, I have to wonder what planet he and his Tea Party backers inhabit. Then I ponder on the endless stream of electronic communication available on the Web. I look at Facebook and realize that Facebook to some might seem to be a real place, where everyone has a cute icon and crisp lives in uniform font.

Marshall McLuhan, Media Prophet
E-quality isn't equality. The war against poverty and ignorance hasn't been won just because everyone seems to have an iPhone. In fact, the enforced conformity of the Information Age, where there are few practical alternatives to electronic media for getting through daily urban life, creates an illusion of equality far more dangerous to those who are underprivileged.

Information is power. Lack of it is crippling in the Information Age. Those who are consigned to failure by crumbling urban school systems are made invisible. They do not grin from Facebook pages if they cannot afford a broadband connection or an expensive monthly smart-phone contract.

The new media work for those who can afford them or have the education to use them effectively. Those who cannot are silenced, cast into the darkness away from illuminated screens.

So, who are Congressman Ryan and his Tea Party friends targeting? The poorer elderly who depend on Medicare and Social Security for their survival and those in society who need so-called entitlements to get through a rough patch or to compensate for a disability. These are the people who can least effectively fight back in the new media. Who does Congressman Ryan loudly defend against any taxation? Households which make over $250,000 per year, who happen to be those who have the greatest access to and control of the new media. This group also happens to be a tiny  minority (approx. 2%) of the American population. Perhaps Ryan hopes to convince the 14% of American households who make between $100,000 and $250,000 a year that their interests are the same as those in the top 2%. Unfortunately, for Mr. Ryan, declining income trends in the U.S. middle class may make this a harder sell. Even a harder sell to the 30% of American households who make between $50,000 and $100,000.

While approximately 46% of American households make over $50,000 a year, the majority of American households live on less than $50,000 a year. The national median income is around $44,000 a year. So, why is Mr. Ryan so vigorously screaming against raising taxes on the wealthy and diminishing the quality of life for the vast majority of American households? The answer is simple: Because in the age of new media he can get away with it. He and his Tea Party people can take advantage of the new media deficits of those at the bottom of the society and use more traditional, corporate-controlled mass media to convince them to vote against their own interests. This renders the minority of politically independent, progressive people in the upper 46% of the population powerless, since they cannot access those who are not engaged in new media. And, any true progressive who has watched PBS lately can see that Ryan and his friends have succeeded to intimidate that mass media outlet as well.

Marshall McLuhan said in his 1970 book, From Cliche to Archetype, that satellite medium "ends 'Nature' and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed." Ryan and his Tea Party folks have learned to manipulate media to convince the greater majority of Americans that they have the interests of the nation at heart. This is indeed programming of the most cynical and destructive kind. Unfortunately, it threatens to become the universal politics of the future. Silvio Berlusconi has certainly mastered the technique in Italy.

E-quality could become equality in a country where broadband access is available and affordable for all citizens, an initiative supported by the Obama administration and resisted in Congress for obvious reasons. As a humanist, I try very hard to maintain an awareness that a large number of my fellow human beings are indeed left behind by innovation, not improved by it, in an uncontrolled free market economy. Taxation, controls on corporate greed and entitlements are necessary to bring those left behind into the democratic process.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
I applaud President Obama this morning. As I listened to his budget-related speech yesterday, I heard the voice of humanist values, based in fairness and rationality. He addressed the economic inequity in the U.S. against the howling protest of those who would deny it in order to use it to their advantage. Bravo. It's about time. If you did not hear the entire speech, I recommend you listen to it here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Insurance

Private insurance is seeking to pillage the social security network of the United States. The insurance industry blocked true health care reform through its lobby. It cowed Obama's reformers away from a one-payer system, the one adequate solution for controlling health care costs by controlling the greedy hospital  and pharmaceutical magnates. Now the insurance industry, in tandem with the investment industry, has its eyes on social security retirement money as well. Trillions of dollars of government-enforced profits for fat cats. This is insurance of their future domination of the country and its people.

Materialist Cathedral: Insurance Tower
The post-Reagan infatuation with privatization represents the hyped Reagan philosophy of narcissistic self-determinism. It is not based in science. It is based in greed and imposed social Darwinism. Trickle-down economics deliver a simple message from the privileged to the underprivileged, "Wait and see what I drop your way, if you behave and do as we say. We know better." This lies behind the deluge of media propaganda, which successfully convinces average Americans to vote against their own self-interest by supporting movements like The Tea Party.

Narcissistic self-determination on a planet with an unsustainable human population will lead to a predictable dead end. It will assure more war, more famine, more poverty.  The Reaganite illusion that the quality of life is generally improving globally is a luxury of the bourgeoisie, as it always has been. The recent events in the Arab world are a loud answer to that illusion. The recent repression of dissent in China is as well.

Of course, if you are of the wealthier class, you can soothe your conscience and your fears by buying into the Wall Street power structure and buying lots of insurance and financial instruments. You can delude yourself into thinking that everybody else has the same option. You can do all this until those who are impoverished by the system that keeps you wealthy awaken and turn against you. When that happens, there is no insurance which will prevent the disastrous consequences for everyone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Comfort

I've never been much of a layabout, but I do enjoy some comforts: A good mattress, a reclining reading chair, a subcompact car. Like the Buddha, I think harsh asceticism is highly overrated as a path to enlightenment.

Trump Tower in Dubai
Americans seldom stop to realize the baseline comforts that are part of their daily lives. Fresh hot and cold water from their taps, flush toilets and sprawling supermarkets stocked with relatively inexpensive food and dry goods. That is just a short list. I wish I could say that living with these comforts, exceptional by comparison to a vast part of the world, has enabled a free flow of progressive thought and scientific advancement to rapidly and significantly benefit all our brothers and sisters across the world. Progressive thought is still struggling against entrenched selfishness in America.

The quest for more and more comfort or luxury is usually a symptom in my experience. Craving comforts can be the result of too many comforts, just as constantly craving food is one of the symptoms of gross obesity or severe constipation. In this recent New Golden Age, we have seen a resurgence of this comfort mania in the media. Oprah's many mansions, the Kardashian's many glitzy homes (built on the fortunes of O.J. Simpson's defense attorney), Trump's glamor palaces.

I see an inverse relationship between internal comfort and the need for external comfort in my own life. When I am physically well and true to my humanist practice, my need for external comforts is minimized. When I am unbalanced by trauma, fatigue or crisis, my desire for external comfort rises significantly. 

Over twenty years ago, I was fortunate to spend time with Japanese Buddhists and took an interest in Zen philosophy. That experience helped me to realize that I had a daily practice from which I derived a great deal of internal peace. That experience also gave me inspiration for practice. The Zen approach to organic and practical utility is very comforting to me. It values the process of labor and seeking psychological harmony with environment. By taking comfort in doing and being within a practice of personal values, I experience freedom from cravings for more and more things or diversions. Practice is a comfort which sustains itself.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Choice

Choice is a concept associated with freedom. Choice of religion, choice of occupation, choice of medical procedure. However, choice is too often seen as a concept dissociated from responsibility. Every adult choice should entail assuming commensurate responsibility for its consequences. Choice without responsibility is a whim or an impulse.

America's litigious culture is all about choices taken without commensurate understanding or commitment to responsibility for the results. A home buyer commits to a mortgage he cannot afford and blames the lender. A wealthy patient insists on radical plastic surgery and blames the surgeon for the unsatisfactory result, despite being told the possible consequences and limitations of the procedure. A person smokes for years and blames the cigarette maker for his cancer.

For some, freedom means freedom from responsibility. Freedom to choose, however, should only be encouraged by a society as long as individual choices are socially responsible from a scientific perspective. This is common sense.

Personal choices within a single life are healthy when they are accompanied by commitment and responsibility. Part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for choices. Unfortunately, many young people in a prosperous society have a hard time making the transition from carefree child to responsible chooser. ""It's all good." is often a slogan for the indiscriminate and uncommitted.

Developing a personal practice is a process of making ongoing choices, day by day, with a sense of responsibility and mindful care. A humanist practice, I believe, entails making responsible choices which put humanist values into action in the moments of each day. Living in mindfulness is a choice in itself. It comes with its own responsibilities if it is to be genuine.

I often think of living a personal practice in terms of jazz. The consistency of my practice is the melody. The creative and spontaneous choices are the riffs, which relate to the melody but are not rigidly prescribed by dogma or absolutes. The resulting music is my life, for which I am ultimately responsible. I that music is pleasing to my own ear, then I am succeeding at living my values. If not, I need to work harder at it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Awake

The word "mindful" is used in many contexts. The short OED definition is "taking heed or care; giving thought (to)". The path between candid expression of personal truth and mindfulness of the truth of others  is perhaps one form of The Middle Path of Buddhism. If traveled routinely day after day, I believe, this path can bring your life into a joyful state of loving and being loved.

To be mindful, you must be awake. This sounds silly, but it isn't really. So many of us wander through our lives for years half asleep. We are sedated by our conditioned roles in family, by our jobs and by pursuing material things we have been convinced are essential to our happiness. Unquestioning, compliant, we follow each step that we are directed to by parents, teachers and bosses. Some of us find ourselves at the top of a staircase that leads to nowhere. 

Hitting that previously invisible wall often jars us awake. We look around and realize we are lost among the accumulated baggage of our sleepwalking. This crucial time is when many of us start to actually be mindful in our lives in order to find our way back to ourselves.

Psychotherapy is often maligned. It is seen by some as retro, an anachronistic ritual which is inferior to popping a feel-good pill. Unskilled and badly motivated psychotherapists and self-help gurus have done their share to form this public perception. But the process of undergoing critical self-analysis with a concerned and trained person is the basis of many progressive intellectual pursuits. For some, psychotherapy can cut short the somnolent climb or descent on the staircase to nowhere.

Once awakened, the challenge is to remain watchful and mindful. Old habits die hard. A daily practice is the process of staying awake. Establishing a daily routine of self-care and self-development in order to greet the world mindfully in peace and with love is the work of practice. Exercise, proper diet, adequate sleep and meditation/reflection are essential elements of a daily practice to develop joy through mindfulness. As mindfulness takes root, so does openness and education. Living intentionally and healthily with a thirst for understanding inevitably opens a human life to compassion and peace.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hypocrisy

Sunlight, as we know, is one of the best natural disinfectants. Similarly, the light of personal honesty is the best antidote for hypocrisy. Hypocrisy in its many forms is the enemy of personal progress. Its basis in self-delusion supports distorted self-perception and worldview. This a a form of intentional blindness, deafness and ignorance.

When I was young, I tied to rationalize everything about myself that was consciously dishonest. I had to hide my homosexual feelings because I would be victimized, I thought. I had to avoid those peers who seemed homosexual to others because they might cast suspicion on me. I had to deny my feelings for others because I could get hurt. Little by little, the cancer of self-repression darkened my consciousness and extinguished the normal exuberance of a child within me. I became overweight, depressed and suicidal at age thirteen.

I walked the rim of my that personal black hole for five years. I was withdrawn and the most unhappily alone I have ever been. Something in my genetic and learned being would not surrender. I managed to walk through my life every day within the iron-maiden of my personal torture while also doing what I had to do to get away from the environment which was feeding my depression and fear.

I have thoroughly explored that darkness of self-deceit and defensive dishonesty, so I cannot judge anyone too harshly for their difficulty in letting go of it and moving on. However, not letting go of it leads to only greater misery. So, as someone who is committed to promoting health and well being, I cannot simply accept the hopelessness of a person's self-delusion. And, it is this self-delusion, I believe, which leads to hypocrisy in those who do not develop personal honesty and action upon it as a regular practice.

We know from elementary psychology that feelings of superiority stem from feelings of inferiority. Grandiosity is a defense of those whose suffer from intense self-loathing, due to biochemical and developmental factors. In more subtle degrees, hypocrisy and a sense of moral superiority can be viewed in the same way. Lack of self-love promotes internal dishonesty to reconcile the disliked inner person with the outer shell of superior respectability.

So, I return to the sunlight analogy. When I was eighteen, I opened myself to a group of loving and accepting friends. It wasn't easy. In fact, to be honest, it took some pretty wild partying and the influence of alcohol to break free from the obsessive chains of my depression. I was fortunate to not trigger the likely genetic alcoholism which has destroyed some in my family of origin. My attempt to use drinking to break free could have led to a worse fate than being functionally depressed.

Opening myself to the sunlight by becoming vulnerable and visible as I truly was to my friends brought me acceptance and understanding which I had not learned to expect from people in my childhood environment. It helped me heal. I soon stopped my heavy drinking. I went on a diet and started to exercise regularly. I developed an active social/sexual life which was appropriate for a young gay man. And, most importantly, I vowed to myself never to return to the jail of self-repression again.

My point is that people seldom choose consciously to be hypocrites. Hypocrisy is a chronic disease of lies and sublimated self-hatred. The famous Biblical references to Christ's damning Pharisees for their hypocrisy ring false to me. If there was such a man as the Biblical Christ, he would have pitied the Pharisees for living lives of depressed self-deception. Rather than haranguing them, he would probably have tried to help them see their pain and misery. When I encounter hypocrites, I can clearly see their pain and their fear of their own truth.

Humanism, as I know it, is about acceptance, peace and love. Humanism flourishes in the sunlight of honesty and the commonality of human experience. Humanism is about promoting health and liberation of all human beings from self-hatred and misery. By embracing education and science, humanists have tremendous tools to make a significant difference in the lives of those in their environments. The first and most important step in promoting the greater good is living a self-loving and personally honest life.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Magic

In a recent conversation with a friend who is both scientifically and theologically naive, I was amazed and somewhat horrified at the certainty with which he explained his belief that Mother Nature was striking back at Japan for being too industrialized by throwing earthquakes and tsunami at the country. After checking over my shoulder for a representative of the Spanish Inquisition, I tried to explain the science of tectonic plates and the lack of intention, in human terms, of earthquake dynamics. In other words, whether dinosaurs or nuclear power plants were around the plates when they collided and shifted, the earthquake and tsunami would occur. He stared at me blankly and said, "Then what good was your science?"

I laughed and quickly changed the subject. I didn't have time to do both Logic 101 and Earth Sciences 101. 

Ignorance thrives on magical thinking. Magical thinking thrives on ignorance. In this case, the repercussions of this particular magical thinking are lack of compassion for fellow human beings in great distress and a deluded belief that no similar natural catastrophe could ever happen in this man's life. This bodes a lack of compassion for self, in his lack of understanding that we all encounter disaster and death in our lives. As long as we think of ourselves as immune to that which befalls "them", we live in a deluded sense of superiority. 

In this particular case, I believe the roots are in a primitive religious indoctrination, combined with a poor general education, which left out adequate science training. Unfortunate, but all too common in today's America. I am finding that many whizzes with iPhones are scientifically naive. If asked how the iPhone, attached to their hands like an eleventh digit, actually works, few would be able to even attempt an informed answer. The magic is now in the iPhone. It has the all the answers. 

An easy antidote for magical thinking is an admission of ignorance. It is the first step to a cure. The cure is study and experimentation to challenge the easy answers provided by magical thinking. Constant skepticism is the foundation of progressive humanist thinking. It is a demanding and humbling habit and an essential part of what I call humanist practice.. There is no magic in it. It is hard work.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Seekers


Master your senses,
What you taste and smell,
What you see, what you hear.

In all things be a master
Of what you do and say and think.
Be free.

You are a seeker.
Delight in the mastery
Of your hands and your feet,
Of your words and your thoughts.

Delight in meditation
And in solitude.
Compose yourself, be happy.
You are a seeker.

from "The Seeker", Shambhala Pocket Dhammapada, p. 96

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Entitlements

The entrepreneurial class, a small portion of the American population represented most belligerently by The Tea Party and its bullied Republican minions, has decided to push their materialist values onto the American public by dismantling the public social security network. These followers of Grover Norquist and Ronald Reagan seem to believe that insurance companies and all investment firms are Friends of The People, committed to their best interests. They decry government oversight of corporate ethics. They absolutely demand that taxes never be increased to pay for the needs of society. Greed to the point of blatant selfishness and stupidity.

On the Left, there is commensurate stupidity in policy. By insisting upon being reactionary in its posture, the Left supports entitlements and government programs which are not supported by a large majority of the American public. The Left's obstruction of immigration reform, its insistence upon allowing social services to be driven by ideology instead of science, its penchant for bloated bureaucracy have undermined its credibility with the American voter. The Obama administration's sloppy failure at effecting true health care reform, with a streamlined single-payer system which included cost-containment measures, has undermined the Left's position on entitlements. 

The whole debate on entitlements has been skewed and controlled by the Right. The very word, "entitlements", is used to cast a whining, weak, dependent light on what is really a necessary government function. Promoting the well being of its citizens is a function of government in a civilized, enlightened society. Preventing destitution, disease and desperation makes a society healthier. A healthier society is a more sustainably productive society.

Tea Party supporters, largely secure middle class folks, would deprive those less aggressively materialistic of the relatively moderate safety network which has taken the better part of a century to establish in the U.S.. The American social security network is already thin by European standards, for example. As a nation, the U.S. still combats major issues of poverty, income disparity and educational deficits. Our social security and public investment in its own overall well being needs to be bolstered, not cut.

As a humanist, I hope younger humanists realize that this battle over fiscal decisions is a humanist issue. The greater good cannot be achieved without publicly funded institutions.Government should be more secular, more scientific and more humanist in its approach to these issues. This can only be accomplished by the active involvement of humanists in government. 

Rather than fighting against the theistic logos on paper money or for the equity of atheism in the military establishment, I would like to see national humanist organizations take a loud and committed stance against the Tea Party and its attempts to erode the nation's social security apparatus. By focusing more loudly on issues that will effect all the people directly, humanists can make their presence known in society as a force for the common good.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Questioning

I had the privilege of speaking recently with a person with extensive experience in academic research in the health care industry. The researcher was explaining to me that the health care industry was delivering better care than ever for just about everybody in America based on research data on outcomes, largely driven by the private health insurance industry. I was skeptical, based on my history as a professional provider (R.N.) and all-too-frequent consumer of health care services over the past sixteen years.

My perception of the arguments posed by the researcher in defense of corporate health care as we know it was that the researcher felt somehow attacked by my criticism in a similar way that a religious person personalizes criticism of his religion's dogma. I was reminded of the danger of allowing self-identity to merge with role in an occupation which sustains livelihood. My intention in the discussion had nothing to do with this researcher's specific work or personhood, yet the researcher felt compelled to defend in broad terms the whole establishment of modern health care provision with intensity.

I believe that relentlessly questioning my own work is the foundation of doing good work. Questioning the authorities in my field is the basis of maintaining ethical and functional quality of my field of work or inquiry. Questioning does not necessarily entail personal insecurity or abrasive challenges. Since I work hard at establishing a center of self, a core barometer of personal values, through sincere and regular practice of my values, healthy skepticism and its beneficial application has become a part of my daily life.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blossoms

As I trudged home yesterday after a full day of activity, I noticed the crocus blossoms which lined my two-mile journey. I had been centered on human conversation and pragmatic tasks all day. It was gratifying and tiring. My mind was full of human things as I set out  for home. Organization, contingencies, plans. All of it human folly to some degree.

The crocus blossoms were doing what they do in beds and scattered through neglected lawns. Despite a harsh winter, they were as full and brilliantly colored as ever. Stout clumps of purple, white or yellow blossoms stood in natural solidarity. Mindless. Beautiful. Alive. My breathing slowed after the initial sigh of recognition that I had to be reminded by the blossoms that it is Spring. I joined them in a more natural state of being as I made my way home. My feet lightened on the pavement. My full attention focused on my present place in The Universe.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Entertainment

A motivation for many who engage in religious activities is their desire for entertainment. The outcry in the Roman Catholic Church after the reformation of the 1970s underlined this fact. "Old Catholics" begrudgingly attended Catholic churches with stripped down altars, bereft of gaudy statues of saints, some of whom were consigned to the scrap-heap of mythology after centuries of being prayed to. It always intrigues me when I note that this stripping down of Catholic churches was paralleled by the stripping down and destruction of the temples of cinema, whose budgets were hit by the first wave of television's impact on their consumer base.

The rise in Middle-American megachurches paralleled the death of Middle-American town centers in favor of Walmarts and shopping malls. The draw of the megachurch, I believe, is as much entertainment as it is community. As the big movie screens of cinemas shrank in the cinemaplexes, the churches grew, adding light shows, rock bands and raucous sing-alongs, reminiscent of the old music halls and pubs of Britain.

As an irreligious humanist, who is deeply interested in ethically and scientifically based community for human beings, I would very much like to see the Humanist movement take a far different course in establishing its communities. While entertainment is an effective way to raise funds for any cause, it is not an effective way to develop a dynamic and self-sustaining community. Inclusion of all members of a community in the hands-on work of a community, in my opinion, is the key to a dynamic and self-sustaining community.

It takes a nucleus to form a cell. It takes a compact ball of cells to eventually form a complex organism. Eventually, a complex organism contains different cellular types, performing different and coordinated, bodily functions. Similarly, communities start with a core group of individuals who have a vision, a mission. They often are centered on one charismatic leader, a nucleus, who has inspired them to share his/her vision. At some point, that leader decides whether to become a guru of a sect or a leader of an inclusive and evolving community.

Gurus of sects are religious figures, no matter how secular their philosophy may seem. They also tend to be entertainers as well. Their magnetism is their message ultimately. And, ultimately, they all fall victim to aging and death. Their sects tend to fall apart or morph radically when that happens.

Medgar Evers
A secular community-builder is another matter. Medgar Evers is a good example. Even though he was assassinated at 38 by a racist, his example in his work for civil rights as the NAACP field officer in Mississippi inspired civil rights actions long after his death. And his name is associated with the achievement of civil rights for African Americans even today, though he died in 1963. Why is this? Medgar Evers stood for the empowerment of communities to achieve their goals. He did not aspire to a high-profile career as a national civil-rights celebrity. Similar heroes exist in ever secular movement for the advancement of human rights. And, unfortunately, there are all too many examples of those who would ride a movement for their own engrandisement.

The trouble with a reliance on entertainment to fund or inspire a movement is the risk of developing a dependence on media attention or celebrity to attract and motivate its leadership. If Humanism is about building community, then community-building should be the prime motivation for its leadership, not personal celebrity. I would challenge anyone's assertion that celebrity and building community are easily compatible. Celebrities have fan bases, not communities. It is the basic nature of celebrity to be the center of attention. A vital and working community has as many potential centers of attention as there are community members.

As I see it, the job of leading in a Humanist or secular community is the job of building and sustaining a community. If some celebrity comes the way of a leader, that may indeed benefit the community, if the community has its own free-standing identity and purpose. If a leader lends his celebrity in an earnest effort to build an equanimous and self-sustaining community, that effort may be enhanced by the celeberity factor. That contribution, like any other, should be acknowledged by the community. However, I believe it is the responsibility of the secular community, with the encouragement of leadership, to maintain its own identity and work on its own behalf.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Commitment

If you meet two old people who grin and tell you they have been together in a committed relationship for fifty blissful years without any problems, do the following: (1) check to make sure one or both of them don't have Alzheimer's Disease, (2) ask them if they are on prescription medications, (3) ask them how many cocktails they have had or are planning to have at sundown.

Commitment to causes or relationships is difficult to fulfill over time. It requires working through boredom and frustration as much as reaping the rewards. It requires difficult and often painful discussion and expression of feelings. There are simply days when it may not seem worth it. Seriously looking at why and what can be done about it keeps things going.

The key to making a commitment which is sustainable is understanding your own needs and goals in committing to a process or a person. "Oh, that might be fun!" isn't really solid ground for making a commitment. What is fun today is often hard work tomorrow.

We live in a time of reduced attention spans. It is an age of n.s.a. relationships. Reduced attention spans are deadly in committed relationships of any kind. Paying attention, planning and proceeding with mindful cooperation sustain a committed relationship or cause. Going with the flow erodes commitment as individual priorities gradually eclipse the priorities of the relationship or cause.

Being realistic, based on self-understanding, is the preventative cure for being over-committed. Idealists often have a problem with commitment because they find it hard to limit their vision or self-concept. In reaching for the dream, they stumble over the obstacles rather than patiently removing them one by one with difficult discussion and routine labor. By being more realistic, an idealist often benefits from making time-limited commitments or by breaking the big dream/goal down into a process of steps, based on more immediately achievable goals to which specific commitments can be made. With proper foresight and planning, the bigger dream can be accomplished while maintaining solid committed relationships along the way.

 "I will do this for this length of time under these agreed-upon conditions." This is the basic contract of any commitment. If a commitment contract becomes overly complicated with if's and but's, it is usually an indication from the start that one or more parties is ambivalent or simply being self-deceptive. Once agreed upon, a commitment is the work of all parties who make it to the best of their abilities. It is the job of all parties to maintain that contract with honest communication and action.

A marriage certificate is not a commitment. It is a piece of paper. Any verbal or written contract is itself nothing without the good intentions and determination of those who commit to it from the beginning. The most crucial time in determining the success or failure of any commitment is the time before it is made. If those making it are not sufficiently prepared to honor it, then the commitment will be worthless.