Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Values Behind Bullying

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a report recently about a foundation that offers free plastic surgery for kids who are bullied. He followed a young teenaged girl through the process of an all-expense-paid trip to New York for three different plastic surgeries. The girl started out thinking her ears stuck out too much because this is what the bullies had teased her about. The other two surgeries were recommended by the plastic surgeons who discovered, upon examination, that she was uglier than she thought and needed a nose job and a chin implant as well.
 
Is this really the most enlightened response to bullying we can come up with? It seems to me more of an affirmation that the bullies were right: "Yeah kids, we agree; she is ugly." Never mind that we're talking about a normal, even above-average looking, teen girl.

Yet Dr. Zakaria never questioned this. He merely presented it objectively. The lesson he and the female reporter took from it was, "Kids can be cruel."

The lesson I took from it is, "Kids can be uncanny reflections of the adults in their lives." When we remember that the first purpose of education — indeed, of child rearing in general — is to teach children to be good people, we will begin to end bullying. Why? Because it's nothing but our own values carried to their logical conclusion. This is true of all childhood craziness from bullying to school shootings.

When our children go astray they're not abandoning our values and coming up with a new set of their own. They're merely expressing more truthfully and blatantly (as children are wont to do) the values we taught them.

A foundation to offer truly disfigured kids free surgery is a good idea. One that convinces them that they're deformed when they're not is just more of the same values that cause the problem it purports to be fixing. Einstein was right: A problem can never be solved on the same level of consciousness that created it.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Three W's

I've been eating a few radishes lately — the worms ate over half of one of my two rows — and yesterday I had some turnip greens but for the most part not much is happening on the gardening front.

I once heard that, after planting, gardening is all abut the
Three W's: weeding, watering and waiting. So this is what I've been doing. I go out usually every day. When I miss a day, I'm amazed at how the plants have shot up.

I look for and note the tiny green nodules that will grow up to be tomatoes. I dig around weeds, pluck and toss them, roots-up, back into the bed. I check the soil and water from plastic cans if it's dry.

But mostly I stand with my hands in my pockets looking over my little plot and saying things like "yup," and "all right then." That third W.

It's a good reminder that we're in relationship not in control.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hurt People and Good Hygiene


I live with a lot of hurt people — both prisoners and staff. I know they’re hurt because they become hurters themselves and go through life inflicting pain and harm of one kind or another on everyone around them.
Some of them are sadistic about it and inflict their pain with relish. Others just don’t know how not to be harmful. They’re like broken bottles trying to live in the world of flesh with all their jagged edges.
Prison is a concentration of these wounded hurters but outside it’s the same story. Everywhere we look in our culture we see these two types of wounded people: those who like hurting others and those who just don’t know how not to. I’m talking about the angry, the addicted, the emotionally shut down, the empty, the greedy, the lost.
The word “whole” means of be free of wound or injury or to be healed and restored.
Wholeness ethics, then, is both the ethics of healing a hurt world and of creating a culture in which we don’t hurt each other so much in the first place. A culture in which people are loved, encouraged and supported as they struggle to find meaning in this short life.
Your first reaction to this might well be that it’s an admirable pipe dream but it will never happen. We’re told this over and over in various ways: People will never change. But before you accept that blindly consider some recent historical evidence to the contrary.
Not long ago people in Western culture universally behaved in ways that caused untold suffering to themselves and others. This behavior was deeply rooted in the norms and mores of their culture and the first people who talked about changing it were laughed at, mocked and ignored.
I’m talking about the appalling lack of physical hygiene and the first people who talked about changing it. Our very recent ancestors not only didn’t bathe more than once or twice a year, they considered it harmful or possibly even evil to do so more often. They had no concept of germs and thought that all the diseases they were spreading around with almost everything they did were being caused by “evil forces.”
This is what the first hygiene advocates were up against. I’m sure they told themselves at times: People are never going to change. Yet, I’m betting that when you woke up this morning you either washed up or took a shower. After you used the toilet you washed your hands before going into the kitchen and handling food and (hopefully) you didn’t fling your feces and urine out an upstairs window into the street below.
The question is why? Did you suddenly conclude on your own that this was a better way of living? Of course not. Someone taught you that it was and both the information about and the attitude toward good hygiene goes all the way back to those few people living in a world that thought they were crazy.
By studying in order to understand the mechanics of their vision, then turning this understanding into arguments and social campaigns, by refusing to give up or give in to fatalism or cynicism, they slowly turned the tide and now when you go to the doctor she doesn’t pull her hands out of another infected patient’s wound and put them into yours and then blame witches or the devil when you get sick and die. Aren’t you thankful for the people who brought us that? I sure am.
Now it’s our turn. The comparison between this “cleanliness ethics” and wholeness ethics is quite accurate. We’re acting today in ways that spread hurt around and destroy lives and potential; it’s built into our cultural norms and mores so we pass these behaviors on to each new generation and, not understanding that we’re creating it ourselves, we credit it to “evil forces.”
Wholists are the hygiene advocates of our time. Only we’re advocating whole-life hygiene rather than just physical hygiene.
Indeed, though we think of hygiene today as just physical cleanliness, the word actually has a broader meaning. It comes from “Hygeia,” the goddess of health in Greek mythology, and it refers to the science of the establishment and maintenance of health and the conditions or practices conducive to health.
Where “hygiene” as we understand the word today is an ethics of physical health, wholism is an ethics of whole-life health. It’s the science of the establishment and maintenance of whole-life health and the conditions and practices conducive to that.
It’s about figuring out how to stop spreading germs like violence, fear and other pathogens through our culture and our world so we can move beyond the diseased and under-realized lives too many of us are leading.
We got where we are today in terms of physical hygiene due to a lot of hard work, dedication and creativity. People took the initiative to educate themselves then committed time and personal energy to educate others. They taught children, food handlers, and the medical profession. They convinced young parents to teach their own kids about it. As a result we have almost eradicated dreaded diseases like small pox and polio in our society and I’m sure we smell a lot better.
Now we’re dealing with different kinds of “germs,” but the social challenge is the same: convincing people that there’s a better way that’s worth figuring out and adopting. With all our technology we ought to be able to at least match the success of our forefathers and mothers in cleaning up our act.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Why I Am A Wholist

I have decided that trying to increase wholeness is a pursuit worth my life, my love and my soul. Here are five reasons why.
1. Wholeness goes beyond all sides.
Aren’t you sick of sides? By the time I’d come to wholeness as the central commitment of my life, I was sick to death of them. Wholeness is on the side of life and goodness. Period. I don’t care if it comes in the form of black, white, yellow, brown or red people. I don’t care if it comes in the form of American or world culture. I don’t care if it is animal or human, young or old, male or female, gay or straight, liberal or conservative.
When I die, I want life, not some cause, to say “We lost an advocate.” I’m out of the us vs. them game.
2. Living for wholeness is the true purpose of life.
This is what I was made for and all other things are a distraction from it. For this reason, wholism is my only path to self-realization and salvation.
3. Wholeness is something I can be proud to tell the children of the world I lived for.
The future may never know my name, but the people there will look back as we do at what people in the past lived for. A lot of what we live for will be a mark of shame on us. I’ve got enough shame in my life. To the extent that I manage to increase wholeness in the world, I’ll hold my head up high to future humankind.
4. Every time I increase wholeness, I become more whole.
These are one and the same thing. When a bit of kindness or creativity expressed in the world builds me up inside, not just emotionally but wholistically, this is a concrete reminder of my relation to and interconnection with all of creation. So much of what we commit to and believe in is separating and fear-inducing. Wholeness is the opposite. It is connecting and fear-reducing.
5. Living for wholeness makes life more meaningful.
Prison (like a little reflection of our larger culture) hollows people out by giving us small and unworthy things to live for: video day, a little illicit tobacco, a winning lineup on the sports ticket, the med line, and so on.
It eats up our minds and our lives by keeping us trapped in the waves of life, when living for wholeness gets me out of the waves and into the ocean. After almost three decades here my life is still rich with meaning — moreso even than when I was younger — and it’s this commitment to wholeness that makes it so.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Caring Makes Us Human

It's been about three and a half years since someone we don't know made this video of Troy Chapman's reading of his This I Believe essay for National Public Radio. I just came across it again, noticed it had 15,000 views, and thought it would be fun to post it one more time. This essay ended up becoming part of This I Believe's recent book, Life Lessons (see the link in the sidebar to the right).

~Maryann


Garden Gleanings II

I stopped at the edge of my garden and stared, first in puzzlement then in dismay. One of my prized pepper plants had been chopped off about half an inch above the soil line. I bent and stupidly tried to stand it back up — displaying Kubler-Ross' first stage of grief: denial. 

There was, of course, no standing it back up. It was a goner.

I looked around for footprints. Another gardener stopped by and said, "Sometimes the police come through here looking for contraband. Maybe someone stepped on it." But there were no footprints so my suspicions soon turned to other species.


I talked to the garden worker, another prisoner named Dill, who said immediately, "It's probably cutworms."


A bell rang in my head. I remembered these guys from my gardening days in the past. They're one of the garden's notorious vandals.


Dill suggested I dig around the downed plant — and others for that matter — as they often remain at the scene of the crime like in those "Dumbest Criminal" videos where the guy falls asleep in the store he's broken into. Sure enough I found the culprit almost immediately.


There's an old wives tale that if you pulverize them and put them back in the dirt, others will stay away. I don't know if that's true but I was more than willing to try it.


I cultivated around my whole row of peppers and found four more who hadn't struck yet but were certainly casing the joint. They all went back into the soil as a warning to others.
Later I looked them up and I guess they're actually a species of moth larvae. I like moths and I'll keep an eye out for these medium-sized gray Noctuids so I can give them a nod and wish them well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Two-Pronged Test


The other day a long-time acquaintance insulted and attempted to humilate me in front of several other people. The behavior was hurtful and unwarranted and later I pulled him aside and told him this. He responded, “Okay,” and unapologetically walked away.
This was certainly not the worst thing one human being has ever done to another but, as I say, it was hurtful. Consequently, a part of me wanted to hurt him back, to say something that would sting him as he’d stung me.
This is a fairly global response in our culture: When people hurt us we try to hurt them back. It’s a matter of justice, right?
I used to think so. If people hurt me or even if I thought they “deserved” punishment for some offense not necessarily involving me directly, I would attempt to inflict some form of pain on them. I wrapped it up in platitudes about justice but really I just wanted the satisfaction of lashing out and of seeing them hurt like I did.
Yet after thinking this way for the first half of my life I began to ask myself a simple question: When is it right to hurt people?
When, if ever, should we intentionally inflict pain and suffering on other human beings?
When I stripped it down and looked at it in these naked human terms I had to conclude it’s never right to hurt people unless it’s unavoidable. There are certainly times when it is unavoidable — for instance, to stop someone from physically hurting us or someone else. If someone attacks me or a person who can’t defend themselves, I believe I’m justified in doing whatever is necessary to make the attacker stop. But such incidents account for only a tiny percentage of the time I used to feel that hurting people was good. If I stopped doing all harm but this absolutely necessary kind it would reduce my harmfulness in the world by at least 90 percent. This, it seemed, was a minimum requirement for living an ethical life, so I made a commitment to it. I would try to avoid doing any unnecessary harm.
But I knew that even when harm was unavoidable there were ways of doing it that still didn’t seem right. This is why, when soldiers disrespect the enemy dead, we consider that unethical. One might think that once we decide that harming — or even killing — is necessary, there’s nothing further we would find objectionable, but we know that’s not true. In the same way, if we do the harm itself with glee, looking forward to it, this also seems objectionable. This was inversely illustrated recently when a reporter asked President Obama how he felt upon seeing photos of Osama bin Laden’s body. This was one of the most notorious men in the world and President Obama himself had given the orders that ultimately took bin Laden’s life. Still, the president answered that this was a complex question. Obviously, you’re glad he can’t cause further harm, he said, but you also acknowledge that you’re dealing with the destruction of a human being.
He could have said, “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” or any number of other dismissive remarks and many people would have cheered him — just as, undoubtedly, many will attempt to deride him for expressing any regard for this criminal. But in my mind he took the high road. There’s too much harm, even necessary harm, done in our world with an attitude of disregard. This attitude always increases the amount of unnecessary harm in a culture.
Thinking about this led me to add a second part to my commitment. Not only would I attempt to avoid all unnecessary harm but also, if and when harm is necessary, I would commit to doing it only with reverence.
Reverence is acknowledging the transcendent in a person or thing, but it doesn’t mean agreeing with everything a person does. When President Obama showed regard when talking about bin Laden’s destruction, he was acknowledging that even though bin Laden had done despicable things, there was still a part of him that was transcendent — because there’s a part of all human beings that is transcendent and sacred.
My commitment to doing only necessary harm and then, only with reverence, results in a two-pronged test that can be applied whenever the question of causing harm arises. The first prong consists of asking: Is it necessary?
Currently, we usually ask only one question to determine if hurting people is ethical: Do they deserve it? “Is it necessary?” replaces this question for me.
Asking “Is it necessary?” and being committed to doing no harm that is unnecessary, immediately gets rid of most of the harm we do to one another because most of that harm is, in fact, not necessary.
If we determine that it is necessary to cause harm, the second prong of this test is: “Am I doing it with reverence?”
Reverence doesn’t stop us from doing what we need to do. Instead it prevents us from doing it dismissively. If we must cause harm, reverence says, do it with consciousness.
The impulse to say something hurtful back to the acquaintance who hurt me didn’t make it past the first prong of this test. Despite the satisfaction it would have brought my bruised ego, saying something hurtful back to him was not necessary. Therefore it, like too much of the harm we do to one another in life, wouldn’t have been ethical.
Only necessary harm can be considered ethical, and then only if it is done with reverence.
The question of whether people deserve to be hurt is nothing but a cover for those who want to hurt people but don’t want to own up to this dark impulse. Once we decide someone “deserves it,” we can deny any culpability for the harm we do to them. We make victims of the people we’ve perceived as perpetrators in an escalating game of payback. Subsequently, the victim is considered to be causing our cruelty, which is seen not as a choice we make and are responsible for, but rather as a consequence of something our victim did. We wouldn’t have hurt them if they hadn’t done this or that, therefore their victimization is their fault.
This thinking is poison and the two-pronged test is its antidote.