Monday, August 22, 2016

"A Polite Society"?

I shake my head sadly when the guy I'm walking with tells me, "Hey did you hear they stabbed Steward?" (Not his real name.)

Anywhere but here this would be a bizarre conversation starter. Here in prison it's a conversation I've had countless times. It's normal to be walking across the yard and see blood trailing up the sidewalk or to see men wrapping their faces with t-shirts and trying to get back to their cells without getting caught or assaulted again. In most cases, the victims are found out, locked up and transferred to another prison. The perpetrators mostly go uncaught.

I have heard people on the news saying things like, "An armed society is a polite society." I wish I could bring them here and send them out onto the yard with a jagged piece of steel to test their theory. An armed society is anything but polite. It's a society of bullies and overly sensitive egos; of men who never have to develop their character because they can hide behind their brutality and call themselves "men." It's a society where those most willing to do violence (or pay others to do it) set the honor code and good men don't challenge it because they don't want to get caught up in a stabbing war.

It's a society where the first time "an armed man" runs into someone he can't dominate — someone either better armed or stronger than he is — he starts a gang of bullies and thugs to protect himself. Then others, afraid of being bullied by that gang, start their own and on and on until what's true and what's right become irrelevant. The only thing that matters is who is most vicious and most willing to do the most violence.

Take it from someone who knows: An armed society is not a "polite" society. An armed society is a bloody, vicious, and stupid society where those with the least moral compunction rise to the top.

I've seen too many men stabbed and slashed in my thirty years here. Some "deserved" it, if that matters to you, but most did not. Most were men who had sworn off violence and were simply trying to live in an environment where a few armed thugs set the tone for everyone else.

The gun lobby has another cute bumper sticker: "The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun."

Well, here's a question we seem to have overlooked: Once everyone has guns, who gets to decide who can call themselves "the good guys"? Answer: The last ones standing.

If you want that to be your moral compass, the standard by which you tell the difference between good and bad, you're welcome to it. I would like something a little further up the food chain.

You see, I'm in prison for taking the life of a young man in a bar fight. I was "the last man standing,"
but that didn't make me the good guy. It made me a very bad guy.

Some might make the mistake of assuming I'm against guns. I'm not. I'm against violence.

The problem with the American gun lobby isn't that they own guns or that they stand up for the rights of people who own guns. The problem is that they believe in and advocate violence as a pillar of civil society. They believe violence is a legitimate form of power. In this, they are no different than the criminals I live with.

Both seem ignorant of the fact that violence is like the cuckoo bird hatchling: the moment it is hatched into the nest of civil society it begins to murder and toss over the side of the nest all other forms of power.

Self-Advancement or Self-Transformation?

Recently, I Tweeted:

So a friend asked: What kind of questions could we ask ourselves to determine if we're in self-advancement mode or self-tranformation mode?

It's an excellent question. These are not really "ways of thinking" as much as they are states of consciousness. As such they are mostly unconscious and shape our behavior by changing how we see the world. If we think the purpose of life is to get ahead, to succeed, everything will look different than if we think the purpose of life is to learn to love, i.e., self-transformation.

Even spirituality can be approached through both of these filters. If I think the purpose of spirituality is some form of self-advancement, personal salvation for example, I'm going to be much more fundamentalist in my views and much more focused on the legalistic aspects of scripture than on the love aspects. If the reverse is true, I see the love aspect of spirituality as most important because I know that spiritual love is an ego-cide. Radical love, love that costs me my ego, is the all of spirituality.

If I put this into questions the first big one would be:

Am I in love mode or defense mode?

Others are:

  • How cheated by life do I feel?
  • How many enemies do I have?
  • Do I hold anyone else accountable for my own happiness and well being?
  • Do I own other peoples' suffering?
  • Do I recognize my own privilege?
  • How far out do the boundaries of my "tribe" extend?
  • Is service something I do in life or who I am? (Do I see my life as a mission of service?)

Monday, June 27, 2016

By Any Means Necessary?

Seven hospitalized in California when white supremacists clashed with an anti-fascist group calling itself "By Any Means Necessary." Yvette Felarca, a member of the latter group, defended the violence passionately, even calling for more.

So sad we can't get this: Violence only defeats people but people aren't the enemy. Ideas are. A bad idea has NEVER been defeated by violence. In fact, bad ideas thrive on violence. What defeats them is love and truth wielded creatively.

Anyone who embraces "any means necessary" has already lost. Good motives do NOT change this truth. Ms. Felarca and company: Don't be transformed by your fear; rather transform your fear into radical acts of creative love.

Also known as Wholism.

—Troy Chapman

Monday, March 7, 2016

Award to Kay Perry, MI-CURE

The Wholeness Ethics Project at Muskegon Correctional Facility has awarded Ms. Kay Perry our Community Service Award for her faithful stewardship of MI-CURE over the past three decades.

During this time Ms. Perry has edited and published MI-CURE News, which is a highly literate, wholistic and reason-based commentary on a topic that is too often dominated by emotion and politics.

She has been on the front lines of every battle between intelligent justice and demagoguery wherever they may occur.

Though she probably doesn't call herself a wholist, I am proud to call her one and to thank her publicly for her ongoing wholistic community service.

I encourage anyone who cares about justice in Michigan or elsewhere to give a minute of time and thank Kay and support her good work in any other way you feel you can.

Kay is the first free citizen to receive this award and I can't think of a better first. Thanks, Kay, for being a champion of wholeness.

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.