Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I don't like your motives ...well, not the ones I've decided you have!

--by Mike Adams

Wednesday, May 9th was a day much like any other. I woke at 5:45 in the morning, sat in a semi-catatonic state sipping coffee and trying to get my bearings. As usual, I insisted that my feeble mind square itself with the day, an often futile exercise. I ate breakfast and left for work, where I answered calls, fixed computer problems and then returned home exhausted. That evening, I sat reading the NY Times email digest, when my attention was drawn to a rather spectacular headline. Thinking it a mistake, I clicked the link and read the following quote from Barack Obama, "I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married."

With a smile, I turned to my wife and said, "Wow! Did you know Obama endorsed same-sex marriage today?" "Yes," she replied, without looking up from her blogging activities. But I sat there stunned and glad for the change. The next few days saw rampant speculation about the President's timing, about his motives and about the political implications of his actions. But nothing anyone said had the ring of truth. The commentary was pure speculation, peppered with guesswork all wrapped in responsible language trying to masquerade as fact.

Obama had offered a simple explanation for his decision. I suppose his words lacked sensationalism, so our media had to generate engaging reasons for his decision. None were insightful, mostly they were a gage of our society's tendency to ascribe motive as a means of gaining political advantage.

This sermon is about exactly those kinds of motives. The kinds that people attribute to others without knowing what we are talking about. The kinds of motives that we create in order to know which category someone belongs in. In order to determine how carefully we should listen, if at all.

As with most of my sermons, today's talk was inspired by a conversation I had with my wife. Several months ago, she told me that I often attribute motives to her, which aren't her actual motives. I was flabbergasted.

"What?!" I stuttered, "I attribute wrong ...motives?!"

I like to think of myself as being unusually insightful and I'm not particularly fond of having someone point out my mistakes. I prefer, instead, to identify my own shortcomings and then highlight them for others. That way, I can bask in the warm glow of my own self-enlightenment. But she was right, again. I did not know what her motives were and I usually didn't ask. This insight, though annoying, caused me to consider how often people attribute motives to others without actually knowing.

Immediately, I thought of national dialogues concerning same-sex marriage, the war in Afghanistan, pro-life/pro-choice, deficit spending, pro-union/pro-business, race relations, feminism, education and parenting.

Indeed, our media, our politics, our religious conversations and even our personal lives are inundated with alleged motives that may, in all reality, have little or nothing in common with the true reasons that actions were taken or things were said.

Let's consider marriage equality, is it a civil rights issue? Supporters say yes, they insist that any two people, who are old enough, should be allowed to marry. To them, prejudice is prejudice and free choice is free choice. Marriage equality is nothing more than observing someone's right of free choice, in an arena where it is currently being denied.

Simple and straightforward. This represents my sincere point of view. However, my philosophical opponents don't see it this way. In fact, many believe marriage equality supporters are servants of evil. They believe we are pushing a "gay agenda,” which will undermine the sanctity of a bedrock institution and which could tear our society apart. To them, supporters of marriage equality are minions of Satan, bent on destroying this great Christian nation.


But what about assigning motives in the other direction? What if we consider another topic like pro-life vs. pro-choice? I am pro-choice and my reasons for this position are similar to my reasons for supporting marriage equality. I believe in free choice and I feel a woman has the right to choose if, how and when her body is used, including for child birth.

On the opposite side of this controversy, we’ll consider my late Grandfather, who was a staunch Catholic. His pro-life conviction was steadfast. He was clear that aborting a pregnancy is tantamount to murder. He saw an unborn fetus as being no different than any person you might meet in this world. It was a simple matter to him, conception creates people, abortion kills people, killing people is murder and murder is wrong.

Simple and straightforward, I drew different conclusions from him, but I can respect his clarity. My Grandfather’s position on abortion did not make him misogynistic. I reject the notion that pro-life activists are primarily motivated by a desire to control women's lives and bodies. This may be true of some, but I’m convinced that most pro-lifers feel passionately that they are fighting to stop murder. I think they are bewildered when accused of being dishonest or nefarious. Honestly, THE LEFT HAS THEIR MOTIVES ALL WRONG!

These two examples demonstrate a broader problem. A problem, which prevents intelligent conversation, which discourages collaboration, and which undermines the creative power of controversy. I believe the most innovative ideas are spawn from controversy. That when opposing opinions clash, and intelligent dialogue ensues, we create fertile ground for the germination of new ideas.

But in our society, the required dialogue is missing. We hurl insults and categorize people as Nazis so as to insulate ourselves from having to consider their points of view. The soil that should nurture tomorrow’s solutions is growing fallow and most of today’s ideas are little more than a polished regurgitation of yesterday’s discarded plan. This is a concerning state of affairs. With global climate change, a dubious economy, rampant starvation, a growing population and shrinking resources, we face unprecedented challenges.

So what is the solution? That’s the hard part. Humans prefer simple answers, but today’s challenges are complex. They defy black and white categorization, they require thoughtful discourse, a nuanced approach, and wholistic thinking. We need to constantly look for where we are falling short of our own values. UU values include a free and responsible search for truth, promotion of the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and respect for the interdependent web of existence. Those are values, which could make a profound difference in today’s world. They are values that humanity desperately needs, and we could be their greatest champions, if we are willing.

But we’ll have to give something up. We’ll have to pay a price and that price will be our certitude. Ours is a religion, which ought to make room for everyone and yet there are very few African American UUs or Hispanic UUs or Native American UUs or Republican UUs. If we want our message to be vital, we need to reach these people and if we’re going to do so, we must stop thinking that we know what their motives are.

When we assume we know someone's motives, we excuse behavior, which is normally unacceptable. I used to rant that G.W. was a fascist and a Nazi. I was wrong! My wife’s paternal family is Jewish. One of her cousin’s parents lost everyone they knew to the horror of Nazi concentration camps. She has no grandparents, or aunts or uncles. Her parents have no life long friends. They were all murdered in Nazi Germany.

So using the term Nazi to describe anyone who isn’t engaged in the mass murder of millions of people is wrong! It is particularly disgusting when used to score cheap political points. The memory of those men, women and children who were lost during that genocide is worthy of a much greater reverence and respect than to be used for short term political gain or to discredit someone we simply don't want to listen to, because we dislike what they say.

If we’re going to change this world and leave it a better place, if we’re going to really promote our UU values at large. We’ll have to rise above such contemptuous foolery. We’ll have to elevate current dialogues to a level where change can happen, where innovation can flourish, where UU values can sow dreams, which might sprout and become tomorrow’s thriving harvest. If we’re going to create that world about which we talk to eloquently, we will have to abandon inflammatory language and try to gain an honest understanding of why people disagree with us. Otherwise we can’t possibly hope to reach them and we are sure to miss the valid points they make. We're sure to fail at creating the needed ideas for tomorrow. We're sure to short circuit the creative engine of intelligent disagreement, which will yield tomorrow's great ideas.

I believe the values this world needs can be found in our UU Principles and sources of faith. I believe we are the ideal people to promote those values in this world. I think the essence of our shared promise, our covenant to affirm and promote our seven principles is a call to action. I believe it is nothing less than a call for us to stand tall and challenge each other to climb higher, to champion our values with an even louder voice. I think we have a powerful legacy to uphold, that we are the culmination of generations who have struggled to realize these values in this world. We are needed, our message is needed and our values are needed. We've promised each other that we would promote those values and I believe this is the time for us to walk out into this world and shout our good news at the top of our lungs. To sow our dreams into the fertile ground of tomorrow for this world's future. To create the vision we have dreamed and manifest our beautiful vision for the next generation.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Follow this link!

Hi, My beautiful and talented wife has started an incredibly interesting conversation on her blog:
Ask Team Ambiguity: Are Women Enslaved by Modern Motherhood?

Please take a few moments to check it out and participate in the conversation. The one thing to bear in mind is that this conversation has rules...mainly, be respectful! The rest can be found here

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From Sandia Peak, a Plan is Born

Story, Continued from Part 2 In Search of a Plan
- or -
Click Here for Part 1 Something Had to Change

--by Mike Adams

On Sandia Peak, I stood entranced by the natural beauty surrounding me. Slowly, I let myself fade into the experience. The grandeur of this desert inundated my senses, it stripped me of significance. The pettiness of my life’s concerns seemed to carry no greater import than that of an ant, living by instinct, working only to serve a collective. My thoughts slowed and the situation transformed me into a mass of awareness. I experienced my breath, slow and steady. I felt the wind flit upon my face and I watched in amazement as the colors danced in the distance as landscape transformed into mirage.

The tension swirling around in my abdomen, a manifestation of anxiety continued to surge through my core, but it no longer harassed me. I drank heavily of the deep blue sky and absorbed every detail of the cumulus cloud formations dispersed across the horizon.

I felt a tear roll down my cheek and slowly, I began to cry. But my tears brought no relief. I clinched the hand railing of the viewing platform and cried a little harder as my thoughts became jumbled with questions like, “why can’t I keep a job?” “Why didn’t I finish school?” “Why am I such a loser?” “What can I hope to accomplish in life?”

I found my thoughts focused on an incident from two and a half years earlier. I had been sitting with a group of friends at La Posada, the University cafeteria. We had been out playing hackey sack in the sun and realized that cafeteria would soon close. We hurried to get lunch and upon arriving at the cafeteria, I realized that I was in possession of two beers. Quickly, I tucked them into my baggy pants pockets and went in.

After eating my food, I stealthily opened a beer and began to drink it slyly. A friend looked at me with a mischievous smile and said, “Mike...dude, you’re an alcoholic.” He laughed, held up a flier to my face and continued, “you gotta go to AA Bro.” Then he quickly scanned the area for University staff, and took a quick swig of his own hidden beer. Johnny had been joking, but what he said ruined my enjoyment of lunch. His words harassed me for the remainder of that day and continued to assault my consciousness at the most inopportune times. I knew he was right. He had been joking, but his statement was true—I was an alcoholic.

The last thing in the world I wanted to be was an alcoholic, because I knew it meant I would someday have to give up drinking. Drinking had been my only comfort during many dark times. It had proven to be a dependable and convenient companion. I sometimes wondered if perhaps beer had saved my life. Quitting was out of the question, and therefore, being an alcoholic was completely unacceptable.

Disdainfully, I thought, “Why do I always land on this thought?” I shook my head and brushed the thought aside. “How could I be an alcoholic after only three years of drinking? That is just stupid!” I felt the tears slide down my cheek and the wind blow my hair about. “How can I go on like this. I don’t know how to live life, I don’t know how to make friends and I don’t know how to be happy.” I stared at the trees and rocks below and imagined what it would feel like to jump from the viewing platform. I imagined how it would feel to spread my arms and take to the sky as my last defiant act in life.

But I was afraid to die, terrified in fact—I couldn’t do that, not now. I stood there for hours, looking out, over the Albuquerque basin. I walked along the ridge, examined the foliage and waited for an inspired thought. Sunset came, and I watched the volcanoes on the West side of town swallow the sun. Then, the stars began peeking out from behind the darkening veil of night, and still I sat there, aware of the singular fact that something had to change.

“I’m going to stay here until I know how to proceed. There has to be a way to improve my life,” I thought. So there I sat, my mind contorting to various thoughts, my senses absorbing the nature around me, all of this observed only by the night stars. Finally, I stood and said aloud with conviction, “I have to leave. I have got to get out of Albuquerque, I have to make a fresh start.” I knew that I couldn’t return after a few weeks, this time, I had to stay gone, so I decided that it was time to hit the road. With this, Willie Nelson began singing to me about being “On the Road Again,” and I knew I’d have to make it work, I’d have to figure out how to live, I’d have to find success.

Continued Here...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Popularity of Bullying Remains High

--by Mike Adams

After my last post on bullying, I decided to check the thesaurus for synonyms. The thesaurus always seems to make words more interesting and this occasion was no exception.

The verb “bully” is synonymous with “intimidate”, “bludgeon”, “bulldoze”, “coerce”, “harass”, “oppress”, “terrorize”, “threaten”, “torment” and “torture”.

I don't know about you, but for me that list doesn’t summon the image of a schoolyard ruffian wearing a scowl. Rather, I envision robed KKK militias closing in on besieged African -American families who dared to stand and demand their rights. I think of the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City or the acts of Ted Kaczynski. I am reminded of the current "war on women", and Bush's statement that "either you are with us or you are against us".

That list of synonyms has forced me to conceive of bullying as more than simply a traumatic experience, limited mostly to our fragile childhood and early teen years. Rather, bullying has taken on a much broader meaning. It reaches brazenly into every aspect of life, stealthily injecting malice, causing rot and decay, spreading animosity, hurt and distrust. It invades what was once vital and beautiful, causing blossom to wither and fruit to spoil.

In fact, it seems that perhaps we are just a little bit "in love" with bullying! Crazy talk you say? Doesn’t everyone hate bullying?

I don’t think so, popular TV shows like “The Apprentice” or “Survivor” actually encourage backstabbing, deceit, cruelty—bullying! Our entertainment industry thrives by actively rewarding bullies and selfishness.

It is so pervasive that I suspect bullying is woven into our very fiber as social creatures. Perhaps it’s as natural as breathing or eating. In truth, research suggests an evolutionary advantage to bullying behavior. According to Hogan Sherrow's blog article for Scientific American, “The Origins of Bullying,” animals in nature, use bullying behavior to promote group conformity and maintain a cohesive community.

But with humans with our mastery of abstract ideas, our complex use of language, our ability to remember and convey ideas long after an event has taken place. With all of that, bullying has a profound capacity for harm. It is a devastating weapon, which can permanently damage its victim.

So while we publicly disparage bullying, we are perhaps duplicitous. Our society tends to justify bullying, except we call in something else. One group might claim to be defending “traditional values” while to another it is “encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.” In fact, if we get honest, bullying is encouraged in business, politics, religion and even the management of our children and youth.

We excuse it, saying “Boys will be boys” or “Let the kids sort out their own difficulties.” We actually encourage and reward bullying in some form in virtually every important venue of life. Then we pause, exasperated and ask why it continues to accost our children.

Here is why:

We are teaching our kids how to be bullies.

We are teaching them that it is appropriate to bully people when they hold an obviously “wrong” opinion.

We are teaching them that it is OK to bully people online, especially in political or religious discussions.

We are setting the examples that our kids follow and thus encouraging bullying in “appropriate venues,” where we call it, “lively debate” or “an impassioned view.”

We are teaching the next generation that poverty, starvation, and cruelty are impossible blights, and that anyone who tries to change this is a “doe eyed idealist.”

We are teaching our children that bullying works,that aggressive behavior is profitable and that selfish profit is respectable.

We are teaching the next generation that anyone who is different or who disagrees is fair game for ill treatment and contempt, that it is OK to try and humiliate someone if they favor a political figure we dislike or their sexual orientation is “wrong” or they want to have an abortion.

In short, we are actively teaching our children to be bullies.

So my question is whether this is truly what we want?

Are these the values we want to manifest in this world?

Do we want to perpetuate the ‘dog eat dog’ world of today, or do we want a world where people are expected to show empathy, where we truly believe and act like all people are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?”

How do we want our children to grow up?

What kinds of people do we want them to be?

How to we want them to remember us?

How far are we willing to go in service of manifesting our vision?

How critical will we be of ourselves to get there and can we handle what we find?

Can we forgive someone who is “undeserving” in order to build the world we want?

Can our kids count on us to live the values we claim to believe in?

Can we count on ourselves to do what we know we should?

I don't have any answers or suggestions for action. I have only questions and a desire to generate thoughtful discussion and honest feedback. Thanks for reading.