Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Comfort, Blame and the Container of Conflict

In a previous post, I talked about the idea of a "Container of Conflict" that we've created that seems to provide a kind of resonator that allows (empowers?) conflict to continue long past its useful life.

Conflict isn't all bad. Of course. It highlights differences and makes tangible the discomfort necessary to examine our behaviors. As I mentioned in my previous post, we don't always have to be "comfy". But we do, I think, have to be honest. And when things aren't comfy, it seems, we'd rather be comfy than honest.

Enter Blame.

Dr. Brene Brown, in her marvelous TED presentation (that I recommend to everyone - watch it as soon as you can...seriously), talks about shame, connectedness, and vulnerability. At one point in her talk she slips in a profoundly relevant comment.

"You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort."

We have created a Container of Conflict in which blame ricochets back and forth, with virtually no "loss". Blame becomes the resonant frequency inside this container of conflict. It stays almost perfectly intact, resonating and re-resonating and (with a little encouragement and participation from us) builds and amplifies. The Container of Conflict is a superconductor for Blame.

Blame is pretty much pointless. "A way to discharge pain and discomfort". Is that what we need? Or do we need a way to recognize what behaviors cause pain and discomfort, and a way to heal the wounds that result?

I'm increasingly suspicioius that evil enters the world when we sacrifice someone else - their feelings, their rights, their freedoms, even their physical selves - in order to protect one of our own wounds. Think about it. Rather than experience the pain and discomfort of a wound, we "blame" someone or something else. 

When you look deep inside, does that sound familiar?

In reality, we're not so different, after all. It's only in our imaginations and affectations and illusions, which we cultivate with great pride and vigor (typically, to protect a wound we wouldn't want anyone else to see, out of shame, or fear). And we build up these ridiculous stories about "the other side", and maniacally invent stories about "what they think" to justify "what we think" - our own polemics and dogma and self-righteousness.

Not good.

Spirit whispered to me "Dissolve the container of conflict. Dissolve the container."

How? I'm still working on that. The first step, it appears, is to realize there is one.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mars and Jesus Agree with Eisenhower

Choosing the Right Thing

This morning, someone whispered in my ear. Not sure who. Here's what I heard:
"Every act, even the smallest, benefits from a thoughtful and soulful choice to 'do the right thing'. Anything else is selfish, deceiving, and creates injustice."
Could this have been Mars? Jesus? Not sure. But, strangely, it reminded me of a slice of a Dwight Eisenhower speech, in which he said,
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."
I thought it was Eisenhower's farewell address. It wasn't. It was "The Chance for Peace", given in 1953 after the death of Josef Stalin.

I was unfamiliar with the content. I read it all. I recommend you do, too - for both those on the left and those on the right. In it, Eisenhower is calling out to the world, and the Soviet Union. 

It's steeped in the language of a world in fear. It's message is from a man who desires to lead us forward in hope; one who recognizes that the best mankind could achieve without mutual trust is "humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Eisenhower calls for actions, not words.
"We welcome every honest act of peace. We care nothing for mere rhetoric. We are only for sincerity of peaceful purpose attested by deeds. The opportunities for such deeds are many. The performance of ... them waits upon no complex protocol but upon the simple will to do them."
There is much to be harvested by us, today, from this nearly 60-year-old speech.

For example, do we welcome every honest act of peace? As a country? As a body politic? As a community, neighbor, spouse, or friend?

Perhaps it was Mars who spoke this to me, and tickled me to recall Eisenhower. Perhaps it was Jesus. Because to both of them, the honorable battle is the one waged against the weaknesses within the self, first and always.

Right action is simple once we trust that doing it will make the world a better place. And here, I take one step further from Ike, and one step closer to Jesus, because, sometimes,  we have to stop waiting for "the other guy" to do the right thing first, as we do to prove that we'll be safe if we go along. Trust ultimately carries with it a willingness to be vulnerable. And as I (and Dr. Brene Brown much more eloquently) have pointed out many times, vulnerability is the key to living a fulfilled life.

Eisenhower goes on to simply and clearly define the fundamental mission of his vision:
"We are ready, in short, to dedicate our strength to serving the needs, rather than the fears, of the world."
Wow. How about that. A military general calling us out to serve one another's needs, not our own fears.

In 2012, we could sure use a big dose of THAT.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dissolving the Container of Conflict

Why is fighting so EASY? And so POINTLESS?

My friend and colleague Mary Electra wrote about a shocking act of violence in her neighborhood recently.

That week, I was also contemplating violence and conflict. I was on my way to a sound healing event, and the tension between our political "sides" was rolling through my mind.

Something about the brisk night air, the coolness, the moon. It seemed so beautiful without being "comfy". We don't always have to be "comfy". Sometimes, it's good to feel the brisk, aggressive, edge of reality. The cold night air aggressively drinking the heat from my hands and face. It's OK, sometimes. It's real. We don't always have to be in a container of "comfy".

I thought about containers. In the traditional/spiritual healing arts we talk a lot about containers. Creating a "safe" container for healing, or a "sacred" container for opening to the Divine.

Suddenly, I was struck by a message. It insinuated itself into my subconscious and then POPPED into my awareness. "Dissolve the container of conflict. Dissolve the container."

Wow. I'm so used to thinking of containers as being good things, useful things. It did not dawn on me that we might have to dispose of those that have outlived their usefulness.

There is a container of conflict in our culture that we have built and continue to feed.

Yes, we have differences. Yes, there are real, deep, and painful problems. Yes, each "side"  is partly right and partly deeply, shamefully, willfully wrong.

But this container of conflict we have built provides support for conflicts that have long outstripped their purpose, outlived their deeper meaning. In fact, the container emphasizes the conflict instead of the meaning, and allows the conflict to be easily sustained and amplified (like a resonance frequency). It literally damps out efforts at resolution. And over the years we've perfected it. For example, the 24-hour news cycle and the blogosphere have been harnessed to amplify conflict.

Why? Because conflict is exciting. It provides an adrenaline rush. Every screenwriter knows that audiences stay rapt when the hero and heroine experience conflict.

But aren't we kind of burnt out on conflict? I know I am. "Just shut up already...!" says my inner self, even when I'm receiving incitements to action for causes I care about. It's not that I don't want to be informed about the opportunity to act. It's that the opportunity is always framed in the language of conflict. In the container of conflict.

I'm suffering adrenal fatigue. Are you?

(Next: Part II - Comfort, Blame and the Container of Conflict)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Of Turbulence and Tolling Bells

Love Thine Enemy...Because He Shares Thy Destiny

Just watched a challenging TEDxBrussels talk by Paddy Ashdown on the evolution of global power. It's worth 20 minutes. While not all of it struck a chord, and while some of it was darn uncomfortable, it spoke powerfully about the fundamentals that are shaping the world we have created.

Power is shifting. The stability we have experienced over the years since World War II is falling away. Ashdown cites reasons that aren't necessarily what we think. (Hint: It's not the rise of China.)

Global power, unconstrained by national borders and unregulated by rule of law, exists in places we don't always recognize. Certainly, the Internet, Twitter, and a global mobile-phone network. But also increasingly comprehensive air-travel network provides connectedness - not just for us, but for pathogens and parasites!

Global connectedness means global connections, for good AND ill.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Where there is capacity to exert power, power will be exerted. Where it is untended - unstewarded - it will be exploited.

Turbulence is in our future. The degree of turbulence will be measured by the degree to which we can embrace one another and support one another.

Ashdown cites that what matters is the capacity to network. He cites "Ashdown's Third Law":

"In the modern age, where everything is connected to everything else, the most important thing about what you can do is what you can do with others."

We share a destiny with each other - all of us - for the very first time in human history. Increasingly and unavoidably, we share a destiny with not just our friends, but with our enemies as well.

Heed well Jesus's admonition to "Love thine enemy as thy self…" It's not just a noble idea any longer - it's an urgent matter of public policy

Ashdown finishes his talk with a quote from John Donne's "No Man is an Island":

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Doing the Right Thing - What Would It Be Like?

What if today I decided to do the right thing?

What if you decided to do the right thing?

What if, just for today, we all decided to do the right thing?

I mean really and truly, all day. No excuses.

("Because that's just the way it is…" would be the first excuse struck from the list.)

What if we…
  • Walked to the coffee shop, instead of drove...?
  • Were silent instead of gossiped...?
  • Forgave instead of argued...?
  • Loved instead of blamed...?
  • Helped instead of ignored…?
  • Insisted on kindness instead of tolerating cruelty?
  • Said "No" to injustice instead of "Well, there's nothing I can do about it…"?
  • Disobeyed instead of capitulated…?
It might be hard, but it might feel really good. It might make a difference. It might bring light.

It might be habit forming.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2000 vs. 2012

Two Different Ends of the World

I remember 1999, and the months, weeks, days - even seconds - leading to the year 2000.

2000. The end of the second millennium. Biblical times. Perhaps the apocalypse - one of our own making, in the form of the Y2K bug. But then, nothing happened. Life went on, as usual.

Or did it?

The contested presidential election, ultimately decided by the US Supreme Court, resulted in eight years of the George W. Bush administration (and its inevitable aftermath), instead of an Al Gore administration (and its inevitable aftermath). Although we couldn't see the consequences then, consider them now.

What would have happened if an administration led by Al Gore had been in place for eight years? What would it have been like to live through it?

I ponder a few hypothetical questions.
  • What would have been our response to the 9/11 attack?
  • Would we have invaded Iraq?
  • Would we have endorsed torture as a legitimate tool of national security?
  • Would our federal deficit be so high?
  • What would our energy policy be?
  • Would we have a supreme court that declared corporations to have the same rights as citizens?
  • How would we be reacting to climate change?
  • What would our attitude toward government itself be?
  • Would we have a different disposition toward regulation?
  • Would the terrible, wrenching partisanship we live with be any different?
A little color commentary follows below, but for the most part, it's worth taking the time just to consider these questions.

2000 was a year of tremendous consequence, even if we can only see it in hindsight.

2012 is another year loaded with great, grave, biblical, and cosmic expectations. As we sow in 2012, so shall we reap, for years to come.

May we discover it to be not "the end" but rather "the beginning".

Color Commentary

What would have been our response to the 9/11 attack? Would we have taken more time to understand what role American behavior, values, consumerism, and moral failings (not where we "fail to obey the word of God" but rather where we "fail to do the right thing") have in fertilizing Islamic extremism?

Would we have invaded Iraq? Would we have spent nearly a trillion dollars of our national treasure there?

Would our federal deficit be so high? As we were exiting the Clinton Administration, the deficit was on the verge of becoming a surplus. If we hadn't implemented the Bush tax cuts, what would the treasury look like?

What would our energy policy be? Would we have invested more aggressively in renewables? Would tax incentives have been put in place to shift us away from an oil and coal economy? Would our entrepreneurial genius have unlocked the secrets of cheap solar energy by now? How close would we be?

Would we have had a Supreme Court that sided with corporations, as the Roberts court did in Citizens United, effectively declaring that corporations have the same rights as human beings, real citizens, and allowing unlimited, undisclosed cash to funnel into our election process?

How would we be reacting to climate change? Would we have pushed for a world-wide cap on carbon emissions? Would we have shown leadership there, in the face of the intransigence of China and others?

What would our attitude toward government itself be? And what would the morale be among our public servants? For example, how would we have reacted to Hurricane Katrina? Would federal employees (in this example, FEMA and its leadership) have been less demoralized, more empowered, and more effective? What about at the EPA? The FDA?

Would we have a different disposition toward regulation? Would AgriBusiness, Big Pharma, and Big Media have been more constrained, to the benefit of the commonwealth? Would there be less conflict of interest? And what about Wall Street? Would anything be different, or would it be business-as-usual?

Would the terrible, wrenching partisanship within our government have been eased, be the same, or been exacerbated?

The surface-level answers to some of these are obvious. And there are many other legitimate questions to be asked (some of which, in fairness, might illuminate the good that the Bush administration accomplished…) It is interesting to contemplate whether, upon probing deeper, we'd be better off.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Third Course of Action

Reflections on Gentraí, Goltraí, and Suantraí

At the Firefly Willows blog, I've written that 2012 is "The Year of Action". in keeping with that advice, I'm committing to more activity here, at The Swallowtail Project. I envision The Swallowtail Project as the place where my "activist" self will share and  invite exchanges.

What kind of "action" will I embrace? What kind of "activist" will I be?

In our highly polarized culture it would be easy to say that my actions and writings will reflect my earnest thoughts for what is "best" for my community, the culture in which I live, my descendents, and my planet. And no doubt, I will be taking actions that reflect my perspective. I'm unabashedly politically progressive. I will be championing causes accordingly.

But even as I do so, I recognize that such an approach is likely to further polarize, and as such, may not be nearly as productive as I would hope. Within such actions there is an embedded antagonism to those who are conservative. I harbor no illusions - it's very real to those who are antagonized by it, even though my perspective will likely be one of equanimity and thoughtfulness.

So I am called to reflect on the legend of Uaithne, Boan, and their three children:

Uaithne…was husband to the River Goddess, Boand (the holy Irish river, Boyne).  When Boand delivered her first child, it was a difficult delivery and she cried out in pain.  To ease her pains, Uaithne played the Dagda’s healing harp, and when his first son was born, he named him Goltraí after his mother’s cry, and the music Uaithne played at his birth was thereafter called Goltraí – the Crying Strain.  At the birth of Boand’s second son, it was much easier and she laughed out loud for joy, and he was named Geantraí.  The music Uaithne played at his birth was forever known as Geantraí, the Laughing Strain.  The third birth was the easiest of all, and the River Goddess fell asleep to her husband’s harping and gave birth to her last son, whom Uaithne named Suantraí, and the music was known as the Suantraí, the Sleeping Strain.  All three sons became in their time, great harpers like their father, and it is from them that the harping traditions of Ireland and Scotland had their beginning.
Goltraí - Lamentatation. Geantraí - Joy. Suantraí - Serenity. Peace.

So my hope is that I will bring to life activism in not just the polarizing form of Goltrai, railing against what is wrong, nor even Geantrai, promoting what I perceive to be "good", but also (and perhaps most productively), Suantrai, in which a third way, a way of diffusing tensions, is applied, in hopes of bringing serenity to dialog and cooperation.

We all share this planet. Ultimately, we have to live side by side. To do so, we must find a way to understand one another. Our fears. Our needs. Our perspectives and notions of "good", even, of the divine.

If we hope to understand one another, we must be serene enough to speak and listen with the intention of informing, not convincing or judging.

Suantrai seems like a logical strain to harp on.