Sunday, February 26, 2017

BACK IN THE "REAL" WORLD

It was like hurtling down through the stratosphere from some alien, artificial Wonderland into the sparkling sunlight of an afternoon at the beach.

There I was, at the rally to protect the Affordable Care Act outside our Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher's office in Huntington Beach. I was surrounded by real people, all of us listening to real people speak: a woman with stage 4 breast cancer from Catalina Island; a fiery African American pastor preaching the anti-Tr*mp gospel; an immigrant from India, passionate for the kind of universal health care that every advanced nation boasts; a fellow Brit, a woman born with a severe heart defect necessitating multiple surgeries over many years since childhood, well served by Britain's National Health Service... Even the loud band of Trumpeters, across the street, were real people.

And then... a tap on the shoulder, a voice from behind. I hear my name: "Peter? Aren't you Peter?" And I turn to find a Facebook "friend," Marie Martin, a real person! She had recognized me (from the back!) by my hair. What a delightful, unexpected leap from the virtual world of the netscape into the real world! Her husband was standing nearby and Marie introduced me--reminding me that the had put me in touch with him, some time ago, as a fellow cluster headache sufferer (these are the worst kind of headache, said to be more intense even than a migraine, and I had otherwise never met another person who had experienced them.)

We had a good old chat--about England, a country that they love; about living in Southern California; about our Facebook friendship and out Facebook posts; about living in the era of Donald Tr*mp. And parted with the agreement to stay in touch.

All of which set me thinking about the bubble that I live in, and how it separates me from the real world. It's not only the bubble of the Internet--though it's partly that. I spend a good deal of time communing with myself in writing and, through writing, virtually with others. I create a world that is my personal image of the real world. I hate to say this, but it's as much a delusion, in its way, as the delusory world of Donald Tr*mp, though I like to think it bears a greater relation to "reality." But when I think like a Buddhist, as I often try to do, I have to acknowledge that it's ALL "fake." The word, much bandied about these days and usually, rightly, in a derogatory context, derives from the Latin verb facere, to do, to make, to create.

But it's a different feel, amongst real people. There's a shared energy, a shoulder-to shoulder sense of human community. Those with whom I found myself standing at the street end of the Huntington Beach pier were a heartening reminder of the goodness and generosity of which human beings are capable. I was reminded of the spirit of the "Women's March" event, the day after Tr*mp's inauguration; the anger, frustration and disillusionment that many of us felt at the prospect of the presidency of so unqualified, so coarse, so willfully ignorant a man were far surpassed by the joy of being in each other's company, by the sense of shared commitment to our fellow human beings and, yes, I'd even call it love.

So it was yesterday, at the rally. And it was remarkable--or was this merely my projection? I think not, because my friend Marie spoke of it too--the contrast was remarkable between those on our side of the street, brought together by our concern for the health and welfare of our fellow citizens, and the raw, gratuitous contempt and anger directed at us from the other side of the street. I need to beware of self-righteousness, but I know which side I'd rather be on.

Monday, February 6, 2017

RIGHT SPEECH

I've been giving a lot of thought to Right Speech in recent days, for reasons that must be obvious: the new administration and the new president in Washington offer a nearly irresistible target for intemperate language and verbal invective. Their actions have been so immoderate, so rash, so ill-considered as to virtually demand condemnation.

How, though, to condemn? The immediate temptation is to speak out of anger, contempt, or bitterness, but to do so is in some way to own the anger, contempt and bitterness--and not without personal cost.

I don't know about you, but I don't need those things in my life. Some claim that simply to utter them is to get them out of the system. I'm not so sure. They are pollutants, and they pollute not only the mind that entertains them, no matter how briefly, but also the non-material environment. They pollute the cultural/spiritual/intellectual air we breathe in daily.

Condemn politely, then? That feels like weakness, at a time when strength of opposition is called for.

Can we condemn fiercely, and still escape the pollution?

I think so. Right Speech, we might say, demands it. To suppress my views, to remain silent when I see harmful actions being taken, particularly when those actions are taken, however remotely, in my name, is to avoid my responsibility to the truth.

So I am required to speak, and to speak with a forcefulness appropriate to the situation. To indulge in simple insult and invective, however, will result only in further entrenchment on the other side. If I am told I am an idiot for believing such and such, or behaving in such and such a way, my reaction is to reject the basis for the argument as I reject the insult. It's reasonable to assume that others will do the same.

I think it comes down to the need to point, as forcefully as possible, to the harm that's caused by unskillful action and unskillful speech, and to condemn the action rather than the actor. Better--though hard!--to send thoughts of goodwill to the latter, along with the hope that he or she will find a path that leads to happiness for self and others, and away from harm.



Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ARE WE SAFE YET?

Are we safe yet? No. Are we safer than we were fifteen years ago, at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center? No. Can we be protected from everyone who wishes us ill? No.

The current American delusion about safety has become the source of misguided political fear-mongering, major policy blunders, and cruel abdication of compassion and responsibility toward our fellow humans suffering from realities far worse than our childish fears.

When did we start to believe it our right, as Americans, to be protected cradle to grave from every one of life's dangers and adversities? At this point, it has become an obsession that suggests, to me, that the terrorists we so fear have already achieved their purpose.

We live in uncertainty. It's the condition of our lives. Just a couple of weeks ago, a number of people lost their lives in an earthquake-triggered avalanche that destroyed a hotel in Italy. Only yesterday, five were killed by a deranged gunman in Quebec. Who knows but that the next time I venture out on the Los Angeles freeway I'll have a fatal encounter with a truck? The chances of being killed in an attack by an Islamic terrorist immigrant are statistically minimal. Reason tells us that this, amongst all our other fears, is one of the most irrational, baseless, and absurd.

And still we have political leaders who manage to drum up those fears, and then exploit them. If we are to be the nation we purport to be, if we are to bravely assert the freedoms of which we sing in our national anthem, we must stand up to those who would steal them from us in the name of some dubious safety. We must tell them unambiguously that we don't need the illusory protection they are offering us in exchange for our freedoms.

As I hear often in the political discourse these days, on the other side: This is not America. We are better than this. Aren't we?

Oh, and... just for fun, there's this:





Friday, January 27, 2017

A REMINDER

I'm also posting on my Boyhood Memories blog, and hope you'll visit me there. Today, a memory of my own, Plum Brandy--a little boy's first love.

Monday, January 23, 2017

LISTEN, PLEASE

Those planning to rush ahead with plans to "repeal and replace" ("replace"? really?)) the Affordable Care Act owe it to their constituents to listen to what they want--in some cases, not what they say they want, but what they really want, which is often clearly different: there is plenty of evidence to show that many Americans don't realize that the Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are one and the same, and that many of the features of the ACA are precisely what they want and desperately need by way of health care coverage. The Republican mantra of "repeal and replace" denotes nothing more than a dangerous and irrational act of spite.

Listening is rapidly becoming a lost art. We are all so busy airing our own opinions that we have little time for, or interest in, listening to the opinions of others. This seems especially true, regrettably, of the man to whom Republicans now pay obeisance as their "president." It is also true of Republicans themselves, who turn a deaf ear to the wishes of the people they are elected to represent in their rush to enact a decades-old agenda to dismantle not only social programs but also the government that provides them. Their other mantras, "small government" and "lower taxes," are easily taught, parrot-like, to an electorate persuaded with false promises that they will benefit from these platitudes. They are less easily put into practice. In the coming months we shall see how successful the Republicans will prove, now that they are in the majority in both the House and the Senate and have the White House in their hands.

A genuine effort to listen to the wants and needs of real people dealing with real challenges in their lives, as well as to the voices, opinions, and proposed solutions of political opponents, would lead, I believe, to the kind of mutual respect and collaboration in government that would bring about the results from which we all will benefit; and eventually, perhaps, to what Obama aspired to as a "more perfect union." Closing ears, along with eyes, heart and minds is not only supremely arrogant, it's also destructive.