Protect Our Diversity

Many years ago, sitting in a Starbucks, my brother told me that I should be careful because not everyone wanted the diversity I was promoting. His warning struck me as odd. At the time I was partners in a business that facilitated diversity training and change dynamics. I was traveling to many places in this nation, north, south, east, west, and places in the middle, to work with people in corporations and schools and communities who’d come up against the startling reality that all people do not share the same reality, that equality is an ideal not yet realized, that we are a nation defined by our other-ness.

When I was in school I was taught that the USA was a melting pot, a hot crucible into which people of many backgrounds, creeds, and colors were transformed into something stronger. I was taught that we were a nation of immigrants. It is printed on our currency: e pluribus unum. Out of the many, one. Why, then, would I need to be careful? Diversity was not something I was promoting, it was (and is) our circumstance. It was an identity I was helping people navigate in their workplaces and communities.

I read somewhere that the real challenge of the American Experiment is that we have to reinvent ourselves everyday. Because we are not (and never have been) able to share a common ethnic-religious-origin story, we must strive everyday to create a shared story. We create our story. We were, at our inception, an experiment in other-ness. To insist that we were meant to be singular – white and Christian – is a concoction. Our shared story begins with the single common thread that runs through most of our ancestral paths: we came from some other place seeking freedom in one form or another: religious freedom, freedom from persecution, the freedom to pursue opportunities. What binds us, the single story-blanket under which we can all crawl, is our diversity. Out of the many, one.

There is and always has been a tension in our story creation. Each new wave of others is resisted and often persecuted by the previous wave. When, in a nation of diverse backgrounds, in a country made strong by its multiplicity, does one actually become an American? And, what does an American look like? And, how far are we from living the ideal of all being created equally? With liberty and justice for all? It’s a moving target at best. It is a worthy ideal and worth the struggle.

The Experiment, like all experiments, has had some miserable failures. It has taken some giant strides forward. It is riddled with paradoxes and often runs into a hard wall of hypocrisy. We’ve torn ourselves in half and pasted ourselves back together. We’ve had our share of hate-mongers and xenophobes. We have one now. And, we always transcend them because we do not run on fear or anger but on promise and opportunity. The conservative impulse is always at odds with the progressive desire. It provides the heat for the crucible. It provides the tension for creativity and growth.

The greatest centers of innovation and entrepreneurship in the history of humankind have all been crossroads, places where many cultures cross paths and come together. Difference is a great opener of eyes and minds. We are an intentional crossroads, a meeting place by design. Our make-up of differences might be the single reason why we have grown as a nation of invention, advancement, and possibility.

In one aspect my brother was right: I should be careful, we should be careful to protect and keep the ideal in the center. It is worth marching for, it is worth challenging the fear-mongering and stepping in the way of a leader who plays on anger to create division. We should be careful to honor and steward The Experiment forward to the next generation of diverse Americans.

 

 

 

Use Reason

Step Into Unknown with Sig“When a speaker who does not know the difference between good and evil tries to convince a people as ignorant as himself, not by ascribing to a poor beast like a donkey the virtues of a horse, but by representing evil as in fact good, and so by a careful study of popular notions succeeds in persuading them to do evil instead of good, what kind of harvest do you think his rhetoric will reap from the seed he has sown?” Phaedrus by Plato

 

The woman walked to the end of the small pier and started to weep. It was a cold day and windy. Kerri and I maintained silence as we passed. The woman was making an appeal to her god. She asked the stormy lake and angry sky, “Why?”

Belief is a powerful thing.

Beth believes that the universe was created 6,000 years ago. Even though the gasoline she pumps into her car is evidence to the contrary, nothing will shake her firm belief. No amount of science, data, or experience can crack her conviction to what she believes.

At first glance Beth might seem an oddity but she is actually more representative of the norm. Consider this quote published this morning in our local paper. It’s an editorial from the Los Angeles Times entitled, “The ‘fake news’ dilemma.” “Some observers argue that the public’s receptivity to fake news is a sign that we live in a ‘post-factual’ society, with people who are mainly interested in information that comports with their preexisting notions.” In other words, no amount of science, data, or experience can crack our convictions to what we believe. And, like Beth, we do not want to hear [or consider] anything that challenges our beliefs. Rather than question, we plant our belief-flag and defend the territory.

Flag planting makes for good ratings. Conflict is an easier story to sell than compromise so it is not surprising that we have news sources that blatantly cater to our preexisting notions. Division makes us a good market and infinitely manipulatable.

Certainly defending the territory of unquestioned belief feels good. Righteousness, blame and gossip always feel good. There’s no responsibility required! Here’s another bit to consider from the editorial: “The problem is obvious: When surveys by the Pew Research Center find that 62 percent of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, and 20 percent of social-media users say the things they read online have changed their views on an issue or candidate, the electorate is all the more vulnerable to a disinformation campaign. By Buzzfeed’s count, the 20 most popular fake-news stories in the last three months of the campaign were shared more often on Facebook than the top 20 stories from leading mainstream news sites.”

What prayer do we have when we are too…lazy…incapable…. to discern gossip from news, belief from fact [dear reader help me find a word other than fact].

For me, the top spot on the hierarchy of beliefs-that-blind is the “pre-existing notion” that we human beings operate from reason. Reason requires doubt, questioning, listening, and reaching for the perceptions of others. Reason, like heart, is a commons. It thrives on honest debate and will have nothing to do with individual or collective rigidity. We are not born with it, however we are born with the capacity to engage it. It is not something any single individual attains – it is not attainable – it is relational – it requires multiple perspectives and continued conversation. It requires a step into the  unknown.

Thoughts Babble Hearts Speak

 

Save

Save

Reach Out Of Inner Space

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #68

Several days ago on a muddy trek through the state park, the dials in my brain spun ever so slightly and I had an epiphany. It was an epiphany that I’ve had before which, to some, might disqualify it as an epiphany but for me the important stuff seems to occur repeatedly, a new layer falls off, and I see a bit more each time. Clarity is movement to a core, a simplicity emerging from what used to seem complex. So, I had a repeating epiphany.

Last year I attended The Chicago Art Expo. To my shock and surprise, rather than being challenged and energized, I ran screaming from the building. It was disconcerting. It was disorienting. Rather than having direct experiences with art that opened my eyes or challenged my world, I had experiences with curators who were compelled to tell me why the work had merit. They felt the need to locate the meaning and value for me. There was, in each booth, an art-high- priest standing between me and the experience. In fairness, I often felt that, without the interpreter, there was no experience to be had. It was a mental exercise.

In the grand scheme of things, Art serves a purpose. It carries the common story, the cultural identity. It is necessary, not luxury. In that sense, for it to serve its purpose, it requires no interpreter. When it no longer serves its intrinsic purpose – or there no longer exists a common center – an interpreter (marketer) is inevitable.

As Quinn once told me, “If someone has to tell you that they are good, they probably aren’t.”

Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Inner Reaches of Outer Space. Art (theatre, visual, dance, music), for me, has deep value when it serves the outer reaches of inner space. It is immediately accessible, touching a universal nerve. It has to reach. Standing in the mud and muck of the park, we took a break by the shore of a lake and listened. The wind moved the trees, the limbs clacked and groaned. Crows chased an owl. The sun warmed my face. A layer fell off and a core came closer to focus.

This is not a diatribe against abstraction. We recently saw a Sam Francis exhibit at The Milwaukee Art Museum that left me in tears. I’ve spent hours in front of a Diebenkorn, one of his Ocean Park series, and I can’t get enough of it. I visit it often, like a pilgrim on a pilgrimage. It moves something deep within me. It speaks to something bigger than me and makes me want to be better and better. Standing before it I feel a part of a conversation of hearts and imaginations and deep space calls. I feel a part of a bigger story.

Be Clumsy

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

a detail of my painting, May You Be.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. lacking dexterity, grace or skill; awkward. 2. ungracefully shaped or made; unwieldy. 3. awkwardly or unskillfully said or done, ill-contrived.

“We don’t allow ourselves to be clumsy,” Kerri said. “Life is clumsy.”

Many years ago I read a commentary that suggested we moderns have a harder time of feeling good about ourselves than people of ages past. The argument went something like this: we have an impossibly high standard to meet and it is mostly illusory. For instance, our predecessors compared themselves and their successes against a relatively small village populace. We are swimming in pool that stretches around the earth. The athletes in our ancestral villages ran against their neighbors, the artists created for a specific purpose that served a tangible need in their community. Our young runners know to the hundreth-of-a-second what greatness requires. They run against the world. Our artists rarely know outside of their own inner imperative why they are creating. With no outer limit they spend a great deal of time wondering if their work has any impact or greater significance. With no outer limit it has no defined audience or community. Stephen, a gifted and prolific artist, used to ask, “Why don’t people recognize the value of art?”

The argument is largely a question of access. Our predecessors had limited and very abstract access to the news of the day, to the happenings beyond their region. We have a 24-hour global news cycle that comes to us on multiple devices that are designed to grab and keep our attention. It is not passive. On our multiple devices we are bombarded with images and messages of what we should look and feel like. Yet, almost all of the images populating our personal measuring stick are constructed. They are manipulated, retouched, powdered and Photoshopped. Legs are stretched. Wrinkles are removed. Sunsets are filtered. We measure ourselves against illusions.

Thus, intermediaries are everywhere. Interpreters abound. I rarely go into a gallery without a curator telling me why the work on the walls is important. The news of the day makes us the rope in a tug-of-war of interpretation.

Art, like life, like deep spirituality, requires direct engagement. It is made rich in the rough draft and the mistake. The broken road is interesting, vital. Learning is a process that takes time. It is messy. It is clumsy. It is not straight, paved, and has no road signs. And, it cannot be walked alone.

There is no forgiveness (of self or other) on the path of perfection; forgiveness is in short supply when the standard is both impossible to attain and an illusion. On the clumsy path, on the messy and muddy road, lives grace, generosity of spirit and deep forgiveness.

Clumsy (klum’ ze) adj. 1. Human

May You Be

May You Be

 

Taste It Fully

ice circles on the lake

ice circles on the lake

We heard the angry barking of crows before we saw them. They were haranguing an owl. It flew into a tree only a few yards in front of us. For several moments, through the ruckus of the crows, we stared at the owl and it stared at us. Time stopped. Nothing else existed. The owl’s eyes, our breathing, the crow’s chorus.

For our wedding gift, H and Teru sent several collections of poetry, “Manuals on marriage,” they wrote in the note that came with the poems. Kerri and I are savoring the poems, reading one or two aloud to each other every day. They are a source of warmth and inspiration during these cold dark winter months. A poem cannot be rushed or read merely. It must be slowly tasted. It is meant to be entered like a meadow; to be experienced. Try to make sense of a poem and you will miss it. Just like life.

She said, “inner quiet is low maintenance,” and I laughed. Yes it is. The trick is in getting quiet. It is not something that can be found or achieved. It is not a place or a state-of-being. It is what happens when you stop looking for it. Like the hermit says to Parcival when the Grail Castle suddenly reappears, “Boy, it’s been there all along.”

For years Sam the poet was afraid of his poems. Like all great art, his poems, his art, revealed the artist, and so he kept them locked up, un-tasted. He came alive and supremely dissatisfied when he finally unleashed his poetry. He let himself want more but also refused to let himself experience more; one foot on the gas, one foot on the brakes. To taste fully one must be willing to be tasted.

A snippet of a poem (a koan imbedded in a poem), RELAX by Ellen Bass:

The Buddha tells a story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs halfway down. But, there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice – one white, one black – scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.

Taste your moment. Taste it fully.

I wrote in my black and red notebook a simple recognition. The field of possibilities cuts both ways: in your despair you must remember that anything is possible. In your joy you must remember that anything is possible. Tiger above (the past), tiger below (imagined future). Do not reject your moment or attempt to hold on to it – both are methods of missing the moment. Taste it regardless of the circumstance. Taste it fully.

 

 

 

Let’s Be Us

a detail from my painting, May You Be

a detail from my painting, May You Be

[continued from Put Down The Hammer]

It is night and I am sitting alone in the sanctuary. I’ve been setting up chairs for a performance and now that the job is complete I’m taking a moment to savor the silence and review this day.

The temperatures have been unseasonably warm and when I opened the back door this morning for Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog I was greeted by the sound of birds singing. It was an April sound in the middle of December. I was so taken by the sound that I called Kerri, “Come and listen to this!” We stood in the doorway for many minutes. It was beautiful as well as a little disconcerting. “El Niño or global warming?” I asked.

Arnie wrote a comment to my last post. He asked: Can it be that we don’t want the ‘we’ in our society – we aren’t comfortable with the ‘we’ and only feel our identity by living out the “us and them”? I am an idealist but, of course, he is right. David Berreby wrote a terrific book called, Us and Them. We are hardwired to perceive the world through a lens of Us and Them. It’s a survival imperative to distinguish between friend and foe. However, a point that is most salient to me: the delineation of Us is mutable. It is not a fixed state but largely circumstantial. That is especially true in this modern age. There is an out of fashion phrase used to describe these United States: a melting pot. There could not be a better metaphor for an ever fluid definition of US. We need not melt but we do need to acknowledge that we are in the same pot. “Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor,…” is central to our national identity (not always central to our national rhetoric) and is a sacred, central statement of an ever-changing US.

We are among the first humans in history to have the pleasure of seeing our planet Earth from space and, as it has been said, from space there are no visible borders. The definition of US depends upon how far out we pull the camera. From space WE are the human race. There are a bevy of alien invasion movies that carry a common theme: when attacked WE inhabitants of Earth will pull together. Or, said another way, until there is a THEM that invades from another planet, WE will be incapable of recognizing full inclusion in the Earth pot.

To Arnie’s point, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with WE. A few months ago, Kerri and I were in Chicago for the day and passed a homeless man, holding a filthy cardboard sign asking for help. He was young, in his early 20’s, and more filthy than his sign. He was suffering. We walked by him. On the train home we had a long conversation about our responsibility to that young man or to any member of our community that is suffering. Many years ago I was with a student group in Bali. We were invited to Udayana University and one member of our group gave a talk about homelessness in America. Our Balinese hosts were shocked. “How could a member of your community be without a home?” they asked. The concept was abhorrent to them, unthinkable. “You are the wealthiest people on Earth…,” they stammered. Later, a Balinese professor said to me, “When you came here today, we wanted to be like you Americans. As you leave, we are proud to be Balinese.”

Us. Them. We. Like me. Not like me. Me. Little words with far-reaching impact. I am not the same person I was only a few years ago. I find it infinitely hopeful – especially now – that, just like me, the delineation of US is mutable, ever changing. It begs the question, Who are WE? And, to another of Arnie’s points, the answer to the question depends upon where we decide to place our focus.

Put Down The Hammer

photo-3[continued from BE WE]

The woman behind the counter at Starbucks, someone I’d never seen before, leaned forward, and chirped, “David! I loved your wedding!” She laughed at the look of confusion that must have crossed my face and added, “No, you don’t know me.” One of our invited guests brought her as a date. “Best wedding ever!” she exclaimed as Kerri joined us. Because the day is a blur, Kerri and I enjoy hearing people’s accounts of our wedding day and she enthusiastically told us of her experiences. It was nice. It was personal.

We took our coffee to a table and joined some friends. After a few moments, the woman behind the counter came to our table. She brought some samples, some health supplements and cosmetic products, “I only do this Starbucks job for the health insurance,” she said, “This is really my business,” she said, sliding the tiny packages in front of Kerri. “You never know who might be interested,” she chirped and blushed before making an exit. It was awkward. It felt awful. We went from personal to prospect in one inelegant step.

There is an old saying that came to mind: When the only tool you have in your box is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Many years ago, in a time of great financial desperation, I worked with some financial folks who recruited me to sell their stuff. I learned their processes, got my licenses in record time, and for a few horrid months, tried to sell their wares. I hated it. The work was highly profitable but the cost was highly destructive. Everyone looked like a prospect. To every social encounter, every friendship, every casual meeting, I brought an agenda. For a few months I looked through a lens that made every person, every circumstance, a commodity-opportunity. It reduced life (my life) to an ugly basic. It was toxic. Anna taught me the very appropriate word for what I felt: vampiring. It was a great lesson. It made me pay attention to the intention I bring to my life.

It’s what the woman at Starbucks felt, too. She was desperate. She, like a former version of me, sold the greater need to satisfy the lesser. Vampires are insatiable and stuck in an untenable lifeless-lens: everyone looks like a food source. Desperation is like that. It is easy when desperate to sacrifice friendships for prospecting. No one likes to be a food source.

As I perused this years bountiful crop of ugly images of Americans fighting and crushing each other for cheap toys and electronics, the annual product-stampede/people-crush-and-fist-fight on Black Friday (formerly known as Thanksgiving), I couldn’t help but think about the Starbucks lady. Desperation wears many masks but always makes others look less-than-human. Communities thrive when they feed each other and die when they feed on each other. This is not a mystery.

Commodity is supposed to service community, not the other way around. Vampiring is the only visible path when community loses itself to commodity; it inadvertently tosses away its many tools and leaves itself with only a hammer. It’s a question of order as much as a question of values. There is nothing wrong with commodity when the order of value is respected. Without a WE there can only be a very confused, desperate, and lonely I. It should not come as a surprise that desperate and lonely people do desperate and lonely things.

This is the season of the return of the light. We need do nothing more to create the miracle than put down the hammer and look at others as if they are more than nails.

[to be continued]