Avoid The Vortex [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I miss my friend dearly. We spoke on the phone for almost two hours this morning. It had been too long since our last check-in. He said something very pertinent to our times. Although he does not believe in the devil, by way of metaphor he said this: The devil’s job is to pull us into a negative vortex. And, these days, the devil is winning.

I am guilty of being pulled into the angry vortex and his caution hit home.

Yesterday, Kerri’s entire catalogue of posts was blocked by Facebook. That’s 130 weeks times 5-posts-a-week = 650 posts. We have no idea why. We read FB’s new Community Standards, the reasons they give for blocking content, and can’t find evidence of a single violation. It’s almost a mystery.

Almost. A few minutes before her posts were wiped from FB, someone visited our business page, scanned Kerri’s blog-posts from last week, and alerted FB that they were spam. Coincidence is not always correspondence however, in this case, one action – the alerts – triggered the other action – the blocking of Kerri’s posts. It was an intentional act and not an accident.

In this age of information there is, of course, no person to call, no help line or customer service agent. There is a firewall, a form, a void or black hole, that accepts feedback. The feedback form, however, informs givers of feedback [human beings] that their feedback will not be read.

I scratch my head at the existential drama I am currently living. Sarte. No Exit.

The Facebook-content-scrubbing may be temporary. It may not. The blog-posts may be reviewed or they might not. There’s no one to ask and there’s no next-level-information available. I wrote about this a few months ago, the good-bots at FB suddenly sent Kerri copyright violation warnings on her recordings. She wrote, recorded, and owns the copyrights to all of her music and albums. FB now blocks her from sharing her own music. Her protests went into the same black hole as her blog-post-feedback.

The intelligence is, at best, artificial.

People are angry. It takes a special kind of anger to systematically go through someone’s posts and mark them as spam. They had to jump my posts to reach Kerri’s so it seems obvious that the anger is personal though the none-the-less feeble. Any poltroon can hit a button; it takes a bit of courage to give voice, especially when it is in opposition.

The vortex may be attempting to suck the light from all of us but I doubt the devil will win. Life is not a win/lose game. It moves. It changes. Day follows night.

My friend said something else that I found hopeful in these dark times: out of ashes, out of chaos, the phoenix always rises. That is important to remember. It is best to stand still when all things seem like they are spinning, spinning out of control.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SHHHHH! [it’s possible that her posts may never reappear so, if you enjoy reading Kerri’s blog, consider subscribing. I know we publish waaay too much but, with the minor exception of us, no one reads everything that we write.]

 

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Check Your Sources [on Flawed Wednesday]

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When I hung up the phone I turned to Kerri and said, “I have to make peace with the fact that Fox News is going to kill my parents. I have to make peace that Fox will inevitably kill someone I love.”

I remember writing research and opinion papers in high school. Beyond giving shape to thought, the lesson was about citation. Know your sources. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion. Perspective is just that, a point of view. When the internet roared into being, as a teacher, I hammered the same nail into my students, “In a world in which anyone can assert anything, it is vitally important, more so now than ever, to discern what has merit and what does not. You have to protect yourself and know what is perspective and what is fact.”

An educated person asks questions about what they are told. An educated person asks questions about what they are telling themselves.

A three minute Google search of media bias rankings will provide an number of links to follow and all issue relatively consistent reports: there isn’t a media watch agency in the world that considers Fox News a source of news. It is ranked as a solid source of right wing propaganda.  Sifted information with an agenda. And yet, so many of the people I love have rooted their hard perspective in this flimsy pseudo soil. The rankings will also point the curious to news outlets that are more neutral and fact based.

If it is so easy to discern, to check whether or not it is drek that you swallow, why are so few adults interested in doing what every middle school student is taught as an essential?

Fact is proclaimed as false news. “Alternative facts” are elevated as truth. Anger is strummed in a fearful populace. Absolute loyalty is demanded for tribal membership (do not question…). Conspiracy theories create a wall of white noise punctuated by cheer inducing blame games and name calling.  Deep state bogeymen and enemies-enemies everywhere. Feed the anger. Hype the fear. Think no thoughts in the face of blaring discrepancies. An unassailable thought-free-firewall is firmly erected in the Fox-votary.

From outside the Fox bubble we ask, “Are they really that gullible?” From inside the Fox bubble, they ask, “Are they really that blind?”

The divide is complete. Two warring narratives. And so we are conquered. The pandemic does not care whether we are in a bubble or not.

Outside the Fox bubble we practice social distance. We are told that it is the only tool we have in the box – in the absence of  adequate testing – to slow the spread. We see the comparison data and recognize that, given the hubris in the other narrative, that the USA is on track to repeat the horror that is now overrunning Italy. We listen to the the CDC and the WHO for our information. We see Spain converting ice rinks into morgues. We challenge the mind numbing notion put forward by a feckless president that this is “like the flu.”

The peace I need to make? The people inside the Fox bubble, many people that I love, are not gullible or stupid – not by a long shot. But, they’ve forgotten what they learned as a baseline to being an educated, curious and responsible adult: check your sources. They wouldn’t wholeheartedly buy the story of a used car salesman. They’d check out the car before they bought it. In this day and age, the same rule applies to news. They are making a choice.

Blind belief is a lemmings game. Human beings have the capacity to open their eyes and to question.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about RED AND BLUE

 

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Find The First Principle [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I don’t know about you but the moments in my life that I am the least proud are the moments that I was steeped in anger. In anger, I have said things that I didn’t mean and done things that I now regret. There is no real strength to be found in anger. There is only blindness and weakness.

We live in the great age of the misnomer. In anger we slap a label of virtue on the mad face of vice.

Step outside and you’re likely to be trampled by a stampeding herd of verbal misdirection. If your brain is not pulped by rage and you are curious enough to question, you just might survive the stampede. But do not think you are safe! That roaring that you hear is nothing less than an avalanche of obfuscation.

Occam would have a field day using his razor on phrases like “alternative truth.” What are the odds that a lie is a lie and not an alternative at all? He would roll his eyes at us. “What entices you, ” he would ask, after slicing the alternative from the truth, “to willingly swallow so much word-gumbo?”

The answer is easy and readily apparent: anger. We are an angry nation getting angrier. Angry people rarely ask questions. Anger and Reason are never seen sitting at the same table. Angry people are especially gullible, easily whipped into an frenzy, and led by the nose into concocted fights. People are made angry in order to focus their blood shot eyes on made-up-divides. There is nothing that bonds an Us like the perception of an invading Them.

If you survive the avalanche of obfuscation, duck, cover, and roll as the squadron of conspiracy theories are certainly swooping in to drop their fantastic story-bombs. Misdirection. Obfuscation. Cries of “Hoax!” and “Witch hunt!”

Anger, so we’re told, is a secondary emotion. It is a cover-up emotion, a protection against feeling the primary thing, like fear or loss. Anger is what happens when the metaphoric dog is backed into the corner. It’s better to bark and snap than to feel shame or sadness or otherwise vulnerable, especially in public. It’s easier to punch, to blame, to rage than it is to deal with the first principle.

What we-the-people have in common, our first principle, is suffocating under all of this anger.

Sharpening his razor, Occam might ask, “What would happen if you dealt with what you were really feeling instead of covering it up with so much fury? What’s beneath the anger? Deal with that.”

History teaches that when a leader fans anger into a red hot flame, the purpose is to forge the gullible into a thoughtless mob. These are the necessary bellows: obfuscation, misdirection, conspiracy theories a-go-go. Blame. Blame. Blame.

Mobs are not really strong. They are flashes in a vapid leader’s pan. They return to their strength when the fire burns itself out, when their eyes clear, and they once again become capable of asking, “What’s going on?”

Anger and strength – despite what the stampeding herd would like you to believe – are not the same thing. One requires the presence of mind and clear sight – and the other is defined by blindness and the absence of thought.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about ANGER AS PROXY

 

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Scream Into The Mic [on KS Friday]

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During the healing time of Wristgate, as Kirsten called it, Kerri and I have been spending much of our time on the raft [our bed – it is where the broken wrists are most comfortable].  We work from the raft. We eat from a tray on the raft. We plan life from the raft. And, because it is cold winter, we reminisce on the raft. We talk about what might have been, what choices we’ve made, what storms blew in, wreaked havoc and gave shape to our lives.

No Balloons. It is one of the first studio recordings of Kerri. It is from 1980, smack dab in the era of Joni Mitchell, when a cassette tape was the latest and greatest technology. I recognize her very young voice, shaky and not yet rooted, trying to find itself. Sitting on the raft, although I’ve heard the backstory of the song before, to hear it again made me weep.

No Balloons is a song about rape. Kerri’s rape. A young woman, hopeful and trusting, trying to find her voice, a violent storm that blew in, a man twice her age that altered the course of her life. When she sought help she was met with a solid male wall of See-No-Evil-Hear-No-Evil.

We live in the #metoo era. Even though it’s still very hard for young women – any woman – to get the world to listen, to be taken seriously, it was exponentially harder in the 1970’s. The woman, so our sad history goes, was to blame for her own violation. Kerri did what most women did in that time. She internalized it, swallowed her bile, and covered it up. She ran from it, ran from her attacker, ran from a man-world that couldn’t be bothered to listen. She candy-coated her ruin and made it a shameful secret.

After listening to the recording, the sweet quaking voice, the flute floating over the top of the band, the disjoint between the composition and the lyric, Kerri gazed into a dark corner that I could not see and said, “I should have been screaming into the mic.”

Had I not been holding space for her I might have said, “It’s not too late. Maybe the mature woman needs to do what the young woman could not. I suspect there are a legion of young women out there who need you to scream into the mic.”

 

NO BALLOONS

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NO BALLOONS

 

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no balloons ©️ 1980 kerri sherwood

Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Walk Up The Hill

616. Join me in inspiring truly powerful people. Each day I will add a new thought, story or idea to support your quest and mine.

Saul-the-Chi-Lantern stopped in mid form; we were “grasping the swallow’s tail” when he turned and said, “There’s this thing about anger that is worth mentioning.” We relaxed from our practice knowing that Saul’s no-segue comments are always rich with meaning even if they often seem as perplexing as a Zen koan.

“Anger requires a certain amount of dedicated focus,” he said. “I used to work with troubled teenagers in San Bernardino and there were lots of kids dedicated to their anger.” He paused and seemed to be moving back into the tai chi practice but realized he had yet to complete his thought, so he turned again to us. “There was a really steep hill at the place where I worked and I learned early on that, if a kid was angry, I’d ask them to tell me what was making them angry. We’d walk up the steep hill as they talked and within ten paces they could no longer be angry. It was impossible to walk up that hill and keep a focus on the anger.” Saul smiled and continued, “It only took ten paces for them to put their focus on something else. And, after ten paces up the hill, their anger dropped away and then we could talk about what was really going on.”

He wrinkled his brow and continued, “Anger is good for knocking you off balance but not much else. And, you have to be really dedicated to sustain anger – which means your dedication in life is to sustaining anger and what good is that!” He laughed and stepped back into the form, muttering, “Who in their right mind wants to live off balance? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”