Let’s Get On With It [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

It was a national campaign of the US Department of Homeland Security. If you see something, say something. The enemy is here. It is us. We pulled it from an episode of Grace & Frankie. Old folks have hair that grows in places it ought naught. Frankie plucks a hair from Grace’s chin. “How long has that been there?” Grace exclaims. “Frankie, if you see something, say something!”

Yesterday, I had a collision of experiences at the courthouse during my jury pool swim. First, I read an article in The Atlantic, by Tom Nichols, Afghanistan Is Your Fault. He wrote, “The soldiers who served overseas in those first years of major operations soon felt forgotten. ‘“America’s not at war” was a common refrain among the troops. “We’re at war. America’s at the mall.”’

He continued, “A serious people—the kind of people we once were—would have made serious choices, long before this current debacle was upon them. They would today be trying to learn something from nearly 2,500 dead service members and many more wounded. They would be grimly assessing risk and preparing both overseas and at home for the reality of a terrorist nation making its way back onto the international map.

Instead, we’re bickering about masks. We’re holding super-spreader events. We’re complaining and finger-pointing about who ruined our fall plans.

Next, I was among the many chosen for voir dire (the jury selection process). I was in the last group selected so the odds of my serving on the jury were slim. I sat in the courtroom and watched an amazing moment unfold. The judge said something that all Americans should hear. It aligned perfectly with Tom Nichols’ thoughts. A potential juror, a young man, claimed serving on a one-day trial would create hardship. He’d miss a day of work. The judge questioned him to get more context and then sat back, considered for a moment, and said this:

“Democracy is hard work. When I was young, there were three things that we had to do: pay taxes, honor the draft if called, and serve on a jury if called. All of those things create hardship. Taxes aren’t easy. The draft changed the lives of thousands of young people. Serving on a jury interrupts life. It creates hardship. Giving of yourself to the common good means serving something greater than yourself. It is an interruption. Today, there are only two of those things because there is no draft. My point is, giving of yourself to make this gorgeous system work is not easy. It is hard work. It creates hardship to ensure that our system, the oldest democracy in the world, thrives and survives for the next generation.”

America is at the mall. Meanwhile, democracy is hard work.

For a serious people, there is a center to our commons and, keeping it alive, takes a bit of self-reflection and sacrifice. Giving of yourself to the common good means serving something greater than yourself.

Divided we fall. It is a cliche’ but could not be more relevant.

The enemy is here. It is us. Bickering about the lesser while the greater slips from our fingers. “If you see something, say something” is predicated on an assumption: we are in service to something greater than ourselves. We are on the same team with a common, shared interest.

The judge sat back in his chair after his lecture and asked the young man, “Are you less capable of handling hardship than anyone else in this room?”

“No, sir,” the young man sat back in his chair, resigned.

“Good!” the judge exclaimed. “Now, let’s get on with it.”

read Kerri’s blog post about SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING

Meet The Frame [on DR Thursday]

“There are people who prefer to say ‘yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘no’. Those who say ‘yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have. Those who say ‘no’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.” ~ Keith Johnstone

A violent storm blew through so we spent the night hunkered down in the basement. We had very little sleep. Sleeplessness always leads me to moralize and for that, I apologize.

A frame of reference is a powerful thing. Experiences are interpreted through a frame of assumptions. We are witness to a time in which verifiable reality is denied because it doesn’t jive with the tribal frame.

Master Marsh passed along this quote from E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: “(Humankind) would rather believe than know.”

Knowledge often challenges the frame. That is the point of knowledge. Growth. And growth is always a challenge to what was formerly believed possible.

It is somehow easier to lapse into a conspiracy theory, demonize an other, deny what is indisputable, than it is to allow that the frame is just that, a frame. It’s not a truth. It’s a context. It’s a binding agent. Culture is a frame of reference. Religion is a frame of reference. What we believe of ourselves is not a fact. Identity is a frame of reference. Democracy is a frame of reference. Autocracy is a frame of reference. Supremacy is a frame. Equality is a frame. Every-man-for-himself is a frame. Brother-and-Sister’s-keeper is a frame.

None are truth. Frames are creations. Agreements. Aspirations.

Frames that allow for challenges, for growth, are sustainable. Those that do not, those that deny insight, fact, data, new knowledge, those that are threatened by opposing-point-of-view, inevitably collapse in their denial.

The fire burns. A garden hose is not an effective defense, regardless of belief. Temperatures rise relative to emissions. Rain forests disappear. A lie undermines the foundations of democracy. Believe it or not. Harry Truman sat in his cabin nestled into the mountain called St Helens. Despite repeated appeals from fleeing neighbors, repeated rumbles and tremors, warnings from scientists and safety personnel, he believed he would be safe, that his mountain would never erupt. Traces of Harry have never been found.

So it goes with the denial of believers. Frames held too tightly blind rather than reveal.

Every artist knows the transformative power of a frame. A frame can make almost any scribble look substantial. A cheap frame can diminish the greatest masterpiece.

New knowledge meets an old frame. Growth or entrenchment? Blind acceptance or emerging possibility? Yes? No? Both?

read Kerri’s blog post about FRAMES

held in grace: surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Consider The Revelation Necessary [on KS Friday]

An exercise that is designed for generic failure is also designed for specific success. And, so it is with the bridge. The instruction is simple: get everyone safely across the space. If anyone touches the floor, all must go back. Invariably, the first attempt is an abject failure. The group ignores the word “everyone” and, instead, opts to try and get themselves safely across the space. They believe the game is about them, that “winning” is a singular affair.

After being sent back to the beginning more than once, they come to a spectacular yet inevitable innovation: if they work together, crossing the space will be easy. It is only a matter of moments after their revelation that they, together, construct a secure bridge and are all safely standing on the other side of the room. Specific success wrought from generic failure. And, once they have their realization, they cling to it. They own it. They must, the stakes are raised, the rules are tipped against them during the ensuing phases of the exercise.

I’ve led this exercise hundreds of times. Every single time the group has the necessary revelation. They are not in the game alone. They can only “win” if they join together. If they build it together, everyone will safely cross the space. It gives me hope.

Last night, during the town hall, President Biden said something that ought to slap us from our divisive stupor. Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin believe the 21st century belongs to the autocrats. The pace of change is moving too fast and democracies, in their divisiveness, move too slow. So far, we are proving them right.

Once, as an experiment, rather than set the challenge of the bridge, I forced the answer. The group did as I said but collapsed in the ensuing rounds. When I raised the stakes, the people gave up. The harder it got, the less they tried. They coalesced in apathy. They never made it across the bridge again, even though they knew how to build it.

This is what the autocrats do not understand. There is no ownership, no game, in a forced answer [educators could pay attention to this simple rule, too].

We are being divided through titanic campaigns of misinformation. And so, no one will make it safely across this time-space. Generic failure. Wade Davis wrote that we now live in a failed state and, so far, we are proving him right. But I have hope. The necessary revelation, the specific success, bubbles in the frustration. Those stoking the division, feeding fear, will have their day but, in the long run, the lie collapses, people join together and, like a prayer flag, build a bridge to ensure that all make it safely across. They recognize that they are not in this game alone. Winning is hollow if half the team is lost in the process.

This game, the bridge. The necessary revelation is in our nature; nature’s prayer flag. It gives me hope.

Kerri’s albums are available on iTunes or streaming on Pandora

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE’S PRAYER FLAG

hope/this season ©️ 1998 kerri sherwood

Keep The Sign [on Flawed Wednesday]

I have never, until this election, planted candidate signage in my yard. This season, however, Biden signs abounded. Our front yard was a wash of blue.

We opened the blinds the morning after the election was called and our signs were gone. The sign kidnapper left a clear trail through the leaves. We took a drive around the neighborhood and saw that other homes had their signs nabbed. The larger Biden signs had been tipped over or kicked to the ground.

Anger, as the old trope states, is a secondary emotion. Anger is one of the many shades of fear. That someone – or many someones – would, in their anger at an election loss, troll a neighborhood, stomp and steal signs would be laughable except it is akin to the behavior of their candidate, the one that lost. An angry pout. A child breaking toys so others can’t play. Holding the nation hostage.

In my career I worked with many, many schools and learned that a school generally takes on the personality of its principal. Nations are the same. Aggression, thuggery, bullying, lying…generally erasing opposition (“you’re fired”) in a single-direction-loyalty-imperative is the personality of our outgoing populist-principal. His behavior-fractal extends to the smallest cell of the sick red organism he created so it was not a surprise that election signs were stolen or stomped. Would-be bullies following their leader.

As we endure the final pout, a myriad of empty court cases in a frantic attempt to manufacture evidence of voter fraud, all-caps twitter-temper-tantrums, hoarding all the toys so the transition of power is delayed, sycophants-in-suits tumbling over themselves to please the grand-pout, we should perhaps ask the obvious question, ” What are they afraid of?”

They. Them. They are, I suspect, afraid of Us – of what US really implies. They are afraid of progress, an intention to unify. They fear the exposure of science and fact. They are afraid of women in power and a “minority” becoming the majority. They are afraid of people of color. Just as wagon wheel makers shook their fists at auto makers, just as coal barons now sneer at wind power, the boys club stuffs the courts while throwing doubt at a system called democracy. The remaining tools in their box are obstruction and denial.

We are a crossroads nation that is made great because we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. We change. That is our strength when the center ideals hold. The sign-stompers would have us look backward to a Hallmark time that never actually existed. Perhaps out of our recent chaos will emerge an order that finally fulfills the promise and includes all citizens, one that strives to fulfill the democratic ideals of equality rather than remove them. Obstruct them. Deny them. Perhaps.

“They can have the signs,” Kerri said, “as long as they take their guy with them.”

Amen to that.

read Kerri’s blog post about SIGNAGE

Make A Choice [on Merely A Thought Monday]

If you still require a marker for where we’ve come in these past four years, you need only consider this: The International Crisis Group – “an organization that frequently reports on instability in failing states and war zones – warn that a bitterly polarized America faces ‘unfamiliar danger’ in these coming days.”

Instability in a failing state. War zone.

Once upon a time we were so solid in our commitment to the democratic process that the world asked us to send representatives to monitor elections in failing states. The Carter Center alone has observed elections in 39 countries in an effort to support and strengthen democracy around the world.

Once upon a time the peaceful transfer of power honoring the vote of-and-by the people was assumed. It was the epicenter of our stability. A two party system that provides for creative tension and lively debate as it wrestles its way into a more perfect union never, before now, questioned the sacred center, the magic glue of its success: the peaceful transfer of power. It gave us the authority to promote democracy, attend to human rights, and monitor elections in other nations.

And now? The world issues a warning to us. About us. The state of the United States is possibly unstable. Possibly failing.

It’s also possibly growing, evolving. Significant change is often preceded by a challenge to ideals, a stress test of boundaries. Order collapses into chaos and out of chaos, new order arises. A butterfly emerges from caterpillar mush.

In this election the American experiment could very well collapse on itself. It could also rise from the dis-ease of the past four years stronger with a better sense of what needs attention in our walk toward the promise. And, as we stand at this crossroads, the good news is that the leadership does not decide the path we take. We do.

We are the people who choose our leaders. They lead in service to us. We can join the ranks of failing states and eat ourselves like a cancer. Or, we can sober up and guard our tradition. Disagreement is the energy that drives us forward to vote; the peaceful transfer of power acknowledges that, in our hearty discord, we are servants to a higher ideal, a fluid dynamic relationship moving toward a more perfect union.

It’s our choice.

read Kerri’s blog post about VOTE

Practice Thinking [on KS Friday]

“The capacity to think astutely is often undervalued in the world of action. But philosopher Hannah Arendt identified the capacity to think as the foundation of a healthy and resilient democracy. Having experienced totalitarianism in Nazi Germany, then having fled it, she devoted much of her life to studying it and its opposite, democracy. She believed that thinking thoughtfully in public deliberations and acting democratically were intertwined and that totalitarianism is built upon and sustained by deceit and thought control. In order to resist efforts by the powerful to deceive and control thinking, Arendt believed that people needed to practice thinking.” Westley, Zimmerman, Patton, Getting To Maybe: How The World Is Changed

If thinking clearly is the hard line between democracy and totalitarianism, then we in these once-united-states are in a world of trouble.

For evidence, look no further than this past week. I begin with a single word: debate. Full stop. To assume thought is to assume too much. It was painful to watch conservative pundits attempt to spin sense and justification into 90 minutes of lie-vomit and fact-abuse. It was even more painful to watch thinking people, already exhausted by years of gaslighting, grasp for some sense of what they had just witnessed. The transience of the American experiment.

I shook my head during a post-debate-news segment when a woman cloaked in MAGA swag said that there shouldn’t be fact checkers at the debates because, “People should be able to say their truth.” Where-oh-where has our thought-practice gone?

Beneath the noise of the debate was a ruling in a slander case brought against Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame. The court ruled in Fox’s favor citing,”… that given Mr. Carlson’s reputation, that any reasonable viewer ‘arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism’ about the statements he makes.” It has not been my experience that watchers of Fox News are necessarily awash in reason or any amount of skepticism. They believe the spin they hear in that big bubble of fantasy. The judge wrote, “The “‘general tenor’ of the show should then inform a viewer that [Carlson] is not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’ “

O accountability, where is thy sting? O thought, where is thy champion?

Democracy is dependent upon our capacity to discern between exaggeration and fact, lie and truth. We are now a nation that cannot grasp the simplicity of science in a pandemic. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Those two actions could have saved thousands of lives. They still could save thousands of lives. I shook my head in despair when people I love repeated with gusto the claim that our numbers of infection are so high because we do so many tests. I thought but did not say, “Think! For god’s sake, just think about what you are saying!” It is too much to ask.

Kerri and I have met walls of angry criticism when we ask folks to check their media sources. How dare we suggest that propaganda isn’t news! It’s easy to check whether or not you are being led by the nose if you care to do it. And that, I fear, is where the line between democracy and totalitarianism dissolves. The care to do it. We would rather be comfy and fixed in our news bubbles, gloating in our mutual agreement, than practice thinking.

Without that hard line, the foundation of our healthy and resilient democracy can only crumble.

TRANSIENCE on the album RIGHT NOW is available in iTunes

read Kerri’s blog post about TRANSIENCE

transience/right now ©️ 2010 kerri sherwood

Take A Peek [on Two Artists Tuesday]

We have two frogs in our pond this summer. Their names are Epic and Tiny. This is a photograph of Epic. He’s in his safe place. When Kerri took this picture she said, “This is how I feel most of the time.”

Each day, in writing this blog, I face a dilemma. I named my blog The Direction of Intention because I desire my writing and artistry (and life) to be conscious steps toward positive creation rather than pushing against and complaining about what I don’t want. Lately, that is a tight rope to walk. I no longer feel it is possible to peek out from my safe place because I doubt in these-once-united-states that there is a safe place. Lately, each day, it seems that pushing back, peeking from my rock and croaking, “Open your eyes,” IS taking conscious steps toward the creation of a healthy spirit, nation-body and world.

I’ve long been a believer that the deep imbalances in our system, like systemic racism, cannot change by focusing on the word “racism.” The change we seek, the safety we desire, will only come when we address this completely broken and ugly system that is composed upon layers of inequity. BLM is a pressure valve. It is an opportunity to look with clear and honest eyes at the favoritism designed into our system.

At the epicenter of our dysfunction is an apparatus that pretends to be a democracy but, in fact, throws its weight behind minority rule. For instance, if the popular vote of citizens actually elected the president, Ronald Reagan would have been the last Republican to occupy the White House [George W. Bush won the popular vote in his second term but initially gained the presidency after losing the popular vote to Al Gore]. Or, consider this: even though, since 1920, more Americans are urban dwellers, the electoral system throws its weight to rural (more conservative) voters. The electoral college ensures democracy will not prevail. It goes on and on. If you want a hysterical look at the hysterical gerrymandering of the American system, visit John Oliver here.

Why would a system that purports to be a democracy knowingly allow and continually enable unfair political advantage to a minority elite? Why would a political party work so hard to gerrymander electoral maps, prevent black and brown voters from voting, whip up with no evidence the notion that, if they lose, the election will be rigged? The advantage is blatantly apparent in our tax codes, in how we fund schools and fill prisons, an on and on and on.

The gap between who we are and who we pretend to be is vast.

The game is rigged. A thriving democracy is impossible when one team, the conservative elite, do not believe in nor support democratic processes. Winning at all cost, regardless of the cost, is a tool from the fascist toolbox. it is the opposite of the democratic ideal. What we are experiencing is not an accident. It is not a mistake. It is a design. A thriving democracy is impossible when the system is designed to be undemocratic [when you are done laughing with John Oliver, weep at Umberto Eco’s list of 14 common features of fascism].

In other news, upheaval makes systems change, real change, possible. Peeking out from my rock I can only hope that we-the-people, in this turbulent time, have both the will to show up at the polls AND the courage, resolve, and clarity to stick with it until we align our words with our actions, until we pull down the institutions that keep inequity and minority-rule the name of the game – until we expect our system and our elected leaders to actually believe in democracy.

It’s epic.

read Kerri’s blog post about EPIC

Compose Your Differences [on Flawed Wednesday]

give peace a chance copy

A quick glance at recorded human history and it’s not a stretch to suggest that we’ve done everything BUT give peace a chance. Peace, I imagine, is buried beneath the stacks of untouched gun control legislation towering on Mitch McConnell’s desk.

The centerfold of the June, 2020 National Geographic Magazine is a color-coded chart of the roots of violence across time with corresponding estimates of lives lost. Religious conflicts, wars of conquest, colonial exploitation and revolt, despots, dynastic disputes, wars of dominance, and internal clashes make up some of the variations of the theme. The two most relevant to our current struggle are internal clash and collapse of state.

In an us-and-them world, resources are worth fighting for. There’s not enough pie to go around apparently so taking other people’s pie is reason enough to kill. Defending pie is also reason to kill. It follows.

In 2011 Steven Pinker published a book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. He argues that violence has declined over time and provides a mountain of data and theories to support his contention. He suggests that we are not inherently violent. I find that hopeful.

Of course, the decline in violence can only be seen by stepping far enough away. These days it feels like the necessary step is into outer space. Up close and personal, and according to the narrative-of-the-day, we’re a bloody fighting mess. It’s the story we tell. Startlingly, we are living proof that data, fact, and science can’t hold a candle to conspiracy theory and narcissistic fantasy. Gullibility, thy name is human.

Here’s my two cents: war is profitable and peace is not. Make peace profitable and we’d give it more than a passing chance, we’d insist upon it. That sounds jaded but keep in mind that our lexicon includes the phrase “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower warned us against this unholy alliance, the marriage of defense contractors and the armed forces. It would become, he foretold, a threat to our democracy. “We must learn how to compose differences not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.”

Decent purpose.

The second of my two cents goes like this: we’ve built our castle on a bedrock economy of war. It’s a complex system and systems do not go gentle into that good night, they fight to the death to sustain themselves. Peace will have a chance when we decide to embrace a decent purpose and, ironically, that will probably require a fight.

In the meantime, we’ll see multiple conflicts fueled around the globe, military budgets that dwarf every other line item to fund the fighting. Locally, our leaders will douse us in endless thoughts and prayers as the next elementary school is shot up, we’ll see small differences of opinion settled by guns and not intellect, conversation, or simply agreeing to disagree [on a very sad and revealing note: the people at our local grocery store are timid to reinforce their mask policy for fear of being killed. And so, we see up close and personal the threat to our democracy that Eisenhower cried out to no one listening].

As for me, I do not wish to be covered by anyone with an assault rifle. I do not wish to have one pointed at me either. I do not think citizens in a civilized society need military grade weapons unless they are confined to the shooting range. I think a civilized society should operate on the principles it espouses, principles of civility and, yes, intellect and the most decent of purposes: peace.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about PEACE

 

 

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instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson