Search [on Flawed Wednesday]

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I’m a broken record: words matter. They are rarely accidental. For instance, the division between “black” and “white” was created. Our racial legacy is not happenstance. It is by design.

Power does not like to be challenged or threatened and strategies of division are great mechanisms of control. Taking pride-in-ignorance is another – it is a terrific support strategy if discord is the goal. An ignorant people are easily misled.

We enact and reenact Bacon’s rebellion again and again. It is a vicious cycle, a whirlpool that is hard to escape without a clear view of the full story. History, like language, is never passive, it comes with a dedicated point of view – and so we are witness once again to the great narrative tug-of-war.  We could drop the rope if we decided to look at our history, ask a few questions, and perhaps see the narrative slop that the fox and friends are force feeding to white fear as just the latest iteration of an old, old scare tactic.

Misinformation is nothing new. Propaganda is as old as human history. It is the downfall of a critter unique in its need for an identifying narrative to believe almost anything if it provides a sense of belonging. People who refuse to take a step back and ask, “Is this true?” will buy almost any line. Fear is a narrative with an agenda so what-on-earth prevents otherwise thinking people from considering that the daily dose of fear they are being fed might be cooked up intentionally? Trading brains for belonging never works out well in the end.

Black and white. Red and blue. We have a pattern, not a problem.

A people united are an unstoppable force and the worst nightmare of identity politicians.  People unite when their ideals – things like freedom and truth and justice and equality – transcend their small identity bubbles.  Ideals are unattainable – that is what gives them their special uniting capacity. We strive. It’s an active verb with an inclusive pronoun.

Hate and fear – all things divisive – are easily attained. That’s what makes them so useful to despots and control-mongers. Keep the thinking small and encapsulated within the tiny bubble. It will keep the people warring among themselves with no questions asked.

How do we move beyond this pattern and rise above the incessant division that plagues us? Well, we must first desire to see the pattern. We must choose to see. Then, we might be capable of revisiting the words we placed as central to our national ideal and choose to live them. Our words matter. That might require a few challenging questions.

It will definitely require a good deal of soul searching and that’s not such a bad thing. Nations, like people, grow and become better when they grow weary of their dysfunction and go looking for their soul.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about Explicitly Divisive

 

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surrender now ©️ 2016 david robinson

Love Your Language [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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You know the old joke: two priests are having an argument so they take their debate to the Pope. The first priest writes to the Pope and asks if it is okay to smoke while praying and the Pope answers “No!” The second priest writes and asks the question this way: is it okay to pray while smoking? The Pope responds, “Of course!”

Language matters. In our current world, inundated as we are with marketers and media – language packed with agenda – it seems we are especially dulled to the power of a few words [or the exclusion of a few details] to shape our actions and opinions. We are easily led. Easily divided. Easily provoked to Facebook frenzy.

The way we frame questions determines the possibilities we see or the possibilities we do not see. That is why it is a mistake for us to frame the questions of our troubled times as either/or questions. To defund the police or not defund the police?  Fear or faith? Us or them? Liberal or conservative? Which is it?

None of the questions we face are simplistic. None can be addressed – or should be approached – with black and white thinking. We’ll only see the poles and miss the million shades of gray in-between.

Leaders that divide-to-rule are especially fond of a rhetoric featuring only two options. They play angel/devil games: there are angels and there are devils and since everyone thinks they are the angel, it is an automatic role assignment to anyone with an opposing point of view. It doesn’t matter what side you are on, the agenda is division so mission accomplished! Language matters.

I’ve heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. It is fear. Fear splits even the greatest hearts and minds like so much kindling. It creates enmity within and, therefore, enmity without. It reduces and makes the complex things – like listening to others – impossible. It demands that meaning be made before the experience is had – and so it is a rally of made-up monsters.

So,  the opposite of fear? It creates goodwill. Within and, therefore, without. It unites. It embraces and expands and includes. It makes no assumptions. It listens. It ultimately surrounds fear and makes meaning after having the experience and, in that way, relieves the troubled mind of its monsters. It has the capacity to hold a full spectrum of color and options (sometimes known as possibilities). It knows that there is more to this universe than angels and devils can allow. And so, just to be clear in my use of language: the opposite of fear has no opposites. That’s precisely what makes it much harder to grasp than fear. Fear is easy to achieve. Love is an ongoing relationship and has no end.

Language matters. The genius of our system, as it was once imagined, was to allow for opposing points of view to come together in an action called “compromise.” It was designed with complexity in mind. It was intended to pull all perspectives toward a common center, a middle way. An idealist might call that – a common center – something akin to love.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LOVE>Fear

 

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Say It Over And Over and Over…[on DR Thursday]

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While Kerri plays the service, I often sit in the choir loft and scribble images on the back of old bulletins. On the left side of this sketch (not visible in the crop) is a running stream of words, ohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohpleaseohplease…

I’ve been playing with words as images a lot in the past few years. The words become pattern, the repetition renders the symbols meaningless-as-language but potent-as-design. I love pattern for this very reason. Too much repetition dulls the eyes and mind and in the dulling, something new emerges. It is how a good ritual works: dance fervently the pattern until you drop. Exhaustion opens the door to let in the spirit.

Pray hard enough and often enough and the words become meaningless. It is exactly at the point of meaninglessness, that perception shifts and something new rushes in. Saul-the-Tai-Chi-master would say it this way: wrestle with the obstacle long enough and you will eventually give up. In giving up, in your defeat, you just might glance beyond the obstacle and, at last, see the field of possibility.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about SCRIBBLES

 

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the sketch is a sketch and not useful and may be pirated and spread widely all over the world so feel free to insert it into your recipes or instagram or populate the cover of your technology with it or send it to china without guilt.

 

instrument of peace ©️ 2015 david robinson

Get There [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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It is what I love about language: a single word can have two diametrically opposed meanings. I am nonplussed. Read that as you will.

If anyone tells you that communication between people is easy, they are either lying or trying to sell you something you do not need. Communication is hard. Sometimes it is impossible. Doubt me? Chuck the word ‘socialism’ into the public square and watch the fight. One word, a mass of angry or positive associations. Communication will always leave you nonplussed.

Language – words – are imprecise and malleable. They are never passive, that is, people us their words to get something (get understanding, get an idea across,  get their way…). Language is a tool of intention. Language is a tool of story. The story raging inside your head or outside is intentional. Self-talk and Other-talk – both – are in hot pursuit of something (being right, being seen, being valued…). Achieving the intention or not will inevitably leave you nonplussed.

Nonplussed seems like a good intention to pursue. Either way you go, you get there.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about NONPLUSSED

 

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Turn The Phrase [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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I just read this phrase and laughed aloud: Conversation in English is often full of phrases not to be taken literally.

It’s the word ‘often’ that got me chuckling. I’d have been more sober if ‘always’ had been the adverb. Conversation in English is always full of phrases not to be taken literally.

My head exploded! She turned the tables on me! You don’t say! I’ll be dogged. It’s nothing to sneeze at! It’s more than you can shake a stick at! I’d rather stick needles in my eyes!

Isn’t it the best of paradoxes? Language, at it’s best, is inexact. It is referential. It can only point toward experience.  It’s why we have legal opinions, religious debates and news pundits that scream at each other.  It’s why we have differing points of view.

“I didn’t say that!”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Just what are you implying?”

Nothing. No thing. The absence of a thing. The absence of a thought (in English, a thought, however fleeting, is a noun, a thing).

Of course, in it’s inexactness, there is also an infinity of space. There is as much reason to reach, to ask, to discover as there is to push, negate, or differ. To put down your end of the rope. To shake hands not make fists. A common ground.

Word for word. Line for line. To the letter. It’s never black and white. In a toxic time, a poisoned well. Find the middle way. Heart felt. We need not stab each other in the back. Kill two birds with one stone. Pull your head out of the sand. It’s a piece of cake. It literally blew me away. They put down their swords. They reached across the aisle.

Well I’ll be! How ’bout them apples?

 

read Kerri’s blog post BOUT THEM APPLES

 

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Consider Context [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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It’s an idiom. A turn of phrase. When push comes to shove. The moment when a decision must be made. Look it up and you’ll read that the expression carries a connotation of escalation. Shoving is more aggressive than pushing.

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation.

Like all idioms (or all words, for that matter) context is everything. We saw this phrase on a billboard. It is a campaign promoting civility at a time when civility seems in short supply. We liked it and thought it would be a good quote for Merely-A-Thought-Monday. Context: Civility.

Google the phrase and you’ll discover the disease that plagues us. Namely, the lack of capacity to consider context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to recognize context. Or, perhaps, no capacity to consider a context that differs from one’s own. The top of your Google search will reveal a rage of opposition to the billboard promoting civility.  Shove harder. “…so basically they’re telling you let the son of a b$&@? push you around…”

Wow. It’s an idiom. Context: Civility.

To be fair, a scroll down the Google chain includes motivational stories, a dance piece by Twyla Tharp, more links to PassItOn.com images and tv spots, a song by The Grateful Dead, a lyric by Rascal Flatts. A festival of differing contexts and usages of this phrase when push comes to shove.

Here are a few other idioms: where the rubber meets the road. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When the chips are down…, When the dust settles…, When in Rome…

A moment of decision. On the threshold of escalation. Context matters.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about CIVILITY

 

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Be A Dandy [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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I’ve noticed that my son, Craig, uses old fashioned words in his texts like, “indeed” and “certainly.” I delight in his collision of proper usage in a medium that regularly slays grammar and reduces communication to pre-written-language symbol (now known as an emoji).

Recently, Craig surprised me with a new pair of walking shoes. When they arrived on our doorstep I was painting so was wearing my paint-splattered-worn-to-death-grubby clothes when I tried on my cool new shoes. They immediately elevated my status and felt really good, too! I told Kerri that I was a dandy from the ankles down. “Don’t get carried away,” she said. She has grown accustomed to my usual unmade-bed style of dress.

this dandy product box copyI wrote Craig telling him that I loved my shoes. “Truly!” I added as a nod to his parlance.

“Ha!” he replied, “Happy random Monday.”

Ha, indeed! Now, it’s time for a proper walk!

 

 

read Kerri’s blog post about DANDY

www.kerrianddavid.com

dandy ©️ 2018 kerri sherwood & david robinson

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.