Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Philosophy’

Running with Abandon

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Alexandra, my three-year old great-niece, jumped in the waves as they slapped against the shore, sometimes even knocking her over. Alex held my hand tightly as the anticipation of the rolling force tossed her into the foam. We returned to the blanket to dry off, but almost immediately Alex was off and running along the shoreline, nonstop, her little legs carrying her swiftly across the sand. I said to myself, “This is good exercise for me,” as I shadowed her down the beach.

IMG_1629When I returned home, and thought about our beach run, it occurred to me that I missed something that Alex was experiencing: running with abandon. She didn’t have an exercise goal, she didn’t care how she looked or where she was going, and she selected her own winding path between waves and sand, stopping when a shell or cast-off shovel caught her eye. Alex employs no time restraints, thinking that the running should consist a certain percentage of her time on the beach. There is no time. Adults make everything purposeful, even if we have to invent the purpose.

I realize that we can also run with joy, propelled forward by our own energy. Forget the calorie counting, health benefits and anything else that gives direction to our actions. Just let loose and run joyfully–like a three year-old.

Scale: The “Big Chair” and the Metaphor

What’s the big deal about a chair? Well, actually, because this chair is big, about four times as large as a normal chair, and a work of art that has taken on a life of its own. Jake Beckman, a student at Swarthmore College, conceived and built the original chair, which found a place among the other normal-sized Adirondack chairs that dot the stretch of lawn in front of the main hall on campus. The iconic chair even appeared on the Colbert Report.

Several years ago the original chair fell apart and was quietly removed from the lawn. However, the campus community, becoming attached to the Big Chair, clamored to bring the chair back. Jake agreed to return to rebuild the structure, and the chair resumed its place with the others.

I guess I wasn’t the only one beginning to think metaphorically about the Big Chair. Some unnamed inventives would come by during the night leaving the chairs in different arrangements, such as the Big Chair leading a line of the other chairs or the Big Chair in the middle of a circle. One morning the Big Chair stood upright while a semicircle of normal chairs tipped down in front of the Big Chair.

Now I was thinking hard. The chairs assumed the metaphor for power dynamics .  .  . and not just at Swarthmore! I thought about “Big Chair” people, folks that tell us what to do or think: politicians, pundits, advertisers, bosses, CEOs, presidents, board of directors .  .  .  and I’m sure you can think of many more. Do we perceive these folks as big in influence, power, authority, wealth and get drawn into a mindset that binds us to a deferential attitude? Many normal chairs sit on the lawn–there is strength in numbers when we act collectively. And normal-sized chairs serve a real function. We wouldn’t make 25 more Big Chairs.

On reflection, perhaps we do need the Big Chair–reminding us to keep the right perspective.

Serenity, the Gift

Serenity comes upon us when the vastness of our planet rises before us. We see ourselves as part of the miracle we call earth. It’s as if the universe is sending us a message that we belong to this place and time. When we stand alone by the seaside, we are not lonely. The moment stretches into an imaginary eternity as the waves return to the shore and the clouds pass away. We are alive, and we experience this transcendent gift in a moment of serenity.

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Word Press Photo Challenge: Serenity

Lending a Hand

How Social Services Provide the Mechanism to Help our Fellow Citizens

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Photo Credit: Mercury Press & Media Limited Link

Did you see the news article from Australia where commuters spontaneously joined together to tilt the train so that a man could free his leg wedged in the gap? It was a heartwarming story of folks, seeing a catastrophe unfolding, pitching in to help the person who could not help himself.

In the case of the trapped commuter, the humanitarian response seems obvious. Unfortunately, the metaphor of assisting others who are on the brink of disaster, does not always carry over with the same compassionate response toward folks who must rely on social services. I am often amazed that some of the kindest and most giving people on a personal level, who are so willing to offer their help to friends and family in need, either through church groups or civil associations, turn away in contempt when it comes to their more distant neighbors and fellow citizens. It would be arrogant on our part to assume that we can understand the complexities of various disabilities, such as schizophrenia, autism, addiction, depression or bi-polar. Compounded on these disabilities are the social scars from dysfunctional families or just plain bad luck. We must not scapegoat on those who are most vulnerable. Therefore, as a society we come together to help these folks, in a concerted way, through policy and practice of social services, rather than charity.

Some feel that people on welfare or needing food stamps are getting a free ride at their expense. Media outlets with an agenda supporting corporate welfare, cast those who need help as undeserving, making up false accusations, such as their refusing to work, and this propaganda fuels the fire of hatred. If we look at the statistics, fraud and abuses are relatively minor. Sharing the facts about low fraud, however, does little to move those who have come to believe that folks that require social services are moochers. Some even point to owning a refrigerator or microwave as evidence that no one is really poor. It’s as if they want to believe the visceral and dehumanizing rhetoric regardless of the truth.

If we do nothing to help the poor or disabled, that in itself is an abuse. Government assistance is an organized attempt to offer an ethical solution to poverty, and it is in the best interests of all citizens that we attempt to ameliorate the conditions of poverty. Otherwise, we face increased illness and crime, deterioration of the family structure, and a workforce unprepared for skilled jobs. Scapegoating on the down trodden blames these victims of circumstance, most of whom were born into their situation.

It’s the multi-million dollar corporations which steal from citizens. Economic elites have significant impact on U.S. government policy, while average citizens have little or no influence. Corporations hire lawyers to figure every way to dodge our taxes, while still benefiting from working on U.S. soil.

I believe in pulling together to tilt the train to help those caught in the throes of poverty, illness or despair. We must support each other for the health of the society and for ourselves, as it is in our own self-interest to help others. We are all workers, and an injury to one is an injury to all.

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Meddling: Our Weakness or Strength?

Lark Rise to Candleford

My favorite PBS show from the BBC this season is not Downton Abbey, but rather Lark Rise to Candleford, a costume drama set near the end of the 19th century in the Oxfordshire hamlet of Lark Rise and neighboring town of Candleford. The BBC adapted the series from a trilogy of semi-autobiographic novels written by Flora Thompson, published between 1939 and 1943. What sets Lark Rise apart from other costume dramas, where sometimes the characters come across as self-centered and petty, the folks of Lark Rise seem genuine as they struggle to find the right path, even if their best attentions sometimes fall short. The program shows human frailty tenderly as the characters search for answers to their challenges in difficult times.

Because I am a big fan of EastEnders, the popular, gritty British soap opera, I laughed when I read this review of Lark Rise in The Guardian, “A rural Victorian EastEnders with telegram deliveries instead of murders.”  Whereas EastEnders offers an intriguing and somewhat addicting storyline in an unending series of hopelessly agitated characters, unable to find one modicum of mindfulness in response to each other’s failings, Lark Rise characters offer philosophical insights to the latest crisis. Those insights often happen through the humblest character.

Shall We Assist?

In this recent episode, Season 4, Episode 1, the townsfolk accused Dorcas Lane, main character and post mistress, as meddling in everyone’s business, causing untold distress. Dorcas, who consistently affirms that she only has one weakness, whether it is banbury cakes, feather pillows or baths, decides that this weakness of meddling must be addressed, and she vows to no longer interfere in her neighbor’s lives. The problem she almost immediately faces is whether to step into a situation in which she could be genuinely helpful. Standing on the edge of disaster seems cowardly but backing off from her commitment also seems like a half-hearted effort to check her interference. I won’t give away how the rest of the story unfolds, but this theme gave me pause.

What factors do we measure when to step into a situation. Of course, if someone asks us to help, we can without hesitation. What about if someone cannot see their situation objectively, overcome with emotion? After careful thought, can we offer assistance in form of advice, money or help? How do we assess how any of our generous offers might affect outcomes? We might ask ourselves if somehow this offering of advice plays into our own ego. Are we giving advice to sound important or because we feel we have the authority to do so? Are we responding to a dangerous situation that needs immediate attention? It takes courage to speak up in unjust situations where our input may not be welcome.

Offering advice is a difficult negotiation with only a few guidelines. Like Dorcas, best not to make hard and fast rules but rather carefully evaluate the factors in each situation. We may not always get it right, but a thoughtful response might offer folks in our times some comfort and help.

Lark Rise Celtic Tune

Links

Lark Rise to Candleford, E-Book

Lark Rise to Candleford on Youtube

Pinterest Collection of Pictures

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Christmas Episode
Inclusive of ghosts, as Brits like so much at the holidays!

Gun Control, A Citizen Speaks Up, Part 8

Christmas Day 2012

The National Rifle Association’s 4 million mothers, fathers, sons and daughters join the nation in horror, outrage, grief and earnest prayer for the families of Newtown, Connecticut . . .

Wayne Lapierre, NRA Press Conference, December 21, 2012

Outrage?, grief? Really?

Last summer my great niece, Valeta, aged 4, and I had a conversation about sincerity and what that means. Seems like a complicated subject for a four-year old, but she listened intently to my explanation of what it meant to be sincere. I told her about the frog I have in my garden. He is called the “Heartfelt Frog” for he holds his hands to his heart and looks up toward the sky. I explained to Valeta that sincerity means honestly saying how you actually feel and how the frog earned “heartfelt” because his sentiments came from his heart. I demonstrated by placing my hands on my heart. Valeta immediately shadowed my actions and held her hands to her heart.

Five months went by, and one day Valeta asked my sister, her grandmother, if she could visit the heartfelt frog in my garden. We live a long distance from each other so this Christmas I painted her a picture for her room.

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Does the spokespearson for the NRA feel a sense of true loss for these families? These losses are tragically painful. And if the NRA’s response was truly heartfelt, they would assume responsibility to correct the injustice of these deaths. Does the NRA understand that their actions in support of all weapons is responsible for the deaths of 30,000 people in the United State every year? Being heartfelt means that an utterance of expression of grief and outrange translates to acts that promises reconciliation and correction.

A four-year old can understand this; for the the NRA, they are forever locked in their selfish pursuit of pleasure at the expense of the on-going tragedies of gun deaths for the rest of us.

Gun Control: A Citizen Speaks Up, Part 4

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over 500 children a year will walk into oblivion from gun fire

The Ethics of Gun Control: Answering to a Higher Calling

The Dalai Lama equates ethical behavior and non-harming. Ethical conduct avoids suffering. We will achieve true happiness when our actions reflect compassion and do not hurt others.

How do we think about situations in which our happiness conflicts with the happiness of others? Does our happiness cause others hurt or anxiety, and in turn does that hurt to others come to haunt us? We must come face to face with how our actions and desires affect our fellow human beings. We must remain compassionate and carefully consider how even sacred traditions and long-held beliefs may be detrimental to others. This rethinking takes time and calls for the rejection of many thoughts and understandings that we might hold dear to us. We might consider how our past entitlements have caused injury or hurt to others or to ourselves.

The “Big Chair” and the Metaphore Bigger than its Presence

Perspectives on an Adirondack Chair

What’s the big deal about a chair? Well, actually, because this chair is big, about four times as large as a normal chair, and a work of art that has taken on a life of its own. Jake Beckman, a student at Swarthmore College, conceived and built the original chair, which found a place among the other normal-sized Adirondack chairs that dot the stretch of lawn in front of the main hall on campus. The iconic chair even appeared on the Colbert Report.

Several years ago the original chair fell apart and was quietly removed from the lawn. However, the campus community, becoming attached to the Big Chair, clamored to bring the chair back. Jake agreed to return to rebuild the structure, and the chair resumed its place with the others.

I guess I wasn’t the only one beginning to think metaphorically about the Big Chair. Some unnamed inventives would come by during the night leaving the chairs in different arrangements, such as the Big Chair leading a line of the other chairs or the Big Chair in the middle of a circle. One morning the Big Chair stood upright while a semicircle of normal chairs tipped down in front of the Big Chair.

Now I was thinking hard. The chairs assumed the metaphor for power dynamics .  .  . and not just at Swarthmore! I thought about “Big Chair” people, folks that tell us what to do or think: politicians, pundits, advertisers, bosses, CEOs, presidents, board of directors .  .  .  and I’m sure you can think of a lot more. Do we perceive these folks as big in influence, power, authority, wealth and get drawn into a mindset that binds us to a deferential attitude? Many normal chairs sit on the lawn–there is strength in numbers when we act collectively. And normal-sized chairs serve a real function. We wouldn’t make 25 more Big Chairs.

On reflection, perhaps we do need the Big Chair–reminding us to keep the right perspective.

The Wren’s Vanishing Act

Every morning I hurriedly climb a back staircase to get to the office to begin another day of work. A week ago a small brown bird danced along the hand rail as I came up the steps. The little bird stood her ground. I admired her defiance.

On the second morning, she was back flitting between a nearby tree and the railing. The night before I checked my bird book and identified her as a House Wren, with her turned up tail and warbling tweetie song. I thought she must have a nest somewhere. I looked in the tree and scanned the walls of the building to see if twigs might be sticking out from a light fixture or downspout, but no such signs appeared.

Checking the Internet, I learned that Wrens can build their nests in strange places. A cavity nest builder, their nests turn up in abandoned bee hives, old hats, tin cans or flower pots. I couldn’t see any such cavities in the area.

On the third morning, the Wren appeared again. This time I watched her from the window on the second floor. Surprisingly, the little Houdini just disappeared! I had to get a closer look to discover the magic trick.

I inspected the railing and found a tiny opening between the pieces of metal. Evidently her brood had already hatched judging from the beak full of breakfast she prepared.

Her magic disappearing act worked well as almost no one noticed her on the stairway–until those babies started squawking, drawing attention to themselves. I guess a loud voice trumps discretion for the young ones.

As I rise and fall on the steps, I think about the deliberate actions of the parent Wren on the railing and the little ones tucked in the metal encasement. I wonder at their place on the staircase, intentions as deliberate as mine heading to the office.

Drawing Inspiration from the I.W.W. and the Free Speech Fights 1908-1917

The working conditions at the turn of the century placed workers under incredible hardships as they faced both health and safety risks on the job. At that time, half of all worker deaths occurred in two industries—coal mining and railroading. Around 1900 between 25-35,000 deaths and one million injuries per year occurred on industrial jobs. In the Pacific states a lumberyard or camp worker earned on the average 14 cents an hour with working hours averaging 61 per week. Employees had to sign a contract to waive all rights to damages in case of injury or death. Migratory workers depended on hopping on freight cars to follow employment opportunities across. Railroads estimated that 500,000 hoboes at any given time were attempting to board the trains. Migrant workers made up a large percentage of the 24,000 trespassers who were killed and 25,00 injured on the railway lines just from 1901 to 1904.

Understanding that the root of this misery rested in the capitalist system, workers established a new kind of labor union.  The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) believed in organizing all workers. Ahead of their time, the Wobblies refused to accept the society’s racial, ethnic and class prejudices and welcomed the most dispossessed into their ranks. They possessed a revolutionary spirit which provided the catalyst to create greater democracy through worker participation.

The I.W.W. organized the free speech initiatives to prove that direct action was the mechanism to stand up to the Establishment on labor rights. The system threw every weapon at the I.W.W., and the courts, police, newspapers, even encouraging mob rule. The politicians and industrialists formed alliances to protect their business interests and profits.

The public sometimes becomes confused with the rhetoric and propaganda of I.W.W. opponents who claimed that the organization despised the Constitution and rejected traditional American values and ideals. To understand this criticism it is important to differentiate between economic and political systems. Capitalism is an economic system, and the U.S. Constitution provides no support for any economic system. The I.W.W. rejected the elitist business interests of the capitalistic class in favor of workers. Elites labeled the I.W.W. unpatriotic because the membership refused to fight against their fellow workers in other countries. Translated: the I.W.W. is a bastion of democratic principles and follows an ethical philosophy of the highest calling: to join in solidarity with all workers and put an end to war.

 

 

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