Humble Contributions to the Peoples' History

Posts tagged ‘Philosophy’

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.



Solace in the Face of Grief: Three Expressions of Comfort

In addition to experiencing the tragic loss of someone dear to us, grief visits us, as life sometimes overwhelms us with despair. As life events were making me feel that I had lost something, I realized I was experiencing feelings of grief. At first, I dismissed this notion as how could the loss of someone close compare with other tragedies? Nevertheless, I allowed myself to name the feelings as grief and look for comfort.

Years ago I came across a letter entitled Consolatio ad Uxorem  by Plutarch, a Greek who in 6111AD composed a letter of consolation to his wife on the loss of their two year-old daughter. I revisited the letter again to see if I could find comfort from what Plutarch had written so long ago.

With a close reading of his letter, I found three phrases that offered solace and peace.

“. . . something that you believe will make your grief easier to bear, that too you shall have, so it be done without excess or superstition . . . “

Plutach cautions his wife to beware of excess and superstition as the first steps toward reconciliation.  Experiencing grief, my emotions overcome logic and balance. Emotions flood my brain with excesses probably related with the flight or fight response. I find it almost impossible to draw on reason. It seems that these excesses compounded with superstition, which fosters the belief that one cause is linked to another without evidence, encourages illogical and discouraging thoughts to dominate. Thoughts cycle round and round, locked by emotions and driven by assumptions. Aware of this cycle, it is possible to disengaged from thinking in loops.

“any extravagance of distress in you, this will be more grievous to me”

In my feelings of grief, I’m constantly aware that if I allowed myself a selfish response by indulging grief, I would actually hurt people I am close to. This is not meant to say that we can’t let others know how we feel. Of course, we must do this, and loved ones want to offer comfort. Part of our comfort is accepting what others can give us, and sometimes holding back a bit of all that is overwhelming us might be a consideration. A friend of mind wisely once said when I suggested a disastrous possible outcome, “Don’t put that out in the air,” she said. I think what she meant is that some of our irrational thoughts gain momentum and validity, reinforcing what may not be helpful.

“we must not sit idle and shut ourselves in, paying for those pleasures with sorrows many times as great”

We can do nothing about some of the circumstances we find ourselves on this earth, such as living and dying. Sometimes injustices and life events are beyond our control. We can control our responses to these events. Should our grief overpower and destroy all the beautiful moments of life? Would our loved ones want us to suffer endlessly with their memory or difficult life outcomes? Does misfortune outweigh all the kindnesses shown us? How can we now bring some good on this earth by reaching out to others? We should not consider the small good a great evil, nor, because Fortune did not add what we hoped for, be ungrateful for what was given.

* * * * * * 

We experience lovely moments on this earth as we spin around the sun in the vast universe of emptiness. We are precious, for if we were found on a distant solar system, we would be celebrated as miraculous. We live on this planet after fourteen billion years as our universe continually expands at exactly the perfect rate. Supernovas create the elements necessary for life, and like the supernovas, we exist in a flash of time.

Plutarch comforts his wife to resist those manifestations that darken our thoughts leaving us unable to accept soothing influences. That is all we can do and all we must do, for our moments are precious and soon lost to the passage of time.

Enya ~ A Moment Lost

Two excellent links:

Part One, When You’re Grieving

Part Two, Helping a Grieving Friend

Giving thanks on Thanksgiving? No thanks!

With one statement, I’ve probably offended almost everyone about this most sacred cow of American holidays but I’m going to put it on the table  nonetheless. I am contemplating the implications of the concept of thankfulness and what it means to me. For a moment, I’m suspending the idea about being grateful to a “higher power,” as often thankfulness extends upward. For now I’m focusing on generic thankfulness in non-religious way.

Recently someone explained to me that when living under a monarchy, citizens are supposed to feel infinitely grateful for all that the king has bestowed upon them, which reminded me of the song from the King and I where Anna considers confronting the king about the continual ingratiating behavior of his subjects:

Everybody has to grovel to the King.
All that bowing and kowtowing  . . .
To remind you of your royalty

Recently a student posted a reply to an article in a college news forum about the first general assembly held at their college, modeled after how the Occupy groups use general assembly as method of bringing greater voice to all participants. She remarked that complainers and discontents filled the assembly. She argued that students should realize how lucky they were and how grateful they should be for the privilege of attending their college.

When I was working on the living wage campaign at Swarthmore College, a comment we frequently heard was that employees should be grateful that they had jobs, let alone a job with a living wage.

The common thread through these instances has me pondering the question: is it wise to extend thankfulness to any person or institution?

The problem with being grateful is that it serves as a convenient excuse to keep the status quo. We get uncomfortable when change is threatened. Being thankful soothes and placates the mind to consider or act on greater possibilities. A mindset that allows us to accept our “losses” also cajoles us by thinking that surely someone out there is worse off than ourselves. If I say,  “I am so thankful for the food on this table,” the implication is . . .  compared with what? . . . little children in Darfur? So by the fates that have fallen on us, we are fed while others go hungry and so we are thankful that WE have food?

We could use a new tradition to replace thankfulness, as the danger lurks right beneath all that heartfelt sentiment that this is the best we can do now. Rather, we might consider giving each other encouragement in our endeavors. If Dad cooks a great Thanksgiving meal, mention specifically what you enjoyed or ask about the ingredients. When Mom receives help with the dishes, she doesn’t have to reply with “thank you.” She can just acknowledge how nice it is to have help or company in the kitchen.

We neither have to grovel for favors granted nor expect thanks but rather acknowledge that we can share moments of equality that we all contribute to each other’s well-being. Happiness, optimism and compassion replaces gratefulness. Love what you do rather than expecting praise and thanks, which act as false rewards. Acknowledge what we have done to make the world a better place and renew our commitments and responsibilities. On a day that we come together and share our food with family and friends we can enjoy Thanksgiving more fully because we’re not beholding to the customary and clichéd expressions of gratitude.

And if this philosophy works for you, no need to send me a thank you note.

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