Essay

Ignorance May Be Bliss…

but ignorance of how ignorant we are may be causing much of our conflict…

I just read an interesting article about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It describes a common form of confirmation bias in which it isn’t so much what we don’t know that is the problem, but the overestimation of what we think we do know that is… That made an incredible amount of sense to me.

Let’s face it, we’re all guilty of confirmation bias to one extent or another. I know I am. Whether it’s in our perceptive bias (selective perception that primarily notices what we expect to find), our cognitive bias (more readily accepting as “fact” what we already believe to be true), or emotional bias (interpreting events to fit our current mood), we all shape reality according to pre-conceived notions. It’s simply how we are constructed. Our brains make connections based on connections already established; if it fits, it sticks. But what happens when you don’t know that you don’t know something? Worse yet, you don’t actually know something you think you do?!

Chaos rules…

How many others here have found themselves (recently!) shaking their head in bewilderment at something someone else said or did? I don’t mean simple confusion, or disbelief, but a deep-down, profound sense of wtf?! I can hear your thoughts here as clearly as my own, that moment when your inner dialogue sounds like this:

“Really?! Like seriously?! You didn’t just [say/do] that, did you?!”

The actions of the person we are interacting with are simply incomprehensible to us! We cannot even imagine…

THAT moment is a Dunning-Kruger moment… Either the person we are dealing with is downright delusional about reality, or we are. Either way, someone truly doesn’t grasp their own ignorance about the matter at hand.

I know I’m guilty of being on both sides of that equation. I recently heard myself “lecturing” my co-workers about something I strongly believed to be true. I sensed the resistance of at least one in the room, though she chose not to challenge me. The others all radiated validation my way, except one who chose to question my biases. It was then I heard myself admit, “of course, these are all just my opinion; there is no logical reason for you to accept them as anything else. I know I sound like I know what I’m talking about, but that’s just the confidence with which I express all my viewpoints you hear. I could be wrong. And if you can show me where I’m wrong, I’m more than willing to listen…”

The conversation moved on to other things after that. But that memory stuck with me. “Arrogance” is a word often used to describe me, and I can’t honestly deny it, though I would prefer to mute it. More like confident in my intelligence, my ability to grasp both abstract and actual “truths,” and make reasonable, sensible connections between them. But I understand that my basic premises may be wrong, that my intellectual bias may be leading me astray, that I may not have my “facts” straight at all. But to have to add that qualification to every “point” I make in a discussion makes any such debate cumbersome at best, pointless at worst. For how can we “learn” anything, if every sentence we utter begins with “I may not know what I’m talking about, but…”

Much better, in my opinion, to have someone challenge my assertions, point out where I’ve led myself astray. If your facts, reason, logic, or bias makes more sense after questioning, then I have no problem adjusting my point of view to be more in alignment with yours; I am quite capable of admitting I am “wrong” and you are “right.”

But if no one ever challenges me…? Or if those who do have nothing more to offer than insults and insistence on their own point of view, regardless of any contradictions or alternative ideas I might challenge them with…?

Then no true exchange of views, no “learning,” is possible. Right? Or am I missing something obvious here? Lol!

I’m not sure what the solution might be. I’m not even sure a solution exists! I can’t actually think for someone else, any more than I can make decisions about what might be best for them. But I can better discipline myself, and my own thought patterns. And I think it’s time to make a conscious effort to do so.

So, for a time anyway, I’m going to make a effort to add those annoying, cumbersome qualifiers to any discussion I have about “reality.” Maybe I won’t say them out loud all the time (since some already resent the number of words I use to express my point of view – lol!), but to myself, at least. While conversing with these people who make me want to tear my hair out in frustration, I will continuously repeat the mantra:

Ignorance may be bliss, but ignorance of my ignorance is not going to exacerbate this!

Or, in simpler, less verbiose terms…

I could be wrong here…

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Essay, Reflections

“The snakes are coming!! Step away from the road!”…

“Knowledge” is a peculiar thing, really.  I mean, if you think about it.  There are different ways of “knowing” and different levels of “what is known” (aka knowledge).  At some point (and I can’t say when or where with any consistency or accuracy), hunches, intuitions, dreams, prophecies, facts, data, and wisdom somehow combine and/or crystallize into “knowledge.”  And by doing so, said hunches, intuitions, dreams, prophecies, facts, data and/or wisdom become something else entirely.  They become real…

Perhaps that’s all there is to it, then.  Maybe.  Maybe it’s as simple as becoming “real,” and “knowledge” (that which is known) is the accumulation of what has become real.  In which case the transformation between supposition and belief into knowledge occurs entirely at the quantum level, when an actual path is “chosen” and made real…

What intrigues me about this possibility is that all true “knowledge” becomes past tense the instant it transforms into said knowledge; no longer a possibility or a choice, but a path already taken.  Hmm…

Why does any of this matter now anyway (other than to amuse my self)?  Because this is the time of year when prophecies abound, when speculation looms heavy in the public mind, when everyone looks forward to what may be coming, and tries to position themselves accordingly.  We are a forward looking species, who make decisions and resolutions based on past occurances.  Trusting, somehow, that there is a consistency or pattern to reality such that there will be similarities between how things happened before, and how they are developing now.

It’s not our fault, really; it’s simply how our minds work.  We (humans, anyway) reason by analogy.  We see “patterns,” and those patterns allow us to extrapolate, to draw conclusions.  Not always accurate, of course, but accurate enough to allow us to learn.  And we are not the only species capable of such learning, though we often credit ourselves with being the “best” at it.  Higher order thinking.  Cause and effect.  Symbolic representation.  These are hallmarks of human existence, though not limited to human use exclusively.

There is a saying (I have no idea who to credit with it) that says “insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.”  And “insanity” is, by definition, irrational; it does not make “sense,” it does not pass “go” or collect $200.  “Insanity” is the antithesis of reason and/or knowledge.

Or is it?

Because if reason is based on analogy, then it is, in fact, learning gained by mimicking past maneuvers.  Knowledge itself may be a past tense phenomenon.  So perpetuating “bad” ideas, habits of thought and action, and mistaken assumptions would be par for the course.

To be fair, of course, the key word in the saying is not “insanity” but “same.”  It acknowledges that true learning occurs when subtle changes are introduced, prompting different outcomes.  Sometimes those changes are not subtle at all, revolutionizing both our thoughts and our actions, and creating a whole “new” system of belief, action, choice and knowledge.  People (and their circumstances) can change…

Maybe…

***     ***     ***

So I’m wandering through this world today, observing Others (as I tend to do), and I notice things.  I notice, for example, that people are swinging on vines of belief between extreme certainty and extreme confusion.  The world we live in has become so adept at denying “reality” and sowing doubt that humans cannot seem to accumulate anything resembling knowledge.  They vacillate between shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads in defeat, and defending, vociferously, that which directly opposes the observable.  Red is not blue, and blue is not red, no matter how much you want to believe, or how loudly (or meanly) you defend your point of view; it simply isn’t -period.

But the real confusion and chaos arises from the “fact” that it isn’t any one group or individual swinging between these extremes, but everyone!  Every single human I meet today exhibits these symptoms – one minute totally confused and unsure of what to expect, and the next minute defending the indefensible belief most currently guiding their actions!  Myself included, as I recently heard myself explaining to someone that my words, however confidently they were presented, should be taken as my opinion only; I don’t know anything, but I have lots of beliefs and opinions…

“Fake news.” “False flags.” “Doubt everything!”  “Research yourself.” “Ulterior motives.”  “Trust no one!”  Clarion calls and slogans for the “new age” of enlightenment.  And impossible to implement.  How do you truly research anything, when all data, all information, is merely an expression of someone’s beliefs?  How can knowledge exist if no one can make a decision about what is “real,” or if we cannot agree on those basic assumptions?  We can’t.  We can only create and defend our own little worlds.  But we cannot change others’ without some willingness or ability to achieve consensus.  And that would entail accepting belief and opinion over knowledge.  Until that belief and opinion transformed into knowledge…

But then, knowledge would not equal Truth…

So be it…  And change, if it is to be achieved, must occur pre-knowledge, proliferating only in the realm of supposition, belief and opinion.  Hunches, intuitions, dreams, prophecies become seeds of potential change; when acted upon they find resonance and connection in the “real” world, creating facts and data, acceptance of which mimics “wisdom.”  And when all of that combines into a quantum choice, “knowledge” is born…

***     ***     ***

I had a series of dreams today, all vaguely connected, though dreamed seperately.  They seem relevant to this discussion somehow…

Dream 1:  I am at some sort of huge gathering of people with my “group” (family, friends, tribe or clan).  Everyone is excited about what is about to transpire; hope, love and happiness infect the crowds like drugs or disease.  I’m wandering around, observing, but not engaging.  Eventually I arrive at where my group is gathered, unpacking for the upcoming events…

I notice at once that they are annoyed with me, even angry.  They tell me my role, my purpose within the group, is to speak (the/my) truth, to “inform” them about what is happening, and what is coming.  They are angry about my continued silence…

I try to explain that no one is listening, that no one wants to hear what I have to say, that I am simply wasting my breath when I try… but that does not appease them.  So I give in, I capitulate, I begin to speak of what I “know.”

And they completely ignore me, refusing to acknowledge even the sound of my voice, much less what I’m saying.  I carry on, valiantly trying to speak and be heard over the crowd and their personal chatter, but I fail.  So I wander off, to be woken by my cat entering my dream to get my attention; I wake to find my cat waiting expectantly, as it’s my normal time to arise…

Dream 2: (only vaguely remembered, as it was sandwiched between the other two)  I am somewhere with a small group of people, in proximity, if not in thought.  I am coloring, filling in patterns with colors that please me, not worried at all if they reflect reality.  Others around me are doing the same.  We occasionally glance at each others’ pictures, commenting on color choices and such, but none are affected by the others’ opinions, content to carry on in our own creations.  I am very happy…

Dream 3:  Another huge gathering on a beautiful day, only this one is not organized.  This is small groups – families, couples, individuals – out enjoying lovely weather in a pretty city park and surrounding streets.  Everyone is focused on who they are with, though pleasantly acknowledging others who cross their path.  The weather begins to change, skies darkening and wind rising…

I hear a distant announcement, barely audible above the sounds of crowd and wind, warning people. “The snakes are coming; step away from the road!”  Most people around me seem not to hear it, or react to it…

In my mind’s eye I see a water containment system (a dam, levee or water tank) let go, and a flood of water rushes down the main street, washing away everything in its path.  I realize the announcement is attempting to save lives, though most are oblivious.  A few random individuals have picked up the message and are attempting to pass it on, telling everyone they pass that the snakes are coming, as they, themselves, move away from the street.  But the strangers do not understand the message, first staring at the messengers, confused, then shaking off their warnings as irrelevant to them.

So I pick up the call, yelling at maximum volume: “The snakes are coming!!  Step away from the road!  For your own safety, move away from the road!”  I walk along the road, shouting, trying to reach as many as possible.  Some move away, if only to avoid the crazy lady walking down the sidewalk yelling about snakes…

Suddenly I see the water coming, rushing down the street, overwhelming all in its path.  As it passes me, I notice the foam in front looks distinctly like two snake heads roaring at all they pass.  Their fangs and their eyes flash in the fading light, while their intertwined bodies eventually merge into a single body of water.  And suddenly I understand the warning…

I smile as I move away from the road, unhurried…

***     ***     ***

Higher order thinking.  Cause and effect.  Symbolic representation.  All hallmarks of human existence…

Depending on your beliefs, snakes can represent healing, transformation, or knowledge.  And depending on your opinion, they can represent “good” or “evil.”

Knowledge is, after all, a peculiar thing…

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Essay

If Ever There Was a Time…

…when violence might be justified, this time might just qualify.

Stark, real, heavy are those words, and to hear them oozing from me like puss from an infected wound is disgusting!  But honesty compels me to face them, acknowledge and respect them, for they have a place in my vocabulary, and today they seem fitting.  But let’s be clear here…

I do not endorse violence, ever, in any circumstance; I am merely addressing the shadow that rises within in response to such acts of violence in the world outside.  I cannot condone what has happened in Charlottesville and around the world; I cannot remain silent, when such silence equates with complicity.  But it physically hurts to say such words aloud – there may be times when violence is the only reasonable response to violence.

A friend reminded me of that today, asking me how I might “reasonably” react to violence directed my way.  What if someone broke into your room intent on harming you; would you defend yourself?  What if someone kidnapped your grandchild, intending to perpetrate some heinous crime; would violence then be appropriate?  What if people sought to terrorize others or destroy life in the name of money, power, religion, politics, or socio-pathological disturbance?  Would any of these acts warrant a violent response?

Yes, of course, but…

No.  No “buts.”  Own it, Lisa, for violence exists within you, as well as all those you wish to “stand against.”  Perhaps there are times when violence seems justified, and if there are, then now may be that time.  For though I do not currently face those personal attacks, the others are all too real.  Something must be done to stop such acts!  Something must be said to condemn such acts!  Something must… change!

And yet I resist…  Why?

Because the language we are using today, to make a point and take a stand, is as divisive as the rhetoric that spawns these acts of violence in the first place.  Because the words we are using do not heal, but only further and deepen the heartache that separates us.  Because love cannot win in an environment where the only response to hate is vitriol, violence, condemnation, segregation and rage…

We can no longer deny what is happening around us.  We can no longer depend upon privilege to protect us.  We must not rely upon silence to insulate us.  And yet, we should not add fuel to the fires that consume us…  Or should we?

I understand the impulse to violently recoil from any association with such vile examples of inhumanity as expressed by white nationalists, the KKK, the power brokers and politicians and preachers who have made hate and violence a viable path.  I grasp the need to express my natural antipathy towards such philosophies and acts.  But I find myself stepping back, hesitating, when those I wish to stand beside start speaking of “excising malignancies,” “denouncing,” “condemning,” “choosing sides,” etc, for these are not words of healing at all.

So, how do we condemn without judgment?  How do we stop these people without oppressing our “enemies”?  How do we respond definitively, purposefully, constructively, without imposing our will on others?  How do we “punish” these criminals without behaving criminally ourselves?!  Is it even possible?

History is written by the winners, they say, whomever they are.  But “winning” doesn’t make us “right”.  Or “good”.  It only makes us victorious.  And while we might claim the end justifies the means, I can’t find comfort in that, as such “holier than thou” rhetoric has always justified atrocities.  Someone always loses when lines are drawn, and crossed, and people are forced to “take sides.”

“They’re just words, Lisa, and now is no time for semantics!,” I hear myself say.  But I disagree, vehemently, with such a thought.  Because words have power when expressed; this I know, I believe!  Words guide and inform our reasoning, lead and justify our actions.  They empower our analogies which lead us to our conclusions.  They color our metaphors, which frame our realities, making our environments reflect back to us exactly what we expect to see.  So if I speak of “taking a stand against” something, I naturally divide the playing field.  If I think of “opposing” another, I naturally create an enemy.  And if I create an enemy, I justify the ensuing war.  Violence begets violence, ad infinitum…

I find myself contemplating the Yin/Yang symbol – a potent reminder that within the darkness, a seed of light may still exist, while within the light, darkness also thrives.  It leads me to consider that there may yet remain a spark of humanity within those who march and protest with violence; that our natural state, as humans, is not to hate, but to love.  Hate is learned behavior, as any young child can amply demonstrate.  If I focus on the darkness these haters express, rather than that potential glimmer of conscience that may yet remain, then I participate in fueling and reinforcing such hate.  I choose not to do that today, while simultaneously acknowledging that they are free to choose complete darkness, if that is the path that compels them…

But within the light, darkness also exists.  If I accept such words of violence from those I usually agree with, then I become complicit in feeding and fueling that darkness within them.  Continuing along such a path, in the name of “good intentions,” will not erase the damage done when such resistance becomes active violence.  And so the darkness overwhelms the light, as we become active mirrors of, and for, our “enemies”…  I choose not to do that today, while simultaneously accepting that all must act according to their own conscience…

So…  what do I choose to do today to face the rage, the violence, the hate?

First I accept and forgive myself for wanting to react.  I own that seed of darkness within me, and watch it carefully, so that it does not spread like cancer throughout my being…

Second, I reach out to those in need, without first asking (or attempting to divine) which side they represent.  I offer comfort, peace, acceptance, and the right to disagree.  I nurture their humanity…

Third, I embrace the innocent, the maligned, whichever side they’re on.  Only by truly embracing can I hope to minimize our divide…

Fourth, I stand my ground.  I do not stand with you or against you, but I stand fully in my truth.  If you wish to move me, you may try, but I know who and what I am about, and I will not be swayed by words of hate wherever they come from.  I do not wish to martyr myself, but I will not play this game of words and intents; words of battle are bathed in the blood of guilt and innocence, and so I shall not utter them, regardless of the consequence.

This is my response to this time of rampant violence…

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Essay, Reflections

A Question of Competence… or is it Commitment?

I notice these days that there are a lot of people out there “selling” belief.  I get inundated every day with emails and ads, suggestions for how to improve every aspect of my life through holistic healing, energy work, prayer, divination, spirit guidance, contemplation practices and fitness regimes.  Everyone has an angle that they guarantee will work for me.

But I’m not sure I agree…  Why?

Why can’t I embrace any of these techniques?  Why can’t I even bring myself to try them out?  Clearly my life needs healing in so many ways, and I’ve always been open to both mainstream and alternative means.  Non-judgmental.  Yep, that’s me…

Or is it?  Because I find myself discounting these believers and teachers without even attempting to test their theories.  I find myself hitting “delete” without even listening to their spiel.  Is it just a question of competency?

To be sure, times have definitely changed.  I remember, not so long ago, when “experts” in any field were judged by the length of time they had invested in an area of study, as well as by the efficacy of their results.  Anyone new to a particular field had to “earn” their stripes, so to speak.

But in this digital era of instant gratification, and You Tube, everyone becomes an “expert” by saying they are, and by earning a “following.”  An interested party does an internet search on their topic, then chooses what site(s) to visit, or what videos to watch, not so much by researching qualifications, but by the number of “hits” or “followers” that “teacher” has.  “Mob rules” defined and practiced…

But I’ve never really been a follower type, preferring to take someone’s idea or theory and research it on my own.  Always looking for flaws in reasoning or data, critical in my assessments, judging what part(s) appear to work, or not, for me.  Self-defined reality…

And I can’t honestly state which path is “better” or makes more sense in the end, because both ways have their pros and cons.  Self-definition provides flexibility and adaptability to any path or belief system, but it also prevents any commitment or benefits of dedicated practice; you basically believe or do what you want, while discarding the rest, and that rarely leads to deep knowledge or wisdom.  But mob rule, while clearly directing your practice and belief, without requiring deep contemplation, also requires you to accept a whole lot of stuff you might not normally agree with; much harm has been perpetrated by those following a path too strictly, without regard for how it may affect the lives of others…

Hmm…

I know that in these tumultuous times people are desperate for something hopeful to believe in.  I know everyone wants to feel empowered, capable and competent.  We no longer believe in the “system” to provide for our needs consistently and competently, and we are correct in questioning it; the society we knew and trusted is collapsing around us.  So spirituality has become big business, and gurus are hawking every corner.  And many are providing (and feeling) some relief.  That’s good, right?

Too bad it doesn’t feel that way.  At least to me…

I have been asked twice in the last week or so, to offer my advice/guidance in a public setting; to “teach” on topics I used to be well versed in and confident to teach.  I have refused both opportunities, claiming “incompetence” as my excuse.  I no longer feel “qualified” to offer advice, even on those topics in which I was formerly an “expert,” recognized by both “time in” and “results of.”  And I find the whole situation rather amusing; but then, I’ve always had a twisted perception of reality, and a great appreciation for irony.

The bottom line for me today is that I no longer know what is “real” or not, or what is worthy of believing anymore.  My daily life is so overrun with time inconsistencies, and “bleed-through” from other realities, that I feel like it’s one continuous, unsubstantial, channel surfing adventure.  It’s like being on one of those rides at Disney World, where you sit in a little car that takes you through different scenes, changing rapidly, each trying to capture your imagination and “feel” real, while a part of you remains focused on the hard plastic seat you’re sitting on, and the wealth of darkness framing every scene.  You want to throw yourself into it, to wholly embrace the vision before you, but that seat is so uncomfortable, and the people behind you won’t stop talking, and your stomach is growling (oh, did I forget to eat again today?), and…  well, you get the drift.

I had a dream recently…

In the dream I was one of a half dozen people or so invited to attend a special retreat.  At that retreat we were to be trained on how to “pray” for others, and to teach them how to pray for themselves.  In this case, though, “prayer” referred to the actual practice of miracles; in other words, we would be taught how to manifest real change in the world, and how to pass that skill to others.

At first, I was excited, but then the doubt set in.  I knew that these prayers (this technique) came from a tradition I was familiar with, but not a follower of.  I began questioning whether I had a “right” to attend, coming as I was from curiosity rather than belief.  I found myself speaking about my concerns to a friend I know in real life.  We do not “believe” the same, but we share a mutual respect for each other that often allows us to discuss ethical or moral concerns, and actually learn from each others’ perspective.  When I finished explaining the situation to him (in the dream), he grew very stern, pointed his finger at me accusingly, and said, quite seriously, “you better make damn sure you can commit to this, Lisa, before you go; otherwise, don’t go!”  His whole demeanor spoke of dire warning, as though this were not some trifling matter, which is very unlike him in real life.  I woke, telling myself I’d better test my commitment to this path before attending the retreat…

When I shared this dream with him in real life, he pointed out my use of present tense in the waking world (as in “I’d better be sure before attending…”).  I started to say that it was just a grammar/language error, then stopped myself.  He laughed, quick to catch that, as we both know how careful I am with words in the real world.  I believe our language affects our reality, so I am meticulous about saying what I mean, and meaning what I say.  So there is no room for such a “slip of the tongue” in my world, especially when speaking to him; he will call me on any bullshit he hears…

So…

It’s not really a question of competency plaguing me, I think, but one of commitment.  I know I could learn these “techniques,” whatever they are; I’m basically intelligent, well studied, and own a long tradition of learning and practicing competently.  I am a born teacher.  But I am hesitating, even knowing that such “techniques” may bring actual relief…  Why?

Because I am reluctant to commit to any particular path these days.  I am thoroughly enjoying the free flowing nature of my reality these days.  Because I do not want to be restricted by rules or expectations if something new and more appealing reveals itself to me.  Because I do not want to accept responsibility…

Ahh…  That’s it, then, isn’t it?

Commitment comes with responsibility, and I do not want that in my life.  I do not want to be responsible for others, to be held accountable for what they do with any knowledge (complete or not) they may gain from our interaction.  And that’s what’s missing in the wealth of big business based spirituality, too.  No one wants to be responsible.  No one wants to be held accountable for the “wrongs” committed by their beliefs and believers.  And while I have always believed that people should be held accountable for their own actions, rather than blaming their past or their preacher/teacher, I recognize that there is a line marking where such independence becomes hypocrisy. Because some people truly do influence others who want to be influenced, and we do become at least partially responsible for anything they do “in our name”…

Could I actually learn to change the world?  Could I make it a better place? Could I then competently teach others to do the same?

Can I wholeheartedly commit to finding out?

That is the question, isn’t it?

 

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Essay, Reflections

The “Value” of a Gift…

For all of my adult life, I have chosen to walk hand-in-hand with the “just getting by financially” crowd, and I have no idea why.  I know that it doesn’t stem from lack of talent, or even ambition, because I have plenty of both.  Numerous “investigations” into this facet of my life plan have led to some interesting possible excuses and explanations, but all of them have one common denominator: the primary obstacle to financial security in my life is, and has always been, me…

The why of this only becomes relevant when I am looking for ways to change it.  I understand that now (2017 America) is neither the time nor place to change my path, as everything in the state and economy is rigged against such success, but perhaps that makes it the perfect time to explore why none of my previous efforts to change it worked.  After all, there is nothing to gain, and little left to lose these days.  And as my working life becomes more difficult to sustain, the questions swirl in the background of what I should expect next…

One of the most common recurring themes revealed by previous research is a tendency to self-sabotage, to underrate my own value, to seek the least productive path, financially speaking.  When asked to rate my own value (as in setting prices for work I do, or services I provide), I always go low.  Perhaps I am lacking in self-confidence, or self-esteem, as most people assume, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.  Rather, I feel I am protecting myself from unsustainable expectations; after all, “you get what you pay for,” right?

The “problem” for me is that I have always believed I must “earn” my way.  Every acquisition of resources need be by “fair and equitable exchange.”  It doesn’t mean that the monetary value of the exchange be equal, but that the perceived value to both parties be equitable.  For those who value money (businesses, for example), actual dollars have been exchanged.  For those needing services, a barter might suffice, providing both parties receive something they consider as valuable as what they are offering.  That makes any transaction more difficult in its subjective assessment, but also ensures a more “even” exchange, providing both parties are open and honest about what they perceive as valuable…  It is also a test of integrity, to see if one party will try to “take advantage” of another…

In a society based on the selfish pursuit of all things “me,” such integrity is often hard to find.  For me, personally, I always choose to err in favor of the other; give more, take less, thus ensuring my conscience is clean.

But is it?  Really?

By under-valuing myself, am I being fair to me?  Could it not be said that I am taking advantage of myself?  How can I label such exchanges as fair and equitable if I refuse to fairly assess my contribution?  Am I not placing unsustainable expectations upon myself?  After all, if I am doing my “best” as my integrity demands, while asking for “less,” have I not just created a scenario where my needs will never be met, no matter how determinedly or diligently I work at it?

Disturbing thoughts…  Made more disturbing by their reflection in my reality.  For I have proven, time and again, that no matter how hard I work, I simply can’t get ahead.  There is no safety net in my life, no financial cushion to fall back on; there is only the knowledge that if I stop moving, the entire house of cards I’ve built may well collapse.  And while that collapse may cripple me, it will be unlikely to shield me from the consequences of it happening.  Eventually the piper will have to be paid, one way or another…

I recently ran into a friend who has a debilitating and terminal illness; less than 6 months ago, he was in a hospital, and medical wisdom determined he would likely never leave.  But he survived, thanks to new (and expensive) treatments.  Being a laborer by trade, he is unable to work, and yet he has been denied disability benefits (which would have likely only paid him a third of his “working value” in a best case scenario).  Furthermore, he told me he has to wait two years to appeal the decision.  And while it is common knowledge that all disability claims are denied at first, and later paid out retroactively when approved, it baffles me how this is supposed to work?!  With a home he needs to live in, and expensive medical care he needs to survive at all, what is he supposed to do in the meantime?  So, like many in his position, he has turned to criminal activities to provide a subsistence income.  Where is the integrity here?

I am not so foolish as to believe that life should be fair.  Nor do I assume that doing right means you will be properly rewarded.  And I realize that very few control almost all of the available resources to hoard for themselves, and use those resources to mop up what’s left for themselves, making sustainable living an impossible dream for most of us.  But still…

I love crafting, and all things creative, so I used to make things and try to sell them.  I wasn’t so much trying to make a living, as I was trying to get my hobbies to pay for themselves.  Such efforts were disastrous.  Not only did I undervalue my merchandise, just trying to get rid of it, but I invested a small fortune (for me, anyway), in opening the channels in the first place.  I found that if you under-price things, most will not buy, but if you over-price things, none will.  I would find myself at craft venues, reaping in praise, but only selling items $5 at a time.  It was necessary to have these low prices on some items simply to make up the cost of the booth.  And there was never a profit in it for me.  So I would wind up selling stuff to friends, and online, at below cost prices (not even covering materials, much less time invested), or giving stuff away as gifts, simply to get rid of it.  And now my tools rust in a damp basement, unused for years, because what, after all, is the point…?

Which brings me in a long, typically roundabout way, to the point I originally wanted to make.  Just this week a co-worker made a piece of jewelry partially inspired by a suggestion I’d made, that I absolutely fell in love with!  I wanted it, though I have no use for more jewelry.  Still, I want to encourage and support her efforts, as she does amazing work!  I asked her what she would charge for it?  The price, while reasonable, was far beyond what I can afford these days, and I told her that.  She offered me a “discount,” suggesting I pay her whatever I thought I could and/or should; a typical dilemma among my co-workers…  I struggled all day with how to respond.  I didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity, but I really couldn’t afford to buy it at all, being a non-necessary item.  I could sense her confusion growing as the day dragged on, and I did not make an offer, but I honestly didn’t know what to do…

Finally, I sought advice from another co-worker with whom I have often discussed this very dilemma.  I thought we were zeroing in on an appropriate offer, when she suddenly turned and walked away from me.  I was stunned and disheartened by her “abandonment.”  A little while later she reappeared, and when I questioned her about her abrupt dismissal of our conversation, she plopped the necklace on my desk and told me it was a “gift.”

I could not respond…

It was not her willingness to purchase it for me that rendered me mute, for she is often thoughtful and generous in the giving of things.  Rather, I later discovered, I was paralyzed by my inability to imagine how I could “make it up” to her.  For while she often gives graciously, she does not receive well…

A familiar theme…

So…  While there was much value in this gift she gave me, I found myself swamped by the many forms it took.  There was the necklace itself, which I love.  There was the revealing of the nature of exchange, as Lisa views it, revealing a worldview automatically biased against myself.  There was the acknowledgement that receiving is something I do not do well; I am so uncomfortable with it that my insides still cringe when I remember her dropping that box in front of me.  And there is a profound understanding growing in me that, though I may consider myself empowered and capable of manifesting whatever I truly desire or need, it does me no good whatsoever if I cannot receive the fruits of those efforts graciously…

Truly a valuable “gift” my friend has given me…

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Essay, Reflections

The Ethics of Empathy…

So…  I’m feeling an urge to lecture today.  Not because I believe you need to learn something, or because I believe I’m uniquely qualified to teach it, but because, apparently, there is something going on in my subconscious that is looking for a way out.  And The Otherhood of One has certainly been successful (this time anyway) in that one regard – it has given me a forum for exploring and expressing the diverse and evolving “me.”

I learned through various venues in my life that sometimes the best way to “learn” something is by “teaching” it.  From tutoring, to peer counseling, to actively teaching courses in college and private settings, to writing textbooks on topics that interested me or not, the end result is the same:  teaching forces one to organize material into a learning format, allowing both student and teacher to better grasp it.  So… I feel a need to lecture today, because clearly there is something I’m trying to learn…

And today, I want to explore ethics…

Such a broad topic to consider, and yet I know there is something specific calling me, if I could only narrow it down.  Bear with me while I wander through this vast and imposing landscape.  Two recent touchstones keep claiming my attention, so let me begin there.

First is an article I published today on bayart.org about empathy.  Maybe you can find it here ;):

http://bayart.org/on-empathy-today/

The other results from a recent meditation experience I had, and the dichotomy of interpretation that resulted when I shared it.  The vision was simple enough: I was at the docks seeking something of value for myself when I discovered a small child hidden in a 50 gallon drum.  I rescued the child without hesitation, while acknowledging there would be a “cost” for doing so.  It literally didn’t occur to me to NOT rescue the child, regardless of personal cost, and I was perfectly at peace with that decision…

Until I mentioned that experience to a friend, who responded by saying, “See?  There’s your problem, Lisa!  Maybe you should have simply let things be, and chosen what was best for you instead.  It’s not your place, or your responsibility, to ‘save’ everyone!  You need to learn to be more selfish…”

You know, that thought never even occurred to me…  And while I can’t bring myself to actually agree with my friend, it did get me questioning things.  What if my automatic responses to situations are part of my problem?  What if I’m stuck in this rut of my own creation because I can’t even imagine another response?  What if…?  Well, you get the drift…

And what do these two events share?  They both touch on ethics, particularly the ethics of empathy.  Hence, this current attempt to further explore the topic by lecturing on it…

While I was writing my article today, it struck me what an incredibly invasive process true empathy is.  I mean, think about it!  People love privacy, and nothing is more private or personal than their emotional states.  But as an empath, I am constantly in that space, intentionally or not.  When you consider that empathic connections tend to flow in both directions it gets even more so.

All my life I’ve heard complaints (jokingly, usually, but there is always some underlying truth to jokes that make them “work”) about my invasion of such personal space.  People complain that they can never surprise me, for example, because I always sense it coming; whether I pick up on their excitement, or the anxiety that comes with “breaking my heart,” I always know in advance when something big is imminent.  Then there’s the frequent admonishment to “get out of my head!” when I respond appropriately to someone’s unspoken (as yet) request.  And while I welcome offhand compliments about how my presence can “light up” a room, I cannot conscientiously dismiss those complaints of the “dark clouds” that sometimes follow me around, dragging everyone near me down…

As for the little boy I rescued in my vision, I doubt I would ever choose not to; it’s simply not who I am. Self-sacrifice to aid another, friend or stranger, is simply part of my nature.  I don’t consider myself a martyr, nor do I do such things to feel better about myself.  My self-worth does not depend upon the numbers of others I help, nor what I must give up to do so, but rather about how “true” I am to my own nature.  So yes, I would have felt “bad” walking away from that boy, I would have felt guilty, so much so that it would have prevented me from enjoying whatever I gained by doing so.  But it would have been because I betrayed my own values and integrity, not because I betrayed the boy and whatever he represents.

So what is significant about these two scenarios is not what actually happens in them, so much as the “unquestioning” nature of them; I won’t turn off my empathic scanning, even if it’s invasive, any more than I would walk away from that child.  But now that I’ve stumbled onto the unquestioning nature of my behavior, the rebel within me naturally begins to question…

Hmm…  Interesting…

Apparently, I have nothing more to say on this topic, at least for now.  I’ve been staring at this screen for some time without any useful thoughts occurring.  I am aware that I’m hungry; my tummy is growling.  Actually, I think I forgot to eat today.  That often happens when I’m writing a lot… lol!

I am aware of time passing, and am looking ahead to what happens next.  It’s 11:07pm EST, and I have work tomorrow.  What do I need to accomplish before then?  How much sleep do I actually need?  Yeah, that kind of mental chatter…

But nothing on the topic at hand…

I feel a “calling,” a pulling away of my attention, but I cannot yet identify its source.  Message or need(?); I can’t even distinguish that much at this point.  But I feel it.  Pressing, though not yet urgent.  Even my cat is acting restless…

Sorry, all…  I hoped that a little free association, some automatic writing, might shake loose some thoughts of value.  Instead, this post is rapidly deteriorating into something more appropriately put in journal form.  While I am always fascinated to discover how people think and feel, I forget that not everyone shares that with me.  And while the workings of my own thoughts certainly intrigue me, it occurs to me that may be peculiar to me, which seems fair and appropriate, after all… lol!

And so I think I’ll say goodnight, fully aware that this post is incomplete…

Or is it?

It is at least possible that I’ve already written what I needed to read, in which case it IS finished.  I merely await your responses to help me zero in on the point…

Oh yay! for the Otherhood…  😉

 

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Essay, Reflections

A Schizophrenic’s Guide to Navigating Through “Alternative Facts”

NOTE (TRIGGER WARNING): this post is intended as satire, for those unsure how to react, but like most satire, it is firmly founded on kernels of truth…  I only mention this because I know that many who follow this blog (whether they read its content regularly or not) are, or have in the past, dealt intimately with mental illness.  I am NOT mocking you, or your struggles; rather I am mocking a world where such “illness” has become the “norm” now…

You know, given the state of the world these days, I’ve discovered that many of my past ramblings have taken on new context.  I mean, “What is Real?” after all?  Are there still baseline, foundational “facts” to support a shared reality?  Are we still living in a consensually constructed world with recognizable, even “provable” laws existing independently of (or in spite of) individuals’ preferences?

I keep hearing the musical intro from Rod Sterling’s (or is it Serling now?) Twilight Zone running through my head, as every day brings new disillusionment to light.  What with the White House and their followers’ reliance upon “alternative facts” to explain away their disappointments, and the current onslaught of diametrically opposed “fake news” stories, coupled with a rousing call for “fact checking” everyone and everything (still with no agreements, by the way), it would appear that “reality” has become quite malleable and personal.  And no two versions of it are quite the same…

So…  Acknowledging this state of uncertainty as the new “norm,” I’ve decided to offer you all the “wisdom” of my experience as a functional schizophrenic in a formerly consensus based reality.  My qualifications are easy to fact check (if you know where to look), as I was diagnosed a “paranoid” schizophrenic some 37 years ago or so, and have been living side-by-side with “sane” people in society (whether they knew it or not) for all that time, institution and medication free for the last 32 years of it or so.

I know what it is to have “weird” experiences, to sense shifts in reality that no one else seems to notice, to feel ungrounded and free flowing in a world that prides itself on its gravity and solid structures.  I understand the sudden panic that threatens when the people around you are discussing something seriously, all in alignment, and everything within you cries out “what the f**k are they talking about?!  Do they honestly believe what they’re saying?!”  I have felt that deep sense of disorientation that occurs when something “not right” happens, or keeps happening, and you can’t help but wonder if you’re dreaming it all…

And yes, I know the pressures of trying to “fit in,” of being the proverbial round peg trying to get comfortable in a square hole (this version more accurately describes my experience than the traditional analogy).  Because I have no trouble pretending to be “normal,” most of the time anyway, but it becomes so uncomfortable over the long run, that I frequently revert to my own ways, just to alleviate the bruising that occurs getting banged around in an irrational, unfriendly reality.  And I certainly know the frustration that happens when you try to convince others of your truth, when they are neither interested in, nor willing to consider, a different perspective.  (There’s a reason schizophrenics get violent, and most often it is borne of this very frustration, and the labels the “norms” impose on us to explain our insistence in defending our point of view; think “paranoia” here.)

So…  Please accept the following guidelines (yes – suggestions, not demands) in the spirit in which they are offered: as an attempt to promote peaceful interactions in a world where no one can agree on the simplest or most basic “facts” defining “reality.”

Guideline #1:  There are no such things as facts…

Let’s be real here, friends.  Facts are, by definition, data that is observed, measured, quantified and verified; in essence they are empirically based truths.  But even someone with the most crude understanding of quantum mechanics (like myself) knows that the mere act of observing anything alters it, even creates it.  Therefore, there logically can be no “true facts,” only biased, expectation-driven observations that amount to little more than opinion.  Accept that, and some of your cognitive dissonance should ease…

Guideline #2:  Don’t argue opinions!

Opinions are based on belief, and belief requires no proof.  Therefore, no proof exists that can alter someone else’s opinion.  It’s simple, really.  Accept that each of us lives in our own version of reality, and that, while some overlap (shared beliefs) are to be expected and exploited, it is neither necessary, nor helpful, to try to force expansion of that overlap; identify the commonalities and focus on those.

Example:  Try commenting on the weather when first engaging someone else, or the color of the sky (“wow, that’s the bluest sky, I think I’ve ever seen!”)  Then watch for reactions.  If the person agrees, feel free to move the conversation forward, in slow, testing steps.  If they look around, confused, or stare at you like you have two heads, wish them a good day and move on; you clearly do not share enough reality overlap to converse!  Feel free to move on at any point in the conversation where your realities begin to substantially diverge; it is the kindest and “sanest” thing you can do.

Guideline #3:  Flexibility and balance are going to prove much more useful to you than strength; work on developing them.

Remember that your reality is yours; own it but don’t bemoan it.  The same is true of everyone else.  To maintain a sense of sanity in a world where no two realities overlap completely, you must be able to dance and dodge effectively.  You can actually learn a lot from listening to Others’ versions, but only if you retain your sense of self.  It’s a balancing act.

A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is this: Insistence breeds Conviction which leads to Resistance, the hallmark of Affliction, the spawn of Conflict(tion? – lol!)…  In other words, stubbornness creates unnecessary conflict (see Guidelines #1 and #2)…

Guideline #4: Value is defined by usefulness rather than “right-ness”…

In a world where reality shifts and founders, and consensus leaches away more each day, the very concept of “right” and “wrong” alters.  Keep in mind that these people doing or saying incomprehensible (to you) things are NOT sharing the same reality as you; that very incomprehensibilty tells you that.  Take comfort in that knowledge.  And understand that there is still some value to be had in observing and/or interacting with them.

Because our realities are self-defined, it is easy to trap ourselves, to get stuck in a self-perpetuating loop.  Allowing yourself to be open to other possibilities (available only by interacting with Others), gives you opportunities to devise new pathways and understandings.  These are necessary to grow your reality in new directions.  Unless, of course, you prefer to just keep spinning that hamster wheel of yours…

Guideline #5: The absolutely most important tool in your toolbox is a sense of humor!

Illusion occurs when you are convinced that something is “real” when it isn’t, even for you.  Delusion is what everyone else believes to be true when it doesn’t coincide with your own point of view.  So when someone accuses you of being delusional, it is most likely true (no need to argue about it – see Guideline #2).  But that accusation is all the “proof” you need that they are as delusional as you!

Even two (or more) diagnosed schizophrenics cannot understand each other’s delusions; what we can do is be kind to each other, listen to each other’s point of view, and celebrate the uniqueness of our personal experiences.

Often times, I’ve found, the very best medicine is a good laugh, not in mockery of others, but in a shared understanding of the irony and absurdity of trying to co-exist in a world where we cannot agree on the simplest of observations.  But that truly is the beauty of this existence in the end; so many possibilities to explore, so limited our time to do so.  Thank goodness there are so many Others to explore the paths I cannot travel myself!

That is how we help each other – love and respect.  Nothing else truly matters in the end, as none of it is factually real after all…

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