Friday, October 23, 2015

Hillary Rodham Clinton vs The Republican Machine... What She Taught Us

I am among the many millions who watched former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's responses to the Republicans on the Benghazi panel. At the end of that spectacle I, like so many others, had nothing kind to say about the demonstrated political intentions of these "inquisitors". Nothing. I am certain that the former Secretary has her shortcomings, but to try as these political vultures did to place the blame for this terrorist attack at the feet of this public servant was disingenuous at best, and thoroughly disgraceful at worse. This was nothing more than an attempt to use a tragedy that is unfortunately not unique in our international political experience to derail the Presidential campaign of the former Secretary of State. In this they failed... Miserably. As I watched now Presidential Candidate Hillary respond to the eleven plus hours attempt to break her down, I couldn't help but reflect on a greater lesson unfolding in that very experience.
We have the power, each one of us, to cast off the definitions by which our potentials are limited. We acknowledge that power in declaring our right to name ourselves and thus determine who we are and what we will become. The recognition of this right and this power ushers in a new reality for anyone so inclined. It begins the process of breaking the molds that sabotage our ability to live authentic lives. It makes us available to the empowering possibilities of liberated living.
The responsibility to define who we are and what we will become is a sacred trust. It is the foundation on which we build the futures that beckon us away from the distresses of the imposed impotence of a mimicked existence. The authenticity of our being should never be determined by anyone else’s prescription, nor for that matter, anyone else’s proscription. The process of naming ourselves is an exercise in the kind of courage that takes for granted that we will make mistakes. Our imperfection however, should never be a deterrent to acting out our sense of who we are… Or what we want to become. Let us always keep in mind that we are works in progress. 
To the extent that perfection carries with it the connotation of being finished, it is a claim we cannot even pretend to make… None of us. I couldn't help but notice that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a much stronger candidate for President of the United States of America today. Yes, stronger and more authentic than she was before her "Inquisition". 

Where Our Tears Come From

From ducts deep in our souls
Where pains and joys and compassions swell…

From confluences in the course of our experience
Where we meet and mingle
And recognize our sharing of common ground…
And feel that certain rush
Of our destination’s blue…

From our confessions
Voluntarily or otherwise given…
Verbally or otherwise spoken…
That now allows for the lifting of that lid
Which suppresses a certain internal commotion
In the swollen chambers of our hearts
That threatens to explode unless relieved…

For those who look on and wonder…
That is where our tears come from…

Adapted from: Roy Alexander Graham's "Of Scattered Seed and Broken Souls.”
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Sunday, October 18, 2015

The So-called War on Drugs... A Travesty of Justice

The United States imprisons more people that any other country in the world. Almost a half of federal inmates are drug offenders. Our so-called “war on drugs” is for every intent and purpose an out and out assault on poor addicts who need medical/psychological help. It is in fact a “war” that enriches dealers, and police departments, and the builders of jails. This is one of the dirty little secrets of this whole business. How many law enforcement officers and departments want to see this war end when in fact it is a cash cow for them? How much of the drugs on the street corners of our inner cities actually come from the evidence rooms of local precincts? How many of the murders paraded before us on the news every day are committed as a result of the culture created by the nonsensical approach we have assumed toward some of the substances criminalized in the prosecution of this war?
We should be working as a society to empower the “broke” and the “broken hearted”. The tide of hopelessness that has swept many into a quagmire of brokenness can be held at bay by building facilities geared toward equipping the economically depressed with life-sustaining skills. Nationwide, three-quarters of our prison population are high school dropouts. We must not overlook this fact. Education, not incarceration, should be our focus. More modern schools, not more modern jails, should be our priority. Let us explore the possibilities of giving “garlands” not “ashes” to those who are disadvantaged among us. Can we make them partners in the building up of more peaceful cities, and thus cultivate “mantles of praise instead of a spirit of fainting”? I believe we can. I believe we must try.
The time is now when we must insist that our government provide the resources for the rehabilitation of the redeemable among those who break the law, rather than hand them over to be exploited by those who see them only as a means to make money. The idea we have been sold that warehousing these prisoners for profit in what is essentially a prison industrial complex is a lie. To somehow advance the untruth that this makes our communities better turns the truth on its head. The prison culture in this country is designed to create "repeat business". The goal of the jailers is to keep their facilities fully occupied. This is the deal they make with their political partners, the ones who run their mouths off about being "tough on crime" in order to get elected. This is how the builders of jails make profits for their stockholders. How can we work to bring out the worst in the disadvantaged among us, as our prison culture does, and expect that this will not come back to haunt us? 
The viability of our communities is a direct function of the viability of our collective humanity, not some crass notion of brute force exercised by those who pretend they want to be “tough on crime”. Enough of the lazy-think of an opportunistic and lewdly gratuitous culture. Our top law enforcement officials acknowledge both the failure of our prison system as it is, and the fact that drug addiction is in fact a public health crisis in this country. It is a travesty of Justice that we continue to address a public health crisis by imprisoning its victims. It is time to wake up from the nightmare of the greed-induced delusions that drive our collective insecurities. In an economic culture that is intent on culling a profit out of every human circumstance, prisons are designed to be necessarily self-perpetuating. The idea is to keep themselves optimally occupied in order to maximize profits for those who now invest in them. Yes, prisons have become business opportunities. The time has come to put an end to this "business".

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Righting the Ship of Fear-filled Living

On a recent flight between two major US cities I took the opportunity that my ninety minute flight time provided to reflect on the life I have come to know. At cruising altitude I reclined my seat just enough to maximize my comfort without impinging on the space of the passenger behind me. I am always conscientious about that, unlike those who just recline as far as the seat allows. I must confess my annoyance with people who do that. As the new Boeing 737-800 series aircraft sheared the wind, eliciting an elongated monotonous whistle, I took a number of slow deep breaths and found myself reflecting on what I have called elsewhere... “our fragile existentialism”.
It seems to me the idea that we are free and are therefore ultimately responsible for the choices we make, is a philosophical burden that too few of us are prepared to assume. In a world in which it is sometimes convenient to believe that “what is to be will be”; we tend to cultivate a certain pathos around the reality that whatever is “to be” is up to us. I have come to believe this. Many of us declare a pre-determinism that assumes that our course in this life has been set, and that there is nothing we can do about it. What is to be, will be. Period.
We can agree that there are some things we have little or no control over in our lives; but our fate and destiny are determined by the course that we ourselves set by each decision we make. There are people who will never set foot on an airplane because of their fear of flying. Like bungee jumping, or riding on the latest version of a wild roller coaster, they just wont do it. Our most awe-full phobias are fed by one decision after another not to do something…not to take those steps which will ultimately give us power over our irrationality.
In other contexts in our lives we parrot the dogma : “practice makes perfect”, but we fail to see its implication for the “finishing” of ourselves with regards to our fears. Yes, the word “perfect” means “finished”, and it is an often stated fact that none of us are. We are impacted daily by the formative influences of the hands of experience. The perfection that life nudges us toward is a function of the steps we take to overcome our worries and our fears. Sometimes the nudges of reality are painful and unsettling, but they force us to look more clearly at the ground around our feet. They make us look again with more critical eyes at the assumptions in which we have anchored our expectations.
Our fears sabotage every aspect of our existence. They prevent one from asking for a deserved salary increase at the job one has done well for five, six, seven years. It is fear that causes an unhappy spouse not to declare to the world that his or her marriage is a miserable sham that should end. The desire to maintain the status quo at the expense of one’s fulfillment demands unreasonable self-sacrifice. Too often we sacrifice ourselves at the alter of public vanity; we wither away under the pressure to live up to the imagined expectations of others. We worry about outcomes that may never be, because fear breeds irrationality. My existentialism says, if a thing is unreasonable it is wrong. There comes a moment when we are forcefully shaken by the need to right the ship of fear-filled living.
As my flight continues, my thoughts go by like the wisps of cirrus clouds beneath the Airbus. A multitude of “what ifs” find their way in and out of my mind, despite the protestations of my rationalism. I eventually surrender to the reality of the moment, recognizing the fact that there are some possibilities that rest on the heap of fate which are out of my control. My mind goes back to something that Cypher Raige said to his son Kitai in the Will Smith movie After Earth. In an effort to get the boy to sort through his responses to the life-threatening threats he must face, the father says to his son: “Danger is very real. Fear is always a choice”. We won't always get to choose the challenges we will face, but we have the ability to choose how we will respond to each. At times we must dig deep to find that ability, but it is there in each one of us.
I try for a moment to reconfigure the notion… I tell myself ... Fear is a natural response to danger… My reformulation sounds reasonable, it is congruent with what I have heard others conclude. But I find no comfort in the conclusions of others. I choose to stick with Cypher Raige’s dogma…Fear is a choice. Something about this formulation engenders a sense of being in control. I like the idea of being in control of my life and my destiny... I identify with that. The thought appeals to something in the DNA of my personhood, so I let it soak in. It fleshes out my existentialism, fragile as it may be.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Drought of Compassion in Our World

It rained on the day that I wrote this piece. We needed that rain; the grass all around had turned a brownish green. It was reported that the rainfall deficit for the preceding month was just under four inches. It started raining overnight, and the system that brought this well-needed relief continued its presence for the next few days. With these well needed showers there was renewed hope for everything that grows, the grass included. We all enjoy sunny days, but no one wants a protracted drought under the influence of which things wilt…and die. The period without rain has run its course, and we look forward to saying goodbye to the themes of wilting and dying which have predominated in the experience of many.
All over the Globe that we share we are witnessing what seems to many to be an interminable drought of reasonableness and compassion. The season of wilting and dying is expressed in the suffering, displacement, and killing of many.Thousands of men, women, and children, have had their lives shattered as a result of heated conflicts that seem to have no end in sight. The need for showers of hope to green again the scarred landscape of war-torn countries is acute. This is the reality in Iraq and in Syria, in Nigeria and in the Central African Republic, in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, in Kinshasa and in Libya… the list of places goes on and on.
The number of dead from these conflicts in just the last year exceeds a quarter of a million people. All over Asia and Africa and Europe, people displaced by these conflicts are on the move daily in desperate search of a place where they can again hope for some stability for self and kin. Their collective desperation is exacerbated by a drought of workable ideas among those who lead. This desperation is worsened by a drought of moral rectitude on the part of those who see war as the only solution. Combined with a drought of economic opportunity in the circumstances created by strife, multitudes come to believe they have no choice but to succumb to their role as victims.
There are no easy answers to the dilemma we face, much as we would like there to be. Digging into the anatomy of conflict is an exercise in exploring the uncomfortable underground of the human psyche. The motivations of the primary actors in the tragic dramas of death and destruction are at times perplexing, as perplexing as the contradictions in the human psyche itself. What moves us to act out our abrasiveness in the tragic ways that we do? At what point in the experience of being human do we settle for the idea that it is ok that “the good suffer with the bad”? Where in the dark recesses of our consciousness do we build an existential monument to the idea that it is acceptable to blow up women and children? What kind of person chews on the roasted limb of some creature while he wallows in the blood of innocents? What kind of human being virtualizes rape, and murder, and the conscienceless exploitation of those who can’t or won’t defend themselves? What kind of human-being “brands” another, marking him or her for ruthless exploitation? At some point, as individuals and as societies, we must face these questions with the force of a civilized morality. We must face them with a view to effectively resolve the many contradictions in our ways of seeing things.
Not all villains roam around the earth as bloody brutes. Some indeed present themselves as “respectables” among us. They sit on the boards of giant corporations. They occupy the halls of our congresses and parliaments. They are the genteel-appearing bastions of industry that many idolize in ignorance. Instead of the cliched fatigues of brutes, they wear the teflon suits that appeal to the superficial sensibilities of many among the masses. But, by their deeds we know them. They deliberately reduce workers to chattel by refusing to pay a fair return for work done. They build their estates at the expense of the lives of impoverished workers. They bask in the glow of material “success” while the masses are left to scrounge for the “crumbs” that fall from their tables. In many instances they appear to keep their hands clean while they harvest the “blood diamonds” of an iniquitous underworld. They share one particular feature of the human experience with tyrants and warlords… Heartlessness. They don’t give a damn about anything or anyone except themselves and their brash ambitions. What they are not prepared for is the coming flood... A deluge of compassion that will usher in the establishment of a more humane world. That day will come.

Like Lilies In Spring

There is a bulb buried deep inside us all that longs for the end of the season of dormancy. It contains, and is the symbol of all our ...