Where Will Our Words Lead Us?

It is raining. It is raining on the foot of snow that fell last week. It has been raining, it seems, since the beginning of August and it is now almost December.

 

I can hear the rain striking the roof, the snow melting on the drainpipes, and the wind in the naked trees. A woodpecker pecks on the wood siding of our house, then stops to look in the bedroom window at one of our cats, Tara, who looks back at him, excited.

 

Chickadees, blue jays, cardinals, tufted titmice, nuthatches, downy and red bellied woodpeckers, and squirrels surround a bird feeder hung from an apple tree branch and the food spread below it on the ground. The branches of the tree are tipped with light. Dripping ice or rain acts almost as a prism, not to refract but concentrate the light.

 

Max, another of our cats, sleeps between Linda, my wife, and me. Linda is reading a novel. I am writing this.

 

At first, it was not just the sky that was gray. My mood, even the trees, looked gray. I could barely see the blue of the blue jay or the red of the cardinal. But the more I listened to the rain and the snowmelt, listened for the moment words began to form in my mind, it all changed. The sky lightened as I focused on the light on the tips of the apple tree branches.

 

And when I allowed myself to feel the fact that this person and this cat were here next to me, one reading by my side, one sleeping by my hip, my mood lightened. All sorts of words came to me, but none were as deep or eloquent as the reality itself, or the feelings.

 

Our words can be the way we speak a self into existence. They can split the world in two by separating in our thinking what we perceive from who is doing the perceiving. We then think what we perceive is “out there” distinct from us “in here.” We think the gray mood we feel is entirely caused by the gray sky. We mistake the world of our words for the world itself. And then we imagine we live in that world of words.

 

Or words can be signposts leading us back to the point before words were born, to where we tie feelings to thoughts, sensations to memories, and create emotions and understandings. It is where we shape how we perceive the world with what we have learned about it. It is also where we all, where every single being, meets all others more directly. It is where practices such as mindfulness or meditation can lead us, so we learn how to pay attention, each moment, to whatever arises.

 

Emotion is not just feeling. It begins with feeling but includes thoughts, sensations, and proposed actions. Just consider the thoughts that go through your mind when you’re jealous, or the sensations you experience when angry. One purpose of emotion is to tag the stimuli we sense with value so we know how to think and act.

 

Daniel Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, describes phases in the process of constructing emotion. The first phase is jolting our bodies to pay attention. Siegel calls this the “initial orienting response.” The second is “elaborative appraisal,” which includes using feelings to label stimuli as good or bad, dangerous or pleasing. We begin to construct meaning and then prepare for action. We feel good or threatened and then want to either approach or avoid someone or something. These first two phases can be unconscious. In the third phase our experience differentiates further into categorical emotions like sadness, happiness, and fear. And we have conscious responses.

 

Emotions thus integrate diverse realms of experience. They link physiological changes in our bodies, feelings and sensations, with words, with explanations of how things work, and with perceiving and communicating social signals. Without this orienting attention and assignment of value, we could not learn and we could not act. In other words, body, mind, and relationships arise together in an emotion.

 

In order to think clearly and act appropriately, we need to mindfully step back from any particular way of thinking about a situation or person. We need to reflect on how we are hearing words. Do we hear them as self-contained objects, whose meaning and very being is created entirely by the speaker? If we do this, the other can become a label, a threat distinct from us, and a not-me that we can have no empathy for or any relationship with. If we don’t hear what we say to ourselves, we miss a good part of any conversation.

 

Or when we hear the words of another person, do we hear them as arising from another thinking, feeling being not much different from us? Do we take time to pause and feel how his or her words radiate in our mind and heart? Do we respond not just to the meaning we think the other person intended but also to the whole situation—to our own humanity as well as theirs? Do we respond with care and awareness that what we say creates not only an identity for this other person but for our selves?

 

When we speak, we often think we are simply expressing what is in ourselves. We then don’t realize we can’t speak ourselves into existence without speaking an audience into existence. We speak to who we think the other person is, or who we would like them to be. So, before speaking or acting, it’s important to check how accurate or comprehensive our words are, and what they imply about ourselves, about whom we are with, and the nature of the world we live in.

 

And doing this can make all the difference. It can free us from a gray mood, allow us to realize the beauty in the rain, and really see who we are and who is sitting beside us.

 

This post was also syndicated by The Good Men Project

You Can’t Concede Democracy To A Would-Be Dictator

After the midterms, a majority of Americans breathed a collective sigh of relief. Now that Democrats have won control of one branch of Congress, they will be better able to act to hold the President and this GOP administration accountable for their actions.

 

But if you listen to some news commentators, the biggest challenge facing Democrats is to avoid the temptation to go after T or try to impeach him. A Monmouth University poll reportedly found that only 36% of Americans thought T should be impeached. Instead, these pundits argue, Dems should try to pass health care legislation, rebuild infrastructure, establish a higher minimum wage and control gun violence. These are all worthy pursuits. But it’s not enough.

 

Focusing on health care instead of impeachment helped most of the Dems win in the midterm elections last week.  And the party itself is unsure just how progressive they are or can afford to be. I get that. But to ignore T’s assaults on the rule of law, on our rights, voting systems, environment, on our ears and hearts, would be suicidal, not only to the lives of many people but to any remaining semblance of democracy.

 

And many Americans know this. We feel fear and anxiety almost every day about what T is doing. We care about our humanity. And, I hope, most won’t let T have his way.

 

The Monmouth University poll also found 52% of the public think keeping T in check should be the major priority for the new Congress. Even a majority of Republicans (54%) join 92% of Democrats in saying that keeping Trump in check should be at least a minor priority.

 

According to a Pew Research Poll, about 60% of voters in the 2018 election said T motivated them to vote: 38% were motivated by an opposition to T, 26% supported him. And 7.1% more people (about 4 million) voted for Democrats for the House in the midterms than voted for Republicans.

 

Many of us recognize that T is selling out our nation to a group of super-rich individuals, maybe selling us out to demagogues and oppressors like Putin. Many of us know that he is using his office to directly enrich himself and violating the emoluments clause. His tax legislation funds the rich and robs from the rest of us.

 

If Democrats, for example, do not fight the appointment of Matt Whitaker as Attorney General, T might be protected from being held accountable for his actions. We could see an increase in unlawful behavior, rights violations, even religious persecution initiated by the GOP. For example, in his 2014 Senate bid, Whitaker said he would not support “secular judges” and any judge should “have a biblical view of justice.” Non-Christians, particularly atheists, Jewish and Muslim people are, according to Whitaker, unfit for such a position.

 

Former lawyer to the President, Don McGahn interviewed Whitaker to join T’s legal team as his “attack dog” against Robert Mueller. Whitaker has openly spoken out against the investigation, and the very idea that he could even appear as a neutral and qualified attorney general, or as anything other than T’s protector is absurd. He also claimed states should have the right to nullify federal laws.

 

How can we get legitimate health care legislation with a GOP controlled Senate and with T as President? Remember it was the GOP who, according to Mitch McConnell Paul Ryan, called for Congress to go after Medicare, Medicaid, (Social Security) and the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. It was the GOP who last year proposed health care legislation that would make big cuts to Medicaid and undermine health care for millions.

 

How do we get gun control when the GOP is controlled by the NRA?

 

T warned Democrats “investigate me, and I’ll investigate you.” Mitch McConnell warned Democrats not to “harass the President.” It is not harassment if legislators speak the truth or act in accord with their sworn oath to defend the constitution. I think the news analysts who caution Democrats not to spend much time investigating and prosecuting T are serving the interests of the GOP, not the majority of the American people.

 

Democrats can and should propose legislation that actually serves the interests of the great majority of Americans. This includes resurrecting voting rights and protections, eliminating gerrymandering, and even more comprehensive health care legislation that would protect Americans and lower health costs. (The list could go on and on.)

 

They can keep in mind the great diversity of citizens in this nation. A Democracy only exists if people listen to and are willing to work with others and even compromise. Too much is at stake for Democrats to fight amongst themselves or vie for who is the most progressive, for example, or most independent. They have to remember it was the GOP who turned ‘compromise’ into a dirty word.

 

However, without using their new House majority to protect Mueller and carry out their own investigation into exactly how much T (and other GOP) aided Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, or how deeply he is beholden to Putin, financially or otherwise—without prosecuting him for interfering in the Mueller investigation and a myriad of other crimes, the Democrats could concede democracy to a would-be dictator. Many Democrats have said they are ready for this challenge of fighting T. For the well-being of our nation and world, I hope they are right. And I hope we are ready to work with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

T Is A Hurricane of Historic Proportions

I have many calm moments, when I meditate, exercise, walk in the woods, talk with friends or simply breathe. Beautiful moments. And then—I turn on the radio or my phone and who knows what insanity might ensue.

 

I just heard the latest news about Hurricane Michael, which struck the Florida panhandle with winds of up to 155 miles an hour. It is now called the strongest hurricane to ever strike the coast. It grew so quickly, from a category 2 on Sunday to almost a category 5 today, probably due to waters overheated by global warming, the same global warming the GOP deny despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against their position.

 

Yesterday, a neighbor called to tell me of two sightings of Fishers, a carnivorous mammal related to weasels. They have only recently returned to this area and have been known to kill squirrels and other small animals, including porcupine and hare, occasionally wild turkey, bobcat, and even house cats (although rarely). They are excellent climbers and can be vicious. I immediately went to the front door of my house to call in my cats. After the Kavanaugh abomination and almost two years of T, I am, like everyone I know, a bit sensitive to bad news.

 

This administration puts us all on a continual threat alert and I think this is exactly what they want. People continually stressed are not as likely to think clearly or feel powerful.

 

The last two weeks and the hearings and discussion on Judge Kavanaugh were especially bad. They were a continual assault, a political hurricane of historic proportions threatening not only women but all of us who are not misogynists, not white nationalists or sycophantic supporters of the President, or who are not in favor of considering corporate rights or the rights of the wealthy as more important than any other rights.

 

These GOP attacked anyone who called for a real investigation into Kavanaugh’s past and were particularly vicious in their attacks on any of the women who came forward. In fact, T even mocked Dr. Ford.  He called for holding those who made “false” claims against Kavanaugh liable. What about false claims by, or in support of, Kavanaugh? Would Kavanaugh or any his supporters who lied or rushed to hide the truth be held accountable?

 

Many wondered: was the GOP rush to judgment due to fears about what will happen in the November election? Or was something else involved?

 

The Supreme Court is going to hear a case called the Gamble v US. It involves a felon arrested for possession of a firearm. It could, however, have grave implications if T is ever impeached, indicted, or tries to use his power to pardon anyone from his administration or campaign who have been prosecuted for crimes or called to testify to the Mueller investigation.

 

The Gamble case involves the question of whether “double jeopardy” is limited by “dual sovereignty.” In other words, whether a state can separately prosecute anyone after they were tried by the Federal government.

 

Right now, T can pardon people for Federal crimes, but anyone so pardoned can still be prosecuted in state courts. T wants to destroy this possibility. And Kavanaugh could help make that a reality. He might be the deciding vote in expanding T’s and the GOP’s power, so they can’t be held accountable for crimes they commit or their assaults on the rest of us.

 

While hurricane Michael was striking Florida, hurricane T was in Erie, Pennsylvania at a fundraiser and then a rally, yelling “lock her up” and such. Even a threat to the lives and property of millions of citizens did not stop him from focusing on himself and trying to rake in money.  He needs to be stopped.

 

And let me repeat what many have been advocating: each of us needs to vote, make calls, volunteer as an election official, write postcards to get out the vote—to do whatever we can to energize ourselves and throw T and his supporters out of office.

 

**Thank you to Jill Swenson and other friends who first posted on FB about Gamble v US.

The Haunting Truth of A Lie

I think we all know this. When we are less than honest we are more than likely to be haunted by it. But there is so much discussion today about lying, so many lies fill the headlines, we might stop looking at how our own lies affect us.

 

When we tell a lie, we know the truth. If we say something we think is true and it’s not, we’re just wrong or misinformed, not lying. When we lie, we split ourselves in two—the truth we did not speak and the lie we did. One we let out in public, one we keep hidden in a back room.

 

Sometimes, we feel there is a good reason for lying. We think it might serve the greater good or save someone from being hurt. We feel the person we’re talking with is not ready for the truth. 

 

Sometimes, we’re the one not ready for the truth. We lie because it’s convenient or easier for us to do so. It gets us something we want or it protects our image of ourselves.

 

But if we think a lie serves our self-image, than our view of ourselves becomes haunted….

 

This blog was published by the Good Men Project. To read the whole piece, click on this link.

Stand Up Against the Would-Be King

I want to write a blog saying there was a revolution in Congress. And throughout the land the heart of the nation was awakened⎼but it did not happen, not yet. It’s just so hard to acknowledge what is going on politically, or to think about it too much. It ‘s so ugly. And disturbing.

 

But I have to say what seems obvious to so many of us: we are confronted with a situation where one man (and those that finance and support him) thinks of the whole world, and all the other people and beings in it, as, at best, pieces to manipulate; at worst, as commodities to acquire or resources to exploit for his (their) own wealth and power. Everything and everyone exists for the taking. Even words, laws, notions of truth exist only to serve his interests. Only what increases his wealth, and what mirrors back to him his own primacy, is true. Everything else is false; everyone else is a liar and dangerous.

 

For laws to rule, the difference between opinion and facts must be, at least theoretically, fairly clear. Truth is recognized as being what really occurred or what was actually said, and what can be reliably verified. If everyone is “innocent until proven guilty,” then we are all theoretically and equally innocent unless proven guilty. For freedoms and rights to exist, the laws guaranteeing those freedoms and rights must be upheld.

 

But in Trump’s world, there are no commonly verifiable truths and thus no commonly enforceable laws. Thus, no “rule of law.” The only law is what emerges from his own mouth in that particular moment. No one is free except him. No one is innocent except as we mirror back to him his own image.

 

An example of him believing and asserting he is the truth and the law is his pardoning of Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author, filmmaker, and admitted felon—and supporter of the president. Likewise, Trump pardoned his ardent supporter and convicted felon, Joe Arpaio, as well as Scooter Libby, the aide to former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

As Ruth Marcus argues in a column in the Washington Post, there is something particularly wrong and askew in these pardons. Trump violated the normal process and criteria for a pardon.  The process usually involves a five year waiting period and serving a sentence as well as accepting responsibility and atoning for the offense. Instead, D’Souza, and Trump, both showed disdain for the legal process itself.

 

D’Souza had admitted his guilt in court, for establishing straw donors in order to deliberately violate campaign contribution limits. However, the New York Times reminds us that on “Fox and Friends” after the pardon, he claimed his prosecution was retribution by President Obama for a movie D’Souza had made—so much for accepting responsibility and atoning for his crimes. He also asserted selective enforcement during the court trial and the judge held a hearing over the claim. The judge found: “There is no evidence of discriminatory effect nor of discriminatory purpose…” The judge called D’Souza’s claim “nonsense.”

 

After the pardon, Trump tweeted D’Souza “was treated very unfairly.” He also said nobody had asked him to grant the pardon. Yet, according to the New York Times, D’Souza himself, and congressional officials—Senator Ted Cruz (R, TX) pleaded the case for the pardon at a White House dinner the previous night.

 

As Ruth Marcus points out in her column, all these pardons show a political and personal motivation and illustrate Trump’s constant narrative of “they’re out to get me,” “I am the victim here.” Instead of these pardons serving the purpose of correcting an injustice, they commit an injustice. And they possibly also serve a very disturbing political purpose—to signal to anyone who might fear criminal prosecution for collusion with Russia, or for money laundering or corruption, that if they support Mr. Trump, they too will be pardoned. After all, he is the law.

 

If you doubt he is trying to assert this absolute power, look over his tweets from yesterday (Monday, June 4th). An article in the New York Times speaks to this and the ramifications of Trump’s actions. In one tweet he said he had “the absolute right” to pardon himself for any crime. Last year, he asserted he had “an absolute right to do what I want with the Justice Department.”

 

The NYT article goes on to quote David Kris, a former senior Justice Department national security official as saying Trump is making “a far more sweeping claim to power than even other presidents by saying he can use the Justice Department for whatever he wants.” Trump’s lawyers are in fact claiming, “that he is the law—that he is the personification of justice and cannot obstruct himself.” So much for our constitution and our laws being meant to free us from monarchs, or the King from Mar a Lago.

 

Well, Trump becomes the law only to the degree we, and our elected officials, participate in his delusion and yield to him this awesome power. Mueller by himself can’t get Congress to act. We, the majority of the American people, need to unite to stop him, and take the fight against the health care laws as an inspiration. We need to turn our distaste for even hearing his name into action, to call Congress, talk with friends and neighbors, be ready to protest, and use our imaginations to find ways to wake up an organized opposition, to wake up the heart of this nation.

 

**Update: This has been a big week for pardon talk. Why? He has granted six so far and is talking about many more. He has granted pardons both to well-known individuals and those fortunate enough to have a celebrity advocate for them. Maybe he is getting off on the power? Maybe he thinks the people he pardoned can feed his made-up narrative of the deep state being out to get him? Or maybe he thinks that if he grants lots of pardons to a diverse group of people, it would fool us into thinking he is not doing it for his own personal and political purposes? Maybe he thinks we the people would have more trouble discerning and attacking his real motivation, the one Ruth Marcus describes above: namely of undermining the pressure exerted by the Mueller Investigation on Cohen, Manafort and others to reveal what they know about T possibly colluding with Russia?

When A Politician Proclaims “I Am The Truth”

What happens when you discover you have been lied to, especially when the lie is not a little white lie but a major deception? In a relationship, the words you speak become part of what weaves you together into a couple or a friendship, or a story that you live. You have to feel some trust in what the other person tells you in order for a relationship to exist at all.

 

Of course, words aren’t everything. If someone says they love you or care for you and their actions say otherwise, and they abuse you, wouldn’t you doubt the words? It might depend on how you think about love, or truth.

 

The same happens in a society. A society is held together by relationships of all kinds and types, not only between friends and families, but also between politicians and constituents. When someone lies, consistently, a break occurs and the whole relationship can shatter, or it can be reshaped in distorted ways, which I think is happening today with Mr. Trump.

 

Lies are not new to politics, nor is it unusual to claim Mr. Trump lies. His lies and misleading statements are frequently pointed out in the mainstream news media (although not usually in the conservative media). But the volume and obviousness of his deceptions might be new⎼ and getting worse. Several fact check and news sources, like the Washington Post, found that in the first 100 days, he lied or played loose with facts 4.9 times a day. Recently, it has almost doubled to 9 times a day. (See also the New York Times and Politifact.) According to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune, in an interview with the New York Times on December 28, 2017, Mr. Trump said something false, misleading, or dubious every 75 seconds.

 

For example, on May 1st, after the list of questions that the Mueller investigation might want Trump to answer was released by the New York Times, the President said none of the questions on the list were about collusion. Certainly, as far as I can tell, the word collusion was not used. But 13 of the questions were about Trump’s “campaign coordination with Russia,” which is the meaning of collusion. Or his lies about the 2017 tax cut bill, which he called a “giant tax cut” for the middle class, promising a $4,000 pay raise to each household. He called it the largest tax cut in history (ignoring, for example, the John F. Kennedy tax cut and Reagan’s) and claimed the bill “…is going to cost me a fortune.” According to a New York Times fact check, “the proposals [in the bill] seem almost tailor-made to enrich the president and people like him.” According to USA Today, this bill only advances the agenda begun 40 years ago (in the Reagan administration) of taking a trillion dollars a year that used to go to worker wages and giving it to corporations and the superrich.

 

Is it that he doesn’t realize he is lying? To lie implies some knowledge that what is being said is not truthful. If you say something and think it is accurate, and it turns out it is not, that is not a lie. It is not a truth, either. It is an inaccurate statement. Maybe he doesn’t understand what it is to say the truth?

 

What is the truth? Although there are different types and meanings of truth, in most cases, when you say something is true, you mean this is what actually exists or this is real. It is not simply an opinion or an assertion of what you like. Instead, a truth is what corresponds with the preponderance of reliable evidence.

 

Is he using the “big lie” to hide the truth, lying so openly no one can believe he is doing it? Or is he claiming there is no truth? Maybe he is simply not in touch with reality? Or is he merely saying one thing one moment and denying it the next?

 

When a person lies openly to you, you might no longer trust them and you end the relationship. But something else can occur. You might feel afraid of losing the sense of security provided by the relationship, or fear a variety of other possibilities. You might so deeply fear your relationship ending that you try to tell yourself the speaker is the truth, instead of what is spoken; or what is important is not so much the content of what is said, but the fact that a specific someone is saying it. Or the content becomes a secondary or lower truth. The higher truth is the person.

 

And this is what I think is happening today. Society is being pushed to the edge of breaking apart. And one segment of society is tying itself feverishly not to the reality of what is being said, but to the person saying it.

 

Mr. Trump and his followers are creating a mirror effect. By lying so openly, Trump asserts that he is the truth. This is another way to describe a narcissist, as someone who thinks his viewpoint is the (only valid) viewpoint, or that whatever thought enters his head is true because he thinks it. And apparently, about a third of the American people agree with him and mirror back to him his view of himself. They do not question or check the veracity of what he says, even when what he says is obviously untrue, and videos of his interviews or speeches clearly show he lied or misrepresented the facts.

 

Certainly, you could argue that his followers do check his statements. But they check only with right-wing, highly biased news sources, and are only able to confirm (mirror back to them) what they already believe. For example, 40% of Trump voters cited Fox News as their main source of political information. Fox is so distorted a media that in 2015, 52% of its viewers still believed weapons of mass destruction were found following the invasion of Iraq.

 

And Sinclair Media, nicknamed Trump media, is even worse. During the 2016 election, from July to November, the Sinclair conglomerate of stations gave Trump and his surrogates often extensive interviews 31 times. Many were declared “must run” stories by management. The Clinton campaign got seven interviews. According to former Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson, the conservative news media have convinced the white working class to focus blame for their woes “downward⎼at the racial other⎼rather than up.” So, maybe you should forgive his supporters, when they hear him say one thing one minute and a different thing the next, and for holding on not to his divergence from the facts but the fact he spoke?

 

Everyone does this to some degree (it’s called a confirmation bias), but the extent to which this is happening today with Trump is astounding. The media that Trump supporters rely on for information have conditioned them to believe Trump more than any other source of information. And when people close their eyes and minds so deeply, they are always fighting themselves and reality, and are often angry, but unable to find a cause anywhere but where Trump points them.

 

This is what happens in some religions. It is what happens in dictatorships. It is what happens in some relationships. To understand how to change this reality, you have to better understand how people leave such relationships. You have to better understand what is happening to our political system, economy, and media. You have to better understand your mind.

 

When you base your political sense of reality and security on a person who believes he is the only reality, the world will always feel threatening to you, and will always feel that it’s constantly shifting beneath you. If Trump believes he is the only reality, you and your needs are indecipherable to him, or nothing more than an illusion.

 

Protect An Open Internet: Protect Net Neutrality

Imagine seeing, on this or other websites you use:

THIS SITE HAS BEEN BLOCKED BY YOUR ISP.

It hasn’t, but soon might be. On Thursday (12/14), the Federal Communications Commission, under the leadership of Trump appointee Ajit Pai, intends to vote on whether to end net neutrality regulations, unless you, millions of you, us, speak up. Why is this important? Instead of the internet being an open forum for content, speech, information, it will be turned over to existing ISPs (Internet Service Providers) like Comcast and Verizon. Ending net neutrality will allow ISP’s to censor, slow, and charge extra fees. You can think of the internet as a common resource, which the FCC now intends to give away to large corporations, as their property. Pai has, at times, misrepresented the whole issue, for example, by claiming net neutrality hurts small ISPs, but provides no facts to back that up, according to Jon Brodkin, in an article in Ars Technica. New York State’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said his office investigated the comments being sent to the FCC about net neutrality and found that hundreds of thousands of false comments have been submitted. Schneiderman asked the FCC to cooperate with his investigation, but it didn’t happen. Requests by many parties to delay the vote on Thursday, in order to examine which comments were sent by real people, were rebuffed.

Please call Congress now and ask to delay the vote until the comments can be examined further, and/or to oppose ending net neutrality. (Also, while you have Congress on the line, tell your representatives to oppose the tax bill and support the Mueller investigation.) For further action steps, phone numbers, and information, use this link.

 

Why Don’t People Act?

Why don’t more people take action? Or, why don’t people who grow up in the U. S., in a democracy, where the stability and continuance of the government ultimately rests in the hands of the people, act? Even more, why don’t people who are informed of what’s going on, who read reliable news sources and have a conscience, act? People might not act because they are so frightened by the news they turn it off—or the news they do read or listen to is the propaganda arm of some group more interested in manipulation and control than education. Or what they’ve heard has been carefully crafted to increase their anger and distrust so they can’t discern who their allies are?

 

Why don’t more Americans vote? About 60% of eligible voters supposedly voted in the last election. And an even smaller percentage of those who vote actively participate between elections. Why don’t more people call, write, or demonstrate by the offices of their Congresspeople? Is it that they haven’t practiced being democratic at home or in their schools or workplace so it doesn’t feel natural to do so?

 

I hear people say, “Wait until 2018 or 2020 and we can vote them out of office.” But I don’t think and certainly don’t feel we can wait that long. What about today, for example, when House Republicans are trying to vote on a tax measure that would give corporations a huge tax break, give the rich an individual tax break, while many in the middle class would see their taxes increase, if not now then in 2026, and their economic security decrease due to increased costs for health care, and decreases in Medicare and Social Security. And those who rely on Medicaid, like the poor, children (48% of those on Medicaid are children), parents, the disabled, Seniors—that, too, will be cut. The Senate version will result in at least 13 million people losing their health care. And this is all being done right in our faces. They lie about it, as if we can’t hear the lie. They flaunt their disdain of the democratic process, excluding democrats from the discussion. So why isn’t everyone calling Congress? Demonstrating?

 

I’m sure there are many reasons. A phone call to a Congressperson takes about a minute. All you have to say is “Please tell the Senator to oppose this tax cut.” Give two or three reasons, and say “Have a nice day.” Some people say they are too busy. But how much busier would they be if this bill passes and their disposable income was reduced and they needed to work even more hours to pay their bills? Some feel their voice will not make a difference. If you do nothing, you certainly can’t make a difference.

 

I know I could make phone calls to register voters or get people to vote and I haven’t done so. I just write blogs and emails, make calls, hit the streets when I can. I think many of us are too shocked. We can’t believe this is happening. Too much is happening too quickly. But a big majority of Americans oppose this administration now. A big majority opposes this tax cut-denial of health care bill. The more each of us does, the more we will understand what can be done. The more powerful we will feel, and the more influence we will wield. The threat we face is a real one. Please make a few calls.

 

Suggestions of People to Call:

Congresspeople:

Charlie Dent

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Darrell Issa –opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Barbara Comstock- opposes the elimination of the State and Local tax deduction

Claudia Tenney-(NY) 202 225-3665

Any of the New York, New Jersey, California representatives might oppose the tax plan (except for Reed and Katko, I think, although I’ve called both)

 

Senators:

Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 – opposes the elimination of the deduction for teachers who spend $250+ on school supplies, etc.

John McCain – (202) 224-2235- who called for a fair and inclusive process, which hasn’t happened

Ron Johnson – (202) 224-5323

Capito – (202) 224-6472
Flake – (202) 224-4521
Gardner – (202) 224-5941
Portman – (202) 224-3353

Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

A Belief-Imposed Learning Disability And An Administration Unethical At Its Core

One question too rarely asked in education is: What relation is there between ethical behavior and learning? Or is there a meaningful relationship? Does unethical behavior interfere with learning? Of course, from this comes the question of “whose ethics” or “what is ethics?”

 

A similar question arises in politics. It can be argued that the heart of ethical behavior for a politician is to serve the interests of his or her constituents. And, if this is true, does the ethical behavior of politicians depend on their willingness and ability to educate themselves about issues, take on new positions—in other words, to be empathic and subsume their own personal interests to that of those they serve?

 

I am not a professional ethicist but I recognize that all of us ask ethical questions all the time. Every time we consider which action to take, or we ask “should I think long term or short?” Or “should I think only of my self-interest or other people’s?” Or we try to figure out which actions will create the best possible life for us—these are all ethical questions. Ethics is often defined as a system of, or principles of, morals, or the way we decide what is moral. Moral usually refers to what is right versus wrong, good versus bad, socially acceptable versus unacceptable. Today, ethical and moral are often used synonymously.

 

Ethics and morals thus have to do with how we act, especially how we act in relation with others. And we relate differently to people according to what we think we know or don’t know about them. We relate to our parents differently than our friends, to our lovers or close friends differently than acquaintances. We relate differently with those we assume agree with us versus those we think disagree with us.

 

When we think someone agrees with us, we assume we understand their point of view. However, how often have you assumed someone agrees with you and then been proven wrong? Corradi Fiumara, a philosopher and psychoanalyst, points out that when “perceiving one’s own mirror image in others, it then becomes difficult to accept others as ‘real’ persons.” We can easily reduce the other to an image of our self. In a like manner, when someone disagrees with us, or we assume they do, we often reduce them to “not-us” or in opposition to us, and refuse to see them or hear what they have to say. We label them as opponents or enemies and we lose the sense of them as full living beings. We see them merely as an idea, our idea.

 

In either case, we have to be careful with our assumptions or we jeopardize our ability to learn⏤to learn who others truly are, or learn from them and their viewpoint. We remain closed-in. In order to learn from others, we must allow ourselves to change and take in something new. We can’t hear what we don’t listen to. We can’t listen without making ourselves vulnerable. We can’t be vulnerable to other beings without recognizing they are like us, but not us. That we know some things about them, yet don’t know so much more. Only when we realize that we don’t know can we begin to know others.

 

The philosopher Martin Buber said, “All real living is meeting.” The self arises in relationship. There is no “I” without a ‘you’. ‘I’ come to exist in relation to something or someone. There is no understanding of self without an understanding of other, and vice versa. To relate with others, we need an understanding of who the other is. We need to let them in.

 

Thus, to act ethically, we must be drawn beyond our already assumed answers, beyond what we think is true or untrue, like and dislike, beyond our old images of who we are. If our inner voice is drowned out by past understandings and beliefs, we can’t hear anything new and can’t hear or see what is happening, what we are involved in, now.

 

The same has to do with learning material in a classroom. If we don’t sometimes question what we think and believe, it’s difficult to know what we don’t know. If we think we already know the material, we won’t listen to it or see it. If we think we can’t listen, we won’t. If we feel threatened, we turn away. We can’t learn anything. And we can’t act ethically.

 

One problem with our political system now is that we have politicians who not only don’t listen to others, they have an ideology that says they should not listen to others. What does not mirror back to them their own self-interest is mirrored as evil and threatening, or as a lie, as something not-to-be-heard. They believe in egoism, and probably agree with the philosopher Ayn Rand that only by being selfish will the good of the whole be served. They believe that only by being selfish can you be rational— and think it is the height of irrationality to be compassionate, or altruistic.

 

In this way they refuse, as Lisbeth Lipari says in her wonderful book Listening, Thinking, Being: Towards An Ethic of Attunement, to listen for others, so as to hear the otherness, the reality, of others. That other people (and species) are feeling beings, alive, valuable, both like them and different. They cannot conceive or feel that others can live or think in a way beyond what they imagine and believe. All they listen to are the internally pre-recorded announcements of what they have already assumed as true. And thus, they fail to understand themselves as beings reaching beyond what they imagine and believe, beyond what they already have known.

 

They do not recognize that who they are is shaped in relation to how they understand, feel for, and relate to others. To usurp, dismiss, ignore the humanity of others is to undermine their understanding of their own humanity and ability to learn about and from others. Thus, they have a self-imposed or belief-imposed learning disability. And if ‘I’ only arises with a ‘you,’ then we are born with and out of an ethical concern. The belief-imposed disability thus creates an ethical disability. This administration, as is clear to so many, is unethical not just about one policy or another, but at its core.

 

**I recommend Lisbeth Lipari’s book to educators, to anyone interested in language, compassion, learning.