Dismantling Walls, Reducing Pain, and Rethinking Thinking

There are so many obstacles, both personal and institutional, we face in trying to improve our lives as well as the society we live in. But we too often overlook the way we think about thinking as one of those obstacles.

 

How we think, as well as what we think about or pay attention to, influences the answers we derive and our emotional state. This might be one reason why the GOP so vigorously use twisted logic to attack the search for truth⎼ about Jan 6 and DJT,  about science, public schools, and education in general, and certainly about gun violence. This is not just a dangerous political maneuver, but one that could threaten our survival as a nation and as a species, because it turns our most precious resource⎼ our minds and ability to think⎼ into an enemy to be feared and fought against.

 

We often conceptualize intelligence as our ability to learn, solve problems, or select goals and calculate how to reach them. But intelligence and thinking are not just a road to a desired end but a quality of our journey. It involves the ability to let go as well as dig deeper, not just to think but rethink our assumptions and beliefs. To know our limitations. The Greek philosopher Socrates supposedly said that what made him wise was that he knew he knew nothing.

 

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, in his book Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, spells out how our mistaken idea of thinking can lead to distorting what we look at. And the brighter we supposedly are, the more blind we can be. What makes us intelligent, he says, is an ability to question our assumptions, and beliefs. To act like scientists testing our hypotheses.

 

We often resist rethinking, not only because of the time and energy required, but because it would mean questioning ourselves. Such questioning might add more unpredictability to an already unpredictable, often threatening world. And we’d have to admit we’re wrong, and capable of being very wrong. Our identity is tied closely to our beliefs and what we think are facts. To change our viewpoint can feel like abandoning our sense of ourselves. We might prefer the “comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.”

 

Many of us use one of 3 models for thinking: a preacher defending their sacred beliefs, a prosecutor proving the “other side” wrong, or a politician seeking approval. Instead of thinking clearly, we often “listen to opinions that make us feel good instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat… and surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions” instead of those who challenge our thought process.

 

The result is what’s called the Dunning Kruger Effect. This is based on studies showing that people who scored the lowest on tests of reasoning and grammar had the most inflated idea of their abilities. The less we know in a particular domain, the more we overestimate our intelligence in that domain, and the more rigidly we hold our beliefs. Instead of recognizing what we don’t know or have yet to learn, we hide from the realization. We fall easily into the bias of thinking we’re not biased.

 

We might think this doesn’t apply to us, but I saw this operate in my own life. After returning to teaching after a 10-year absence, for a few years I found myself presenting answers to students more than modeling ways to question. I held viewpoints with more conviction than I felt because I didn’t want to expose my lack of knowledge.

 

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Collective Trauma Will Only Be Solved by a New Dawn of Compassionate Action

 

President Biden is sometimes criticized for not helping Ukraine get fighter jets from Poland, or for not pushing NATO to establish a no-fly zone over the country so Russian jets can’t bomb and strafe the Ukrainian people. Biden says he can’t risk escalating the conflict and starting a World War, but critics maintain we’re already at war and so should go further in supporting Ukraine.

 

But the strategies endorsed by some critics would mean NATO pilots either flying jets to Ukraine or flying over the country and could result in NATO, including Americans, shooting it out with Russians. Maybe, they think, we should just bomb Russian troop convoys and artillery.

 

Where is the line between helping an invaded nation and going to war alongside it? Or where should it be? What constitutes enough of a motivation to risk World War? To risk nuclear war? Does anything warrant that risk? Talk about an environmental crisis.

 

The President is expertly weaving a very fine line here. He has moved that line as he has led NATO to come together like it hasn’t before.

 

The World is not at war. Ukraine is at war with Russia, or with Putin. Ukraine is being attacked. The Ukrainians are dying. The Russians are losing not only in world opinion but often in the ground war and so are purposely targeting the civilian population. Ukraine’s cities are being destroyed. Their democracy as well as their homes, bombed. The rest of Europe, the U. S., most of the world is not.

 

Yes, Russia, especially, has facilitated cyber-attacks against us, against our elections and businesses. But so has China, North Korea, other autocrats. Yes, our sense of humanity is at war and our nation is divided against itself. Yet, we are, or most of us are, relatively safe.

 

Yes, we are paying higher gas prices. We face shortages. We face rising anxiety and fear. We face a constant news assault on our sense of shared humanity. On our future. But we are not facing bombs. Disinformation bombs. Yes. New strains of COVID. Yes. Organized hate and 5 years of assaults on our rights. Yes. On our education systems. We are facing a climate emergency. And now, this war against a people, a nation, against democracy.

 

That is where we need to put our effort. Into strengthening our humanitarian work, into helping Ukraine defend itself and into stopping autocracy here as well as Ukraine.

 

If we think we are at war, now, in most of Europe and the US, as many say we are; if we stop maintaining a conceptual as well as physical line between supporting the Ukrainian war effort and refugees and actively, militarily fighting Putin, then we are lost. We must find other ways to oppose autocracy and stop the killing.

 

Putin’s War can show us what we might face if we don’t do whatever we need to do, not only to stop Putin, but stop autocrats in this country, too. If we say we are militarily at war with Russia now we might create the false impression that we can go on with a relatively normal life while autocrats are attacking us⎼ or if Putin and those who support him, like DJT and other GOP, continue their attacks. That is a dangerous idea.

 

Every time we see it in the news, we might imagine ourselves being bombed. And this empathy might actually help us take appropriate action⎼ as long as we can also let it go. We also need to be able to find moments of peace in ourselves. When we respond to a crisis with inertia, we seed anxiety. When we respond with compassion and action, we seed a sense of agency. Strength. We respond more fully, think more clearly, and feel more alive. Feel more powerful.

 

We need a new dawn of caring. Of compassionate leaders. Of listening and collective action. This is what will, hopefully, save us all. We can diminish the collective trauma here by using mindfulness and studying ourselves, psychology, philosophy, history to uncover and dissolve the hidden pain, hooks, biases, and expectations that autocrats use to seize our attention, manipulate, and hurt us even more. We can send resources to Ukraine and help get out the vote here. And we can find our own ways to care for our families and neighbors, be creative, join hands with others, and stand up together to end this war.

 

 

*This post was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

A Crazy Dream: When We Teeter on the Edge Between Depression and Hopefulness

I am dreaming that what seemed impossible yesterday will be possible tomorrow. Or as Anne Applebaum put it in her recent article in the Atlantic, the Impossible Suddenly Became Possible. People are waking up to the fact that war can still happen, yet we can and we must not only save Ukraine but save and expand democracy.

 

On February 28, Ali Velshi, substituting for Joy Reid on the MSNBC program the ReidOut, discussed results unexpected by Putin, and maybe by many of us. He didn’t expect President Zelensky of Ukraine to be such a determined, inspiring leader. He didn’t expect so many Ukrainian civilians to take up arms. Didn’t expect university students, bartenders, common citizens to make Molotov cocktails in their classrooms, bars and homes. He didn’t expect ordinary Ukrainians to sit down in front of tanks. He didn’t expect thousands to protest in Russian cities, and cities throughout the world. He didn’t expect former Soviet satellite states like Belarus, or Hungary, to refuse to send troops or support him, but instead to speak out against him. To help isolate him.

 

He didn’t expect Russian troops to surrender their arms and admit to reporters they were told they were being sent on maneuvers or a peacekeeping mission, not being asked to kill fellow Balkans. He didn’t see NATO coming together after his protégé, DJT, did all he could to undermine or destroy US alliances with other democracies.

 

All through the world, as well as here in the U. S., people who want to live in a democracy, who were shocked by DJT, GOP attacks on voting rights, white nationalist violence, COVID, global warming, economic insecurity into being afraid or hopeless saw what we dreaded most played out. Putin made them see, made us see, what we could lose. Made us see what might happen if we did not act. If we got so caught up in ourselves that we forgot that we share this world, this suffering, this love of life with others, billions of others. We realized if we hadn’t already done so⎼ we cannot allow the forces of autocracy to be emboldened any further.

 

In-between the perception that something is wrong, and the action taken to stop it is a gigantic space, and an opportunity we all have, to find our communion with others. To find our power. To find the way that we, the unique people that we are, to act, to help, to speak. Seeing what the Ukrainians are facing and doing can inspire us to act. But will we act?

 

Yet, as Dana Milbank put it in a Washington Post article, Republicans are so eager to see Biden fail, so eager to undermine democracy, they act in ways that help Putin succeed. Act in ways that threaten not only Ukrainians, and other Europeans, but us. Here, in the U. S. They are supporting an autocratic ruler who is causing an unknown number of deaths and, so far, almost one million refugees with the goal of destroying a nation’s freedom and way of life.

 

There is the popular expression about using a carrot or a stick to get people to learn, or to act ⎼ using praise or blame, prizes or threats, inspiration or fear. Due to the awful conditions we face right now and might face later, from COVID, climate change, white nationalists, and Putin⎼ this is the stick. We can see what we fear happening here or everywhere. But there’s also the carrot, the opportunity, the prize. But this prize is not something someone else gives us but one we give ourselves. We get stronger. We get closer to others. More compassionate. We build a better society.

 

Because of Putin we might be shocked into action. Because of the Ukrainian people, we might be inspired.

 

As Heather Cox Richardson put it, “…Ukrainian resistance to Russian president Vladimir Putin, supported by the cooperation of the U.S. and European allies and partners in strangling Russia’s economic system, was forging a global alliance against the authoritarianism that has been growing in power around the world.” It’s time to join that resistance. To speak out in support of, to send aid, money, supplies to Ukraine.

 

As I fear what the Ukrainian people are facing, and teeter on an edge between depression and hopefulness, it is beginning to seem more possible that we can build a resistance and maybe create a better world for us to live in. We can build or actualize a love for this world. I hope I’m not just dreaming.

 

 

**Many people and organizations are working to aid the people of Ukraine and stop not only Putin but international and American forces of autocracy. One list of organizations to support is provided by Timothy Snyder, historian, and author of On Tyranny. You can also read his newsletter on Ukraine. Charity Navigator is another resource.

 

***This article was syndicated by The Good Men Project. Please go to this link.

 

A New Year’s Wish: We All Share the Community of Breath

I want to celebrate. It is the solstice, and so many holidays are here, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years. But the days have been getting so dark lately, not just in terms of being the darkest time of the year, but emotionally. It’s also cold today. And the numbers of those sick from COVID is frightening. Two friends of mine are suffering now from the illness and must quarantine. No holidays with friends and family this year.

 

It can seem like we are all in quarantine, at least emotionally. When some of us are in quarantine, a part of all of us is in hiding, from the news and crazy weather if not from the pandemic.

 

In the four years that DJT was unfortunately in office, he fostered fear and oppression, hate and violence. He did this it seems in an effort to shock us so frequently or create enough chaos we would surrender and allow him to crown himself King or anoint himself absolute ruler just to turn off the fear. This is why the GOP have been working feverishly to strip away  our voting rights and protections. But to allow him to seize power would only make the threat inconceivably worse.

 

And even though, thankfully, we now have a caring and rational President in Joe Biden, this might seem to many like just a pause, a calm before the storm. It might seem like the efforts of those who would rip our rights and lives from us are succeeding.

 

And the state of the earth itself is adding to this darkness, not only with normal seasonal changes but with abnormal roars of dismay and anger over our abuse of the planet. Historic windstorms and tornadoes last week followed record droughts and fires in the summer and fall, shaking us to realize what happens when the earth warms too precipitously.

 

What is there to celebrate?

 

My wife and 2 of our 3 cats are sitting near to me. We create a place of safety, a haven or home for each other. Outside, the green grass is lightly coated with white. The tufted titmice, blue jays, and chickadees are energetically diving down to get the food we left for them and carry it off to eat.

 

The winter solstice clearly signals both an end, and a beginning, but of what, besides a date on a calendar? Our ancestors, the earliest humans, might have met the dark unsure if the light would ever come again. They might have felt they were returning to the birth of the universe or of life itself, when the world was born from the womb of matter or chaos. They might have wondered what they had done to create the dark. But if creation could triumph over destruction, then maybe light would return; maybe they would not only survive but thrive.

 

The universe itself can thus remind us of what is possible. The movement and tilt of the earth as it rotates around the sun brings seasons, night, and day. Likewise, we can help bring a new season of light to the human world….Protecting Voting Rights

 

**To read the whole piece, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

Noticing the Weather Patterns in Ourselves: And the Ruins and Beauties of the Past Remaining in the Present

I feel⎼ my feelings are so complex right now. I feel myself sitting in this chair, warm in my midsection, with a hint of coldness in my hands. Outside, the sun shines brightly on the white snow that covers the ground. There is such beauty in the first snows of the season, in the contrast between the utter white of the snow and the brown gray of tree trunks, the tan wood supports of the carport, the blue jays and cardinals on the ground, people walking on the wet street.

 

The world seems so clear, fresh, and alive. Yet, behind my eyes, a tension threatens to impose itself on or obliterate what I see.

 

How do I face this tension? This looming sense of threat? Do I focus on thoughts that arise, question them, or follow them back like an archaeologist exposing the ruins of the past that remain in the present?

 

Or do I focus on the specific details of a perception? The call of the blue jay? The snow resting on the bare branch of an apple tree? Or do I let my eyes rest on the entire scene?

 

Or do I feel the air entering, refreshing my body? Passing over my upper lip and moving inside, down to my chest, belly, and even feet. Each in-breath with a beginning, middle, and end. And then a pause. Everything quiets. And then my belly and diaphragm push up. An exhalation begins.

 

Or as I inhale, the area expands and the tension in my forehead, temples, or jaw is diffused. And as I exhale, I let go.

 

The scene outside might seem so permanent, almost. Sometimes. It is so easy to think that nothing will ever change. That the threats of today will continue. And it is true there will always be threats. But there will also always be beauty and love.

 

This scene only exists because it is constantly changing. The earth itself, which can seem immobile, frozen in place, is moving through space while spinning on its axis, so we have day and night, and seasons. It moves in relation to other planetary bodies, like the moon, so we have tides. It moves internally, which is why we have earthquakes, the migration of continents, volcanoes, weather patterns⎼ and wind, rain, and snow. And we know how dangerous as well as beautiful many of these changes can be.

 

Outside the window, two crows glide into the scene crying raucously.

 

We, our body, and our emotions, can also seem so set, permanent. Yet, we are alive because of the constant movement of breathing. We see because of the constant movement of and in our eyes. We hear because of the changes taking place every second in our ears and brain. We are sad, then happy. We are 6 years old, then 60. We know this⎼ yet we don’t. It’s obvious everything changes. What’s not so obvious, borrowing from Buddhist teacher Albert Low, is that everything is change….

 

**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.

Giving Thanks Has Special Meaning Today; Celebrating Safely

I almost can’t believe it. Almost. I am going to visit friends, share a Thanksgiving, not virtually, not remote, but in person. Face to face. Maskless. We will be able to see each other’s lips move. We might even hug, not elbow bump. Might. Don’t know yet.

 

We are all boostered. All of us will do a home COVID test beforehand. New hoops to jump through to enable the celebration of a holiday, the first such celebration for us in almost two years.

 

And there is so much to be thankful for. We are alive despite the pandemic.

 

We are relatively sane now one year after suffering four years of a malignant, wanna-be dictator. A man who did his best to shock us into letting him destroy democracy right before our eyes. Who tried to destroy the rule of law as well as truth so we wouldn’t believe the obvious and the factual. Not only about what he was doing to our right to vote but the fact of the earth itself suffering and maybe dying.

 

I am so thankful that President Biden is in the White House, and not the white supremacists, who still disturb the halls of Congress and plot the overthrow of decency and democracy. But, at least for the moment, they don’t totally control things.

 

The tension in the nation has certainly lessened compared to two years ago but is still too high. President Biden has not been perfect by any measure, but he has pushed for more legislation to significantly help the mass of people in this country than I thought he would. He has restored relative rationality to international relations, to facing the climate crisis, as well as ending the pandemic.

 

I anticipated that it would be difficult to get anything done in Congress, due to the GOP’s new identity as the Destroy Democracy Party, and the Party of No, where almost every Republican tries to destroy almost anything Democrats try to pass, especially what would be most helpful to us the people. So I will be even more thankful when Biden and the Democrats end the filibuster, so voting rights legislation passes, along with legislation to promote better childcare, extend the Child Tax Credit, develop clean energy and other environmental legislation.

 

Considering the death threats and incitements to violence coming against him and several other Democrats even from GOP members of Congress, I am so thankful for those who agree to serve democracy.

 

I give thanks to the fact that I still have a voice. The smaller voice of my body and the bigger voice I try to join with, of all those who remember what compassion feels like.

 

And I want to give thanks that I have family and friends, wonderful people, who I’ve known for forty or even fifty plus years. Who care for me and yet aren’t afraid to speak their own truths. Who I can just relax with, be “myself.” Create a holiday with. A celebration.

 

That we also remember, on the fourth Thursday in November, the National Day of Mourning, or Native American Heritage Day. This day reminds us that the story that used to be told of the Thanksgiving holiday is a myth hurtful to Native American people ⎼ and to us if we celebrate and ignore such a painful lie.

 

I wish for all of us a wonderful day of thanksgiving. To remind ourselves of whatever we can be thankful for, to remember those we’ve lost, and what we could’ve lost during the regime of DJT. And of what needs to be done now so we can be safe and celebrate other holidays in the future.

 

*This blog was syndicated by The Good Men Project.

 

The Mirror, and the Story We Tell About What We See in It

I didn’t want to write this blog, not at first. Writing would mean facing once again what is painful to face. But due to COVID and other factors, here I am.

 

Last week, I started reading Joanna Macy’s 30th Anniversary update of her book, World As Lover, World As Self that was published earlier this year. I think her book has been living inside me for years, but it is only now that I open it. I deeply appreciate the wisdom and practices shared in this book.

 

The book talks about the stories we tell ourselves about this moment we’re living. It reveals many aspects of our lives we might have ignored until COVID and a would-be dictator made them abundantly clear.

 

She uses the image of a mirror, the mirror wisdom of a Buddha which shows us everything just as it is, nothing added or subtracted. And this mirror teaches us how to, “…not look away. Do not avert your eyes. Do not turn aside.” By looking in this mirror we realize the anxiety and fear we feel is the surface layer of our grief for how much of the world is dying. By naming we heal. By looking away the world itself turns away.

 

By looking in the mirror, we tell and make real the story of how to survive and transform a great turning point in history. We discern the path to creating a life-sustaining society that understands in its marrow “we are all in this together.” By averting our eyes, we surrender; we tell and help create a story of unraveling and collapse.

 

We have been witnessing lately appalling contradictions. For example, nurses and other health care workers have been at the front lines of the fight against the COVID pandemic. They have been overworked, often under-equipped and under-paid, facing great stress and trauma. They also face an information or media environment filled with purposeful, politically motivated lies.

 

Many work in crowded nursing homes, or in hospitals where they see a disproportionate rate of suffering from the pandemic amongst Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Many are themselves people of color who have faced all their lives a system of racism.

 

So now many health care workers of whatever race do not want to take what could save their lives and protect their patients, because they believe or have been misled to believe they cannot trust it. So, when the state mandated that all health care workers be vaccinated, they declined, even as that led to them losing their jobs, and we losing their support.

 

Joanna Macy makes clear that we as a society have been ignoring or not seeing clearly how other, crowded work environments like meat-packing-plants are dangerous to workers, cruel to animals, and costly to the climate….

 

We have recognized but not faced directly enough the consequences of enormous, and growing, concentrations of wealth, made worse by the pandemic, and leading to the corporate undermining of democracy and the rule of law, undermining of public schooling, and the degradation of our natural world, the extinction of many species, and the warming of the planet

 

**To read the whole article, please go to the Good Men Project.