Experiencing Justice with The Lady and the Tramp

The most basic principle of social work practice is to have a clear goal. After all (maybe before all!) if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?!? So, what is justice like? How does it look, feel, smell, sound, taste? What is human dignity like?

Well, on some level we all have a visceral, personal answer to that. Most of us can identify a moment or two in our lives when things just felt right. When all was right with the world, when we did something good for someone else, or maybe when someone did something for us. Now, I’m not talking about winning the lottery grand, but just those moments when things were nice and you found yourself hoping life could go on forever like that. So, go ahead, conjure up one of those moments and bask in it! Recollect how you were feeling, the smells associated with it, the taste it left in your mouth, the sounds around you, the setting and scenery. Bask in all of it for a few moments. Niceness, it is lovely. And that is how I would like everyone to experience fairness and dignity.

And then there is this guy Anthony deMello who offers us this story about a homeless man in London. The man, let’s call him Nigel, has been walking the streets of London all day. He is exhausted, and as night comes on, he finds himself on the bank of the River Thames. It has been a particularly difficult day for Nigel, panhandling has not gone well, he was continually rousted by the constabulary so that he was not even able to secure a bit of bread for himself. He is looking forward to a night’s sleep and a fresh start to the day tomorrow, hoping at least it won’t be raining. Just as he is settling in and about to fall asleep the lights of a car sweep over him, and a chauffeur driven Bentley pulls up near him. A very attractive woman steps out of the car and asks, “Sir, are you intending to spend the night here?” Nigel says, “yes.” And the woman, let’s call her Sofia, replies, “I will not conscience that. You will come with me to my home where you will have a decent meal and spend a comfortable night.” And Sofia insists that Nigel join her in the car, and they ride through London to her mansion. When they arrive at the mansion, Carson ushers them into the mansion. Sofia says, “Carson, please take Nigel to the servants quarters and help him settle in. Be sure that he is treated well and that he has everything he needs to be comfortable this evening.” After a time Sofia goes by to check on Nigel. She sees a bit of light from under his door, and so she knocks on it. Nigel invites her into the room, and Sofia asks, “Is everything alright, Nigel? Did you have a good meal?” Nigel responds, “My lady, I’ve never had a better meal in my life.” “Then are you warm enough?” “Yes, my Lady, the bed is comfortable and warm and lovely.” “Then maybe you need some company to help you to relax and sleep.” And as Nigel moves over just a bit to make some room for Sofia, he falls into the Thames.

Now, when I read DeMello’s version of this story I burst out laughing. I did not see that coming, not at all. But it makes sense. Harboring illusions will not get us justice or respect for dignity. Dreaming may help us to envision a better future, but putting our shoulders to the wheel is what will lay the foundation today for a better tomorrow. So, wake up, drink the coffee, and do some work! We are not required to finish the work, but neither are we free to desist from it!!

And then, because it’s me, I started to think a bit more about the story. And I started to wonder, what if the genders were reversed. What if Nigel were Nancy? What if Sofia were Samuel? How would the fantasy play out? I suppose if it were a gothic romance version Nancy would still be dreaming of her hero Samuel coming to save her. But would even she be dreaming of him crawling into her bed? What if Nancy were a feminist, how would her fantasy play out? If you were homeless, what would make you want to scrunch over in bed? If it were me, I would be dreaming of a warm bed, a decent light, and a good book. But then that’s me.

Ah, and the point of the story was, after all, to wake up, drink the coffee and do the work!

Chiyono and the bottomless bucket

 “If you are as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, you still will not escape slander! Get thee to a nunnery, go!” Around 1600, by way of William Shakespeare’s pen, that was Hamlet’s advice to Ophelia. A continent away in Japan, and 300 years earlier in 1290, Chiyono found herself facing similar options. So, Chiyono set off to the nunnery, to the Zen temple in Hiromi where she was accepted to work as a servant.  Chiyono journeyed to the temple (and agreed to work there as a servant if that was the only way in) because she wanted to attain enlightenment (for the new agers or feminists among you, think empowerment).  For years – years and years even – Chiyono worked faithfully, diligently moping and cleaning, chopping wood and carrying water for the nuns at the temple. And through all those years her desire to attain enlightenment never wavered.

Chiyono would listen and watch the nuns from a distance. She emulated their sitting posture and practice each evening when her work was done. Chiyono sat facing the wall in her room, quietly breathing, quietly chanting the words she heard the nuns saying. And, over the days, weeks and years, nothing happened. Persistently Chiyono practiced what she observed, and still nothing happened, she could feel no progress towards enlightenment.  Eventually, Chiyono summoned up her courage asked one of the older nuns, “Sister would you please tell me the principles of your practice? How can I attain enlightenment?”

The elder nun looked at Chiyono and recognized her as the woman who cooked and cleaned, who chopped wood and carried the water. The nun was a woman of wisdom and compassion and so she said to her, “In your search for enlightenment, you must not cease your effort. The Buddha tells us that at the end of all our exploring we will arrive where we started, and shall know the place for the first time (who knew that T.S Elliot was quoting the Buddha!?!). Enlightenment is not words; it is looking deeply into your own heart, into your own mind, and nurturing the compassion for all sentient beings, the compassion that is always already there.  Each of us is complete and perfect just as we are. But each of us is best by desires for what we don’t have, and by fears of loosing what we hold dear. We are deluded into thinking that we can hold off changes that we foresee; but changes will happen, indeed that there will be change is the only constant. Let go of your delusions. That is the way of Zen. Practice this diligently as you walk, as you work, as you move through each day.” (Ah, new agers and feminists among you, think empowerment here too! Each of us is complete and perfect just as we are; each of us is fully powerful and need only learn to exercise and manifest our unique strengths, skills and powers.)

And Chiyono took the elder sisters words to heart and practiced letting go of her attachments even as she moped the floors and cleaned the lavatories, even as she chopped wood and carried water.  She moved through her days with one pointed focus and determination. As she worked and practiced her letting go, she became ever more compassionate in her encounters with the other nuns in the temple. As she moved through the days, where once she might have felt some resentment for the younger nuns who were free to sit in meditation throughout the day, now Chiyono saw her own work as actions of caring in support of the other’s practice.

One evening Chiyono was carrying her bucket to the well to bring back some water to the kitchen. As she carried her bucket, the bottom which was held on by bamboo strips fell out, and the reflection of the moon in the water vanished. In that instant Chiyono touched enlightenment. This is her enlightenment poem

With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together
And then the bottom fell out.
Where water does not collect
The moon does not dwell.

            For all of that I like the story about Chiyono for the first two lines of her enlightenment poem: “With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together, and then the bottom fell out.” For her, when the bottom fell out she saw through to enlightenment. That resonates for me as I think about how hard we all try to keep it together, wrapping our lives with bobby pins and bubble gum to hold the pieces together. And for us too, maybe only when things fall apart will we find our way to living lives that allow respect for all sentient beings (and isn’t that just what lived human rights are about?) to live lives that respect all sentient beings, all of them. (It is the all of them part that seems to particularly trip me up. It is so much easier to be fully respectful of people I like, people who agree with me.)

            So, I find myself wondering –  what will I see, what will you see, when the bottom falls out, and we have enough compassion for ourselves to remember to look through to the other side.

Eva: three years, three months, three weeks and three days towards enlightenment

When she was a young woman, Eva was able to arrange her life circumstances so that she was able to travel to a remote area in California to study Zen with Shunryu Suzuki for a three year period. At the end of the three years, feeling no sense of accomplishment, Eva presented herself to Master Suzuki and announced her departure. Shunryu Suzuki said, “Eva, you have been here for three years. Why don’t you stay three moths more?”

Eva agreed, but at the end of the three months she still felt that she had made no progress toward enlightenment. Once again she told Master Suzuki that she was leaving, and he said, “Eva, listen, you’ve been here three years and three months. Stay three weeks longer.”

Eva did, but still with no success or even any progress. So, once more she told Shunryu Suzuki that absolutely nothing had happened, he said, “Eva, you have been here three years, three months, and three weeks. Stay three more days, and if, at the end of that time, you have not attained enlightenment, then commit suicide.”

Towards the end of the second day, Eva found enlightenment.

 

When I first read this story, I laughed. I loved it. How wonderful I thought. What a great example/illustration of the importance of deadlines. But then I realized that Eva blew through three deadlines with no effect. Then I thought OK, so deadlines with consequences. And I kind of stopped laughing, and started really thinking about the deeper meaning and implications of the story. I started to search out any misogynist undertones. I looked for feminist highlights. I really teased the story apart in my head until I grew a new furrow line between my eyebrows and got a nasty headache. And I realized that I wasn’t laughing anymore.

So, I reread the story once more with feeling. I let the delight of the aha touch me again with a new freshness. It was there all the time, the laughter, the enlightenment, the love. It is all always already there. We just need to let go of all the other crap, open our hearts and let it in, let it out! It’s there in the silence, in the space between, if only we will pause long enough and listen – really listen to what is, not demand to hear what we expect, what we believe should be. Just listen to what is.

What does all of this have to do with justice and human rights? Well, I’m thinking that if we are going to change our world to be one of fairness and respect for dignity, we first need to be able to envision what that world will be like. We need to become enlightened to the possibility, the real, practical, pragmatic, awareness that it can become so. Then we need to act on that vision, that believe.  

And many of you will say, but I tried, we tried. And many of you will be able to list off lots of efforts, and then you only need to point to the world we live in to demonstrate that we are not there yet.

And I will say to you, remember Eva. You have tried for so long, try a bit longer, try three more months, three more week, try until three minute before you die. Maybe even during those last three minutes, you might could change the world.  But, I will also offer this to us all. Don’t ask the world to change – it will likely say no, or fail to hear your request. Change yourself. Be the peace, the fairness, the respect, the love that you want in the world. Be unconditional peace, fairness, respect and love. Yes, I do mean that, unconditional. No matter what the conditions around you, be peace, fairness, respect and love. And of course it will not be easy. But if we all, each of us could be the peace, fairness, respect and love for 5 or 10 minutes a day, and then for 10 or 15 minutes a day. And if each day a few more folks joined in the practice, well, that would be something. Imagine.

Fifty years ago today: Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream

Fifty years ago today, on Aug. 28, 1963

At the foot of the Lincoln Memorial

Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech:

 (Copyright 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of captivity.

But one hundred years later, we must face the tragic fact that the Negro is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

 —————————–

Fifty years ago Dr. King had a dream. He had the vision and courage to speak that dream to us all.

Dream your grandest dreams. Then wake up and live them with full hearted courage and love.

 

On the day we acknowledge Dr. King & toward the day we acknowledge human dignity

Today, January 21, 2013 is the day that the United States has deemed to remember the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We remember him in recognition of his work to end – well to challenge – racism within the United States of America.  That is a work in progress for sure.  In lots of places you will find his “I have a dream” speech.  It is an important speech. You should go read it.

Here, today, I wanted to share with you two of my favorites for thinking about and challenging racism. One is a poem by Pat Parker… it names and plays with stereotypes that so many white people hold about people of color. It plays with the struggles white people manufacture when we finally try to get over ourselves and open to developing relationships with people of color – as if that is the great gift all people of color have been waiting for all their lives (maybe, just maybe no so much!).

The second excerpt is the White Privilege Inventory that has been developed from Peggy McIntosh’s essay on Unpacking White Privilege.  … Because so many white people still think it is an even playing field.

So, read the poem, please. Think about it with an open heart. … of course she’s angry. And she is also laughing, I think.  Then fill in the inventory. Just how many privileges do you enjoy?  And, then … take one little step outside of your comfort zone. Do some little thing to make this world of ours a bit more fair, a bit more respectful of the dignity of ALL sentient beings, a bit more compassionate?

Pat Parker poem – ” For the White Person Who Wants to Know How to Be My Friend”?
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.

You should be able to dig Aretha,
but don’t play her every time i come over.
And if you decide to play Beethoven–don’t tell
me his life story. They made us take music
appreciation too.

Eat soul food if you like it, but don’t expect me
to locate your restaurants
or cook it for you.

And if some Black person insults you,
mugs you, rapes your sister, rapes you,
rips your house, or is just being an ***–
please, do not apologize to me
for wanting to do them bodily harm.
It makes me wonder if you’re foolish.

And even if you really believe Blacks are better
lovers than whites–don’t tell me. I start thinking
of charging stud fees.

In other words, if you really want to be my
friend–don’t make a labor of it. I’m lazy.
Remember.

RACIAL INVENTORY

Score 5 if statement is always true for you

Score 3 if the statement is sometimes true for you

Score 0 if the statement is seldom true for you

Because of my race or color …

1. _____ I can be in the company of people of my race most of the time.

2. _____ If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area in which I would want to live and which I can afford.

3. _____ I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely and positively represented.

4. _____ When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that my people made it what it is.

5. _____ I can be sure that curricular materials will testify to the existence of my race.

6. _____ I can go into most supermarkets and find the staple foods that fit with my cultural traditions.

7. _____ I can go into any hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.

8. _____ Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.

9. _____ I can swear, dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of my race.

10. _____ I can do well in challenging situations without being called a credit to my race.

11. _____ I am never asked to speak for people of my race.

12. _____ I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.

13. _____ I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.

14. _____ I can conveniently buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards and children’s magazines featuring people of my race

15. _____ If a traffic cop pulls me over, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

16. _____  I can go home from most meetings of the organizations I belong to feeling tied in rather than isolated, out of place, outnumbered, unheard, feared, or hated.

17. _____ I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.

18. _____ I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.

19. _____ I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.

20. _____ If my week or year is going badly, I need not wonder if each negative episode or situation has racial overtones.

21. _____ I can comfortably avoid, ignore or minimize the impact of racism on my life.

22. _____ I can speak in public to a powerful group without putting my race on trial.

23. _____ I can choose blemish cover bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.

_____  TOTAL

adapted from Peggy McIntosh “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

On loving your neighbor as yourself

 I find the great invocation, “love your neighbor as yourself” which finds expression in many of our world’s religions, to be problematic, not because I have any trouble with the idea of loving my neighbor, but because as I look around my world I simply do not think that many (if any) of us love ourselves all that well. Love your neighbor as yourself. How well do any of us really love ourselves? Psychiatry, psychology, social work and self help industries would not be flourishing to the degree that they are if authentic self love flourished. Rather self love stands as an anathema, it is more often taken as self indulgence rather than acceptance and cherishing based on awareness, knowledge and insight.  More often those who begin to walk the path of self-acceptance experience a duality within themselves – good and evil, angel and demon, love and hate – and then work to nurture one side while banishing the other. But, a house divided against itself will never stand. Until we each learn to fully cherish our selves for all of who we are, in all of our wonderful, delicious complexity, there will be no loving the other well. Until we each learn to fully cherish our selves for all of who we are, in all of our complexity, and until we learn to love each other well, there will be no justice, no respect for human rights, no peace.

 ‘Love yourself well, and love your neighbor as yourself’ is perhaps a better rendition of the precept. Karen Armstrong has eloquently described a path to loving our neighbor in her book, “twelve steps to a compassionate life.” The first step: learn about compassion progresses to look at your own world; develop compassion for yourself; develop empathy with others; practice mindfulness; take action; be aware of how little we know; consider how we should speak to one another; act with concern for everybody; continuously develop your knowledge; expand your recognition; and love your enemies.

 And as I come back to ‘love yourself well’ and Armstrong’s second step, ‘develop compassion for yourself’ I find myself thinking about how little we seem to appreciate the depth and breadth of human complexity, of how the trajectory of understanding trends toward parsimony and simplicity. But we are neither parsimonious nor simple beings. To bring Occam’s razor to understanding ourselves (and others) may be nothing more than self injury and cutting at best and perhaps slitting our wrists at worst.

 Recently, as I was reading Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf, on page 75 I came across a particularly apt metaphor for what I am trying to get at here:

A person designs for herself a garden with a hundred kinds of trees, a thousand kinds of flowers, a hundred kinds of fruit and vegetables. Suppose, then, that the gardener of this garden knew no other distinction than between edible and inedible, nine tenths of this garden would be useless to him. He would pull up the most enchanting flowers and hew down the noblest trees and even regard them with a loathing and envious eye. This is what we do with the flowers of our soul. What does not stand classified as either man or wolf, what does not fit neatly into our predefined dichotomies we do not see at all.

 In order to love our selves well, we need to learn to look at ourselves with open hearts and minds, with the eyes of loving kindness and fierce open hearted compassion. Then we can begin to love our neighbors as our selves. Then we can begin to work together to build a world of justice, a world where human dignity (in all of its messy complexity) is respected, a world of peace where differences and diversity is celebrated!

boil frogs and your goose is cooked

There is a well worn story about boiling frogs. The story goes that if you put a frog in a pot of cold water, and put the pot of water on a stovetop where you gradually – very, very  gradually – increase the temperature of the water right up to boiling, the frog will stay in the water and will be cooked to death, even though there is no lid on the pot and it could easily jump out. 

That is a very short story. It is a pretty sad and kind of depressing story if you ask me.  I thought about dressing it up and fleshing it out to present here. I thought about making it an interaction between a science teacher and a little girl. They would each have interesting names. It would be a science experiment. But then I couldn’t get past the cruelty to the frog if I made it real. So, I will leave it firmly in the realm of the apocryphal.

And, yet I find myself revisiting the story and thinking, even meditating on it more and more, not unlike a contemporary, middle American koan. 

I am the frog. You are the frog. We are all the frog.

Daily stresses are the increase in temperature. My life, your life, all of our lives are becoming ever more stressful. The pot is near to boiling. Will we stay in the pot? To mix metaphors just a bit, are we all well cooked gooses or is there yet time to jump out? But where would we jump to? Out of the pot and into the fire?

Ah, but if this is a koan, that is a bit too easy, too simple. Yes, the warming water is stress, but it is more than that. The pot and the water are our environment, the society and social institutions which structure the environment within which we live. The ever increasing heat, ah that is structural violence! Direct violence harms directly. It is overt and acute and visible. But, structural violence kills indirectly and slowly, curtailing life spans by depriving people of material and non-material resources. Structural violence is commonplace and impersonal, like the subtly and perniciously ever increasing heat in the frog’s pot, is a chronic threat nearly invisible to wellbeing.

My mother was recently taken to the emergency room of her local hospital. My mother is 87 years old and has Parkinson’s disease. She needs to be on a complex regimen of medications. She spent over 12 hours in the emergency room before she was admitted to a regular hospital room. The well meaning nurses refused to give her any of her medications. In the emergency room they gave her a little food. On the floor in her room, they would not give her food or medication until after they had completed all of their forms and questions, and then we had to wait for the on call doctor to order her meds and for the pharmacy to send them up to the floor. The systems of the hospital are created and maintained for the convenience of the doctors and nurses. The systems of the hospital are not designed for the care and well being of the basic needs of the patients.  That is a simple example of structural violence. Neglecting the need for food and medication of patients who are ill is wrong, and it is the norm.

Structural violence is built into the fabric of political and economic structures of society; it is built into our social institutions to create subtly harmful conditions that become ‘the way things are’.  It is the subtle heat that harms by depriving individuals and groups of access to basic needs: social domination, political oppression, economic exploitation. Structural violence and asymmetries of power generate a kind of quiet brutality that gives birth to the banality of evil.

If we are to not be frogs in the pot, we need to be aware and act to challenge and change how and where the pathologies of power take their toll. Whose needs are served by the rules that structure and guide patterns of social interaction in our hospitals, our schools, our churches, our businesses, social services, government agencies?  Structural violence and pathologies of power take their toll by creating conditions that deplete and deprive each of us of the potential for well being. The increasing heat is the lack of access to basic capabilities. According to Martha Nussbaum, basic human capabilities include life; bodily health and integrity; clarity, awareness, and the ability to express our senses, imagination, thought, and emotions; practical reason; affiliation; the social bases of self-respect and nonhumiliation; play; respect for other species; control over one’s social environment; and respect for the physical environment. We all have a right to each and every one of these basic capabilities simply because we are human beings; simply because we are sentient beings. Each of these basic capabilities is fundamental to living lives of dignity.

Look at our world, look at your world. Persistently throughout the course of our lives, throughout the course of each day in a myriad of ways, we are denied access and enjoyment of these basic capabilities.  And we are told that this is normal, that this is the way that things are, the way they must be for the efficient and effective functioning of our hospitals, our schools, our churches, our businesses, social services, government agencies – of our society.  If we continue to buy that line, then we are indeed all frogs in the pot, we will indeed be gooses who are quite cooked.

Rather, we need to learn to cherish ourselves and each other. We need to respect ourselves and each other, and we need to honor each other’s basic dignity as human beings. We need to become our own best friend, even as we develop the attitude and practice of befriending each other, even as we become ever more awake and aware.

Life and death are grave matters.

All things pass quickly away

Each of us must be completely alert:

Never neglectful, never indulgent.

This is a Zen saying, the evening message at many Zen sangha’s (communities), may we honor it well, with deep thought and compassionate action.

Mary’s Last Lecture: A Retrospective Pastiche of Potholes and Passages

If you missed the lecture because you had to be somewhere else or because you had a bit of a nap, here it is. 

(You know, click the title): Mary’s Last Lecture: A Pastiche of Potholes And Passages

please feel free to comment, discuss or let me know what you think?

thanks!

Be well … and … may your work, your love, your lives be filled with beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence!

mary

PS.  more blogs are on their way! this is just my last lecture as an academic.

ENJOY

Alchemy is about not waiting for the world to change

Just Alchemy?  sure. 

Just as in justice as in fairness.

Alchemy as in a process to transform matter such as turning base metals inot gold, so a process leading to paradoxical — transformative results.

For me, the alchemy of justice and human rights come together in stories, poems, myths and the principles and rules that guide our lives. So, here I will write about all of that, about those things that in some kind of way hint at transformation to a world that honors justice and celebrates  dignity and human rights.