The truth in practice

Change/Transformation, Classroom/Curricula, Reflection, Uncategorized, Writing

When I discovered Karen Armstrong’s “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life (book and a summary),” I knew I had found my framework for living an ethical, meaningful life.  As I read and re-read the words of those who have influenced me most (bell hooks, Riane Eisler, Ron Miller, Betty Reardon, Shawn Ferch, Stephen Covey, Dr. King, Ghandi, Christ, and so many others), I am pierced to my soul, again and again.  They all say the same thing, the same thing their mentors, muses, and guides said, and those before them:

Be kind to one another.

That’s it.  That’s the message that matters, and it’s the one we most often disregard.  Yesterday, I had one of the best conversations with my students I think we’ve ever had.  We were discussing the 5th Habit (from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People“), “Seek First to Understand,” and we explored so many areas.  We discussed why we don’t try to understand, what it feels like to be mean in comparison to being kind, why we are afraid to be kind, what it means to have never received empathy, the nature of ethical character, the feelings that form the foundations for both meanness and kindness, the criticality of self-awareness and self-honesty, and the truth that being kind is a practice.

Kindness is both a skill and a frame of mind and being that we can actively cultivate and practice.  It isn’t an accident, a happy mischance or inborn talent.  It takes constant work and attention to practice kindness and compassion, to build the internal strength and fortitude necessary to maintain its gentleness in the face of cruelty and brutality.  But, as with any skill, habit, or practice, it is our choice to continue or not.  It is my hope that they will continue their practice, for the rest of their lives.

Every time I think about these conversations, about how I came to this point in my life and the potential for the futures of these women, I possessed by feelings of such immensity and power that I have to breathe deeply and allow them to pass through, around, over.  I believe these are moments of alignment, when my heart, mind, body, and spirit are perfectly in tune with our universal purpose.  In my more calm and accepting moments, I am humbled by my journey – how each phase of my life prepared me to be this person, to care for these women, to bring something meaningful into this world.

I spent so many years of my life with no purpose, not knowing what purpose meant, or that I might seek and find such a thing. It would be easy to spend time regretting all those ‘lost’ years, but I can’t.  Without remembering those meaningless years, my current state would lose much of its richness.  Neale Donald Walsch wrote, in one of the “Conversations with God” books “First, you must be who you are NOT in order to be who you ARE.” I believe this is true for both myself and for my students.  More than I, more than most of us could ever know, they have been who they are NOT.

Now, they will get the chance to show us who they ARE.

Don’t worry, I won’t

Hard Stuff, Peace/Conflict, Social Justice, Uncategorized

For a while now, service men and women have been talking/not talking about the whole “thank you for your service” bit.  You know, the one where Person X realizes Person Y served in one of our endless wars and claps them on the shoulder with a hearty “Thank you for your service!”  That one?

Well, vets aren’t buying it, in part because they see it as an easy way for people to avoid truly understanding their sacrifices and suffering.  They’re probably right – it IS an easy way for people to feel like they’ve done something, liking or sharing a post or passing along a petition.  It’s ephemeral action, prompted by vague sensations of obligation and guilt.  But it’s over quickly and life goes on badda bing, badda boom. I’m not sure what would constitute a proper “thank you,” I’m not sure there is one.

It’s almost a certainty that I’ll never thank a vet for their service because I’m not convinced that the US government sending women and men to kill and die is something I want to thank anyone for.  That I know of, no one ever thanked my father for his service and his service ultimately killed him.  A slow, lingering, wasting, psychotic death, courtesy of Agent Orange and decades of untreated PTSD. Agent Orange ate his body, while PTSD gnawed his heart and mind.  He died several years ago – sick, angry, sad, afraid, and alienated from his family.

Thank you, US government and taxpayers, for sending my father to your service. Thank you, US government and taxpayers, for treating him, and the other boys you sent to die in Vietnam, like pieces of shit when they came back.  Thank you, US government and the VA, for forcing him to wait YEARS before acknowledging his exposure to Agent Orange and all the resulting physical illness.  Thank you, US government for not having a safety net in place for him, and tens of thousands of men like him, so they didn’t die or go insane under the weight of grief and trauma and rage and fear from everything they experienced in that horrifying war.

There is my thank you, service people.  It’s the only thank you I can imagine offering.

I don’t thank people for their military service because those words simply don’t make sense to me.  I know millions of people think our military keeps us safe, and stops all those “Others” from invading our country and killing us in our sleep.  Our military keeps us “safe” by doing exactly that to people in other countries – to people who don’t look like us, don’t eat what we eat, don’t believe what we believe.  I won’t say I believe any of those people deserve to die – any more than our soldiers deserve to be sent to kill and die.  I don’t believe my safety demands they be indoctrinated with a mindset that builds towering barriers between Them and Us.

I’ve watched the US clench itself into a fist of fear and anger and confusion and grief over the last 13 years, long years since 9/11.  I’ve watched us become more and more divided over issues fundamental to our humanity, issues that used to define us as a nation.  I’ve watched us become more and more suspicious, lashing out in wide-eyed fear and mistrust.  The few who speak out against this reactive behavior are often crucified, because terror holds no room for differences of opinion.

I grew up in a military family.  I spent the first 18 years of my life on military bases, moving around, following my father to his next station.  I watched him die as a result of his service to his country.  So to all those men and women who don’t want me to thank them for their service, don’t worry – I won’t.