Archive for the 'wisdom' Category

Corruption in politics

April 3, 2014

The recent Supreme Court decision about campaign contribution caps seems to me to reflect to what extent people who succeed in politics, government, and its supporting professions don’t even realize they’ve internalized an acceptance of (soft forms of) corruption.  Seeing corruption as limited to explicit quid pro quo transactions I think is like claiming cash is the only means of payment in our society’s economy — no barter, no checks, no credit or debit cards, no electronic payments.

I don’t know what makes leaders think corruption more generally isn’t a threat to the system and our society, but I notice sometimes a “We know better” attitude in the positions of wealthy conservatives, that their wealth and material success qualify them for knowing what works to make a society successful.  Wealth and material success are indicators that a person knows how to achieve wealth and material success, it seems to me, neither requires insight into what makes a society successful.

Of course, there are other explanations for people who, knowingly or not, accept corruption.  Greed.  Fear.  Enjoyment of power over others.  Desire to feel safer by looking down on others.  Insufficiently developed capacity for empathy or insufficiently developed conscience.  I’m sure there are more.

But I think we do as a group have a cultural myth about wealth and material success reflecting wisdom.  I think that’s an unwarranted leap in logic, and I think the decisions of our leadership reflect that reality instead.  We need a better system to select for wisdom among our leaders, in my view.


Thinking you remember

December 23, 2012

I wrote a post here some time ago in which I referred to computer programming in Basic, to “if … then …” structure, and as I wrote it, I could feel myself not really remembering the details, in terms of the programming, of what I was writing about.  I’m not sure it mattered in that post, the concept I think I got right.

But that experience gave me a window into what some people apparently do when they continue to act as sources of wisdom after they’ve lost the knack of discerning in a way that gives access to profound understanding.

This is easier to see within a belief system that includes reincarnation, although maybe after I explain it that way, I will be able to see how to translate it into a system that doesn’t.

Somebody attains in a particular lifetime the ability to see beyond dualism, to no longer see things in opposition to each other but to see unity, to harmonize seemingly conflicting strands organically merging and to see unity without intellectual rationalizing.  I think what I’m referring to is what Richard Rohr describes much better in his book The Naked Now.

But they are missing something in their spiritual development and are reborn to explore that.  (I don’t think everybody develops themselves in exactly the same sequence.)  They grow up and they have a vague sense they should be offering wise counsel and they have a vague sense of how to do that.  And they have a fleeting thought that even if they don’t do it exactly right, it won’t matter in terms of whether their audience notices.

I think they don’t want to do what it would take to regain the ability to see in unity (again).  It may be that what they are looking to explore in this lifetime of theirs is the humility to relearn alongside of people learning how to discern in stereo for the first time.

That learning requires, I think, a huge amount of openness, and coming to that state of openness can be quite painful.  I suspect that for some reason the person in question just really doesn’t want to go through that, perhaps because they have a vague sense of what it would entail from having done it before, and they don’t have the vague sense that that’s just the point — to go back and do it again.

I’ve struggled with the explanation that maybe they have a good reason for not going through the learning process again, for not becoming more open.  In the end I think I made no determination on whether they could have done it successfully, because it became clear that, regardless, they weren’t agreeable with trying.  So somebody else took their place, in terms developing this particular talent.  And the original person tried to continue to offer wise advice, although now, in this lifetime, they were doing it while relying on their imperfect recollection of how to discern it.  And they did not pursue the lesson they had come to learn.

If I try to explain this without reference to past lives, I guess I would say it’s someone faking it, maybe after reading a description of how it’s done but not actually going through the process described.

For my own part, I’ve come to see that my lesson may be to learn that people don’t have to follow through on what they set out to do, that I have to stop believing their self-reporting that they will, and that eventually some other way of serving the greater good needs to be used.  Eventually, the “This is so stupid” aspect of the situation comes to trump any concern about whether finding another way to resolve it is “fair;”  who cares about who spilled the milk?  We can clean up a spill, regardless of who or what contributed to its occurrence, if cleaning it up is the important thing.

I’ve also learned not to wait around for the other person to perceive the situation as I do.  Jewel may sing about not being “made useless with despair,” I’m more worried about being made useless by waiting for something to happen that won’t.

Which brings me back to the issue of belief, or not, in reincarnation.  Because some of these people take the attitude that I should wait, that they really will get to it [in this lifetime].  What I see is that maybe they will get to it, but it will be during another lifetime.  That explains their sincerity and my disbelief.

Wealth and power as proxies for wisdom

August 5, 2012

People who accumulate wealth and power clearly have skills and talents, but I’m not sure they include what most people commonly regard as wisdom — insight, ability to see things from multiple perspectives, ability to remove self-interest and work towards the greater good.

Years ago, my mother and I were discussing on the phone something in the news about Dick Cheney, and all of a sudden I got curious about what my dad thought of him.  (I think my father subsequently became disillusioned with Cheney, so this anecdote is being presented for its concept, not for its particular usefulness as understanding my dad’s current politics.)  My mom said something along the lines that my dad admired his success and wealth in business and figured from that he must be smart/have something going on — I don’t remember the exact words, but something to the effect, in a positive way, that where there’s smoke there’s fire — where there’s success/wealth there’s smarts.  Something like that.

What I heard in this is that my dad sees reflected in someone like Cheney characteristics he has in himself and sees as strengths.  Smarts and financial acumen.  I don’t think it ever occurred to him to wonder whether such traits are a good match for political leadership.  Traits I would look for, like emotional maturity and fluid thinking, I don’t think ever occur to him to screen for.  He sort of looks for somebody like himself.  He’s not the hail-fellow-well-met sort, so he’s not looking for the candidate with whom he’d like to go out for a beer.

In our society, some influential group of people has come to believe that success at capitalism and the accumulation of wealth and power are good proxies for the qualities needed in political leadership.  Judging from the example of my dad, I suspect all this reflects is that these people are trying to select people with whom they feel some affinity.  It is not clear to me that these qualities are helpful criteria for selecting a leader who will be successful at governing and leading.

We’re usually blind to the weaknesses in our world view — in a sense, we don’t know what we don’t know.  If we lack the ability to understand other people, for example, we probably don’t realize that we do.  We may see that trait and its consequences as something else.  I know people whose behavior would clearly put them in the category of having a personality disorder, if we want to use currently accepted labels, who label themselves as (only) having Asperger’s Syndrome.  People who think they are helping, others may see as crossing a line into enabling.  Our vision of ourselves is limited, especially by habits of coping mechanisms designed to protect the self from seeing more than it can handle.

Where I see change would be most helpful is at the level of the private individual.  Like campaigns for improved physical fitness, I see the need for improved mental fitness.  We need to get to know ourselves and restore that self to health.  When we try to improve things by fighting with each other at levels removed from this basic issue, we get distracted into eddies that don’t lead anywhere.  There’s a song by Jewel that talks about not getting made useless by despair, I think; I would add not acceding to being made useless by distractions.   I am not terribly interested in getting caught up in superficial pursuits that keep us from doing the real work.  And the real work is not glamorous or salving to the ego, although we certainly need to be gentle with our egos and carefully increase our “workouts,” not try to be “weekend warriors” of mental improvement.

I sometimes find myself briefly experiencing the world as another person does.  Most of the time I find their set-up something I am relieved not to have to live with.  (There are exceptions — I have encountered some people who are so much better than I at being peaceful in the moment, for example — they inspire me to get there myself.)    I suspect each person has to travel the path they are on, that for them it suits.

In my previous work I have helped other people who want to, who have asked for help with, who are willing to become unstuck on their path.  I think when people have wanted my help with remaining stuck on their path, because for some reason that does not serve they have come to insist on that spot and its combination of benefits and costs, the universe has eventually figured out a way to end that deadly embrace for the long run.  I don’t think my calling is to provide support for something that does not serve.  Which is not to say that a relationship can’t be worked out that does serve, just that so long as I have willingness to (only) serve, the relationship may not be what the other person has in mind, a relationship that would feed their personal agenda, not serve their greater good.

For me the good news is that my own willingness is all I need, not the cooperation of the other person or even the understanding of what will end a dysfunctional relationship.  This is not to say I am not saddened by its ending, but I know that that loss, however painful, is nothing compared to the loss I will experience if I let go of my willingness to serve.  Maybe I should add that I’m always open if the other person should change their mind about wanting to follow their own agenda and instead become willing to serve.

Magic Shoes

June 1, 2012

I grew up in part with another family who had a pair of twins six years younger than I (and another child right in between).  I was eight when they moved in, so this story occurred before I knew them but I heard it told many times.

One of the girls (as these twins were called) learned to walk first and was given a pair of shoes.  The other apparently then would grab the shoes when they weren’t being worn and bonk her sister on the head with them.  Somehow the notion that the non-ambulatory sister thought the shoes magically conferred the ability to walk was communicated — I can’t recall whether she called them “Magic shoes” as she bonked her sister or not, but something like that.

Well, the parents quickly decided it was preferable to buy the daughter who was not yet walking her own pair of shoes, even if they weren’t needed and got oddly scuffed from crawling, in order to stop the bonking.  This solution had the desired effect.  I don’t think there was any lasting damage — the earlier walker became a philosophy professor, the bonker a pediatric gastroenterologist.

But I like the story still because I think some people want magic shoes of a different sort.  Their goal is wisdom, and they look to what people they consider wise do and they want to imitate that — have their jobs, read what they read, apply their techniques and ideas.  But wisdom comes through and from a whole life, not from intellectual pursuits.  It is earned in a sense.  In includes compassion and mercy derived from facing hardship and difficult times and allowing one’s heart to break open and working to keep it that way.  There are to be sure other components to wisdom, but hardship and loss seem to be the ones many people want to leapfrog over, and closing oneself off (including through habits of thinking and behaving like bitterness or sophistication) seems to be the other great hazard — if hardship leads to a thickened rather than a pierced shell then I am not sure how the admixture that is wisdom can be formed.

Magic shoes, magic glasses, magic combinations of anything superficial won’t get us there, to wisdom — we have to have our full selves at risk.  It takes willingness and a kind of surrender, I don’t think there’s any way to substitute for that depth of involvement.  And the willingness is not to become wise but to serve however serves the universal good.