Tag Archives: perspective

Autocracy Can Resolve Political Conflict!!!

The political divide in my country is greater than I’ve ever seen, the result of long-standing tensions that found expression in the election of Trump to the presidency.  There are many dimensions of this division but in my estimation the key issue is perspective on life itself.  Some conservatives are rigidly sure that there is only one way to view the world, the “right way,” and it “just happens” to be their way.  On the other hand, progressives are more open-minded, seeing the world as fluid and less rigidly defined.  This viewpoint also is often held very rigidly in spite of announced beliefs of open-mindedness, failing to appreciate the value of a conservative approach to life.  The conservative resistance to change and the progressive insistence on change are contrasting approaches to life, both of which are necessary for any group, i.e. “tribe”, to function.  When the tension between these two social impulses becomes to great violence can erupt if wise and astute leadership is not available in the tribe.

Perspective is merely a view of the world, best illustrated with the old image of, “Do you see the glass half empty or half full?”  This question is a simple illustration that what is going on in the depths of one’s heart can influence how he interprets even a simple thing like the fullness or a glass of water not to mention more weightier issues such as immigration or abortion.  The problem arises only when those who are “half fullers” become adamant in their position while “half-emptiers” are equally adamantine. In gridlock such as this, perspective has become a tyrant and it is tyranny of this sort that led to the Civil War in 1861.

A philosopher once noted, “You cannot have a perspective on your perspective without somehow escaping it.”  Implicit in this wisdom is the understanding that regardless of how certain one might be about his view of the world, it is possible to stand back a bit and mull over the possibility that someone might see things differently.  This involves respect for other people, for “the Other,” and if this respect is lacking conflict will emerge.  Sometimes the solution that arises to alleviate this conflict is tyranny as one side of the issue is able to manage political and social power to the point that the alternative viewpoint is squashed.  For this reason an autocratic regime systematically attempts to repress dissent.

A caveat is here in order.  I have here presented a perspective on a complicated matter, a perspective on perspective itself.  I bring the same “skewed” view of the world to everything I post here and to everything I think and say in my day-to-day life.  There are many good and wise people who do not have this view of the world.  The problem arises only when one “skewed” view of the world usurps power and attempts to squash other “skewed” views of the world.  If this power grab is successful, the result will be the aforementioned autocratic state.

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Robert Frost’s “Mite” of Wisdom

Robert Frost is one of the best known 20th century American poets and one of the first poets I stumbled across in junior high school, being forced to memorize one of his poems, “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  I also remember him reading a poem as I watched the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on TV, getting my first impression that a poet might be a person of importance!  I can’t say that Frost has made my personal pantheon of poets but I do like his work, deeply admire the story of his personal struggles, and am particular struck by one of his poems which I will now share, “A Considerable Speck.”  This poem takes the simple experience of Frost witnessing an innocent insect frittering about on a piece of paper on his desk, sparking the image in his mind of the human predicament of the daily life of frenzied, hyper-kinetic activity without ever taking a pause to contemplate, “Just what is the point anyway?” There is a certain foolish dimension to life the consideration of which can actually deepen the meaning of life if we will give it occasional attention.  Frost used the image of this desperate little “speck” of life on a piece of paper to suggest an occasional venture into the humility of finitude.

A speck that would have been beneath my sight
On any but a paper sheet so white
Set off across what I had written there.
And I had idly poised my pen in air
To stop it with a period of ink
When something strange about it made me think,
This was no dust speck by my breathing blown,
But unmistakably a living mite
With inclinations it could call its own.
It paused as with suspicion of my pen,
And then came racing wildly on again
To where my manuscript was not yet dry;
Then paused again and either drank or smelt–
With loathing, for again it turned to fly.
Plainly with an intelligence I dealt.
It seemed too tiny to have room for feet,
Yet must have had a set of them complete
To express how much it didn’t want to die.
It ran with terror and with cunning crept.
It faltered: I could see it hesitate;
Then in the middle of the open sheet
Cower down in desperation to accept
Whatever I accorded it of fate.
I have none of the tenderer-than-thou
Collectivistic regimenting love
With which the modern world is being swept.
But this poor microscopic item now!
Since it was nothing I knew evil of
I let it lie there till I hope it slept.

I have a mind myself and recognize
Mind when I meet with it in any guise
No one can know how glad I am to find
On any sheet the least display of mind. 

 

The Irony of Speaking the Truth

This truth matter is really heavy on my heart recently primarily from the assault on “Truth” by the Trump administration.  In the past week I have explored truth’s subtlety, a subtlety that is so pronounced that I think it is something we can never grasp objectively but Some “thing” that peeks through our heart occasionally in spite of our deep-seated, unconscious effort to not let it happen.

But please note the irony I am demonstrating.  I will admit that at present moment I believe I am speaking…or writing…what is truthful otherwise I would not even bother to offer this verbal deed to the oblivion of the cyber world.  But what I say here, and in real time, is only a perspective of how I see the world and can never be thought of as “objective.”  Everything we do and say is only our “skewed” way of viewing the world but it is important that we put this “skewed view” on the table in daily exchange with other people, be it here in the cyber world and or in day-to-day life with people we encounter.  The dialogical engagement with other people is imperative so that we can avoid the temptation of speaking, thinking, and living in an echo chamber.

The echo chamber is lethal.  If we isolate ourselves within a safe cocoon of group-think we are signing our death certificate, so to speak, as the soul cannot thrive in the resulting abyss of “empty self-relatedness.”  This isolation, if not broken, will spell our doom individually and collectively without Divine intervention; for, in that self-imposed prison we “feed even on the pith of life” as Shakespeare not

Thinking “Outside of the Box”

“Thinking outside of the box” is popular rhetoric for looking at things differently.  But, the task asks for more than is often realized–realizing that you are “boxed” already and have a built-in, ego based aversion for escaping that narrow view of the world.  And though you might bounce around the notion of “thinking outside of the box,” just be aware that you are not likely to do it beyond a comfort zone and that getting beyond that “comfort zone” is where the action is.  Getting beyond one’s comfort zone is the essence of “spirituality,” a term I use to refer to getting down into the “foul and ragged bone shop of the heart” where we actually live.  I will readily admit that the spirituality of my life has usually been designed to avoid this “catastrophe”;  and it is “catastrophic” when we begin to step outside of the comfort zone our box has provided us and begin to delve into the heart.

Another way to approach “thinking outside of the box” is paradigm shifting.  But, once again, you can’t begin to “paradigm shift” until you have the honesty and self-awareness to acknowledge that you are confined by a paradigm.  And we all are.  It is called “being human.”  But I’ve spent my life avoiding my human-ness, remaining in the comfort zone of my preconceptions and biases, i.e. my “box.”  And my Christian faith has been the most important dimension of my “box” and I am only now beginning to explore this matter.  And this is not to diminish the teachings of Jesus but merely to recognize that His teachings always come to an individual in a cultural context; and, try as we may, we cannot fail to consider the impact of the cultural context on our interpretations of His teachings and on the interpretation of every dimension of life.

The particular cultural context that I was born into offered me a spirituality that solved this “dilemma” by teaching that “cultural context” did not have any role in spirituality, that it came to us directly from on high without any interference by little difficulties like preconceptions and biases.  And that “solution” was the very heart of the problems which I’m beginning to explore and is very relevant to the lunacy so very apparent today in evangelical Christianity in my country.

A closing thought from the philosopher Paul Ricoeur, “You can’t have a perspective on your perspective without somehow escaping it.”

 

 

 

 

The Adventure of Life

“Life is an adventure,” so they say.  It is a commonplace that is almost banal, ranking right up there with “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  But, I find it really is an adventure which takes place when one begins to venture beyond the narrow confines of the way one was taught to see…and feel…the world.  But the real challenge lies in the very difficult task of becoming aware of this narrow prism through which one views the world, how the tyranny of assumptions shapes our fundamental perceptions of the world.  And to ask one to see these premises that shapes this world view is like asking a fish to see water.

It must be noted by those of us who swim in the aether of cerebral thought that most people in the world cannot ever make this meta-cognitive leap; and for them to do so would be catastrophic for human culture.  The day-to-day grind of reality depends on people who “mindlessly” go through the motions of their daily life without questioning the “basic assumptions” that I am putting on the table here.  And furthermore, for me to use the term “mindless” here merits caution as I do have a contempt gene which is too often near the surface!

We are tribal creatures and the tribal rituals are easily analyzed by people like myself who have lived their whole life “off the grid” in some fashion.  (I think one term for people like me is “pointy-headed pseudo-intellectuals” or perhaps more accurately “alienated.”)   But we are a tribe, a global tribe composed of smaller tribes who must somehow find a way to live together with a modicum of harmony.  But each tribe has an innate tendency to not see beyond the safe confines of its basic assumptions and each member of that tribe learns to drink the same “kool-aid.”  That is what makes it a tribe.

But the adventure of life starts when we realize that we have “drank the kool-aid” in some fashion and are shaped by basic assumptions given to us by our culture.  Then we can begin to find a bit of freedom and can begin to play with reality.  Yes, we can even begin to “play with our self” (wink, wink) and with the beautiful human and natural world that we find ourselves in, a beautiful “Garden of Eden” in some sense.

However, it is scary!  We are hard-wired to live within those “safe confines” and to suddenly realize we are “off the reservation” can easily be a Pyrrhic victory.  To take a quantum leap here, it will ultimately bring us to the Shakespearean issue of “to be, or not to be” and can even bring one to the point of suicide.  For it is gut-wrenchingly painful to realize that one does not belong to the tribe, to be deprived of that “fig-leaf,” and to stand there on that heath like King Lear, pelted by that pitiless storm, naked as a jay-bird.

This is where faith comes in for me.  But the temptation here is to take one’s tribal faith, make a fanatical investment or re-investment in it, and hold on “come hell or high water.”  And all fanaticism (i.e., “addiction) has its roots with this deep-seated existential loneliness.  The tribal religion that my culture offered me was the Judeo-Christian tradition and I have certainly allowed it to be in my life the “opiate” that Karl Marx described.  But opiate does not work for me anymore…or at least that one does not! (I do drink too much!)  I find that my “tribal religion” offers symbols, stories, traditions that are very valuable as I stand here on this heath with King Lear and others and find that there is hope and even purpose.  This “adventure” I am discovering now beyond those aforementioned “confines” involves death, for pushing limits always involves a death-wish of some sort but the Christian tradition teaches that death and live are intertwined and that to “die” is to “live.”  To put it succinctly, there is no “life” without “death.”  Oh yes, there is existence but there is no experience of human-ness, being a live body and soul for this brief moment we have in this time-space continuum.  This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples who wanted to delay going with him for to help with a burial party, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

However, here is an important point that I’ve already touched on.  It is easy to interpret that quip from Jesus to mean that everyone else in the world who did not follow him was “dead” and therefore would “burn in hell one day.”  That is how I was taught!  But I don’t think so.  Jesus was playing with words, telling his disciples that they needed to follow him and let the burial party take care of its business, that it did not need them.  Jesus was saying that the rest of the world was okay and “dead” was only a metaphor to say they were not amenable to his teachings, that their role in life was to see things differently and to live different lives within “safe confines.”  Jesus realized that the “adventure” I’ve described here was not for everybody but that their life also was “ok”. 

Do I Dare Disturb the Universe?

“Scare the world. be exactly what you say you are and tell the truth.” Someone posted this simple little admonishment on Facebook last week and it grabbed me, making me think of T. S. Eliot’s famous question, “Do I dare disturb the universe?” For, if I ever gain the courage to become authentic and act and speak out of that authenticity, I will “scare the world” and “disturb the universe.”

Now, the “world” and “universe” that I will startle will be very small for I am not a person of note; or, as I like to facetiously put it, I am merely a “small clod of cholesterol in the mainstream of life.” The first universe that I must disturb is the private one that I live in, that narrow prism through which I view the world which, if unexamined, is but a prison. And, if I can find the courage to experience the disturbance of “awareness” this cannot but have an impact on my thought, speech, behavior and consequently my little corner of the world.  (W. H. Auden noted, “O blessed be bleak Exposure on whose sword we are pricked into coming alive.”)

The key is awareness. The key is realizing that we “have eyes to see but see not” and “ears to hear but hear not” and if we ever understand that…in the depths of our heart, and do so with feeling, it will give us pause. For then we will understand that we will never be able to do anything but “see through a glass darkly.” And to see, and feel, this “darkly” dimension of our perspective field is very humbling and even frightening. It has been, and is, for me for I was taught that I could see things objectively.

Authenticity is a dangerous phenomena for the world as it mechanically, relentlessly grinds on day to day under the collective dictate of “the way things are.” The unexamined life is always driven by unquestioned assumptions which are merely those which we have imbibed from the little corner of the world in which we were born and have not dared to question. And as Adrienne Rich once noted, “We cannot begin to know who we are until we question the assumptions in which we are drenched.”

Emily Dickinson’s Cloistered View of the World

I love Emily Dickinson. I love her cryptic, almost awkward use of words to describe the human predicament and reveal her own complicated, conflicted soul. She lived her life cloistered in her father’s attic, preferring the solace of her intricate verbal world over the “dog-and-pony-show” of her day. I identify myself with her cloistered view of the world but my “cloistering” has mercifully been metaphorical.

One of her poems that has always grabbed me was about attention, the tendency of our “soul” to fashion a world that it is comfortable with and then “close the valves of our attention like stone.” I love that image and can almost hear those valves “closing like stone.”

Here is the poem:

The Soul selects her own Society,
Then, shuts the door;
To her divine Majority
Present (or obtrude) no more.
Unmoved, she notes the Chariots
Pausing at her low gate.
Unmoved, an Emperor be kneeling upon her mat.
I’ve known her from an ample nation choose one
Then close the valves of her attention like stone.

I had often come up with the same observation about life but until I read this poem I could only offer “we believe what we want to believe”, not having the gift of poetic expression as Dickinson did. And, though this insight came with the price of “detachment,” I’m glad to have paid that price as it has helped me to remember to appreciate and value my perspective on life but to remember that everyone’s “valves of attention” creates unique viewpoints.

And in this poem note the soul’s response to her stately “visitor”. This soul, comfortable in its own private little world, turns its nose down at a visitor who should be graciously welcomed. It makes me think of Hamlet’s pining to escape his “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” by “fleeing to a nutshell” where there he could be “king of infinite spaces.”

This poem reveals that Dickinson knew she lived detached in a private world and the body of her poetry suggests that she found a comfort there in her solitude. Emotional isolation can easily be a “private hell”….as it is when one is the “king of infinite spaces”…but the gods can afford comfort there if it happens to be one’s lot in life. And without Dickinson’s acceptance of her “lot in life”, our world would be deprived of her poetic riches.