Self-Reliance in the face of Morality

I have been mulling over a difficult and complex issue lately. Of course, in these kinds of issues, there are no real answers, only possible solutions and theories; but I’ll do my best.

I find myself consistently involved in discussion about sensitive issues and complexities about human nature and global relations regarding these issues; I’ve always been a curious person. Unfortunately, I also often find myself facing the ire of the person with whom I’m discussing these curiosities.

This is exceedingly frustrating.

All I am interested in is expanding my knowledge and understanding of an issue, and perhaps also attaining an understanding of a varied perspective, as a discussion with another mind will often bring. These  are important to me. These allow me to look beyond my own limited thought patterns and understand things that would have only brought confusion before. But when someone starts attacking my views and/or points in a way that doesn’t allow for an expansion of understanding and only a feeling that somehow I am stupid or ignorant…this really defeats the purpose of said discussion.

Frustration: 1; Peace: 0

In response, I have reverted to researching these issues online instead of in collaboration with another human being. Limited, but safer. I came across an article about the hypocrisy of human rights activists and groups; specifically, about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist who fought against the military junta after she spent 15 years in prison for her activism, and about the Human Rights Watch in the US of A. In the former, the author wrote that Aung San was a hypocrite because she didn’t fight for the rights of Muslims in Burma, only those of the Buddhists. In the latter, the author wrote that the Human Rights Watch was hypocritical because it consistently spoke out against the human rights violations in countries who were political enemies of the USA, and let political allies (including the US itself) off the hook.

Granted, both of these sound (and probably are) hypocritical. However, let’s think about these a little more closely. Both of these examples discuss someone (or something) who has a goal of protecting human rights. And both of these examples discuss how said people have failed their campaigns. But specifically, how have these people failed? Because their campaigns didn’t encompass every nook and cranny of the subject of human rights? Did Aung San Suu Kyi fail her people because she failed to fight for, specifically, the Muslims in Burma? Did the Human Rights Watch fail in its duty because it kept a close eye on people who were considered a threat to its home country instead of the whole world?

Let’s look at the purpose of these campaigns. Aung San Suu Kyi based her human rights campaign on the overreach of the military regime of the Burmese government. She, as a Buddhist, believed that peaceful responses were the most appropriate, and protested accordingly. She campaigned for democracy and general human rights for the people in Burma. She is a political activist. The Human Rights Watch is an international privately-run, non-profit organization dedicated to the research and public awareness of human rights violations by governments and individuals worldwide. It is funded by personal donations from people who wish to see these types of headlines and awareness in the world. It researches human rights violations worldwide and publishes articles based on their findings, and when those findings are challenged , they review the situation and publish a rebuttal.

In the event that a country or individual is under the scrutiny of activists, one can expect a quick and sometimes brutal defense. It happens every day of our lives. Unfortunately, it seems that when people are unable to take a step back from their own agenda, they are unable to coolly debate a point and end up devolving the situation to a matter of finger-pointing, twisted words, and baseless (and sometimes not) and cruel attacks on the character or argument of the opposite party. Sometimes it isn’t the person or group under scrutiny who attacks.

Sometimes it’s the people who are watching the show.

Why? Why do people feel the need to jump in the fray from the sidelines, especially when they may not fully understand the situation. Do they feel that their opinion is the correct one to fix the situation? (There is, by the way, a flaw in this logic: we’re talking about an opinion, which, by definition, is only an opinion when it can be disputed, therefore can not be correct or incorrect.) Do they feel like their opinion is important enough to override any of those being debated? (perhaps this is a harsh question, but it needs to be asked. Too many people feel that their opinions need to be heard more than other opinions, and, as a result, don’t often listen to the whole point being made, or don’t give the point enough thought and jump to conclusions.)

Now I didn’t find a rebuttal to the criticisms of Aung San, but I did find a very well written and supported one from the Human Rights Watch (which is probably why their research and articles are widely respected and hold such weight, as they show that they can and will back themselves up); and, besides a large dose of political interactions from around the world, what I learned from this is that the best response to the impassioned criticisms and attacks from those who have their guard up is a cool and collected fact-based correction, or rebuttal, if you have a larger point to make.

The original criticism can be read here, and the rebuttal can be read here. Interestingly, they are on the same website. The criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi can be found here.

I also have realized that people who make their public platforms out of moral reasoning and questions are often held up to an ideal that can’t be matched. It’s almost as if they, because they have stepped up to bat in the moral debate, are not allowed to make mistakes or have flaws, because morality is an important and sensitive issue. Morality is such that, in some cultures, only God has the power to make those types of decisions. The issue? These issues are being debated on a human level, not on a spiritual level. Between governments and governees. Between people. Ideals are nice to have, and even provide an excellent basis for future decisions, but when those ideals are put to test in the real world, the results are often more complex than a simple right or wrong. And the scrutiny of these ideals is even stronger when those putting them to the test are in public service, and therefore in the public eye.

But when it is just you and another person with whom you are discussing something sensitive, these same problems and complexities crop up. Unfortunately, I feel that if we can’t discuss these issues without resorting to personal attacks and defensive measures on a personal and private level, the problems only get worse when the field is widened to a public level. This is why I am reflecting on these issues here, because I really do believe that if we wish to get anywhere at all as a human community, we need to practice getting somewhere in a smaller community such as between friends.

In my experience, being thoughtful in person has backfired many times. Often, my observations and questions are seen as conclusions set in stone instead of as they are intended: something closer to the way science works, as a theorem that must be and will be morphed and changed as new information is incorporated into the research. In my experience, the only way people can have a discussion such as the ones above is if they both view the discussion as research, where they are just adding to the information that they can then review their own opinions and morals with.

I understand that this is much easier to say than to put it into practice, but, as I constantly repeat to myself, the only person that you can control is yourself. And this is a very good practice for that. Keeping yourself objective while someone is poking holes in your moral center is excruciatingly difficult, but, if you succeed, it is extremely rewarding.

What do you think?



Learning to Engage: Rachel Macy Stafford, the Hands Free Mama

I am inspired. I am inspired by a woman who took the time and made the effort to change herself and her life into something she saw as important and worthwhile. Her name is Rachel Macy Stafford, and she started the Hands Free Revolution.

Don’t we all want our lives to be important? I know I do. Rachel Stafford felt that she was living an important life, until suddenly she wasn’t. She had fallen into the trap of “too many distractions,” and felt that her children were falling that way, too. And what was worse: her children ” had no idea they were being given the leftovers, the worthless scraps of their stretched-too-thin mother.” She realized that her children were also not living important lives; at least, important enough to warrant her full, distraction-free, loving attention. And they were learning that this was normal, accepted, and expected. For Rachel Macy Stafford, her inspiration for changing her perspective in life was her children.

She writes that she has discovered. or re-discovered, what is important to her, and took baby steps on her journey to re-connect with those things and people. This is what inspires me. Not that she chose her path of connection through disconnecting from technology, but that she chose to change her life in what she saw as a better and more positive way. She worked on herself, which took time, dedication, and no lack of constant motivation.

This. is. difficult.

I know from personal experience. I have changed my life once before; just after high school, I took myself off of a destructive path because I did not want that for myself. It took years and years of constant awareness and work and mistakes and practice. And here I am, working to improve myself further. Sometimes I just get tired. Tired of constantly questioning whether I’m making a good move, or struggling to understand the effects of some past decision. But people like Rachel, who have stuck to their guns and made worthwhile changes and successes in their lives are my inspiration to keep going.

What’s your inspiration? What’s your motivation? What do you want out of your life? 

Find the answers to these questions, and I guarantee you are stepping softly towards your own path of fulfillment and thoughtful living.

Discover more about Rachel Macy Stafford’s Hands Free life at her blog: Hands Free Mama.

3 Life Lessons from Lousia May Alcott

Everyone takes inspiration from those who came before them, I believe. When I was studying at my University, one of the books I was assigned to read was Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. For some reason, the morality and strength of all four little women (plus their mother) really resonated with me. So when it came time for me to select “someone who came before me” to examine and learn from, I wanted to know more about the author who created these inspiring and wonderful characters. I should have expected her to be just as amazing.

Lesson #1:     Live plainly and think highly.

Louisa May Alcott was raised as a Transcendentalist during the time of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. For those of you who aren’t sure what a Transcendentalist is (or have never heard of the book Walden), it is an early 19th century movement  to find “an original relation to the universe,” as Emerson put it. You can find more information about it here. In any case, the education she had from her father and his contemporaries Thoreau and Emerson gave Alcott a strong belief that she should focus on a thoughtful connection to the world around her–beyond society’s fads and distractions. And, to be honest, the idea is just as relative in today’s world; the world offers so many distractions and escapes from reality that many people fall into what I like to call foot-in-mouth syndrome. This sort of attempt to really connect and discover yourself is actually quite admirable.

Lesson #2:       Don’t ever give up.

Alcott grew up in a time when she was at a double disadvantage; she was born into poverty, and she was a woman. Her father moved her family out to a cottage rental when a business deal went south, and in order to help her family make ends meet, Alcott joined the work force at an early age. At age 15, she reportedly vowed that she would “do something by and by.  Don’t care what, teach, sew, act, write, anything to help the family; and I’ll be rich and famous and happy before I die, see if I won’t!” She then went on to work any job she could find until finally achieving her dream of being a writer. This sort of determination is an extremely valuable trait in any day and age, and I, for one, will attempt to achieve it within my own life.

Lesson #3:       Follow your passions.

As stated above, Alcott achieved her dreams despite all odds against her. She had wanted to be a writer from an early age, most likely due to the influence of family friends Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller, and she wrote plays for her sisters and her to act out in her younger years. She began publishing her poetry and fiction under a gender-ambiguous pen name, and eventually published Little Women successfully as Louisa May Alcott. She wrote stories and published up until her death in 1888. She found what made her happy and pursued it her entire life with a steadfastness to which we can all reach for.

Too often we give up when things get rough or we are denied success. I, for one, will attempt to reach for my dreams with an awareness and determination, and try, try, try again!

Effort, Attention, and Understanding

Do any of you ever feel like screaming ‘I just don’t get it!‘? How about ‘You just don’t understand.’?

I do.

I frequently do. I put great effort into understanding the world around me–and the people in it. I often fail, but the effort is there. I even feel, more often than not, that I’m just too different to understand. To fit in. To be acccepted. Because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Allow me to tell you a story about a recent conflict in my life:

I have a problem with assholes. I really do. I think that bullying, fear mongering, and spreading lies about someone is completely unacceptable, and, unfortunately, it seems to me that these behaviors run rampant in the world. When it comes to understanding these people who use lies and fear to get their way, I have a major block. I try to tell myself that they are having a bad day…or they are insecure about their own life… or something to justify their behavior so it doesn’t infuriate me so much, but I normally end up clenching my jaw and suppressing the overwhelming sensation that something in the center of my chest just began the process of nuclear fusion.

The other week, I had an experience with someone like this. I was told that some problem that said person was experiencing was my fault, and that I had better fix the issue. Honestly? I know that I’m no angel, but I know that I’m not the source of every problem in the lives of the people around me, no matter how loudly they scream the opposite.

Now in any random person said this to me, I would immediately ask where this idea came from, and attempt to handle the issue then and there. With any random person, this would more than likely work, as they would respond with an answer and we would work things out from there. However, lately, I have encountered a fair few people who don’t seem to listen to other people’s perspectives, and act as though their own is the only true view.

In cases like these, my brain, spirit, and body respond physically with a surge of fear, anxiety, and panic. I feel as though my person is actually in danger. Why? It doesn’t make sense that these people would have any cause to do anything to me. I barely know them; my interactions with them are minimal. Which is how I know that I could not have done something to cause the problems that they say I have. After all, how could someone you barely know and see have that much of an impact on you?

If it has nothing to do with the interactions between the two of us, then, frankly, I’m left with the idea that it must be the impressions that each of us has left on the other; If, somehow, this person gave me the impression that they would dismiss my perspective–and that is, to my mind, a dismissal of my entire person–then it follows that I have somehow given them an impression that infuriates, frightens, or otherwise affects them strongly. Perhaps I am missing some key piece of evidence that would point me in another direction, or simply being arrogant or naive about the situation; but, I have come to this conclusion nonetheless.

However, even if I have come to my own (correct or incorrect) conclusions as to what in going on in the situation, I still have the feelings I have described above when I am around these people. And I don’t like always being afraid. Easily, these feelings morph into anger: anger that I feel this way at all; anger that I can’t seem to fix the situation; anger that I have to deal with the situation. Because, frankly, anger is easier to deal with and accept than fear.

So when I encounter a few of these people in my daily life, I usually shut down to prevent myself from lashing out, which I am also morally against.

I know what you’re probably thinking. At least, I know what my friends always tell me: ‘Just don’t let them get to you’. Well, guess what, Tonto, they do. So I suppose the real question is, Why? Why do they affect me so much?

I watched a video-article about the recent LGBT-rights deterioration around the world (Russia, most African countries, etc). The article asserted that it’s most interesting and important point was that Christian communities around the world were giving these actions against the LGBT world community their support. Now, normally, I wouldn’t give these assertions much thought, because they always seem like the typical liberal vs. conservative hacking comments (screw you!… screw you, too!), but in light of the recent events in my life, I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea that people don’t really understand what the “other side” is thinking or what their intentions are. I grew up in a very religious family, and, while I’m quite secular, I have a strong acceptance of religious views. While attempting to understand this dilemma of different viewpoints pointing the finger instead of trying to understand one another, I came across two articles: one about a man coming out as gay, and one about a woman’s experience with fear of judgment.

In both, the writers described the feeling of relief and peace that came with open and honest communication in their lives, and that message was quite powerful to me, as honesty is a major principle in my life. I felt it was a validation of my own beliefs… and yet, I saw that I wasn’t owning up to it in every sense.

And I was ashamed of it.

Immediately, in order to satisfy my growing demand for honesty in all aspects of my life, I sent out a text questioning my religious relatives on their views regarding the events surrounding the LGBT vs. Christian debate. Sounds good in theory, right? Well, my wonderful and understanding aunt sent me back a very thoughtful note explaining that, while she understood that my question was meant in an honest and curious manner, it had come across as extremely judgmental and offensive. She went on to answer the question as best she could.

Shamed again.

I understood my error, of course, and immediately set out to correct it. But all the responses that I got from this experience stated that these sorts of questions really required a personal audience and time to demonstrate, think, and explain. In essence, it required a thoughtful conversation between two people. Which brings me full circle, here.

I just don’t have the confidence in my social abilities to maintain these sorts of honest and open relationships with people. I misunderstand, get angry to prevent anxiety and confusion from marking my life, and the situation spirals until I just walk away. (The whole point of these reflections, really..) But honestly? I am getting the feeling through these explorations that everyone else is guilty of exactly the same thing.

I went back to my experiences with difficult people who make me anxious on a regular basis, in an attempt to really understand how to move forward positively, (though, I was really on the verge of running away again.) I asked for advice from people in the community, who had knowledge of said angry people. I opened up with these people, and had multiple honest conversations about my flaws and how I could go about addressing the issue. About the other perspective, and how by just changing my perspective, or even just my understanding, of the situation, I could face my anxiety without anger. I could communicate with these angry people and work with them. 

And I did. It felt, if not amazing, as though I were moving in the right direction. And, I suppose, I was. After all, understanding what lies beyond the next rise means walking there first.

The Beginning

Lately I’ve been thinking, What exactly do I think about the world today?. That seems dry, I know.
I mean, what do I know about the world? I’ve lived in the same neighborhood for my entire life, watching the same thing every day, on the streets, on T.V., in school, inside my home. I know exactly what you know. I know the world, as I see it.
And what I see? Fear. I see people doing their best to control what they can of their lives, and, in the process, causing fear in others. But that’s normal, in my experience. People don’t tend to see the world through someone else’s eyes. They try, of course. But it usually gets stuck behind their own life.
Let me be clear. I am being introspective right now.
I am finding myself getting frustrated at the people in my life because of their lack of work ethic, or their callousness, or their perpetual stick-up-ass syndrome, or their–my–consistent lack of understanding. And then I feel ashamed. And I pretend. Until someone not-so-politely shoves a mirror before my face. On good days, that someone is me.
I’m hoping for a lot more good days.
Last week, I was hanging out with a friend at his place. We were watching a movie–Star Wars, the remastered-version-made-theatrical-again (yay!)–and having a very political discussion. Or rather, I was listening to him talk about his political opinions, while I interjected a few well-timed questions, which caused the abortion debate to come up, of course.
I am a woman, and, being a woman, I care about my reproductive rights. I care about my other rights, too, but, having ‘being a woman’ as the qualifying statement sections off the reproductive system as the main issue, as it is the only thing that a man could not ever experience the same way (I’m up for challenges to this, of course). Being such, I don’t think a man should have such a strong voice, as he appears to have currently, in how a woman takes care of herself in that area.
In fact, it is the only political area in which I find myself unable to see the “other side” clearly. My friend, being male, had his own views on the matter, and, thankfully for our civil political discussion, those views were very similar to my own. However, to round a long and detailed discussion down, he pointed out that the compromise that Obama managed with the Republicans over the employer-to-employee birth control issue was the absolute best way that the politicians could have handled the situation, and people who are voicing their very loud opinions on the matter don’t understand how lucky we are to have reached an area where the left and the right were actually working together instead of fighting like cats and dogs in a gladiatorial-like battle to the death.
I went home that night and thought about what he had said.
Previously, I had been disappointed that Obama had “bowed to the opposition” in that matter. But I realized, to be honest, that my friend was right. We can’t run a country without compromise.
We can’t do anything without compromise, actually.
We can’t have successful relationships, businesses, families, or classes without it.
We can’t interact with people over a long period of time without compromise.
So why are we at each other’s throats?
I never realized that I was part of that we.. until that conversation with my friend.
I am very private. I am private because people who judge like those depicted in the fights mentioned above disgust me. I’m private because I see those people everywhere. On the bus. At the coffee shop. At the workplace. In your face.
In mine.

I’ve never written to the public before.

Not like this, anyway. Not where you could read it.
I suppose that that’s the way of the world–keep your thoughts, no matter how innocent, to yourself. For fear of consequences. For fear of your retribution.
The truth? That hurts. Not the person who hears it. It hurts the person who tells it. Now tell me, why would I decide to write this? Why would I decide to follow all the people who open their minds and hearts through the muck of societal expectation and discourse?
Because I’m one of you.
Because I’m me, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Because you’re you, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Because I want to be a part of you. Because I matter. Because we matter together. And apart? We’re just a bunch of people thinking the same thing:
What about me?

Rachel among Golden Leaves 3