Sunday, September 12, 2010

Getting Beyond “I don’t WANT to.”

A number of weeks ago a friend sent me a saying she liked and thought I might.  It was:

I don’t WANT to,
I don’t HAVE to,
You can’t MAKE me . . .

Maybe it was because it resonated with my frame of mind at the time, but I DID like it.  In fact, I immediately made it into a small poster, printed it and posted it on the wall in front of my computer where I saw it every time I was at the keyboard.

One of the reasons it resonated with me at the time was the fact of the growing discord in our societal “conversations.”  It seemed to me no one was listening to anyone else.  We each were shouting our opinions as though we were the only voice that counted. These were not only the voices of individuals, family members and friends, but also of the media and the politicians. The fact is that they had long since ceased to be “conversations” and were, for the most part, simply diatribes of complaint and finger-pointing.  I definitely didn’t WANT to continue being part of that frustration, but I was!

Then, this morning I received one of those innocuous email forwards.  At first I thought, “Here’s another one!”  The email referred the reader to a blog page, Confessions of A Confetti Head.  The first paragraph got me.

Where does REAL personal change come from? You know, the kind that puts you into a tailspin with profound “AHAs.” The kind that after you come back to Earth, you say, “WOW! That was AMAZING!” and from that moment on, you are different. You are different in ways that you may have struggled with for years, or even your entire life.

As I read on I discovered that the author had many degrees, had become certified in many human potential techniques, and yet still felt a distinct schism in her psyche.  With all she knew about living and how well qualified she felt to live life fully, she also “struggled with a dual experience of myself as dynamic and capable on one hand and invisible, unworthy, and less than on the other hand.”   I could also identify with those feelings of a strange inadequacy to really make a difference, to be heard above the din of angry confrontation and lack of civility. Who wants to listen to me?  (Also, who do I want to listen to?)

Personally, I have found myself echoing and believing the “I don’t want to” attitude about life.   What’s the use, I thought.  It is not a pleasant place to be when that is the way one thinks and feels about life.  In that place you feel like a voice crying in the wilderness, hoping the deaf will hear and the blind will see.  They don’t and they won’t as long as we cannot respect and accept our differences.  If this country stands for anything, it is the rights of each of us to be whom we are, and to recognize that right in every other American.  Remember, we ALL came from somewhere else (except for the Native Americans).

Somehow, I thought to myself, I have to get beyond these feelings of not wanting to participate in a world gone crazy.  I cannot hide away in a cave (as much as I would like to at times) and pretend there is nothing to be done, no way to make things better.  I do know I cannot change anyone else.  Great gravy!  It’s almost impossible to change myself.  What in the world makes me think I should even want to try to change anyone else?

I cannot help but remember an experience I had years ago that provided a profound example of what can happen when one decides to change his/her attitude.  I had felt deeply hurt by a situation that occurred.  I felt so angry that I defiantly told myself I didn’t even want to want forgive the other person.  Over a period of time working on that situation I came to a point where I realized I wanted to want to forgive the person.  Finally, I wanted to.  At last, after much work in prayer an objectively discussing the problem with those whose opinions I valued, I did forgive!  In that moment I was totally free from the negative power of the original event.

I wish I could say that overcoming that situation took me beyond ever feeling hurt again or angry and unforgiving.  It didn’t.  Life is not a matter of overcoming one situation and forever being free of challenges.  The most we can expect from meeting a challenge is to understand the process fully enough to use that knowledge to meet subsequent challenges. 

There is only one way, really, to get beyond “I don’t WANT to”.  You have to WANT to.  That is where real personal and societal change will come from.  It is my hope that our society will get beyond the anger and frustration that so many feel.  I suspect that once the midterm elections are over and the politicians have little more to gain from milking the adversity to their advantage that things will settle down for a month or so.  Of course, then the REAL election effort begins and we can return to accusing one party or the other of misleading us, being dishonest, baiting the divisive tendencies in those subject to such efforts and generally further destabilizing our sense of connectedness.  You see where this is going, right?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rules of Engagement

A friend and fellow Blogger just posted an essay about how fear affects our ability to engage others in responsible interaction.  He specifically invited my response to that article.  You can find the original essay at:

I hope you will check it out.  What follows is my more detailed response.

The essay on engagement, referred to above, highlights the character of much of our American society today.  Times are tough economically for 90 – 95% of the country.  An increasing number of citizens do not know where the next meal is coming from, if it’s coming at all, or where they will lay their head in sleep tonight.  When such circumstances exist and show little sign of easing, a desperation and sense of fear begin to develop.  Fearful people may take one of several courses of action as a result.

Some will simply slink away, discouraged and feeling impotent to change their circumstances.  They are unlikely to engage with anyone because they fear their own weakness.  Some will become angry and strike out at those they blame for creating the circumstances in which they find themselves.  They are more likely to engage others sometimes violently in order to vent their frustrations and fears of greater loss.  They will find someone or some group that they can tag as responsible for their plight.

My personal religious philosophy does not include fear of God.  The God in whom I place my faith is not vengeful or punitive.  My fear, it seems to me at least, comes from my lack of understanding of my own worth.  To the degree I feel worthy my life operates with less fear.  With less fear I am more likely to engage with others and willing to listen to ideas and philosophies that differ from my own.

So, for me, engagement in and of itself is not the question.  The kind of engagement we express, the quality of our character, and our sense of personal responsibility for the quality of our lives and our society, determine whether engagement improves or diminishes our society.  It is all too clear that many Americans today are so fearful and angry that equilibrium is almost lost   Those willing to exploit our fears and rally us to find a scapegoat always seem to rise to prominence in such times.  To blindly follow such provocateurs is an abdication of personal responsibility.

To positively engage in debate, to seek to understand others, especially those whose ethnicity and cultural foundation differ from our own, can bring harmony, a deeper sense of community and a freedom from fear.