Ellen and Kindness

Heads up: This post has some strong laguage. I am venting, but with a point.

So this whole issue with Ellen and George W. Bush has sparked outrage, which is unsurprising since it is currently fashionable to get outraged over stupid shit. I haven’t normally weighed in on pop-culture nonsense, but this seems to bear an important lesson.

The lesson here is about the nature of kindness. Ellen has always encouraged people to be kind to one another, and she lives that out regularly. This time, she was having a good time with ol’ G.W. at a football game.

Naturally, the internet took exception.

Even after Ellen explained that you can be kind to those who disagree with you, idiots from across the internet felt the need to point out that she was white, rich, and privileged enough to behave in such a way.

What the f*ck?

May I inquire as to the required level of poverty for me not to be kind? To not “love your enemies,” as Christ teaches? To quit following the examples of other apparently “privileged” people like, I don’t know, Martin Luther King, Jr.?

This is what drives me nuts about my country right now. Whether democrat or republican, liberal or conservative. the message seems to be that to disagree is to do harm to others. If someone thinks differently than you, don’t bother trying to positively affect them. Cut them out! Separate yourself! Treat them “like the cancer they are,” as one post put it.

F*ck that. I’m sick of it. It’s tearing society apart, ruining the idea of debate, and will inevitably lead to more extremism.

People accuse Ellen of living in her own little world where you can love people who do shady shit.

Guess what?

We all do shady shit. “Shady Shit” is a part of being human. Most are born with damn near equal parts of light, goodness, and Shady Shit. Life is about learning to minimize the latter and embrace the former, but that Shady Shit is aaalways there.

G.W., for example, thrust us into an unnecessary and costly war that is still affecting us today. I get that. Shady Shit. He’s also a funny, relatively kind guy. Those two parts of him exist. Ellen behaving as if that’s the case by being kind to the guy is simply an acknowledgment of reality.

We keep attacking people because we find out they were a part of some Shady Shit, as if there is an alternative! Everyone, EVERYONE, has done, said, or thought some Shady Shit.

Remarkably, the people our virtue signaling culture hold up as examples of right doing and thinking espouse the same thoughts and opinions as the virtue signalers themselves, and THAT, dear reader, is some Shady Shit.

Now. I agree that we need boundaries. We need to fight racism, homophobia, anti-LGBTQ attitudes, sexism, all that Shady Shit that has become policy in the U.S.

BUT. Imagine this:

You know someone who has differing opinions on these matters. Let’s say they are racist. You decide to shun them and cut them from your life with all the appropriate name-calling; doing exactly as proposed by these keyboard warriors and activists.

Racist Feller goes away. Where do you think he’s going to go? He will probably go find other people who AGREE with him so he feels less alone, less judged.

Now he meets more like-minded folks. They gather regularly and share life together. Their racist beliefs feed off this interaction and fester and grow into a familiar level of group evil that will find its way into voting booths across the nation.

Simultaneously, you go find your own little tribe of people that think just like you. Same thing happens. Now two extreme communities exist, ready to plunge this country off a cliff.

Sounds stupid, yes?

But what if you chose to be kind? What if you and racist man got lunch or coffee? What if you, by demonstration of your own sincerely held beliefs, took the opportunity to positively affect someone who never considered that there was another way? What if you set boundaries firmly but kindly, not allowing racist expressions in your midst but also not exiling the guy?

All of a sudden, you become a tempering presence. This guy has you to think about now when he considers his beliefs, actions, and vote. That’s a much more hopeful scenario.

As you can see, I don’t equate kindness with passivity. You don’t have to take abuse or mistreatment. What I do avocate for is kindness, accepting that if I want to be loved in spite of my Shady Shit, I had better love someone and all of their Shady Shit, too. Only with this level of self and mutual acceptance can our nation start to heal.

I get it. Many attitudes and beliefs are harmful. But if you think you can bully or “fight” those beliefs into submission, you’re drunk. America isn’t undone by violence, we actually like to pretend we thrive on it. Kindness and love are what throw us for a loop, which is f*cking sad.

So maybe we should stop portraying kindness as a weakness or privilege as opposed to the powerful, transformative choice it can be. Maybe we should stop denying that every human being has a healthy dose of Shady Shit tucked away somewhere. Maybe we should accept our Shady Shit while acknowledging that of others, and move on from that Shady Shit together.

And leave Ellen alone.

Peace be with you!

Putting a Face on It

By the end of high school, I was a lot of things. Anti-abortion, pro-death penalty (ironic?), anti-gay, pro-gun, creationist, pretty much fitting right in with the Republican state in which I spent my teen years. Now, however, I am none of these things, much to the chagrin of certain family members and friends.

So what the hell happened?

Well, I went to college.

I don’t mean that in a liberal, “holier than thou, educate yourself” kind of way. To be honest, my professors had very little to do with my change of heart. I actually changed so much because I met different people and grew to genuinely care for them, on top of being free to think for myself.

I met gay people who were kinder and more compassionate than most Bible-thumpers I knew.

I met and grew to love nonreligious people and people of non-Christian faith backgrounds.

There were faithful scientists who believed in evolution and God.

There were women who had abortions or who had been raped and didn’t seem evil for wanting to not start a family with their rapist’s baby.

I realized I didn’t really agree with what I had always thought I was supposed to believe. The idea of my classmates carrying guns into class made me feel less safe and more likely to be shot if someone decided to go on a rampage. I realized that I would never want to force a woman to have a baby she didn’t want. I found that my faith didn’t have to be challenged by science, and even if it was, it’s okay to think things through. I found the idea of killing someone to show killing is wrong made no sense to me. Finally, I could never believe that God would be so petty as to cast good people into hell because of who they loved or what they believed when they were some of the best people I had ever met.

All of this change happened not because college is a “hotbed for liberal indoctrination,” but because I met and loved people who challenged my perceptions.

I think our world would benefit greatly from “putting a face” to what we believe. We should meet and get to know the people who are affected by our decisions and ideas, and we should grow closer to those who think differently from us. Only in such a context can our beliefs truly be tested and reduced to what is kind, honorable, and just.

Do I think you have to agree with my points to be kind, honorable, and just?

No!

What I mean is that kindness, honor, and justice are only possible when we are driven by concern for others. Therefore, we can’t go on supporting ideas just because they keep us comfortable.

Even as my newer, more liberal self, I live my life surrounded by conservatives. I don’t see these people as hateful, backward racists and you shouldn’t either. The reason I can say that is because I’ve spent time talking with them and listening to their concerns, fears, and values. I see the faces of people I love when I consider these ideals that run counter to mine. Honestly, we all have a lot more in common than you might think.

So whatever you think or believe, test it. Challenge it. Look into the eyes of that death row inmate. Put yourself in the shoes of a gay couple trying to live life together. Try telling a woman to her face that you would force her to have an unwanted child. Listen to the stories of those who bust their asses every day for an “American dream” they’ll never afford.

But also…

Have coffee with that supposedly backward uncle that still supports only “traditional” marriage. Listen to the fears and insecurities of someone who looked up and saw a world they couldn’t recognize. Get to know the family who lost a loved one in a brutal capital murder by an unrepentant killer, or the proud gun owner who never did a thing wrong in his life.

Difference is not the enemy. Indifference is. Being challenged is not evil. Complacency is. Having strong beliefs is not a problem, but a problem arises when we fail to think or care about the ones who are affected by those strong beliefs.

We have to stop drawing battle lines and start crossing them. Only then can we see ourselves in our “enemies” and love them as we wish to be loved. It’s only when that happens that we can expect to see a desperately needed shift in how our world currently works.

Peace be with you!

In Advance

Over the next couple weeks, I am facilitating the discussion group at my Quaker meeting regarding George Fox’s idea that a faithful person should “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” Now, we have debated the idea of whether or not we believe there actually is an element of God in every person; some of us do while others don’t. It has been agreed upon, however, that Fox (in true Quaker style) was less concerned about metaphysical truths regarding the Divine in everyone and more concerned with how the Quaker community behaved.

I feel there is a powerful lesson in this.

We live in reactive times. Everyone is one post, one word, one decision away from making or losing friends. Before we can love someone, we need to see what they’re like. Before we can treat someone with respect, dignity, or compassion, we need to know they deserve it.

Bollocks.

In case you haven’t noticed, being reactive isn’t working well for society. Our most immediate and visceral emotions are steering the ship, and we are going to repeatedly run aground until that changes. But how do we change it?

Fox’s quote could be of service in this regard. “Answering that of God in everyone” has nothing to do with what people deserve and everything to do with what we decide to do in advance. No matter what a person is like, we’ve already decided who we are going to be, and that makes all the difference.

I personally believe God’s image and breath and presence abide in every person, regardless of how they use, abuse, or ignore that gift. Yet even if that isn’t true, I’ve decided to live as though it’s a fact. As such, my interactions have started to change in a powerful way.

Don’t wait to be a compassionate or merciful person until “the chance arrives.” Decide now that that’s who you want to be, and start practicing! Don’t wait until someone deserving of your respect comes along, but decide now that everyone will be the recipient of your respect because you want to be a respectful person!

Of course we will still feel powerful, reactive emotions. It is also true, though, that our habits can allow us to process them effectively rather than hurling them into the world to do whatever harm they can. In that way, we can start to exemplify healthier ways of coping and interacting that are based on virtue, not offense.

We can’t control who others choose to be. We can, however, decide who we are going to be, and that has to be a decision made apart from other people. This is so necessary, as we are currently giving too much of our power over to others, allowing their behavior to manipulate ours in an endless cycle of mutual harm.

Take back your power, deciding in advance to go ahead and be the compassionate, healthy, loving, respectful person we all need. In this way, you’ll find yourself walking “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

Peace be with you!

Stop Seeking Validation

We are living in a time when validation is probably the most sought after thing (right behind security, which is the next topic). When it’s time to make decisions, we reach for the phone or the computer or flip on our favorite network to find some way of adding credibility to our choices. It’s as though everyone is an authority except the person making the decision!

For example, I bet some of you clicked on this post as a means of validating your desire to stop seeking validation! With that said, I’m selfishly glad you did.

Mwahaha.

Personally, I have a horrible need to feel validated by external sources. When my beliefs or practices shift, I need to know that the path I choose is acceptable (or at least defensible) in the external world. Google has become the means by which I try to find acceptance regarding my body, my workout preferences, my political views, and my religious beliefs.

Until last night.

Talking with a beloved friend, she pointed out to me that my obsessive need to research and validate myself from the outside pointed to a lack of authority and self-acceptance within. I hadn’t considered this. After all, if I recognize my own God-given authority in my life, and if I accept myself as a being that was created “good,” then what need have I for the approval of others? This is especially puzzling when one considers how fickle and temporary such approval can be!

It’s true that humans are social creatures and want to feel like we belong. However, this sense of belonging shouldn’t lead to self-flagellation, denial, and self-editing based on what everyone else deems acceptable. Rather, the feedback from those we love and care about should either be accepted or rejected based on how it resonates within us, especially since WE are the one’s living our life! Further, if the people around us keep insisting that we cover-up or change our self-expression in order to “fit in,” that probably isn’t a group interested in loving us so much as who we could be if we abide by their standards.

Who has time or energy for that kind of stress? NO ONE.

Yet so many of us waste our time and energy seeking that validation. We compare ourselves to the famous or “successful,” we make decisions based on what our parents or friends will think, we believe what the church says we should, and we view the world the way we are told to by sources we trust, for better or worse. Hell, our president was elected largely because he gave validation to a frustrated population!

My point is that this need to be validated has real world consequences. The “powers that be” benefit from our unwillingness to think for ourselves and trust our gut. Our economy depends on your feeling inadequate and in need of more.

More what?

Doesn’t matter. Just so long as you believe you need it and are willing to pay for it.

But what if we change this?

What if we decide to trust our gut? What if we explore the paths that intrigue and delight us? What if our energy goes to those places, people, and practices that enable us to love and accept ourselves and each other to the greatest degree possible?

We’d be more secure in ourselves, and less at the mercy of the world around us. We’d finally grasp how powerful we are and just how much we have to contribute. I personally think that would be beautiful, and it is my prayer that you would join me on this long road to self-acceptance and empowerment.

You are a person created and loved just as you are. Take ownership of your choices and needs, and pursue whatever will enable you to live a life bursting at the seams with love, compassion, confidence, enjoyment, and peace. Life is too short for anything less.

Peace be with you!

Leaving Self-Harm Behind

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST DEALS WITH A SENSITIVE TOPIC RELATED TO SELF-INJURY DISORDER

My habit of hurting myself started young. Emotions became too intense or unfamiliar and I would hit myself, usually on the head. I had received messages of being bad, and bad kids deserve to be punished, so I would punish myself in a twisted attempt to become a better person. On top of this, I was taught certain emotions shouldn’t be expressed, so an entire range of feelings became unrecognizable and overwhelming to the point that I could only vent them in anger and misery.

Interestingly enough, this behavior didn’t make me a better person. As I punished “the bad kid,” I settled more into his role. Destructive relationships and behaviors became the norm, even as I was able to put forward a clean image when it mattered. Eventually, as an adult, those behaviors cost me a career, a sense of calling, and my sense of self at the time.

Now some might have let things end with that loss, but I was fortunate enough to have the support and access to help that enabled me to put some of my personal demons to rest. My behavior improved and I thought I was making real headway… Until my son was born.

Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to be his father. I love taking care of him full-time, with some part-time personal training to help pay the bills. I have found, however, that those feelings of not being good enough, that self-perception of being broken and inadequate, were all just waiting for a time to resurface. They did so with a vengeance.

I never hurt my son. Ever. But the hitting started again, and this time I have a couple of knots on my head to show for it. Fortunately, I have an amazing therapist who I was able to see yesterday morning for what became the most powerful step in my healing process that I have encountered thus far.

The thing is, Self-Injury Disorder is far more common than we’d like to think. Maybe you don’t hit yourself. Maybe it’s cutting, burning, scratching, breaking bones, or pulling hair. Perhaps you emotionally wound yourself with harsh words or thoughts, refusing to see the good in yourself but harping continually on any mistake you make. Some of us refuse to take compliments, berate ourselves, put ourselves in abusive relationships, or isolate ourselves from any intimacy, no matter how much we might want it.

My point is that even if you don’t fall within the most commonly held extremes, there is a good chance that you are not loving yourself the way you should. Many of us find creative ways to hurt ourselves, all because we learned somewhere along the way that we are undeserving of love.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

In my session, I was asked to describe the hurt I carry. How heavy is it? What color? Where is it located? Finally…

What shape does it take when you picture it on the couch?

It was my 6-7 year old self. It was a little boy with dark brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a sad smile.

I was asked to talk to this boy. He was asking why he was being hurt. I told him that sometimes those who are hurting hurt others, but it’s not his fault. I was asked what I would do or say. I hugged him and just held on, as words didn’t seem necessary. I was asked how he responded. He cried and settled into me, and I told him it was okay to cry.

I told him I loved him, and I let him go. He needed to go be himself, knowing he wasn’t alone.

At the end of the session, my therapist asked if I would ever hit that boy.

I had never thought of things this way. I’m not big into such exercises, but this one got to me. I would never hurt my little boy, no matter how much trouble he got into. I don’t want to hurt anyone, so why does it make sense to hurt myself?

It doesn’t.

If I truly want to be a good person and live a good life, I can’t keep punishing myself for being human. I’ve made mistakes, many of them, but so has everybody else. It’s okay to feel things, intense things. It’s okay to not be okay, but if I have a habit of treating myself as “bad,” then my behavior will mirror that perception. The time has come for me to change the script of my life and understand that all I can do is be the best person I can be in every moment, and that is going to have to be enough.

I didn’t write this to give you some quick fix for your issues with self-injury, and I certainly haven’t been “cured.” I simply wanted to share my story thus far and let you know that you’re not alone. We all have something we need to heal, to make peace with, so that we can live happier, more fulfilling lives. I’ve decided to get help and make this cycle end with me. This won’t be something I pass on to my little boy, and I hope you will take steps toward wholeness for yourself.

There is no shame in telling a friend or family member what’s going on. If they make you feel ashamed, they weren’t much of a real friend/relative anyway. There is no shame in seeking professional help from your clergy, a counselor, or psychotherapist. There is no shame in therapy, medications, coping strategies, or other forms of self-care.

The only shame would be if you kept yourself from experiencing the beautiful soul you already are.

In my spirituality, you are precious and worthy of love because you exist. There is nothing to earn, punish, or harm that will make you more lovable because you yourself, as you are, are a beloved creation and a beautiful part of this world. The only thing left is to get the help needed to help you understand this basic, fundamental, and powerful truth. It may seem daunting, but rest assured that you’re not alone, and there is always hope.

Peace be with you!

** If you are having thoughts of harm or suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255; if you need immediate help, call 911. Don’t wait.**

 

 

 

When You Don’t “Fit”

Exile though I am on earth, do not hide your commandments from me. — Psalm 119:19, JB

It’s hard when we feel we don’t belong. Humans are wired for connection and community, yet many of us feel ourselves to be outsiders, even among our closest friends and family members. In my case, I often feel ill-suited for this world. I have no real career aspirations, the issues that have people frothing at the mouth hardly affect me, and my idealism kicks things up a notch as I am looked at disapprovingly for holding values and expressing ideas that many believe to be simply unrealistic.

To feel like you’re just floating through existence without a solid “anchor” can be uncomfortable, even painful. It’s difficult to watch other people settle into their lives, hopes and dreams in hand, at least knowing where they want to go. But what about the rest of us?

Something that I feel I’ve been given to say by the Light is that it’s okay to “not belong.” I spent so much of my life lamenting that I wasn’t like everyone else, but my most meaningful relationships were made possible precisely because I was different. My ideas, goals, and perceptions actually provided something for certain people, and I found myself connected to others who felt like I did.

I found that I wasn’t alone, and the truth is that you aren’t either.

There are many of us who feel like “exiles” in this life; as though we were made to belong somewhere else. The truth is, however, that those who don’t feel “at home” here are supposed to feel that way. Our world needs people who can see things differently, who aspire to different goals, and who live outside the accepted norms of thought and behavior. It’s been my experience that God works best through those who are open to a different way of doing things, as there is less comfort and conformity standing in the way. We were born to be the monkey wrench that stops the machine of homogeneity from running rampant, and we are meant to be the exception that keeps everyone from “having it all figured out.”

Seeing myself and others this way has opened my mind and my heart up much more, as I am realizing that everyone has a part of themselves that feels like it just doesn’t belong. Many of us press this bothersome little attribute down, hoping no one will see, but the reality is that our differences are what can lead to powerful transformations in our lives and in the lives of others. Embracing and loving ourselves and our other-ness enables us to extend that love to others, and such affection is Godly, spiritual, and powerful. It can build bridges, demolish walls, and shatter the fragile myths of uniformity that drive the current state of affairs.

Instead of letting my difference become isolation, I choose to treat it as a gift. No, I don’t feel like I belong here, but it’s neither a curse nor some delusion of grandeur that I am above anyone. I’m just different, and so are you. Everyone has a uniqueness, a gift that when embraced, stands to enhance our understanding of life and of one another. So let your “freak flag” fly, refuse to fit the mold, know that you are an exile by design, and we need you now more than ever.

Peace be with you!

Ending the Blame Game

As I’ve been reflecting recently on who I am and what I believe, I’ve noticed I have a real lack of patience for political arguments. Now I don’t mean debating an idea or considering carefully which vote to cast. I mean ceaselessly ranting about this or that politician and those who think like they do and how all them libtards/fascists are going to destroy this country and the next war we fight will be a civil war and…

Blech.

I just can’t. It’s not just politics either, but any genre of endless complaining about things that can’t be helped or changed. I get that life can be complicated and painful, and I understand that people don’t often act like we think they ought to behave.

It’s also always been this way. It always will be this why. Life is a constant cycle of issues, some good, some bad. Many take that to be a negative way of thinking, but for me, it’s freedom.

There is a freedom to realizing that so much is out of our control. We can’t determine who takes over this country or what they do when it happens. We can’t control policy or greed or that stranger who raises their kids contrary to my unquestionable principles.

The only things we are responsible for are the choices we make every day. Namely, we are responsible for living our kindest, most loving, most generous, most compassionate life every day. It’s not glorious. It’s not sexy (well, I think it is), but it’s the best chance we have of actually achieving a level of serenity and positive impact in this life.

Now to many people, this sounds lazy or idealistic… I have nothing for you. If you think living kindly is easy, come visit me in Dallas. You’ll change your mind the minute you enter traffic on 635.

As for the idealistic part, think about this. When you establish habits of kindness, compassion, love, justice, and acceptance in your life, those things are a part of you. They inform how you think, how you speak, and how you act.

This means we engage people differently. We vote differently. We perceive life differently. Many of the problems we encounter as a society today are due to our perceptions, specifically our willingness to swallow whatever the commander-in-tweet or the talking heads on capitol hill or in the media present to us as the truth.

We are more divided than ever before (for the 1,000th time).

We are approaching another civil war.

There is a war on religion in this country.

Our nation is full of hate and malice and it’s ALL THE FAULT OF THAT GUY WITH WHOM I DISAGREE.

Nonsense. Sure, let’s say “civil war” time comes. What if no one shows up because we are too busy living life with one another? What if we decide that no one is going to tell us what is worth killing over?

What if we decide we’d rather disagree and live alongside each other in love than waste our lives trying to make everyone like us?

That’d be a most welcome change of pace.

So I am starting with me. I’m not going to sit there and stew or argue with someone who thinks Democrats/Republicans are the devil. I’m not going to contribute to gossip or bitching behind the backs of people of whom I disapprove. I’m not going to grouse about how much better the world was back when I didn’t have to consider the feelings of others.

Rather, I am going to invite others to share what really concerns them. I’m going to listen and be respectful. I’m going to vote with my heart. I’m going to be a Quaker, feed the hungry, care for the afflicted, and love my family, my neighbor, and my enemy. I’m going to love myself and allow the Light Within to shine in my life.

The time has come (and has long been here) when we need to stop blaming and pointing fingers. It’s time to challenge ourselves to be the difference we want to see.

Peace be with you!