First I Make Tea, Then I Open The Paper

Six months ago I started this blog with the intent of challenging myself to view news with compassion.

I asked myself questions like: how can I truly engage in that which is different from me without allowing it to cull me back into fear.

To read the news on a daily basis is to be thrown without mercy into the truth that humanity has an infinite capacity for fear, which leads many to make choices that harm others.

To be affected by the suffering of others without having any tangible way to help alleviate that suffering.

It is to see that not only is there some pretty scary shit out there, but there are those who choose to make money competing for the most dramatic angle of the stories in order to pull in the highest marketing revenue.

Yuck.

I feared that facing these truths every day would leave me closed-hearted and disillusioned. Because, in the past, I allowed the news to dictate how I experienced it.

I assumed three years ago that the best way to avoid this feeling of disillusionment, which threatened to harden my heart to the intrinsic good of humanity (our infinite capacity for love), was to avoid the news as best as I could.

Taking a break helped. It did. I needed a good long break. Because I was coming at the news without purpose. I allowed the news to affect me exactly as it was presented by mass media.

I dutifully read headlines and articles because good citizens stay informed.

Right?

But in taking my break and in coming back to the news, I have been able to see that I have choices in being an informed person.

I choose what I read. I choose when I read it. If a subject interests me, I choose to read several different points of view. Because no one article, as filled with facts as it may be, can ever reveal the whole story.

Day two in creative writing 101 we learn one lesson: use the senses to tell your story.

Because it helps the reader feel like (s)he is there.

But news articles about events rarely take this approach.

There is who, what, when, possibly how. As in, how you should feel that this news affects you. But even the how is often implied in basic articles about events. This is why the media have different types of articles. Why in-depth analysis articles or series of articles exist.
And though these articles are often written by trusted journalists with experience and credibility in an area, I still read them with an awareness that it is only one point of view.

This is important for me.

If I get lost in the world of mass media, it’s because I have given up my power to the wave of several other’s agendas, opinions, and experiences which color their way of perceiving the world.

But I have my own opinions, thoughts, feelings, beliefs.

My agenda is to find love in this world every day. And some days that is fucking hard.

When headlines are about murders, human trafficking, war, shoulder shrugging in the face of mass suffering, politicians racing for office, it’s really difficult for me to not get swallowed up by this wall of yuck that is being presented as The News.

When I think back to the articles that have affected me most, I remember one about a man who was attacked brutally, an attack that was racially motivated, and when given the opportunity to speak to the media, this man used the chance to speak to his attackers.

He said that he forgave them. He still had bruises. He wanted to help relieve their suffering.

Because when we see the world through the eyes of our heart, we see that those who choose to harm others are truly suffering.

We see that although they do not feel deserving of kindness and compassion and joy and inclusiveness, they are, as is every human being.

That man and his way of seeing the world was such an inspiration that it stuck with me all these years later.

Through all the stories of gruesome violence.

Through all the reports of harm and cruelty and hatred and dismissal.

It was more powerful to me than any of that other stuff. It lead me on my own path that began with one question: how can he do that?

And the more I answered this question for myself, the more powerful I felt in embracing my own suffering, in walking through my own fear, in learning to find compassion for myself, and therefore for every human.

It’s not easy. There are some awful things out there that people choose to do to hurt others. Intentionally.

And on my journey, it was intent that snagged me. Because it’s easier to have compassion for someone who unknowingly causes harm.

Through this coming back to the news, I’ve challenged myself to find compassion for people who choose to harm with the intent to harm.

I could not understand it at first. Why anyone would want to hurt another. How can hurting another make anyone feel good?

I’ve come to see how deeply these people are suffering. How unskilled they are in being able to make different choices. How disempowered they feel. How afraid. How confused.

When love is seen as hurtful, how can we get to a point of seeing love clearly? It takes work. It takes courage and insight and patience and a willingness to change, a willingness to question our ego.

It took courage for me to come back to the news not knowing for sure if I could do so without getting lost in fear again.

I don’t believe that the world is shit. It’s been shown that we have an infinite capacity for fear. If we have infinite capacity for fear, then we have infinite capacity for love, compassion.

When the world is presented as shit, I can feel the suffering, I can wish love for those suffering, I can do what I can to help alleviate that suffering and accept the suffering I witness that I cannot do anything to alleviate.

I can shift my focus and find joy and laughter, I can step back and get a greater perspective.

It’s the difference between giving up my power to the way others present the world and accepting my power to make choices and to stay in my belief that love is just as strong and present in this world.

Today. Right now. Every day.
I choose Love. Again and again.

.

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To Shoulder The Arms

Our view of the world is shaped by what surrounds us and by our past experiences.

Reading stories of police brutality, I struggle with a few things. (Only some of which I mention here.)

First, the obvious, empathizing with the struggle and suffering that comes with being part of a group that is oppressed and the injustice of being attacked when seen as a vulnerable member of a society.

The groups change based on where the brutality, aggression or indifference takes place. Examples from recent news stories are members of the Native, black and gay communities, as well as women and children.

Second, the absurdity of statements justifying and supporting the actions of aggression.

It’s absurd to me because I truly see every person as being of equal worth. I’m like the organ donor decision board.

I do not judge the value of a life based on what s/he looks like, what s/he has accomplished or contributed to the world, where s/he grew up, went to school, or any of these things. Each life, in my belief, is as valuable as the next.

I believe we’ve only ever tried to prioritize and judge the worthiness of people because of impossible situations where we have felt, on some level, that it was up to us to make a choice. Who gets to live or die. And whether we believe that to be a choice between me and that guy over there.

Or, when we are heavy with grief and guilt when our lives have been spared while a loved one has died. Put in a situation where we grapple with our own worthiness.

From my perspective, it’s absurd that any police union boss or commissioner or media liaison person would publicly and undeniably condone the obvious aggressive actions of any officer.

To be fair, officers have a job that requires him/her to assess danger levels all the time. And working a job where you have to be alert to the possibility of being attacked most of the time has a way of warping a brain, skewing a perception of society as a whole.

It’s easier, I think, to lose faith in the intrinsic goodness of humanity when your job is to face people who might want to kill you, and certainly are not happy to see you, want to hide everything from you, disrespect you, want to taunt you or humiliate you.

Whether this attitude is a main aspect of your job or not, the presence of it can haunt you.

Our view of the world is shaped by what surrounds us and by our past experiences. And if we aren’t conscious of this, we have no sense of agency in shaping our perceptions. So, we float along, believing that the entirety of the human race, the world, the universe, is exactly what we’ve seen from our narrow experience.

If the weight of believing horrible things about the entire world is too much to carry, it might be easier to see some specific groups as “The Bad Guys”. Compartmentalizing is a perfectly human psychological defense.

This is not fair or healthy. It just is.

And it stems from a need to believe in our own worthiness when we are only able to outsource the assignment of the ‘title’ of Worthy.

I doubt there’s a big push in policing budgets for programs that support widening perspectives. And this may stem from a fear that doing so will soften officers. Throw him/her off his/her game. Put him/her or the communities served in danger.

This fear is driven by the fact that there is community outrage when those deemed innocent or worthy are “allowed” to be harmed.

What is the cost of that fear?

Lives. Lots of lives.

Can there be an effective police force that assesses danger without preconceived ideas? Can there be questions asked before tackling a guy standing by the front entrance of a hotel?

Are some police officers caught up in their role as protector? Is this a main identity?

If protecting the world is seen as an identity, and that perception is supported by many surrounding people and factors, and protecting the world is seen solely as taking down The Bad Guys, and there is a preconceived idea of who The Bad Guys are, what does it take to see a possible bad guy as someone who can be handled with ease, grace, compassion, fairness?

It takes a huge shift. And that kind of shift, while it does have to be an individual process, will never happen on a large scale until the supporting people and structures stop justifying aggressive behavior.

It could be seen as the job of a police union boss to protect the protector. To help save the job of a guy who is just doing his best given the tools he’s learned. A guy who could have been him.

The good news is that people who support unacceptable actions empathize with the person who took the action. Compassion, no matter who it serves, is a wonderful thing to see. It reinforces my belief that our capacity is alive.

Sideways is easier to address than extinction.

Evidence of empathy from a person living within a constricted perspective inspires me to believe that no matter how bleak things may seem sometimes, we are capable of heading in a better direction.

But, again, the aforementioned compassion is coming from a limited perspective. A dismissal of the greater problem, or a disbelief that a person in that position can do anything to contribute to the solution.

Unfortunately, supporting aggressive action while trying to support the human who made the decision, makes it seem like it’s okay to randomly charge and then take down any person standing near a hotel entrance.

Here’s what I would have done:

I would have said that while I do not condone the aggression used by the officer, s/he was doing his/her best with the information known at the time to make a quick decision about how to handle a person who was believed at the time to be involved in criminal activity. We apologize on behalf of the officer for the harm caused by this act.

It’s not okay to take out aggression on someone because s/he appears to be a vulnerable member of the community, and is, therefore, judged as less likely to result in negative consequences.

Individual officers who have a history of aggression need to be supported with anger management programs or counseling. It would be best to start this process after the first or second incident of aggression.

I think it’s important for police management and policy makers to give officers opportunities to keep his/her personal perspectives balanced.

Policing isn’t all about hunting criminals. It’s about teaching school children safety. It’s about helping people in distress. It’s about directing traffic. It’s about preventative measures in communities to increase and maintain safety levels. It’s about creating a positive relationship with the members of those communities.

There’s a way to involve every officer in these low stress, high reward activities.

If those in charge of decisions like this fail to see the cost benefit, it could be beneficial to weigh the cost of lawsuits against the cost of bringing job balance to the officers who spend much of his/her time in the high anxiety state of fight or flight.

It will also reduce the cost of sick leave and turnover, as well as any cost associated with job-related burnout.

Take a risk. Make a change. Use the evidence to support the decision to do so. Assess the results after a predetermined amount of time. Make adjustments. Keep going.

Prescribed Fires Don’t Change Prejudice

It’s possible to disagree with certain behaviors without judgment.

I sometimes find it difficult to compassionately see those who chose prejudice. To me, it is a bad choice to discount a person because of sexual orientation or skin color or sex or anything that a person is born with or into. It’s also a choice that harms.

But I understand thin-slicing and why we do it. I also understand how difficult it is to clearly view ourselves, to go within and examine or re-examine choices that have become second nature.

It takes insight. It takes energy. It takes courage. It takes a willingness to be discounted by the group(s) that we belong to, and therefore it may lead to facing decisions that we are not ready to make.

For many, it seems like people who continue to believe stereo-types are simply not trying hard enough. Some take it to the extreme and believe that those who practice prejudice are assholes or stupid or lazy.

But these are people who were raised with certain values that are entrenched in fears that have been passed down through generations. Facing these tangles is impossible until we can see them. And it takes courage to see them.

As much as I hate the act of prejudice, I do not hate those who practice it. I try my best to avoid thin-slicing in every situation. And I believe that, though it might be easier to judge people who are stuck in old fears, judgment is never the answer. It does nothing to encourage people to change. Even when we’re dealing with people who will never change – even when we take away the hope that certain behavior will change in certain people – holding onto judgment as a comfort to ourselves does not truly comfort. At least, it doesn’t comfort me. It makes me feel icky. Because it makes me feel icky, I’m motivated to assess behavior and situations instead of making judgments about a person as a whole.

When we judge, we are discounting and dismissing people as a whole. The alternative to judgment is assessment. We can choose to view everyone through compassionate eyes, assessing actions and how those actions impact us or those around us. And then we can make choices based on those assessments. Assessing compassionately includes taking into account the motivation for these actions.

This is a judgment: Everyone who is prejudice is an asshole

Judgment often leads to statements like: fuck them

This is an assessment: That man is afraid to see openly-gay males as safe leaders

Assessment often leads to compassionate questions like: why?

It’s a completely different thought process.

A judgment is a judgment. I don’t think judgment makes a positive impact on any person. In fact, judgment, often incorrectly thought to motivate, sucks energy and motivation from a person. This includes judging ourselves, which we often take on after learning to judge through role-modeling.

I’m not saying that being compassionate means making friends with someone who holds values that don’t match up with my values. It’s possible to disagree with certain behaviors without judgment.