MY COLLISION WITH RACISM

In American culture, differences within our population make us uncomfortable and race looms large in the eyes of white America.  I often wonder about the outcome of the Civil War. Lee surrendered, the Union was saved, slaves were freed and the white man reigned supreme. Segregation and racism still linger. Did racism win?

There are some among us who embrace racial and ethnic diversity, developing respect for human differences.  Despite this increase in understanding, minority communities continue to suffer from inequality, injustice, and exclusion at the hands of the mainly white majority. The significant consequences of this purposeful discrimination and marginalization includes societal rejection, fewer job and educational opportunities, poor medical care, unfair treatment by authorities, and the death of George Floyd.

Also, American Christianity has failed to respect the divine image in all beings and supports the racial divide. The Good News is not just for white men with religious and political power and those who support systems of inequity through their participation and silence. I am saddened by my white Christian brethren who cannot see this picture, which shows how much we live in homogeneous communities, with folks who are like us. We must publicly acknowledge and repent for the harm that Christianity in this country has caused. And we must take steps—both political and spiritual—to bring healing.  WE (me) need to get involved in change to bring justice and peace.

An anthropologist will tell you that all humans of whatever race belong to one species, Homo Sapiens. The differences between human races are not great, even though they may appear so if we only consider skin color. Current racial categories are subjective and have little meaning.  Black people are human beings just like me and you.

Racism takes many forms and can happen in many places. We often associate racism with acts of abuse or harassment, but it does not need to involve violent or intimidating behavior. Racial name-calling and jokes or situations when folks are excluded from groups or activities because they are black, are racially motivated.

All racism is not obvious. Someone may look through a list of job applicants and decide not to interview people with names that have racial connotations. Or the new black neighbors do not make the list for the party. Racism is more than just words, beliefs, and actions. It includes all the barriers that prevent people from enjoying dignity and equality because of their race. People are not born with racist ideas or attitudes. Racism is something that is learned. I learned it as a young boy growing up in the south.

And I believe that I suffer from unconscious bias.  I did not think anything about campaigning for Ralph Northam in a traditionally black neighborhood.  I met some really nice folks and had some great conversations.  But a black guy walking through my neighborhood raises my antenna.

Some groups experience racism at higher rates than others..  Black people often have to deal with systemic forms of discrimination, particularly in dealing with the police throughout our country. Such experiences limit their access to the opportunities, resources, and quality of life they should enjoy as citizens of the US. For African Americans, systemic racism is bound up in historical disadvantage and mistreatment.

The political reality of our country is increasingly determined by differences in belief across races and communities. Partisan politics and media coverage are derivatives of these differences. That these differences are structural, mainly because of geography and how our racism arose in the first place, is a disgrace. The concept of race was originally invented to facilitate social control in the American colonies. Colonial rulers needed a way to clearly establish the status and roles of the different populations that were coming together in the new American possessions — rulers, managers, and free settlers from Europe; native people from whom the land was being taken; and slaves imported from Africa. The solution that emerged was to define each group as fundamentally biologically distinct and ranked on a hierarchy from most animal-like to most advanced. This cemented the rulers’ right to rule (since they were the most highly developed race of humans) and drove a wedge between groups such as poor whites and blacks that might otherwise have united to oppose the ruling classes.

Racial and ethnic groups are spread across the USA in an uneven fashion and have not changed that much in 150 years. Native Americans in the east were largely killed or forced to move westward. Black people make up higher proportions of the population in the South (where their ancestors were brought as slaves) and in the cities of the North (where they moved in search of industrial work in the early 1900s). The connection between people with similar ways of life is the most politically innocent reason for segregation. Folks like living around other people who live the same way. And when a large number of people with a similar lifestyle live together, they can support some of the the amenities and businesses that they need.  Most importantly, these neighborhood clusters also allow people to find refuge and solidarity. Instead of being isolated within a hostile population, neighbors provide a support network in the struggle to resist discrimination and get ahead in a hostile world.

Levels of economic status impacts the ability to afford to live in particular locations. As the economic status of different groups shifts, the racial composition of a neighborhood may change. White flight, gentrification, redlining, and violence play a huge role. Amazingly, neighborhoods of color may get less water and sewer infrastructure, may be passed over or even directly sacrificed to provide transit and roads to richer and whiter neighborhoods, and receive less effective and more abusive police protection.

Segregation laws were struck down or repealed in the mid-20th century, but the legacy of this legal segregation lives on in our country in many subtle ways.  The home of the free is a racist nation. I do not know why I am surprised.  The framers of the Constitution were in some measure segregationists and they kept kicking the can of slavery down the road and avoided any resolution of the issue. Even today, Americans would like to ignore race and hope it will go away.  But it will not. And I believe that racial tolerance cannot be legislated. Those of us who are white have to change. Fear of people who look different has to be replaced with love and kindness.   Effective efforts to make mutuality and justice integral to life is the only way. I have to change!

The victimized minority is encouraged to complain to the courts and the evil majority has to reform itself and make restitution. This legal approach does not make people love each other. This approach will not work because it puts all the responsibility on the powerful side and makes no requirement of the weaker. I must understand that I have something to do with this situation if there is any chance for me to achieve any good relationships among people. If we all treated each other the way we would like to be treated, we would have Peace on Earth.!  If I treat you like an enemy you will treat me back like an enemy. The one and only way I can get you to treat me like a friend is if I treat you like a friend. It could be that I do not know what it means to treat people of color like friends. Perhaps treating The Golden Rule as more than a slogan would help. Then I could find ways to apply it. We routinely treat others like enemies without realizing it, and then we wonder why they are mean to us.  When we get angry at people for doing things we do not like, we are actually encouraging them to repeat those actions.

Somewhere along the way we sort our individual characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality which is exactly where my racism has lingered.  My ego has told me to stay with what I know and remain separate. But that is not who I want to be. I want to be a part of a life based on loving and learning from everything.  To solve racism today, a white man like me, in fact me, must put love to work moving me and others toward an ever-deepening union with my black brothers and sisters and all those that regularly face discrimination and injustice. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

AM I NORMAL?

Am I NORMAL?

Our picture of normal behavior – the assumptions about what it is like to be alive, to be a human being – is skewed. Culture tries to project the idea of an organized, poised, and polished self, as the standard way most people are. And this encourages us to get impatient and disgusted with ourselves when we do not live up to expectations.  Many things that we might assume are uniquely odd or disconcertingly strange – and which cut us off from other people – are in fact completely average and pervasive.

How many times have I shouted at myself to buck it up, get it together, and stop being so weak or so weird.?  But for me, it is better to stop expecting to be normal in the sense of being calm, coherent, and rational, and getting ashamed when I am not. It is far more useful to recognize the boundless and sheer normality of madness, waywardness, and alarm in every single human soul.

Sometimes I have these peculiar thoughts and habits and if anyone found out about them I am fearful that they would label me and cast me out of their social sphere immediately. Are you as desperate as me to fit in? Our picture of what is normal is very often way out of line with what is actually true and widespread.

The fate of normality is very much in the balance. The ability of technology to see us as we have never been seen before is on the rise. Yet, the notion of a shift in what is considered normal invites unease: we do not want conformity but increasing anxiety level is not a good outcome either.  It is a short hop from critiquing normalcy to claiming that we are too concerned with self.

Often confronting your odd behavior can bring relief, as will a plan for addressing the problem. Talking to a therapist is often a good way to see your particular problem.  Maybe you are not as abnormal as you thought. But there is no evidence that the proliferation of therapy has done harm to our identity or all that much good.

The question of normality creates strange paradoxes. Often it is relatively healthy people who feel defective. The worriers may believe that they have too much or, more often, too little ambition, desire, confidence, spontaneity, or sociability. Their keen social awareness (a strength), when combined with a few obsessive behaviors, causes them to fuss over glitches in the self.

In contrast, those with serious problems often insist on their normality. Anorexics and alcoholics may profess certainty that they are fine. People afflicted by disabling panic attacks or depression have often tried to hide their problem. That mood disorders are common and largely treatable makes them more acceptable; to suffer them is painful but not strange.

In other words, in the therapeutic setting, the proliferation of diagnoses has diverse effects, making some people feel more normal, some less so, and touching others not at all. There is no automatic link between a label and a sense of abnormality.

How will it feel to live in a culture in which few people are free of psychological defect? Well, we have been there before, and we can gain some clues from the past.   A study done in the 1950s asserted that 80% of Americans were abnormal. But when everyone is abnormal, being included loses its sting. We are in a period where therapy is no longer unusual —while its gravity, in terms of social stigma, has diminished.  In fact, it is sort of hip to be in therapy. Also we have redefined normal to include broad ranges of difference.

Where once people pursued normality through efforts at self-reform, now they proudly redraw the map to include themselves. In this context, diagnostic labels confer inclusion in a community. Today, an emotional difficulty can be understood both as a disorder and a unique perspective.

We can hold two forms of normality in mind.  Normal as free of defect, and normal as sharing the human condition, which always includes variation and vulnerability. I believe we are entering a period in which abnormality is universal and unremarkable.

Normality may be a myth we have allowed ourselves to enjoy for decades, sacrificed now to the increasing recognition of differences. The awareness that we all bear flaws is humbling. But it could lead us to a new sense of inclusiveness and tolerance, recognition that imperfection is the condition of every life.

THE IRON BUTTERFLY

Eloise Randolph Page

Eloise Randolph Page, a Virginian to the core, began her Central Intelligence Agency career at the CIA’s founding in 1947 and served for 40 years in clandestine operational assignments. Miss Page was secretary during World War II to Army Maj. Gen. William E. Donovan, chief of the Office of Strategic Services, which was the espionage service that preceded the CIA. With the founding of the CIA, she transferred into the organization and made espionage and intelligence her life’s work.

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In 1978, she became the agency’s first female station chief, assigned in Athens, where three years earlier, Marxist terrorists had assassinated CIA station chief Richard Welch. She became one of the CIA’s experts on terrorism, and after her 1987 retirement from the CIA, she was a consultant on terrorism to the Defense Intelligence Agency and a teacher at the National Defense University.

From 1975 until she retired, she had been the CIA’s highest-ranking female officer.

At the CIA’s 50th anniversary observance in 1997, Miss Page was among 50 CIA officers who were honored with Trailblazer Awards for their career service. Her Trailblazer citation called her “a role model and . . . first female Chief of Station, first female super grade, and the first woman to head a major intelligence community committee . . . a champion of using technology to solve operational problems.”

Miss Page, a native of Richmond, was a member of a Virginia family that traced its roots to Col. John Page, a founder of the city of Williamsburg and member of the British Royal Governor’s Council who died in 1692.  Her extended family included the Randolph’s of Virginia and Washington, D.C., the Pages, the Dunnings, the Harrisons and the Mitchells, all of Virginia.   She wore her Virginia heritage like a badge of honor and was often described as comporting herself like the quintessential southern lady. She insisted on being addressed as “Miss Page,” not “Ms. Page.”

She was petite and small-boned, with bright eyes and a slight smile that often appeared ready to break out in a grin. She spoke with a southern drawl, and she loved to talk about the romance and mystique of the Old South and her southern upbringing.

But in the tangled thicket of the defense establishment, she was said to have been tough and determined, and a skilled and effective player in the bureaucratic survival contest. She knew how to get things done. High officials of the Defense Department sometimes called her “the iron butterfly.” She could speak in a sweet and gentle tone, but at the same time be sharp-tongued and merciless in dressing down general officers and deputy assistant secretaries.

Her career included directing the intelligence committee that focused on the most important problems facing the United States in the area of national defense, and she was an advocate of the use of technology to conduct espionage operations.

But to those outside the intelligence community, Miss Page was an unlikely espionage operative. She wore white gloves and conservative dresses. St. John suits and Ferragamo shoes became her trademark. Rarely was she seen in slacks. She was a Sunday school teacher at Christ Episcopal Church in Georgetown, where she had also served on the vestry and directed the Altar Guild and the flower committee. She was in charge of the choreography and decorations at weddings, and, as with everything else she did, she took this responsibility seriously.

As chair of the Altar Guild, she was a perfectionist. Altar linens would be sent back for reironing for the slightest wrinkle. She often brought her personal prayer books — many of which dated back generations in her family — to prayer meetings, and she was a regular reader of the Psalms.

Aside from her church and her career, the major loves in her life were her dogs, golden retrievers that sometimes accompanied her on foreign assignments.

Miss Page was a graduate of Hollins College in Roanoke. She also had a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in political science from George Washington University. She had an honorary Doctor of Laws from the National Defense University.

At her retirement in 1987, she received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal.

She was a member of the Sulgrave Club, the Society of Colonial Dames and the District Garden Club.  She died in 2002 at the age of 82.

A most amazing woman.

SUFFERING & GROWTH

PERSONAL GROWTH THROUGH SUFFERING

Often turmoil and trauma just seem to be destructive and negative. But in the long term, these may be balanced—or even transcended—by powerful positive effects.

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You have probably experienced the negative effects of turmoil in your own life, or at least been aware of them in people close to you. Many people who have suffered traumatic life-events such as death of a loved one, illness (such as cancer), housefires, combat or becoming a refugee, find that dealing with this trauma is a powerful spur for personal development. It was not just a question of learning to cope with or adjust to negative situations; they actually gained some significant benefits from them.

Many folks gain new inner strength and discover skills and abilities they never knew they possessed. They became more confident and appreciative of life, particularly of the “small things” that they normally take for granted. They become more compassionate for the sufferings of others, and more comfortable with intimacy so that they have deeper and more satisfying relationships. One of the most common changes is that they have a more philosophical or spiritual attitude to life.

Initially, most folks experience a “dark night of the soul,” where their previous values are thrown into question, and life ceases to have any meaning. After this, most go through a phase of spiritual searching, trying to make sense of what has happened to them, and find new values. And finally, once they have found new spiritual principles to live by, they enter a phase of “spiritual integration” by applying these new principles. At this point, they find new meaning and purpose in life, together with a grateful heart for being alive, and even for having been through so much turmoil.  In some ways, it seems, suffering can deepen us.

There are only two choices when facing hardships: rise to the challenge and overcome it, or retreat into despair.  Suffering initiates a search for significance. It is important to make sense of and find meaning and purpose in suffering and grow past limits that create vulnerability. We all need one another and nothing is certain or uncertain, both are illusions. Humans cannot predict exactly what is going to occur so letting go of sureness of an outcome brings vulnerability.

The facts are that suffering SUCKS! I always want to get it over with ASAP. But to really cash in on the strength-building benefits, the idea is not to bypass the process.  Patience is key.   A lot of times that means you have to allow yourself to feel the pain: Vent to a friend about your demanding boss, cry after a breakup, push through the last six miles of the marathon on your bucket list..

When we process the pain, we reap the rewards. Most goals and accomplishments could not be completed without periods of suffering. Suffering builds character by giving us a sense that if we can get through times of suffering, we can accomplish anything.

Not all pain can provide the rewards noted above.  Destructive suffering or “bad pain” comes from repeating old patterns and avoiding the pain it would take to change them. Suffering at the hands of someone else is not valuable at all.

Many times people suffer because of their own character faults. Then other people come alongside them and give them comfort or a spiritual pep talk about how God is with them in this testing. They usually frame the experience as the testing of an innocent person.

The difficulty arises when the suffering is the fruit of the individual’s own character and is of no value unless they see it as a wake-up call. This is bad pain. And bad pain is basically wasted pain. It is the pain we go through to avoid the good pain of growth that comes from pushing through. It is the wasted pain we encounter as we try to avoid grief and the true hurt that needs to be worked through. It is the wasted pain of trying to get a person to love us or approve of us instead of facing the loss of this love and moving on.

In too many support circles, people are supported in ways that do not make them face the growth steps they need to take to keep from repeating their mistakes. They are seen as victims and are then set up for failure all over again.

DO NOT BE A VICTIM! Convert worthless pain into transformative growth.

I hate the cliché, “NO PAIN!  NO GAIN!”  BUT…………………………………!

POWERLESSNESS

POWERLESSNESS

One of the alarming trends of our time is that more and more people feel powerless. Powerlessness seems to be the root of all negative emotions. Whether it is the large divide between rich and poor, the disturbing political setting, the controversy over climate change or the increase in violent action by thugs and the police gun violence – the world is frightening and all we, citizens of America, do is to stand by and watch.  We are guilty about the past and fearful of the future. We are depressed about our situation today and angry because the prospects of change seem remote.

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Guilt. Depression. Fear. Anger. All stem from the feeling of powerlessness. We are imprisoned by these strong negative emotions. As a result, we accept and tolerate a miserable life. Afterall, we face daily struggles on a personal level, such as a demanding job, a stressful relationship, unpaid student loans and the social-media-driven fear of missing out, and it is no wonder that a rising number of men and women feel so overwhelmed with life, that all they want to do is to check out by taking drugs, alcohol or medication.  Why not find something better.

The difficulty with feeling powerless is that it smothers our innate desire and potential to change and improve ourselves and the situations we are in. The biggest problem with powerlessness is, that it is often an illusion.

We can overcome the paralyzing sense of powerlessness, by changing the dynamic to face our challenges from a place of courage and optimism. We do not get robbed of our power we give it away!

  • You let others make decisions because you do not trust yourself.
  • You make yourself silent and invisible to not get judged and to avoid conflict.
  • You tell yourself that you have to hold onto an unfulfilling job or a dysfunctional relationship because you do not believe you can have something better.
  • You deal with disappointments by putting yourself down and questioning your abilities.
  • You focus more on what is not working in your life and the “what if’s” of the future, than spending time to appreciate and embrace all your blessings of the day.
  • You make excuses for those who put you down or treat you as their punching ball.
  • You complain about your challenges but tell yourself there is nothing you can do to change them.
  • Your lack of control makes you angry.

Personal power is an energy, which is based on the proper alignment of mind, body, and spirit and leads to confidence, competence and compassion for others and oneself. You know that you are in touch with your personal power when you feel safe and secure within yourself and take responsibility for your life. When you trust that you have the wisdom and capabilities to learn and grow from anything life brings you. And personal power means that you allow yourself to discover and express your true, authentic self while being appreciative, patient, and compassionate to all beings in your life including yourself. This is not easy or everyone would do it.

As earlier expressed, being powerless is often an illusion. Let us say you did not get the promotion you hoped for or that lovely lass you met on Tuesday is not taking your call. You could argue that you are truly powerless here because somebody else made the choice. Yes, you do not have the power to control others. But, your real power lies in choosing to either let your mind latch on to these situations and continuously wonder “why?,” “what did I do wrong?” or you could simply let it go. Letting go does not mean rolling over and giving up. It just means that you decide to accept the situations as they are without letting yourself be defined by them.

  • Whatever happened does not say anything about your intrinsic worthiness,
  • that you have the innate potential to learn and grow from any situation,
  • that you are grateful for situations like this because they make your determination to learn to love and accept yourself unconditionally even stronger.

And then there is God. When we have power and are in control, or at least believe we are in control. We do not have much need for God. We do not need to examine ourselves critically or see just what we are made of spiritually. But when powerlessness comes, we are forced to see what we are made of, what matters most, and on what or whom we rely. This is a time of reckoning. When we live in our powerless moments, God can get to the deep places of our being and more thoroughly work in us.

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When we are most weak, vulnerable, and powerless, in a somewhat miraculous way, God’s strength becomes real to us, making us strong. Not only does our powerlessness bring us closer to God, God’s glory is revealed through grace. It is often said, that out of suffering comes change and growth. The power we feel through these growth periods comes from God. God wants us to be meek so we can learn, grow, and do His will so we can truly inherit the earth now.

Meekness is powerlessness that is part of a person’s developed character, not forced upon them. It is intentionally exercised. It is restraint by a person who “can but won’t” stand out, exert influence, leverage strength or demand attention. It is an exemplary characteristic … for someone else to exhibit. We like meek people because they refuse to take too much attention from us or insert themselves too much into our story.

Exercising meekness means that we render ourselves intentionally powerless. We subordinate our will to something or someone greater than us, God. We seek the will of someone else rather than our own. Meek people are not small because someone makes them small. They just realize that something greater is what they need to be about. They realize that someone greater is present that should be acknowledged.

Meekness does not mean that a person is insecure or lacking in self-esteem or talent. It is admittedly difficult to have words to say, but not say them if it is better to withhold them. The meek can do that. It is hard to have opportunity and not to seize it. The meek can see what the opportunity will produce for good or bad. It is excruciatingly difficult for many to have resources and withhold spending them on whatever a person wants to spend them. The meek will look at the bigger picture and choose how to use resources for larger gain than personal gain alone. It is rare to see someone with power who refuses to wield it for personal advantage for the sake of something bigger. Meekness does just that. It is intentional powerlessness when the potential is present.

So take stock of yourself—do an inventory of the good things happening in your life and make note of things that need to change. You may be powerless but God is not. With God and the Spirit inside me, I have power in my life right now. I have the power to overcome temptation, change my life for the better, be healed,  forgive, and enough power to seek God’s will for my life. The real purpose of hope is to allow us the capacity to suffer with wisdom, calmness, and generosity. The ego wants to separate and seek material success. For the soul, it is purpose and meaning. Act with a hopeful heart.

Often God comes to me disguised as my life and my life is a pathway built by actions I have chosen to take. I form an intention to walk the right path, but that intention is not real until I start walking and act. The only power I have to choose between right and wrong is in the present moment when I make the decision to act. By seeking God’s will I receive the power of the Spirit to stay on the right path.

Think big and ask big! What a better way to live.

LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

LIFE & LOVE ARE PRECIOUS

What does it mean to be alive?

You are alive, and so am I. My cat, Charlie, is purring and is very much alive.  The tree just outside my window has new leaves which are emerging for the spring. Although sometimes I wonder, I don’t believe that my computer is alive nor is my desk and chair.

What is it that defines life? How can we tell that one thing is alive and another is not?, Amazingly, it is surprisingly difficult to come up with a precise definition of life.  Many definitions allow us to separate living things from nonliving ones, but they don’t actually pin down what life is. With so many human beings dying from covid-19, this is a question we should be asking.

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So what allows living organisms to survive?

Biologists have identified various traits common to all the living organisms. Although nonliving things may show some of these characteristic traits, only living things show all of them.

  • Living things are highly organized, meaning they contain specialized, coordinated parts. All living organisms are made up of one or more cells, which are considered the fundamental units of life.
  • Life depends on an enormous number of interlocking chemical reactions. These reactions make it possible for organisms to do work—such as moving around or catching prey—as well as growing, reproducing, and maintaining the structure of their bodies. Living things must use energy and consume nutrients to carry out the chemical reactions that sustain life.  
  • Living organisms regulate their internal environment to maintain the relatively narrow range of conditions needed for cell function. For instance, your body temperature needs to be kept relatively close to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius.  
  • Living organisms undergo regulated growth. Individual cells become larger in size, and multicellular organisms accumulate many cells through cell division. You yourself started out as a single cell and now have tens of trillions of cells in your body. Growth depends on pathways that build large, complex molecules such as proteins and DNA.
  • Living organisms can reproduce themselves to create new organisms. Reproduction can be either asexual, involving a single parent organism, or sexual, requiring two parents. Single-celled organisms can reproduce themselves simply by splitting in two! In sexual reproduction, two parent organisms produce sperm and egg cells containing half of their genetic information, and these cells fuse to form a new individual with a full genetic set.
  • Living organisms show “irritability,” meaning that they respond to stimuli or changes in their environment. For instance, people run from bumblebees, many plants turn toward the sun; and unicellular organisms may migrate toward a source of nutrients or away from a noxious chemical.
  • Populations of living organisms can undergo evolution, meaning that the genetic makeup of a population may change over time. In some cases, evolution involves natural selection, in which a heritable trait, such as darker fur color or narrower beak shape, lets organisms survive and reproduce better in a particular environment. Over generations, a heritable trait that provides a fitness advantage may become more and more common in a population, making the population better suited to its environment.

Living organisms have many different properties related to being alive, and it can be hard to decide on the exact set that best defines life. Thus, different thinkers have developed different lists of the properties of life. For instance, some lists might include movement as a defining characteristic, while others might specify that living things carry their genetic information in the form of DNA. Still others might emphasize that life is carbon-based. Me, well I can talk and think and feel so I must be alive

How well do the properties above allow us to determine whether or not something is alive?  The living things we talked about earlier—humans, cats, and trees—easily fulfill all seven criteria of life. We, along with our feline friends and the plants in our yards, are made of cells, metabolize, maintain homeostasis, grow, and respond. Humans, dogs, and trees are also capable of reproducing, and their populations undergo biological evolution.

Nonliving things may show some, but not all, properties of life. For instance, ice cystals are organized—though they don’t have cells—and can grow but don’t meet the other criteria of life. Similarly, a fire can grow, reproduce by creating new fires, and respond to stimuli and can arguably even be said to “metabolize.” However, fire is not organized, does not maintain homeostasis, and lacks the genetic information required for evolution.

The question of what it means to be alive remains unresolved. For instance, viruses like the coronavirus—tiny protein and nucleic acid structures that can only reproduce inside host cells—have many of the properties of life. However, they do not have a cellular structure, nor can they reproduce without a host.

For these reasons, viruses are not generally considered to be alive. However, not everyone agrees with this conclusion, and whether they count as life remains a topic of debate.  Right now, I think most consider covid-19 to be very much alive, particularly if you become the host.

So, what about the idea of love?

Life and love are intertwined. Love brings joy to the living and without it, life often lacks meaning and purpose.   Love is a complex set of emotions, behaviors, and beliefs associated with strong feelings of affection, protectiveness, warmth, and respect for another person. Love can also be used to apply to animals, to principles, and to religious beliefs. For example, a person might say he or she loves his or her dog, loves freedom, or loves God.

Love has been a favored topic of philosophers, poets, writers, and scientists for generations, and they have often debated its meaning. While most people agree that love implies strong feelings of affection, there are many disagreements about its precise meaning, and one person’s “I love you” might mean something quite different than another’s. Some possible definitions of love include:

  • A willingness to prioritize another’s well-being or happiness above your own.
  • Extreme feelings of attachment, affection, and need.
  • Dramatic, sudden feelings of attraction and respect.
  • A fleeting emotion of care, affection, and like.
  • A choice to commit to helping, respecting, and caring for another.
  • All or some of the above.

“life and love are very precious when both are in full bloom.”

― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

FEAR HOPE GREED

FEAR HOPE GREED

Fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger which has strong roots in human evolution. If people didn’t feel fear, they couldn’t protect themselves from legitimate threats, which in the ancestral world frequently resulted in life-or-death consequences.

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In the modern world, individuals often fear situations in which the stakes are much lower, such as public speaking, but their bodies and brains may still treat the threat as lethal. This can trigger an extreme, although often unnecessary, fight-flight-or-freeze response. As a result, people may find themselves avoiding challenges that could benefit them in the long run or hanging back during social interactions.

When people today do face deadly or extreme danger, it can sometimes cause lingering trauma. Such trauma can trigger a fear response that is hard to quell, even when the risk has passed. We will fear the coronavirus until a vaccine emerges in 5 years and for many years after.

The process of creating fear takes place in the brain and is entirely unconscious. There are two paths involved in the fear response: The Quick Response is quick and messy, while the Thoughtful Response takes more time and delivers a more precise interpretation of events. Both processes happen simultaneously.

The idea behind the quick response is “take no chances.” If the front door to your home is suddenly knocking against the frame, it could be the wind. It could also be a burglar trying to get in. It’s far less dangerous to assume it’s a burglar and have it turn out to be the wind than to assume it’s the wind and have it turn out to be a burglar. The quick response shoots first and asks questions later.

The thoughtful response is much more cerebral. While the quick response is initiating the fear response just in case, the thoughtful response is considering all of the options. Is it a burglar, or is it the wind? Have I seen this particular stimulus before? If so, what did it mean that time? What other things are going on that might give me clues as to whether this is a burglar or a windstorm?

The sensory data regarding the door — the stimulus — is following both paths at the same time. But being thoughtful takes longer than a flash. That’s why you have a moment or two of terror before you decide to run or not.

Hope is an optimistic state of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes with respect to events and circumstances in one’s life or the world at large.  Hope comes into its own when crisis looms, opening us to new creative possibilities. It includes the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal. The difference between hope and optimism is that the former includes practical pathways to an improved future.

I hope the vaccine for the coronavirus happens on a shorter time frame than I expect. This fear will remain and will limit future improvements. But my hope is that it will enable us to see our connectedness and need for each other.

Hope should be viewed as a cognitive skill that demonstrates an individual’s ability to maintain drive in the pursuit of a particular goal. An individual’s ability to be hopeful depends on two types of response: the individual’s determination to achieve their goals despite possible obstacles and the individual belief that they can achieve these personal goals without a doubt. But it is important to set realistic goals that have a reasonable probability of being achieved. It is important for individuals to find something they can be passionate about, makes them feel good about themselves and would help them remain hopeful of their ability to achieve these goals. Hope is a way to maintain personal motivation, which ultimately will result in a greater sense of optimism.

I have high hopes!

Greed is the intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.  Greed is an excessive love or desire for money or any possession. It is not merely caring about money and possessions but caring too much about them. The greedy person is too attached to his things and his money, or he desires more money and more things in an excessive way.

We tolerate greed, because we accept the hard bargain that it can do good, not that it is good.  The pursuit of self-interest is the driving force for assembling resources and putting them to their best use. Greed bears fruit in many ways.

Greed has always been the imp of capitalism, the mischief it makes for those faithful capitalists. Their troubled consciences are not the result of doubts about the efficacy of free markets, but of the centuries of moral reform that was required to make those markets as free as they are.

But greed has taken America too far.  Companies no longer pursue increased productivity, new and improved products or new production facilities.  CEOs keep sales on a modest upward track and use cash to buy back stock which increases earnings per share.  With increases in earnings PER SHARE, the stock market rewards shareholders with a higher price. Everyone is happy including the CEO and other senior managers as their big bonuses are triggered.

I have long felt that fear, hope and greed fuel the stock market and most everything else. Look at the following chart.

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Fear is the bottom of a bear market and no one wants stocks.  Of course, it is the best time to buy.  At the top (greed), everyone believes this market will go on forever unlike any cycle in the past. It doesn’t!

Is this pandemic a means of acquainting us with suffering, so we can retreat from greed, become fearful and then regain hope again?

ABRAHAM LINCOLN

LINCOLN AND THE INDIANS

My grandson, Ryan, will celebrate his 28th birthday on February 12.  It is easy for me to remember because this day is also the birth date for Abraham Lincoln. Interestingly, Lincoln’s birthday has never been a national holiday and Presidents’ Day is reserved mostly for Washington.  Nonetheless, Lincoln is a revered historical figure and very popular. So I was astonished when I heard a snippet from a documentary on American treatment of Native Americans that simply said, “Lincoln ordered the execution of 39 Dakota Indians.” That was hard for me to accept on face value so I decided to look for more information.

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The Dakota tribe had existed for generations on the land surrounding the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, site of the present-day cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Translated roughly into English, Dakota means “the allies, and they were a group of seven Indian bands that lived mostly in harmony in the region’s bountiful river valleys. Their only enemy was the Chippewa to the north. The first European explorers there had done little to alter the Indians’ way of life, although the French dubbed them the Sioux—a mutation of the Chippewa word for “snake. Real change began after 1819, when federal soldiers’ built Fort Snelling, a sprawling outpost above the mouth of the Minnesota River. After that the stream of white traders and settlers became a flood; land treaties in 1837 and 1851 and Minnesota statehood in 1858 pushed the Dakota off their native lands westward to a narrow, 100-mile-long reservation on the harsh prairie along the Minnesota River. The exodus also forced the Dakota to change their way of life. Government agents on the reservation favored those Dakota who settled on plots, learned English, cut their hair, and took up farming.. Those Dakota who refused to give up their traditional ways were in an even worse position and spent many winters in near-starving conditions.

The situation reached its flashpoint in the summer of 1862. The financial cost of the Civil War was bleeding the government dry, and rumors flew that there would be no annuity gold for the Dakota. Traders who had liberally given credit in the past now slammed the door. One trader named Andrew Myrick announced that if the Dakota were hungry they could “eat grass. Tensions mounted until four Dakota led by an Indian named Killing Ghost murdered five white settlers on August 17. Some Dakota leaders sensed this was an opportunity to strike back at the U.S. Government, and they pressed Chief Little Crow, to strike at the whites while many soldiers were fighting in the Civil War. Little Crow initially wanted no part of a war with the whites, recognizing the calamity that would surely follow. But when faced with a challenge to his authority, he reluctantly relented. Ironically, the annuity gold shipment had left St. Paul that same day.

The Dakota raged across the countryside with a fury. Four to eight hundred white settlers were butchered during the first four days of the rampage, while their farms and fields burned. The Dakota hit first and hard at the reservation agency, killing dozens. One of the victims was trader Myrick. His killers stuffed his mouth with grass. The Dakota also struck at the region’s army outpost and towns. They annihilated a detachment of soldiers dispatched from nearby Fort Ridgely before being repulsed in two assaults on the garrison itself. They twice attacked and burned most of the town of New Ulm but failed to capture it from its armed residents.

Panic surged throughout Minnesota. Tens of thousands of terrified settlers fled and virtually depopulated the state’s western regions. Governor Alexander Ramsey dispatched 1,200 men from Fort Snelling under the command of Henry H. Sibley, a former fur trader, politician and friend of the Dakota. Sibley was not regular army, but he heeded Ramsey’s call and accepted a commission as colonel. Unsure of his authority, Sibley failed to declare martial law and moved excruciatingly slowly. He did not engage the Dakota until early September 1862, when Indians surprised and butchered a 150-man reconnaissance detail at Birch Coulee. The debacle slowed Sibley even more, and he did not meet Little Crow in full force until September 22, when he won a decisive victory at Wood Lake. The Dakota scattered over the prairie. Sibley finally managed to capture about 1,200 men, women, and children, but Little Crow was not among them. Sibley intended to prosecute as war criminals those Indians who had participated in the rebellion.

Sibley ordered a commission of five military officers to try the prisoners summarily and pass judgment upon them. If found guilty of murders or other outrages upon the Whites they would be punished. Major General John Pope, recently banished to Minnesota by President Lincoln after Pope’s humiliating defeat at the Civil War’s Battle of Second Bull Run, saw an opportunity to redeem himself at the Dakota’s expense. He immediately approved Sibley’s plans.

The commission began the hearings on the reservation on September 28.. The charges ranged from rape to murder to theft, although most Dakota were accused of merely participating in battles.  Of the 393 accused, 303 were found guilty.  Pope and Sibley wanted to begin execution immediately, but they needed the President’s consent.

Lincoln asked Pope to send the full and complete record of these convictions and to identify the more guilty and influential of the culprits. As Lincoln began his deliberations, people on both sides of the issue bombarded him with letters and telegrams. Politicians, army officers, and clergy called on the president at the White House, each adding his take on the situation and offering advice. Lincoln dutifully and patiently listened.

Bishop Henry Whipple, head of the Minnesota Episcopal Church, spoke often of the hypocrisy of federal Indian policies. Whipple was a cousin to Henry Halleck, Lincoln’s general-in-chief, so the bishop gained an audience with the president in November and urged clemency. Lincoln was impressed.

The timing of the Dakota crisis could not have been worse for the president. On a personal level, he and his wife, Mary, still grieved over the death, nine months earlier, of their 11-year-old son, Willie. On a political level, the administration faced one crisis after another. The war effort was in tatters. Major General George McClellan’s Army of the Potomac lay no closer to Richmond after the ill-conceived Peninsula Campaign and the bloody draw at Antietam. McClellan tolerated precious little advice from the president and sometimes even refused to meet with him. Finally the exasperated president dismissed the insolent general and replaced him with Ambrose Burnside, soon to be responsible for the Union disaster at Fredericksburg. As the blunders mounted, Lincoln also faced a challenge to his leadership from disgruntled cabinet members. Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase, perpetually jealous of Lincoln and furious that the president did not turn to him for military advice, sulked and plotted behind the president’s back. Lincoln knew of these designs and only tolerated them because Chase was a supremely able leader of his department.

Slavery issues preoccupied Lincoln as well. Somewhere between the bad tidings and bouts of depression the president managed to work on the final drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order that would free the slaves in most of the South, even as he was being called upon to suppress the Dakota. The Minnesota business weighed heavily on Lincoln’s mind.

The president could also see how the trials’ rapidity prevented a full and fair analysis of the facts. The weight and impact of evidence simply could not be properly processed in a few minutes, especially in capital cases with their ultimate stakes. Undoubtedly the brevity of the trials resulted from the absence of defense counsel. The president could also see how the commission convicted many men with insufficient evidence.

Nevertheless, Lincoln’s compassion played the largest role in the predicament.. He was only merciless in cases involving cruelty or sex offenses. Lincoln’s order to Sibley—in his own handwriting—allowed the execution of only 39 of the 303 condemned Dakota. Of these, 29 had been convicted of murder, three for having “shot” someone, two for participating in “massacres,” and one for mutilation. As Lincoln told the Senate, only two had been convicted of rape. Curiously, the president allowed the executions of two men who were convicted merely for participating in battles.

This was wartime; Lincoln could not have reversed the convictions wholesale, either ordering new trials or disapproving the proceedings entirely. The former would have caused great delay and the latter great outrage, either of which could have led to mob violence in Minnesota. Such actions would not necessarily have prevented the Dakota from being tried in state courts, where they would have received little sympathy from citizen juries. Lincoln had to make a final decision on the matter, and he did. On December 27 President Lincoln received a telegram from Sibley: “I have the honor to inform you that the thirty-eight Indians and half-breeds, ordered by you for execution, were hung yesterday at Mankato, at 10 a.m.

The full story!

GRIEF

GRIEF

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Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. It is deep, because it reflects what we love, and it can feel all-encompassing. Grief can follow the loss of a loved one, but it is not limited to the loss of people; it can follow the loss of a treasured animal companion, the loss of a job or other important role in life, or the loss of a home or of other possessions of significant emotional investment. And it often occurs after a divorce.

Grief is complex; it obeys no formula and has no set expiration date.  A number of experts say there are clear stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I think it is safe to say that grief is a highly individualized emotion and not everyone will grieve the same way.

Grief is sometimes compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion over a loss, especially if the relationship was difficult. Some individuals experience prolonged grief or complicated grief, which can last months or years. Without help and support, such grief can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.

Many of the symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. There is sadness, and often the loss of capacity for pleasure; insomnia; and loss of interest in eating or taking care of oneself. But the symptoms of grief do tend to lessen over time, although they may be temporarily reactivated by important anniversaries or at any time by thoughts or reminders of the loss. Unlike depression, though, grief does not usually impair one’s sense of self-worth.

I lost a very good friend about a week ago. I met him for the first time about 1982 and we were casual acquaintances for a long time. But about four years ago we reconnected through a major case of serendipity.  We both got old and ended up in the same senior living community much to our surprise.  Books, conversation and reminiscing, cats, and new friends became our new way of living. Life was good and we became real friends.

Because grief obeys its own timetable, there is no timer for feelings of pain after loss; nor is it possible to diminish or avoid the suffering. In fact, attempts to suppress or deny my grieving for Walter is likely to extend the lifetime of the pain and require so much effort that there is little energy or room left. So, I am dealing with it.

Grief has its value: It reminds us what we care about and I truly cared for Walter. Some cultures embrace death, dying, grief, and loss like they are simply a part of life; they see no need to suppress or deny the pain. Customs and practices of grieving can be elaborate and entrenched in tradition, most of which eases suffering to some degree.

The word grief has come to be understood solely as a reaction to a death. But that narrow understanding fails to encompass the range of human experiences that create and trigger grief. Here are four types of grief that we experience which have nothing to do with death:

Hopes and dreams (expectations) often go awry. Most of us walk around with a vision of how our lives will play out and how we expect the world to operate. When life events violate our expectations, we often experience a deep sense of grief and unfairness.

Identity loss occurs when a person loses a primary sense of self. They’re tasked with grieving who they thought they were and eventually creating a new story that integrates the loss into who they have become. Their identity feels stolen, as in the cases of the person who feels blindsided by divorce and or a breast cancer survivor. For those individuals, the grief may feel compounded by the lack of control they had in the decision.

The lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being often creates feelings of anxiety and hypervigilance. We should feel safe in our homes, our communities, and our relationships. The lost sense of safety, be it physical (after a break-in) or emotional (after an affair), can make a person’s world feel distinctly unsafe. Symptoms of lost safety may include a sense of hypervigilance even in the absence of danger or numbness. For survivors of trauma, violence, and instability, that feeling of internal safety may feel hard to restore, even if circumstances stabilize. In addition to healing from the trauma, the individual is tasked with grieving the lost sense of safety and learning to rebuild it.

The inability to properly manage one’s life cuts to the core of every person’s need to be in control of themselves. Loss of autonomy triggers grief over the struggle to maintain a sense of self. In cases of illness and disability, lost autonomy (and often lost identity) marks every step they take. New forms of decline invite grief for their lost independence and ability to function. Grieving those losses and reconceptualizing who they are in the face of these limitations is incredibly difficult for most people. In many cases this realization accelerates the decline and the will to live dissipates. I think this may have happened to my dear friend.

Loss of expectations, identity, safety, and autonomy are all losses that warrant a sense of grief. Grief as a framework can help each of us work through a moment of chaos with the gentleness we give a mourner. My grief for Walter is being replaced by the joy of his memory and by his cat, Charlie.  This cat chose Walter as his companion several years ago as a week-old kitten scrounging for life. As was his custom, Walter took him in, loved him, cared for him and was a good friend.  Charlie now lives with me as an acceptable substitute until he and Walter meet again.

The mourner receives compassion. So should you. Your loss is real. My loss is real. I miss my friend.