The Institute For Living

We Have no King But Caesar

by on Dec.07, 2010, under Core Values, News Commentary, Politics/Economics

Caesar represents money, power and control; how seductive are those qualities. As we move into the Christmas season, we are presented with the Christ who represents the alternative: love.

But he was despised and rejected of men, and we hid our faces from him. He was a wine bibber and a friend of publicans and sinners. He identified himself with the suffering and those less fortunate. Who would want to be in his club when offered the choice to fraternize with Caesar’s court?

So when the babe of Christmas was offered up to death, the judge said, “I offer you the king”, but the people said, “we have no king but Caesar.”

His mother cried.

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When Greed Cries for Compassion

by on Nov.28, 2010, under Core Values, News Commentary, Politics/Economics, Spirituality

It has long seemed a paradox to me that people who had wronged me would later come to me for compassion when they were being wronged by someone else. I think, for example, of a past job where a supervisor had done many injustices to me. Yet, she felt no hesitancy in confiding in me when she was hurting because of wrongdoing that other people did to her in the organization.

Of course, I listened with compassion and offered her what help I could, because I believe that love and forgiveness is the ultimate solution for our problems.

Nevertheless, I kept my amusement to myself: why would she turn to me — the person she had mistreated — for solace and understanding during her time of trial? This is the paradox of the universe.

This paradox was eloquently displayed by Mr. Bernanke last week (as reported by Time.com) on the subject of Rebalancing the Global Recovery. A simplified paraphrase of his thesis suggests that since the pace of recovery is greater for the emerging market economies than it is for the advanced economies, there must be a voluntary co-operation to achieve balance.

That same — very reasonable — thesis does not seem to apply in Mr. Bernanke’s homeland. If that same penetrating economic analysis were applied stateside, then the same compassion that we are calling for in the international community would be applied to those less fortunate among us.

One phenomenon I have always noticed is that conservatism  seems to be a characteristic of people as they increase their wealth, whereas generosity is one of the truths of the less affluent. Of course, “charity” is commonplace among the wealthy, so long as it is tax structured. There is a spiritual difference in business giving and giving from the heart: God will judge.

So either the root of the tree can  be full of life, or it can be full of decay. The branches and the leaves might take years before they betray a dying tree.

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When Love Walks In

by on Oct.29, 2010, under Core Values, General Updates, Politics/Economics, Relationships, Spirituality

I’ll never forget the time when my oldest son was about 15 years old and he had done something that made me so angry I was seeing fire (I cannot remember his crime, because forgiveness has washed it away). I had determined that when I went to pick him up I would give him the tongue lashing of his life. Something strange happened, though: the moment he came walking toward my car, feelings of love washed over me. All I could say to myself was, “Yeah, that’s my son!”

At that moment, whatever he had done didn’t really seem to matter when measured against the lifetime love that I have for him. Events will pass; love stays.

We all know that among our families and friends we have numerous experiences where friction occurs. The true measure of our love — of various kinds and dimensions — is our ability to deal with those tests and trials constructively or destructively.

Often relationships are based on rules. A rigidity around those rules is the cause of the end of many relationships. However, when love walks end, patience, kindness, understanding, and other qualities help us enlarge our tent to embrace each other in our humanity.

Many people feel that rules are necessary to have order in and  among a group of people. And they are right. If we stop there, however, it becomes somewhat like a bed frame without a mattress. And certainly we are left without a warm quilt for long winter nights. When love walks in, our humanity is recognized, and we feel protected –not just supported.

People in the Christian faith often use the Ten Commandments as the basis of their living. The paradox, though, is that the very churchmen who were the arbiters of that code of law killed its heir — thus rendering the law null and void.

Before this heinous crime was committed, though, that master teacher said, “I’ll trade you ten commandments for two: just love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we begin to understand that all of the chaos and abuse we are experiencing from the personal to the group to the national and international levels is coming from this one stem, then we will be on our way.

Fear and Love sit at opposites: one destroying the other.

Our economic policies, our culture wars, and our political struggles all reflect our inability to let love walk in.

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Bed Bugs in the Queen’s Palace

by on Oct.16, 2010, under News Commentary, Politics/Economics, Spirituality

Recently there has been an outbreak of beg bugs in our country. New York has been especially hard hit, which is the queen of commerce and power. Reportedly some of the landmark venues have at least temporarily closed due to this pestilence. Some have suggested that travelers might unknowingly bring the creatures in their garments from other countries and seed their domestic dwellings upon their return.

Ironic isn’t it that the powered elite are more likely to travel than the unemployed who (1) would not shop in the expensive New York stores, and/or (2) would not engage in foreign travel? While we certainly cannot say that this is an irritant for the rich and famous, we can say that it has not discriminated against the upper class.

And the upper class — or the powered elite — is what most of us aspire to become. The abundance of money is certainly one aspect of its appeal, but the locus of power is no less appealing. Indeed some members of the powered elite are deemed so because of their power rather than because of their wealth.

Recently Columbia University convened the first Elites Research Network conference. This is very interesting at a time when one little $75,000 house  in Maine has caused a foreclosure crisis that threatens to become the bed bug for the nation’s largest banks.

Just like the BP Oil Spill, the Goldman Sachs ordeal and other recent events, unforeseen consequences of routine behavior can disturb the locus of power. No such disturbance is necessary when power relations are maintained in an equitable manner.

Equilibrium is maintained in the universe and all is at peace.

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I’ll Have the Cherry Pie, but Not the Chocolate Cake

by on Sep.13, 2010, under Core Values, News Commentary, Politics/Economics

In these days of obesity, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to skip the chocolate cake and eat the cherry pie if we want to lose weight. Clearly, we must reduce all of the sweets and calories in our diet in order to accomplish our goal.

And yet in our goal of social harmony our strategy is just like eating one dessert while forsaking another. That is absolutely fine as long as we do not fool ourselves into thinking that we will accomplish our goal of peace and prosperity. The “weight loss” of excess tension and turmoil can only be realized by giving up both the cherry pie and the chocolate cake.

These desserts are being used here as metaphors for the prejudices that we like to hold on to (some unconsciously) against people who belong to “other” groups than we do. There is almost an infinite variety of groups among which we can divide and identify ourselves. These differences can enrich us — like the flowers in a garden — or they can be used to play the zero sum game.

Recent events, centered around the Muslim community, are really no different that many previous forms of prejudice focused on other groups. The gift from the Universe is that what we have not seen before, perhaps  we will begin to see now; the Universe brings us many teachers. Unless and until we decide to go on the diet of “love thy neighbor as thyself”, we cannot achieve the goal of peace and prosperity. Instead, the energy of love will be sapped by the energy of fear, producing destruction.

Scripture says God is love and we cannot love God — whom we have not seen –  and hate our brother who we see everyday. That is dishonesty.

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Endless Potential

by on Mar.02, 2010, under Politics/Economics, Relationships

The other day, some friends introduced me to their newborn baby. The experience opened my eyes anew to the wonder of human growth and potential. Our futures are not set in stone.

A newborn baby certainly has encoded characteristics such as the physical aspects of race. The child’s genetics and prenatal experiences will influence personality and health. Nationality, family and birth order are already determined.

To a newborn baby, however, none of these characteristics has any meaning. Physical characteristics such as gender and eye color have no context in which to operate. Social connections and position do not yet exist to someone who cannot yet recognize a face. There is no wealth, no power and only the barest, early traces of personality in a newborn. Everything else is still raw, unshaped potential.

As we grow from infancy to adult, it is the interaction of genetics and circumstances that determines how our human potential develops. These interactions are all shaped and governed by people. At first, our families are the ones who influence and provide meaning to our lives. They provide for or fail to provide for our needs. They teach us what it means to be human, they distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and they provide us with a foundation on how to interact with other people. Over time, the family’s role in shaping us fades more into the background as the rest of society takes an increasing role. Teachers, religious institutions, the media and peers all contend with parents for influence in shaping our lives, until we ourselves as adolescents emerge as individuals and begin truly to make decisions for ourselves. It is this capacity to make one’s own decisions on values and behavior that separates adults from children, and it is how we make those decisions that reveals our character.

What we tend to forget, however, is that we are always still that newborn baby, consisting of nothing but potential. Yes, we have characteristics because of our pasts and our DNA, but those only have meaning if we give it to them. We always have the option to be reborn – to set aside the teachings and determinations provided by parents and culture, and to find new ways to interpret the circumstances of our lives. We do not have to be who others say we are; as adults, we have the power to make our own decisions. We do not have to follow the paths provided to us; we can go in new directions and can establish new paths for others to follow.

In more pragmatic terms, as adults, we have the power to look at the institutions and attitudes in our lives, and to either accept them, reject them, change them or replace them. In fact, if we live in a free and open society, we have the responsibility to examine these systems and to adjust them as necessary. As adults, we decide the values we hold, and we choose how to express those values in our businesses, our government, our religious practices and our arts. We do not have to mimic what we have inherited from our parents; we have the ability and power to build new ways of living that are more true to our chosen values. We are adults. We make our own decisions. We are born with endless potential, and that potential is still here. We can become whomever we want to be.

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Google Co-Founder: We Won’t Pull Out of China

by on Feb.19, 2010, under News Commentary, Politics/Economics

[CNN News]  Google co-founder Sergey Brin on Friday said he’s optimistic that his search engine will not have to pull out of China over hacking and censorship issues.

Brin maintained that his Mountain View, California, company never entered China to make money. He said Google wanted to spread information.

“Perhaps people don’t believe this, but throughout all of the discussions of entering China our focus has really been what’s best for the Chinese people,” he said. “It’s not been about our revenue or profit or whatnot.”

He said the company will not continue to politically censor search results in China, which is one of the world’s largest markets for the Internet. But he did say that Google would agree to censoring pornography and other potentially objectionable material.

This particular story causes us to think about a much bigger issue: that of the unbiased spread of information. The Internet, coupled with search engines such as Google, has radically changed the way news events and other information is consumed by the public.

There are major consequences for this brick and mortar shift. On the one hand, the gatekeepers of the information industry, such as major daily newspapers and network TV anchors, have witnessed a dilution of their power in the delivery of news. On the other hand, this shift has resulted in an “opening of the gates” to a flood of information from any and every source — some trustworthy and some not trustworthy, but all with a bullhorn.

Much has been written about the demise of the major newspapers, which were once the pillars of their respective communities. Using news as their vehicle, they wielded political power that dictated the form and substance of the community. The economic fortunes of the newspaper families are the stuff of which legends are made. Today, those powered elite have been replaced by bloggers and Y-cams. Op-ed pieces have become the flavor of the day in print media, and “news shows” have taken stride to leave the anchor desk in the dust.

The unwary consumer, then, is left to do detailed searches in order to find the truth, because all of the news has become a point of view. The consumer must know whether what she or he is viewing or reading is from the neoconservative, theoconservative, economic conservative, conservative liberal, libertarian, social liberal, or anarcho-liberal point of view!

One of the greatest fears that people have always held was that their government would keep information from them. In a free democracy, the free and honest sharing of information (and news) is a cornerstone upon which the whole democratic system is built. People expect the information they receive to be accurate, objective and universal. The multi-faceted information products of today make it clear that what appears to be absolute truth in news is not, in fact, absolute truth — or news. It is, in fact, filtered through somebody’s point of view.

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Love and Its Opposite

by on Feb.09, 2010, under Core Values, Relationships, Spirituality

Many people think that the opposite of love is hatred, for hatred seeks to harm the one whom love would uplift. Others say that the opposite of love is indifference, for indifference ignores the other person altogether. While it is true that both hatred and indifference oppose love, they are each too small in scale to serve as love’s polar opposite. The true force that opposes love is self-centeredness.

It is self-centeredness that responds with hatred when another person hurts us or seems different from us. It is self-centeredness that responds with indifference toward those who cannot or will not benefit us. One may look at each of the “seven deadly sins”, and each of them is rooted in selfishness: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth and wrath. All things that stand against love are rooted in selfishness. All things founded in love require the taming of one’s own self-centeredness.

If we wish to become better human beings, then, our most essential task is to learn to get over ourselves. We need to truly get into our hearts that the world does not and should not revolve around us. The Golden Rule is a good starting place; when we manage to treat others the way we wish to be treated, we greatly improve our lives and the lives of those around us. The greater challenge, however, is to internalize that rule, to love others the way we wish to be loved. That is the true key to reaching our human potential.

When we do learn to live in love, amazing results can happen. People like Mother Theresa, Gandhi and Jesus all show the power of a life dedicated to love. While most of us are unlikely ever to attain that level of achievement in the area of love, we do have the ability to change our own corners of the world for the better. By tempering our own egos and developing our capacities for compassion, we can build stronger families, more productive workplaces, and healthier communities. It’s all a matter of love.

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Is Prejudice Good or Bad?

by on Feb.02, 2010, under Core Values, Relationships

Racism stems from a broader context of social transactions that are often termed “prejudice.” What I find interesting is that while that word immediately stimulates negative feelings in the ears of most people, we are all prejudiced! It is impossible for us to operate in the world without being prejudiced. Prejudice is the mechanism that enables us to discriminate among an unmanageable number of variables to make choices. Most of us have limited resources and must make quick choices. Prejudice is, in fact, a very useful tool in assisting us in the process of discriminating among a large number of variables.

“Prejudice” really simply means “prejudgment”. It means that we have used certain characteristics to help us efficiently sort among variables of an unknown and assist in our decision making. We use prejudice in all kinds of shopping decisions to help sort among variables. In today’s world, those of us who spend time on the Internet are quite familiar with the sorting devices that the social networking platforms give us to discriminate among our viewers and contacts. We need to be clear, then, in our understanding that to be “prejudiced” is not a bad thing. In fact it is a vital protective and selective device.

So where does it turn from being a useful social device to becoming a destructive and hateful device? Terms such as “all Black people are lazy” are phrases that characterize inappropriate, hateful and non-factual uses of the concept of “prejudice.”

Both within and without the GLBT community this has been a troublesome social phenomenon. It is troublesome because, while members of the GLBT community have been victims of prejudice and discrimination, they have also been perpetrators. One would expect that their victim status would make them extremely intolerant of prejudice and discrimination, and yet they go on inflicting the social disease on others (of course, without intending to do so).

Anyone who understands social dynamics is really not surprised, because people who have been wounded typically will wound other people. Nevertheless, the cycle of woundedness must be broken. The first step in breaking the cycle is creating awareness. We must become aware of how our behavior is hurting each other – on a very practical, day-to-day level. Whether we are part of an oppressor group or an oppressed group, we participate in prejudice in destructive ways that range from unconscious to intentional.

Many people have no awareness of the repeating patterns of their relationships. They never see the macro view. No healing can occur, because they are limited to the micro view. The solution may be as simple as finding a process observer. A process observer is a person outside the relationship (such as a close friend) who can observe behaviors and events over time. That person can provide objective feedback to the participant(s). There is a scripture in the Bible that says, “Physician heal thyself.” What that means is that the best doctor in the world cannot heal himself – it takes intervention from another doctor. We all need a process observer.

Racism is very insidious. Most people would not want to be racists. Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, it creeps up on people in insidious ways. A process observer can show each of us how racism is evident in our relationships. Individually, each of us should have a goal to discover who we are at core level. Once that is achieved, we will not need to diminish another in order to elevate ourselves.

Only we can decide what discriminators are useful for our decision making and which represent hateful bias in our lives. The Henry Louis Gates issue was useful in calling our national consciousness to one aspect of this broad and deep issue. His high profile status brings a face that could not be brought by thousands of other nameless, non-cached individuals.

Down here on the ground we can see all the differences that divide us — race, gender, age, religion, social class – but from a view atop the mountain, we are less able to see those differences. At the leadership level, we must be blind to race and other divisive characteristics. We need to listen to reasonable voices from good people without regard to their gender, race, social class, or other demographics. The voice of wisdom may come in unlikely packaging. Scripture says, “Be careful how you entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware.”

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Emotional Abuse

by on Jan.26, 2010, under Politics/Economics, Relationships

Emotional abuse is a major problem in our culture today, whether experienced in our private relationships or in our public discourse. From parents verbally and physically abusing their children to spouses abusing each other, our homes often are places of emotional scarring, rather than places of refuge and repose.

And what happens in our private domain gets mirrored in our public forum. We have all witnessed the shameful tension around the health care debate. That debate is no less vitriolic than the discourse around issues such as national security, the housing crisis, the national debt, education, and a host of other critical issues. While no one will debate the importance of these issues — or the passion that they deserve — what is sad, and even frightening, is the emotional abuse that we bring to our handling of these issues.

The character attacks (including racial assaults and even death threats) go far beyond healthy political discussion, and reach a level of emotional abuse at a mass group level.

Whether emotional abuse occurs at the family level or the mass group level, it stems from a struggle over power relationships. In our October 13, 2009 post, Why Do We Fight? we discussed the innate tendencies toward fighting to resolve conflict. Ultimately, we can stay stuck at this level, or we can choose to move to a new level of conflict resolution. It is the level that all the great masters tried to teach us: the way of Love.

Although this sounds simple — and it is — it is not easy. Embracing love as the way to resolve conflict is the most robust skill we can master. We must begin by mastering our own internal enemies (our ego), and along the way, being able to embrace the foibles of the other person — or group. When we truly know who we are, then we can accept others just as they are — without trying to change them.

We spend tremendous energy trying to change other people, which simply does not work. Even if a person is going to make changes, they will do so because they are ready to do so. Our inspiration may be one of many influences in their change process, but their change is a work of spirit — not our genius or judgment.

Rather than abusing each other, by tearing each other down, we need to spend all of the energy we can muster building each other up. My mother was a very wise person, although she was a high school drop-out. One of her very wise sayings was, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” So many times I have learned to look for the good in everybody by forcing myself to say nothing until I had something good to say.

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