Monthly Archives: February 2009

The Age of the Jubilee

Posted by David

It’s clear to me that one of the hardier roots to our present financial and economic problems is usury. The traditional arguments against usury are laid out in a variety of places on the web (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usury), so I won’t go there today. I’m going to approach it from the point of promises and expectations.

To begin, let’s say you lend someone $1,000 to buy a car. He promises to pay you back and you expect him to do so. The keywords here are “expect” and “promise.” Not all lending requires one to have expectations and make promises. But in our example, notice that he is required to lie by promising to pay you back (he may or may not be able to pay you back). Secondly, you’re making him indebted to you through his promise and your expectation. For all practical purposes he is bound to you as a debt-slave, and it must be added that bondage goes both ways. On top of that, if you charge him interest, then you are binding him to you beyond the balance of the debt. Scales are fair when the sides are equally balanced. Usury unfairly weighs the scales.

You argue that say he delivers pizza with that car, then he’s made some money on that car of which you should have a cut. This may be true, but again, it’s about expectations. Work may create more wealth or it may not. He might need to get a new transmission and there goes all the profits. Work is not financially fruitful all of the time. Moreover, if we can’t expect someone to repay a debt, then we can’t expect him to pay the interest either.

Now if he doesn’t promise to pay you back, but just says that he’ll do his best, then he’s not lying. And if you truly don’t expect him to pay you back, then you’re not making him a debt-slave. But how often is that the case in our modern world? How often is this the case within our hearts?  Not only do we expect to get our money back from the bank we lend it to, but we also expect interest as well.

Jesus explains how our hearts should be in regards to lending and borrowing.

Luke 6:35 says, “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great.”

However, if we read The Parable of the Ten Minas, doesn’t he tell us to do the opposite? Shouldn’t we expect a return from our debtors?

“Finally the master said to him, ‘Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?'” – Luke 19:23

In the parables, we read what our hearts want to read, which is not always the truth of the story. Jesus is saying to lend freely, to lend our money, to lend our talents, to lend our lives, and when we do so, inevitably, there will be reward. We lend freely. We lend without bondage, “hoping for nothing again.” In fact, he’s also saying that if we don’t lend and instead horde, then our wealth, our talents and our lives will just stagnate and rot. (This is one reason, the whole survive the economic crisis buy gold sales pitch is so repulsive to me.)

I have money in the banks. My money is being lent out. But I pray that my heart is “hoping for nothing again” from it. It’s not really my money anyway, is it? Could I be so egocentric to think that any particular thing in this world is mine? On the other hand, could I be so detached to think that nothing is mine? My breath is mine for an instant; in me and out of me. If it sits too long in my lungs, it becomes poison.

Burying our talents and our gold may be poison, but so also is indebtedness. In the bondage of debt-slave and the master, the stagnating wealth becomes poison like high CO2 concentrations in the lungs. Instead of stagnating in one person’s lungs, it stagnates amongst two. 

However, we must remember what happens when you try to hold your breath? It’s inevitable, you will breathe. The debt-bonds will also be broken. There was a remedy for the moneylender-debtor bondage in the Hebrew world and that was the Year of the Jubilee. Not only was this year good for the debtor, but it was also good for the moneylender. For bondage goes both ways. The moneylender and debtor are a single unit. They are bound by the breaths of promises and the covetous heart’s expectations. They are chained together in bondage.

As we see the injustice of debt and usury crashing our financial world around us, there might be a tendency to be afraid about what’s next. It’s just that we’re so used to living with stagnating air that we don’t know what it’s like to breathe anymore. But fear not,  fresh air is coming. Here comes the Jubilee.

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Word Shrapnel

Posted by David

I was substitute teaching yesterday and my second class of students came in a furor, some were late, some were cussing, and some were just dealing internally. It’s my policy not to allow students to use profanity. When I hear cussing, I instantly make that clear. As usually happens, one kid was trying to trick me, by saying “ass” and then saying that he just meant a jackass or donkey. He got a referral and I didn’t see him again back in class. Then the students were outraged (also typical), “He didn’t cuss,” “I can’t believe he got a referral for that,” etc.

This prompted me to think, “What is wrong with cussing?” You find lots of adults that speak profanely. You hear adults tossing out non-profane words in profane ways, “god,” “shoot,” etc. I’ve spent my periods of time cussing also. It’s addictive in many ways. And it doesn’t even have to be a standard four-letter word. It can be some other sort of outburst, a quick, direct and painful statement, a mean jab, a belittling joke, etc.

The reason it is ‘wrong’ to cuss to others or even to oneself is because it is a jab, a poke, a barb. It is an outburst of pain and anger, usually directed at someone. If it’s not directed at someone, then it’s just an explosive, ejaculation of barbs that hits all those who are near. If no one is near, then the barbs land back on the source. It’s all about hurting others or oneself. We all have anger and pain, but it’s important that we not release it onto others.

Profanity is a weapon and it causes pain. Profanity is an explosion of anger that is no different than a bomb. The damage it does is to spread anger and to manipulate through the fear of pain, although this is usually done subconsciously.

Now, why don’t I allow it in a classroom or when others are in my care? To answer this we have to look at the idea of domains and the realms provided to authorities. In some ways everyone has an authoritative position over another person, everyone except the smallest of children. We all have people that go in and out of our domains. It might be students in a classroom. It might be our family members. If I was a teenager, then it might be my little sister or my friends if I have the unspoken ‘leadership’ role in a group.

People in our domains are given to us for protection. It is our role to provide safety and comfort for those who come in and out of our domains. As a substitute teacher, it’s my role to provide that protection to students. It’s my role to provide that protection to people in my house or even to people who are walking down the road with me.

The damage done by the malice of profanity in many ways cuts deeper than shrapnel from a grenade and can have longer lasting damage. Warfare is most effective when you don’t know where the enemy is hiding. Words provide a hideous hideout for our enemy. The enemy must be exposed.

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Mona Lisa and Truthfulness

Posted by Mike

The enigmatic smile of the Mona Lisa may indicate that she was cautiously reluctant to reveal to the observer who she really was. For the rest of us it may be that truthful representations of ourselves to others may be equally difficult. In earlier postings we discussed issues related to truth.  In those essays we were writing about truth related to evidence and facts.  Here the issue is personal truth, how well what we say (and also what we think) corresponds to reality, to what actually happens.

 Most of us likely think that we’re relatively truthful and that we are very truthful when it comes to important issues. But I wonder about that. For one thing, there are characteristics of perception and language that limit our ability to present what is real accurately.  If we have a perception or if an event occurs, in our processing of such things our brains automatically and by necessity must select features that seem relevant. I say by necessity, because a perception contains literally thousands of potential sensory data, such that automatic selection, based upon what we have unconsciously learned in the past was important, must occur. The same thing is true if we begin thinking about something. When we begin thinking about something (we’re using language at this point) our minds have already automatically abstracted minimal identifiers (concrete images) by which we are starting to consciously process whatever events may have occurred.  Vast deletions of perceptual data have already occurred by the time that we are consciously aware of what we are thinking! Does this mean that we have no “free will” and are automatons?  Certainly not! But it does mean that we have a lot of automatic programming that goes on in our perceptual and thinking processes that we are completely unaware of and that the direction of our thought processes generally occurs automatically. Long before we are adults the consciously choosing and directing part of our thoughts is the very tiny top fraction of the iceberg that is our minds.  

So in a sense we may not be “truthful” at times due to the automatic selection process described above.  In addition, of course, in the process of consciously thinking, we are influenced by our biases, which include self-preservative scripts: we tend to see events selectively so that we see ourselves in the best possible light. This is natural. It’s part of being human; a basic survival mechanism.  Then there is the intentional selective “spinning” of the facts, to limit revealing ourselves, to save face, to intentionally mislead. I suspect that at times we all do some spinning. We do like to be seen by others in the most favorable light, don’t we? I, for one, plead guilty, Your Honor. Perhaps, too, that’s what the Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile is all about. How about for you?

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Space Time

Posted by Mike

We were in Orlando last week, driving down I-4 to one of the few Disney locations where you can get the ambiance of Disney but don’t have to spend any money if you don’t want to. The section of I-4 right before you get there is reminiscent of Vegas’ pre-Strip area: smaller motels, eating places, more than a little tawdry. Suddenly you come onto, right off I-4, this massive cathedral. There’s a sign prominently displayed to I-4 passersby, Mary Queen of the Universe.

solar systemNow for some back fill. Our solar system consists of the sun, eight major   planets, and other assorted flotsam and jetsam. The earth is the third planet from the sun, only 93 million miles away. This distance is called an AU (astronomical unit). The furthest planet from the sun is Neptune, at almost 2,800 million miles. That would be about 30 AUs. The asteroid belt lies within the solar system, generally between the planet Mars and Jupiter , that’s about 2-5 AUs from the sun. The objects in the asteroid belt consist of carbon and metals, rather than the less compact icy substances found in the Kuiper belt and the Oort clouds. The Kuiper belt is a system of comets beyond the planets, 30-55 AUs from the sun, much more massive than the asteroid belt. And finally, the Oort cloud is a hypothetical band or sphere of comets, about 50,000 AUs or about a light year away from the sun, that surrounds our solar system. A light year (ly) is actually about 63,000 AUs.

The nearest star system to our own solar system is Alpha Centauri, which consists of a double star; however, it appears to us as a single star. In addition to the double star is the star that is nearest to us, which is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star, which is about 4.2 light years away from the sun. Alpha Centauri is, of course, within our galaxy, which is called the Milky Way Galaxy. Because Alpha Centauri is fairly close to us (astronomically speaking) its movement is more noticeable over time; it is estimated to disappear within a larger group of stars in the galaxy within 100,000 years.

Our solar system lies within one of the spiral arms of the Milky Way Galaxy. This, our galaxy, is estimated to be about 100,000 light years across and about 1000 light years thick. Thus, you can see that it would be likened to a very, very thin pancake. There are estimated to be about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, and possibly up to 400 billion. Associated with our galaxy are two small companions called the Magellanic Clouds.

Moving away from our galaxy, we find that there are an estimated greater than 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The nearest spiral galaxy to us is Andromeda. It is approximately 2.5 million light years away from us and is the only galaxy, aside from our own, that can be seen with the naked eye (at times). Galaxies appear in clusters, and Andromeda is part of a group of galaxies, including the Milky Way, that is considered the “local group.” Galaxies were not clearly identified as being separate and far beyond the stars in the Milky Way until Edwin Hubble and others made discoveries in the 1920’s. The Milky Way and Andromeda are moving toward each other at breakneck speed and might well collide in the future, perhaps around five to six billion years from now. The age of the universe is estimated at 14 billion light years and the size of the universe to be 93 billion light years.

We have a sense that the distances and times in outer space are so extensive that time is irrelevant to our consideration of the universe’s cosmogony. Part of our problem, of course, is that, regarding time, what we experience is “human time,” which is extraordinarily puny when it comes to the time and distance dimensions of outer space. The sign, Mary Queen of the Universe, started me musing on this topic. The sign seems rather grandiose and completely unrelated to the human aspects of the mother of Jesus. I would rather see the humble peasant girl, who was likely illiterate and less than 50 years old when her son was disgracefully martyred, to be honored just for who she was, without bringing queenship or the universe into it.

We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star.  But we can understand the universe.  That makes us something very special.   –  Stephen Hawking

I’m astounded by people who want to “know” the universe, when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.   –  Woody Allen                                          

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The Archetype of You

Posted by David

Earlier I defined evolution in one line: Evolution is the process whereby a natural system becomes its archetypal form. Let me go a bit further on this idea.

First, to see where I’m going with this we must realize that an individual is not independent. Nothing is independent. Everything is part of a greater whole. As John Donne put it:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…

The same goes for a species. To understand how a species develops a particular set of characteristics or a morphology, we must look at the broader organism: the species as an organism, the genera as an organism, the order as an organism, etc., the phyla as an organism, and even life as an organism. An not only do we need to look at a particular family or genetic grouping, we also need to look at the local and broader ecosystem as an organism. For example, the grasslands with all its organic and inorganic substances is an organism. The continent of North America with all its climatic influences and biomes is an organism. The earth is an organism. The universe is an organism.

I suppose I’ve gone far enough. You get the point. But here’s the clincher: each of these life forms grow just like you do, just like a dog does, just like a tree does. An apple seed becomes an apple tree. A baby dog, becomes a dog. A grassland ‘seed’ becomes a grassland. An earth ‘seed’ becomes the earth. You became you.

An earth ‘seed’ didn’t become Mars. A tiaga seed didn’t become a tropical rainforest. A rainforest may have once existed where the tiaga now exists, but it grew out of a different ‘seed’.

Each of these broader organisms is a form of life and has a particular specialness that is inherent to it. Each had a seed. Each, one might say, inherited a plan, much like the genetics written in your DNA. But the seed that grows a grassland, doesn’t look like a cashew nut. And the egg that grows an elephant species didn’t take just a 22 months to develop into an elephant. These ‘broader’ seeds took millions of years to develop interdependent the genera and biomes we see today.

What’s also interesting is that in the first few million years of growing into an elephant, the elephant didn’t look anything like an elephant. In fact, it probably looked more like rock hyrax. But, make no mistake, it became an elephant. It also became other things too: manatees, dugongs, mammoths and mastodons to name a few. But the ‘seed’ that grew the elephant species could not have grown a cheetah, a whale or a star. It simply couldn’t have. It couldn’t have no more than your mother’s egg could have produced a hummingbird instead of you.

One common misconception in evolution is the focusing on one-half of the process of evolution and missing entirely the other half of the process. The common notion is that the branches become more diverse as time progresses, call it an upside-down pyramid, or the phylogenic tree.

But the opposite is also true. There’s a right-side-up pyramid that deserves equal attention if we’re really and truly to understand how evolution works. This pyramid has to do with the evolution of broader ecosystems. It’s also known as succession.

Succession

Let’s take the example of a grassland. Over the years the correct climate and soils would drive the characteristics of the local ecology to take on the appearance of a grassland. This is the case for all biomes. It is also the case for you.

And there are only so many of these archetypal forms. There is not an infinite number of them. There may be a seemingly infinite number of successional steps within a paticular biome just as there are seemingly infinite number of steps between you as a fetus and you as an adult. But if you look around the earth, you will find a fixed number of these archetypal biomes. Each of them are slightly different, but in principle they are the same. Grasslands, forests, deserts, tundra are some of the primary ones on land. No matter what you do to these systems (unless you change the climate), inevitably in time, they will redevelop into their archetypal form. And what’s so totally amazing—from a personal and relational standpoint—the same is the case for you. You are an archetypal form.

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Arrogance

Posted by Mike

I’m inclined to think that there are two kinds of arrogance: the overt kind, which everyone can see, where some obnoxious person makes an ass of himself expressing his notions of superiority or putting down others that he considers less adequate in some way or another.  But there is another kind of arrogance that is more subtle, and that I expect lots of us are guilty of.  That arrogance consists of the ingrained notions that we have that somehow we are superior to others in some way.  It could be in beliefs that we have learned, religious or political or otherwise, and it could be in competence, or knowledge, or alleged “sophistication,” or in power, or prestige, or wealth.  It can be in social, cultural, racial, or nationalistic areas.  !

I always like to get a clear picture of what we’re talking about, so am checking out the meaning in my trusty American Heritage Dictionary.  It says, arrogance is the quality of state of being arrogant, and arrogant is being “overly convinced of one’s own importance; overbearingly proud, haughty, and characterized by or arising from haughty self-importance.”  The Latin origin of the word relates to assuming for oneself without right or justification.  The New Oxford American Dictionary adds “having or revealing and exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities: he’s arrogant and opinionated/ a typically arrogant assumption.” The New Oxford makes a very important distinction.  And that is that the individual can have or reveal the attitude in his or her behavior.  I’m suggesting here that it’s the having the attitudes that we’re talking about and utilizing them, generally unconsciously in our thinking and feeling, that is the main problem here.  Let’s have a little test!

First take the quiz below yourself. Then ask a couple of family members and friends to answer these questions YES OR NO ABOUT YOU about you. Do I believe that I live in the country that has the best kind of government, and that other governments should emulate what we have?  Do I believe that I have the true religion; that people who believe,  in religious matters, something else are unfortunately misguided and in need of bringing in to the fold?  Do I believe that my perspectives, values, and opinions regarding raising children, relating to strangers, in sexual and moral matters, regarding money, in politics and government, about how the younger generation is behaving, etc., are all the “correct” way to think and that the others are unfortunately misguided and have it all wrong?

If the answers to some or all of the questions on the above “test” are yes, then I think we have something we need to talk about!  Now you may not feel or believe that you have some of this stuff called arrogance.  I will say that I do; I think it’s endemic when you live in a society.  Did your friends who took the test from your perspective reveal assumptions or arrogance in you that you did not realize?  You may or may not agree with their responses, but they may be worth considering.

 We all learn, almost osmotically, attitudes, perspectives, prejudices from our society and cultures.  It’s just part of living in a group or society, in that we tend to adopt the attitudes and values that surround us.   How many white Southerners during the antebellum period opposed slavery?  Likely very few. How many white Southerners from 1870 to 1965 were uncomfortable with how the institution of segregation in the South made a mockery of the fruits of the Civil War? How many Christians believe that there might be something to Judaism, or Hinduism, or Buddhism?  Or vice versa?  We could talk about the German peoples, and their attitudes prior to World War II. Every society and culture would have its examples. We adopt the mold of values and attitudes pretty much that our culture establishes for us.  That’s not always necessarily bad; but it is just the way that it is.   In a primitive tribal society it wouldn’t have even occurred to a member that maybe his (or her) tribe could have some particular way of thinking wrong, and that the tribe across the river might have it right!  Humans in tribal groups, in societies and cultures in general don’t think that way – because it’s not adaptive.  That kind of thinking would lead to social disruption.  And the way humans developed, in small groups that very much needed close social cohesion and cooperation to survive, questioning the group’s values wasn’t adaptive and had little to no survival value.

Things not only are different now, but they have to be different. In the United States in this 2009, if you look around you, you will see that we have actually become multicultural.  In a variety of ways, we are more than ever a mixed society.  In addition to being multicultural, we each have an incredibly vast and varied access to information that can offer us broadening perspectives in our world view.  The arrogance that is reflected from those more hidden attitudes and values mentioned above still exists in each of us.  Our hope can be that over time as we continue to be exposed to perspectives that differ from ours and become more comfortable with and even honor diversity, our own individual arrogance in these areas will be tempered.  In the present, however, it is incumbent upon each of us to become more aware of our unwarranted attitudes of superiority and our prejudices based upon the groups that we identify with, to make that wonderful discovery that we truly have no need to “be better than” anyone – in any area – to be  worthwhile and fulfilled persons ourselves. 

 The most important scientific revolutions all include, as their most common feature, the dethronement of human arrogance from one pedestal after another of previous convictions about our centrality in the cosmos. 

–          Stephen Jay Gould

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Slippery Slopes

Posted by Mike

As individuals we have all kinds of slippery slopes.  We say to ourselves, “It won’t really make any difference.  I’ll just….” Most of us can fill in the blank for ourselves; could be an addiction, dishonesty, cheating, lying.  It always becomes easier the second time, and by the third time we don’t notice it at all. Governments have slippery slopes too. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was seen as the slippery slope that led to the United States’ involvement in the disastrous Vietnam War. In actuality the slippery slope was a long series of covert operations in South Vietnam and propping and and support of corrupt South Vietnamese governments for the ten years preceding the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

Our war in Iraq was not a slippery slope. The Bush Administration planned the war, justifying it on the basis of Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. It is ironic that at the time of the invasion, Saddam Hussein had been reined in: there were “no-fly” zones in the north and the south. Iraq was a danger to no country in the Middle East at that time and certainly no danger to the United States. I wonder what our response to Saddam Hussein would have been had Dick Cheney and George W. Bush served in Vietnam and observed first-hand the damage, destruction, and heartbreak that war did to both sides. 

A major current slippery slope is our involvement in Afghanistan, a country much more isolated from the West and even more enmeshed in values, mores, and loyalties that we understand less than we do the Middle East. Will and Ariel Durant published a thin volume in 1968, following the publication of the tenth volume of their opus, The Story of Civilization. The book was titled, The Lessons of History, and it was made up of what the Durants had learned from their study of history that might be of help in illuminating “present affairs, future probabilities, the nature of man, and the conduct of states.” They included a section on history and war and indicated that, “War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy.” The Durants avoided a clear declaration of their own perspective on the use of war to settle conflicts within or between nations by including an imaginary dialogue between “the philosopher” and “the general.” The general believed that it was now [in 1968] up to the United States to fully take up the mantle assumed earlier by Great Britain to serve as the protector “of Western civilization from external danger,” the danger being the Soviet Union and the other communist countries. The philosopher made a case for challenging the “evil precedents” of history by boldly supporting solving the conflicts that lead to war through negotiation and learning to understand and appreciate the difference in perspectives among nations. At the end, the Durants clearly have the general win the argument, saying, “Some conflicts are too fundamental to be resolved by negotiation; and during the prolonged negotiations…subversion would go on.” The general saw that the only possibility of a “world order” being established was, “…not by a gentlemen’s agreement, but through so decisive a victory by one of the great powers that it will be able to dictate and enforce international law.” The Durants were clearly not optimistic that the pattern of the past – war as a “solution” to conflict between nations – would ever be supplanted.

Iron CurtainLooking back at the Cold War, it can be seen as a kind of insanity, in which nations and populations got caught up in a paranoid rhetoric that had the potential of creating mass destruction, should the paranoia have been acted upon ultimately by the use of atomic weapons. The slippery slopes that initiated the Cold War are now obscured by the veil of history, but occurred primarily right at the end of the Second World War and related to both sides being unable to perceive the fear beneath the saber rattling. Some compromises were made at that time; but even they (e.g., the divided Berlin) served to intensify the conflict.

The slippery slopes of the Cold War period led to our involvement in Vietnam and the Vietnam War, which cost our nation much in material resources and human lives, and which destroyed much of the economy of Vietnam and devastated a generation of their people. Psychiatrists call the kind of paranoia that was present in the Cold War “shared delusions,” reflective not of individual psychosis, but of the indoctrination of people with a kind of delusional “group think.”

Have we learned from the lessons of history of the past 40 years? Have we learned from our slippery slopes of the past? Are we more willing and able to continue to negotiate our differences until we are “blue in the face,” and then begin negotiating again the next day, without resorting to military action? Remarkably we have been able to do that at various places in the world, with North Korea, for example. Despite our differences and the perceived “threat” of Kim Jong-il, we have not lost our rationality and invaded North Korea. But we remain on the slippery slope in Afghanistan, seemingly unwilling to understand that Western values hold no weight in that culture, and that the solutions that we seek are not necessarily the solutions that the Pashtun and other ethnic peoples of Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan would choose. Unless we are to continue the heartbreak of further death and destruction in Afghanistan, we must finally come to understand that there are no satisfactory military “solutions” to the conflict there. Increased understanding of the other, rather than demonization, is necessary; and protracted discussion and negotiation between parties, with resolution of areas of disagreement piece by piece until final peace is attained.

We need to be vigilant, not only in the present, but in the future, for once a course of action is initiated by a “slippery slope,” it becomes harder to change direction the further down the slope we fall.

One is left with the horrible feeling now that war settles nothing; that to win a war is as disastrous as to lose one.                

                        -Agatha Christie (1890-1976)

 The stateman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforseeable and uncontrollable events.

          – Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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The Marginalized

Posted by: David

Society will always marginalize this or that group, no matter what group is in power.

If Party A: the poor are marginalized.
If Party B: the disabled are marginalized.
If Party C: the weak are marginalized.
If Party D: the hard workers are marginalized.
If Party E: the justice-seekers are marginalized.
If Party F: the peacemakers are marginalized.

Blessed be the marginalized, for they shall be brought within.

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Stuttering and Conversation Anxiety

Posted by: David

Today I’ll be writing about my experience as a stutterer and what contributed to my present-day fluency.

My experience as a stutterer was probably rather typical. I’m not sure about the onset, but it probably started when I was in middle elementary school. It became progressively worse due to social embarrassment and ended fairly abruptly at the end of college. I have had a handful of stuttering episodes since that time, usually corresponding to high levels of conversation anxiety, but as a Park Ranger and substitute teacher I have also been highly successful in public speaking. From my analysis, I think that stuttering has both a physical and a psychological component. As my dad (Mike) likes to say, its cause is “multidetermined.”

What were the causes of my stuttering? I expect it has some to do with the English language itself, with social expectations, with my pride and vanity, and with my physical nature. In regards to my physiology, I have a fairly high level of energy. As a child I would run to get places. I think my energy level was one of the major causes as well as how my brain’s visual center is more developed that my verbal center. My brain would think faster than I was capable plugging the correct words together when vocalizing thoughts. I was also quite shy and I had a tendency to be nervous in the first place in front of groups of people. So when I would stutter and ‘block’ in front of the class, my uneasiness toward the next speaking event would compound my conversation anxiety.

As a student, the worse situations (as one can imagine) were when we were reading a textbook aloud and one student after another would read going down the rows. The anxiety would build and build as my turn approached. The anxiety along with the mental image of the embarrassment of public stuttering would set me up for disaster. Each event was always a disaster. It’s important to note that I feel that my mental vision of embarrassment would increase anxiety and set me up for a self-fulfilling prophesy. I would envision a stuttering event and it would happen.

These anxiety-driven stuttering events occurred into my early twenties. Fortunately, not all teachers required me to speak in front of the class, and as the other students became older, there was less snickering as my classmates matured. A compassionate classroom, although rare, was always helpful.

I’ll also note that I used my stuttering as a manipulative device to get things my way sometimes. I can look back at a few events and know this to be true. But let me also make it clear that my stuttering was real, yet there were a handful of events where I consciously/subconsciously abused my speech problem for my own selfish motives.

So,  what did not work for me? That’s simple: continuous phonation. That’s a classic technique where the stutter slides into the difficult sounds. For example, instead of saying, “David is a boy.” The stutter would say, “…hhhdDavid is a hhhboy.” Basically, you learn to slide into difficult sounds. In my case, “d” and “b” were difficult sound to produce. In looking back and from hearing adult stutters today, it seems like this technique is just a crutch. It gets people talking and semi-functional, but it doesn’t solve the problem. For some, it at least helps them to talk.

What did work for me? Again, that’s simple: visualizations of fluency. In college, I was referred to a professor, who worked in the speech department who was working with a graduate student on conversation anxiety. I couldn’t recall who these two people were, but the theory was simple and it worked for me. They used positive visualization techniques combined with relaxation to reduce anxiety and subsequently stuttering and blocking events. It worked and I probably had less than five sessions total.

My preparation for each session consisted of writing down and visualizing instances where conversation anxiety would be high, such as answering the phone, public speaking, talking with persons of authority, etc. And I was to start thinking about those situations in a positive light. I was to envision them as moments of fluent speaking, of clear and thoughtful moments of communication. Then during each session, the professor would have us sit in relaxing chairs and help us relax through standard relaxation techniques. Then after we were relaxed, we were to visualize the fluent conversational situations.

In those days, my studies were so time-consuming that I was always physically exhausted. The funny thing was that I never really got a chance to visualize the events during sessions, because each time I fell fast asleep before the professor was done talking us into a state of relaxation. But that didn’t really matter, because the visualization work had been done. During my preparations I had already visualized the situations. Much of the work was then done in my preparation. Throughout each week, just the fact that I knew that the session was approaching forced me to visualize moments of fluency.

I’m thankful that I was able to stop stuttering when I was in my twenties. I expect that stuttering becomes more and more integrated into one’s physical nature, the longer the stutterer lives with the problem.

Please note that I think that this technique can be used for all sorts of mental and emotional pathologies. What we think and gather in our minds is potentially harmful. I had collected years of negative thoughts, thoughts of failure, thoughts of ridicule, and vain thoughts that changed who I was. As much as possible, we need to lift ourselves up as well as others. We need to fill our minds with good thoughts, thoughts that please our God. In many ways, my experience is a just microcosm of how many of our pathologies play out. We need to fill up and fill others up on goodness. Our thoughts are very powerful indeed.

Lastly, I’ll speculate one thing about my predisposition to stuttering. As a child, I really did lack rhythm. Today, I’m in a marimba band and the idea surfaces regularly: what if I had more experiences in music and rhythm during my early childhood, would that have affected my predisposition for stuttering? I don’t know. But I do feel that my limited rhythm as a child may have affected the physical nature to my stuttering. So, if you do have a child that stutters, consider playing the drums and sing songs with him or her.

But mostly give that child a community that pours out love and teach the child to do the same to others. The root cause of my stuttering may have had a physical side, but it also had much to do with my world- and self-perception. We all have problems that manifest due to this. For me it was stuttering. What is it or was it for you?

If you have a child that stutters, give the child the food of love and teach the child to feed love to others. I also think it’s important to provide the child a truthful perception of reality. Of course, they don’t need to know the nuts and bolts. But generally, the child needs to know that even though there are wicked people in the world, there are also wonderful loving people in the world, and that sometimes these people are the same person. But most of all, the child needs to know that God indisputably loves them and ultimately it is in him that we gain our confidence. He is the one that we should seek to please. God must be the root of our confidence. And it is in this confidence that secures our visualizations and our mental imagery that guides our daily lives.

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