Author Archives: Mike Zelenka

The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

If I had any readers in the past who might still be around, they may be saying, “Where have you been?” The answer: I’ve been here but perhaps not creating anything special. This new posting was prompted by a classmate of mine who sent all of us in the class of ’54 a letter suggesting that we write what we have learned about the meaning of life. He offered his contribution, and I thought I would offer mine – on this blog – in a form that may seem somewhat elliptical, but that’s about all I can offer, for now. It seems so presumptuous for one unschooled in philosophy to talk about the meaning of life. It must be a topic well explored by minds greater than ours. But I’ll write a little on The Meaning of Life – It Seems to Me – Right Now!

We come into this world with very powerful needs to survive. These needs are taken care of by family and the community initially. But we’re still Paleo-Indian in our basic orientation; the Paleo-Indians had to take care of themselves at an early age, and narcissism was born in this need to survive (long before the Paleo-Indians, by the way). If we were only narcissistic, however, we humans would have never survived. We needed community and mutual support. The basic difference between men and women is crucial here, because women (most of them, anyway) are far more community-support oriented than men. So we have families, and nurturing, and community – all thanks to woman’s genes (again driven by Darwinian pressures – the survival, given environment pressures, of the fittest). Basically men are driven to compete and excel (with some allowances for group action and support; note our exuberance around teams and sports) and women are driven to nurture and protect each other and their children.

Sometime past middle age, if they are fortunate, men begin to see that there’s more to it than trying to compete and excel. Maybe it comes when they can’t really do it any more – the younger ones are quicker, faster, seem smarter; competition is really hopeless, although some older men can hold onto dominance based on the power they have obtained and their verbal magic, not on their physical abilities. We – the men – begin to have our eyes open to the need to nurture, protect, defend, and help prosper, not just our own families, but others in the community, and hopefully in the broader community of the world. Men also are finally beginning to see the need to protect and nurture the environment that we, over the centuries, have savaged. Women have been doing the nurturing all along, but it has generally been restricted to family and community (I suspect problems here if any women read this). Wisdom for both men and women may come when they see the needs of people everywhere and of the environment everywhere and actively do what they can to nurture and preserve this extraordinary world we live in.  The meaning of life may be incorporated in the wisdom that sometimes comes with aging.

Parenthetically, Wikipedia notes that at least 8 countries possess nuclear weapons. Some of these are armed and I assume can be directed to almost anywhere in the world. Isn’t this insanity? This is not part of our acquired wisdom. It might be seen as a residual curse of narcissism. May God help us!

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Just Don’t Scratch the Furniture

Posted by Mike

Does it happen to everyone. Do you just fall into things – like acquiring cats? I suspect in some matters, yes, and in others, no. It’s really irrelevant to my discussion. When something has happened, one can philosophize all you want, but once an event occurs – or events in most cases – we can’t turn back time and do a redo. In life, daily, we have to deal with what is, not what we would like it to be, or what we might have done or chosen had we been better informed, or thought more wisely, or….This brings up another issue that is very important for us Americans: We tend to believe that we must make most personal decisions by ourselves, that seeking advice and wisdom from others is somehow lessening to our independence and self-worth. Women, of course, are better at seeking advice from others than men. Perhaps it’s mainly us males who have the problem. It’s nonsense, of course. Why didn’t we let others talk us out of it?

The cats, as you might have surmised, are the problem. You feel sorry for the feral cat and her kittens. One day you see her with three kittens following her; the next day, only two; and a little later, only one, virtually a carbon copy of the mother, who herself looked like little more than a kitten. We have really big owls where we live; I suspect that the owls made away with the other two kittens. So you let the poor mother and child in, give them a home. Oh! And it’s necessary to buy a litter box, and litter, and cat food. And to be responsible, they must be neutered. And the injections for various feline diseases come next. And a tower so they can scratch it rather than the blankets, and bedspreads, and furniture. And lots of other accoutrements.

Soon one has (one in this case is Linda and myself) a cat-oriented household. It becomes like having children again: When “Big Cat” doesn’t come in before dark I begin to get panicky, like maybe my daughter missing her 11 p.m. deadline twenty-odd years ago. EEEEAAAAGGAADDDDH!

I’m getting use to it. Night before last I didn’t fully close the hall door. At 4 a.m. there was heavy breathing, purring, and licking on my ear, and little feet walking down my torso and legs. I even discovered a cat mole crawling through the dark area between sheet and blanket. The last cat we befriended was expert at destroying blankets with a few well-placed rips from her front claws. Remarkably, these cats are being reasonably considerate; they haven’t destroyed anything yet. I’m waiting!

All of this is to say that I thought I was over the period in life when you are raising things, like mainly children, but also cats and dogs and other various animals. I’m sure that cat lovers, if they have gotten through this tirade will say, “They are so lovable. They’ll be wonderful companions and you’ll love having them.” I’m waiting; I’m waiting!

Let’s not kid ourselves, cats are wild animals; other appearances are just that. Maybe it’s time for a dog?

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Ship of Fools?

Posted by Mike

It was Sarah Palin, then Donald Trump, Michele Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain. How could any reasonably intelligent person actually think any of these people

Childe Hassam Flags on the Waldorf detail Amon Carter Museum.jpgwould make (or would have made) a satisfactory President? Is this country filled with ignorant people who are unable to discriminate competence? The remaining candidates, thank goodness, all have some credibility, and hopefully some might make adequate Presidents. I have no complaints about people who might be supporting Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, John Huntsman, or Mitt Romney, though I wouldn’t agree with any of them regarding their choice of candidate.

The answer to my question above is two-fold. First, I don’t think this country is filled with ignorant people. The people I interact with every day, at work, at the grocery, at home, seem very bright and competent. And I think that people in general, in this country, are very bright and competent, at least in the areas of their expertise. But secondly, I think the problem is that in some areas – and I think politics and religion are the two prime suspects – we just don’t learn to discriminate very well, to put on our “thinking caps” and apply reason and logic, seek information, and perhaps more than anything else, be willing to challenge accepted notions. I fault religion with having the most influence in this area. Religious beliefs and doctrines are handed down from one generation to another and there is a generally unexpressed assumption that these basic beliefs are not to be challenged, that somehow, just because a belief, doctrine, or institution has survived essentially the same for 200 or 500 or a thousand or two thousand years it is sacrosanct and not to be challenged. I’ll just bore you with one issue I have with our religious beliefs. One denomination on its website reports that, “Our beliefs all stem from a full commitment to the authority of the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.” If you think like these folks, no challenge is possible. I wonder what they say to the occasional questioning teenager who wonders, “What makes it inerrant and infallible?” In my opinion there is no satisfactory answer to that question. My guess is that such questioning if it ever occurs is squelched, but I really don’t know as I don’t run in those circles.

We haven’t really learned, in this country, to question authority, to challenge accepted notions and the status quo. It’s been to our disadvantage continually, since the formation of our nation, and it’s remarkable that we have preserved to the extent that we have , our democratic processes given this lack. I’ll grant that there have been and are countervailing forces that have encouraged independent thinking and challenges to the status quo, from Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers to Occupy Wall Street, but they have tended to be a “weak force.” The “strong force” has always been the maintenance of the status quo. One example: It took almost 100 years for the full effect of Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves to be effectively brought into being. Equality for African-Americans was delayed in the American South for years by supposedly “well meaning” whites who were unwilling to grant equality for all Americans. Oh – and did the churches speak out against this travesty?

It’s threatening and scary for our cherished assumptions and beliefs to be challenged, but adaptation to a changing world requires openness to that process. And it’s even more important now with the extraordinary effects of the internet and global interconnectedness as well as the increasing rapidity of innovation in technology and its effects throughout the world. Oh – we’re not a Ship of Fools or we would not have survived as well as we have. We do need to assess our foolishnesses from time to time, and this is one of those times.

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Time Keeps on Slipping…into the Future

Posted by Mike

“Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping–into the future.” It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But somehow, expressed that way,Ashs-coursebook-cover-2010.JPG it makes us take another look at time. What on earth is it? We know that it’s happening, but what is it really? Like so many things that we take for granted, we have trouble when we try to narrow down and define what time is. Time is just – well – Time! We can measure its passage, can’t we? Of course. With clocks. But what do clocks do? They are a somewhat artificial way of measuring Time! We humans have made up the concepts seconds, minutes, hours….They are not real, but quite arbitrary ways of helping us to organize this thing that we call time. We can also observe change and the sequence of events occurring in the world as some kind of process. And this brings us very close to something important in our definition. That is–experience. Time is something that we experience and that we can observe, and it relates to sequential events and changes. If we didn’t have time, we likely wouldn’t have events or change; but we really don’t know that, because we do have this thing we call time, and we can’t really know what the universe would be like without it–but my opinion is that there would be nothing there!

Maybe you think I’m belaboring my point—the issue of what time is. What is it? It is basically that time is experiential; it is subjective. It is not tangible, but an intangible, and that it can only be noted through experience, through observation, and through measurements, which don’t clearly define it, but which enable us to present objective examples of its existence and presence.

So many of the things that we talk about as if they are real are like time. They are constructs that have no objective reality that we can see or touch or hear, but we objectify them using examples that are clear and concrete, which if varied and numerous give us a pretty clear picture of what we are talking about. For example, if we were trying to define the construct “love,” we would begin to build up a good idea of what it is from concrete examples of physical affection and caring, events that we can observe – the events themselves and their consequences. Then we would have a fairly clear picture of what love is. That’s the way it actually is with all constructs; we have to bring them down to concrete observables—events that we can see, hear, touch. It’s in the real world that we live and breathe, and it’s from these real things that we can construct the meanings of the intangibles – things like love, and courage, and God, and patience, and war, and peace – and time. In our definitions of all of what we call reality, at bottom we must return to clear observation—shared observations among us all. With our shared observations and agreements, we have notions of what we are talking about. At the more abstract levels we often can agree; but as we become more and more concrete, it might be surprising how much we differ on the significant details. In general, most of us can agree on Time – especially that it keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping – into the future!

Bristol Bus Station clocks.jpg

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Middlemarch

Posted by Mike

It’s a comedy and a tragedy. The author’s subtle humor is seen on every page. She is generally making delicate fun of her characters’ very human frailties and foibles. George Eliot.jpgBut she displays a sensitivity to their feelings and private anguishes that reveals her own broad awareness of the varieties of human physical and emotional predicaments. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) published Middlemarch in 1871, but the incidents in the novel took place in a provincial English country town in the 1830’s.

Middlemarch has an ensemble cast of main and secondary characters; and unless it is read straight through, the reader might have the difficulty I had of being able to place exactly where Mr. Brooke or Mr. Trumbull and others fit into the tangled web of family, social, business and other relationships. Despite this, the main characters show up regularly enough that the reader can get at least their relationships reasonably clear. For me, in long narratives of this sort, I become personally involved in the hopes, affairs and entanglements of the characters, wishing for the best, while knowing that the author has the guiding hand, not Providence, and that resolutions remain with the author and not with my feeble desires and expectations.

I will say that the writing is complex. On virtually every page there are extended passages that I needed to reread if I were to understand the author’s meaning, and there were times that even then I wasn’t sure. Her frequent use of triple negatives and multiple qualifiers often left me gasping for clarity. But ultimately the charm of her style overcame my frustration–to the point that I suspect I have begun to incorporate elements of Evans’ obscurity into my own writing!

The novel is complex, brilliant, sensitive, and true to humanity at least as I see it today in my section of the provinces 150 years later.  Despite the author’s frequent but subtle mocking of the naiveté of her characters, her own humanity and sympathy for them as frail mortals struggling with the immensities of life is evident.

One of these characters is Dorothea. Of  her the author writes:   “…the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Evans is saying here that all of us whose lives are not particularly distinctive but who work at being decent human beings, despite what might be our baser inclinations at times, also contribute in our own small way to the betterment of the world. What a hopeful epitaph, for me and perhaps for you, too.


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Weekly Report: The Dope…the Dupe

Posted by Mike

Leon hot air balloon festival 2010.jpgMarch 3: The headline on Time’s frontpage today is “Yes, America is in Decline/No America is Still No. 1.” I never hear anyone ask “Why?”  so I’m asking it; and suggesting that we’d be a lot better off if we weren’t. It might get us off our grandiose high horse of believing that we are the savior of the world. It’s interesting that we’ve been proved so wrong so many times before, but that doesn’t stop belief. Changing firmly held beliefs may require some kind of full frontal confrontation to get people to wake up. Unfortunately, that kind of confrontation generally brings with it a lot of pain.

I find some decision-making rather mysterious. I know, we weigh the pros and cons, look at the possible/probable outcomes, and then make the best, the most rational decision we can make. But what about the emotional factors? And doesn’t the process get quite muddied up with multiple factors, especially when the decision is important and the tipping point can’t easily be got at? Of course we do the best we can with what (brain power, good sense, advice from others) we’ve got. I made a big decision recently regarding major surgery that is not absolutely indicated. As far as I’m concerned the decision is made and I’m going ahead with it; but I need to be aware that there’s a part of me that’s going to be questioning the decision at least to some extent even when they wheel me into the operating room. There are people who are so obsessive that they are unable to make decisions; the bigger the decision is, the harder it is for them. We’re not perfect; we’re fallible. If we need help in sorting out the issues, we need to ask for it. I have a hard time doing that: related to childhood isolation and inability to ask for anything back then. In the work I do I daily make decisions that affect the lives of individuals and families. I do the best I can with the evidence I have available. The evidence isn’t perfect and in some cases there is a degree of subjectivity that must be allowed in or a decision can’t be made. An obsessive-compulsive would never be able to do that job. I’ve learned to make a decision and then forget about it. Fortunately, there are avenues of appeal available if the recipient disagrees. So in general, make the decision, and then let it go; subject to revision if significant new evidence arises and presses for a hearing; but don’t obsessively review afterwards. Life is too demanding, challenging, wonderful and present to be overly tied up by the past like that.

March 4: I woke up unable to sleep last night and happened upon Gus Van Sant’s first full length film, Mala Noche. It’s about events in a brief period of a young male convenience store clerk’s life, in the skid row district of Portland. It’s filmed like the cinema noir pictures of the late ‘30’s in black and white, and the lives of the people it follows is just as bleak. What comes to me as the important overall message for me from the film is that as secure, comfortable middle class Americans, most of us don’t have a clue as to what it’s like to lead the kind of hand-to-mouth kind of existence lots of people experience in this country. That awareness should lead us to a kind of humility, nonjudgmentalness, and a generosity not only of funds but of spirit to those less fortunate. I often make it to the first level , the awareness part, but never seem to make it to the second level of thinking/feeling/acting described above.

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and write pungent essays in my head. Most of the time I’ve forgotten them by the time I awaken in the morning. Seldom do I later write anything down. When I do try to, it seems that maybe what I thought was so clever and insightful at 2 a.m. wasn’t. I do remember thinking last night about following the news of the conflict in the Middle East. Every morning one of the first things I do is bring up the New York Times on my laptop and go to the Lede blog, updating us on the latest events. Currently of course, the Lede is following events in Libya closely. As I’m reading the updates sometimes I feel like I want to will progress on the insurgents’ part. I expect this desire to be able to “will” a change in circumstances or events is not uncommon. We know it’s not possible, but we want something (that we have no control over) to be so so much, that we would like to be able to will it to be so. Fortunately most of us are sufficiently reality-based to know that’s just fantasy. Occasionally people cross the line. We call them delusional, and they don’t do very well in the long run; reality catches up with them.

March 7: What happened to the 5th and the 6th? They must not have happened. I can’t tell you…but why, why can’t I just let go of my beef with organized religion? For example, the other day coming home I passed a fancy dentist’s office near here, and would you believe, they have this massive statue of Jesus in front of the building, on a granite pedestal, engraved with the writing, “He is our Salvation.” Who do they think they are? Why is it necessary for believers to include the rest of us in their scenario. What if I don’t believe that he is my salvation? I guess from their point of view all of society is included under the umbrella or penumbra of the man from Nazarath. It would be impossible, I guess, for a Christian to say something like, “I believe Jesus is my salvation, but that isn’t necessarily the case for you.” I see that that wouldn’t work; it’s got to be inclusive. It does seem to me, however, given that attitude that a measure of self-righteousness, yea even of judgmentalism toward us poor nonbelievers might just be present. The position of knowing, and “knowing” that the others don’t, seems to be rather arrogant. Of course, you could turn it around on me and wonder if I might just be exhibiting some of those very same uncomely attitudes. You might be right. I do think, though, that I am open to saying you believe what you want to and I’ll believe what I want to and we’re both going to be at least somewhat wrong – but we need to be nonjudgmental about each other. I have more about this topic later, and I’ll just give you a preview: There are mainstream Christians out there who believe in Predestination!

The wisdom of the generations is fragile, but that which we preserve and value must be based upon observation and experience, not on myth reflecting out unconscious defensive predilections

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Glenn Beck: The Influencer

Posted by Mike

I don’t like to use the term evil, because it’s more of an emotional classification than reflecting objective reality, but I’ll use it in reference to Glenn Beck and the false and socially disruptive vitriol that he sends out over the airwaves. I always avoid listening to and watching him as well as the other radical news commentators, but decided that I would attempt to sift through some of his TV and radio clips and do a critique. Prior to that decision I watched several minutes of his show on different days this past week. In just those few minutes he was significantly distorting in his usual prim schoolmasterly manner the consequences of the current spontaneous opposition to President Mubarek of Egypt. On the first clip Beck was predicting that if Mubarek of Egypt were successfully ousted there would be a domino effect of radical Islamic revolutions all across North Africa, throughout the Asian subcontinent and on to Indonesia. On the next day he was focusing only on the Middle East, again predicting disastrous outcomes throughout the entire region should the current uprising in Egypt be successful. Towards the end of the week he showed several film clips of Mohamed ElBaradei speaking to the media in Cairo regarding the uprising. Beck focused on ElBaradei’s use of the term “social justice,” insinuating that the term masked a hidden Islamic imperialist intention and thus implying that this man who is a Nobel prize winner had concealed, nefarious motives for his courageous actions last week in Cairo.

Glenn Beck talks to his listeners as if they are completely ignorant and dependent upon him, the expert, coming across as a not very good eighth grade civics teacher instructing his students. His use of insinuation is especially disturbing. In the example above, he does not come right out and say that Mohamed ElBaradei is a radical Islamist, but he strongly implies it, and his audience is clearly expected to “get” his implications. Socialists and communists are very bad guys in Beck’s eyes, and he is currently mixing them in with the Muslim Brotherhood “radical Islamists,” who Beck says have as a goal the establishment of an Islamic “Caliphate” throughout the world. On one of his broadcasts last week he actually tried to tie the “communist” Weatherman Underground movement of the 1960’s to the current upheavals in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East.

On January 31st, on his television broadcast, Beck said, “This is about world domination,” and predicted that in the future the Eastern hemisphere would consist of three powers: a Muslim Caliphate, China (which would have incorporated much of Southeast Asia, including Australia), and Russia (which would have taken over much of northeastern Europe). During his radio broadcast of February 3rd, Beck said “We’re talking about the end of the Western way of life, if we don’t pay attention.” He went on the elucidate three principal ideas that are guiding his current focus:  1. “Groups from the hard core socialist and communist left and extreme Islam will work together because they are both a common enemy of Israel and the Jew”; 2. Groups from the hard core socialist and communist left and extreme Islam will work together because they are the common enemy of Capitalism and the Western way of life”; 3. Groups from the hard core socialist and communist left and extreme Islam will work together because they are both ostracized from power and the mainstream in most of the world.” All of these assertions are complete nonsense, assertions that would not be supported by any expert in international affairs.

I assume the notions Glenn Beck puts out on the radio and television airwaves are influencing a great many people in the United States. He distorts facts. He makes insinuations that are clearly not supported by facts, which should be questioned by anyone who has even a modest command of history and who follows the news in the print media. He supports divisiveness within the nation, based upon false information. He creates fear in his listeners, fear of the other person who might be different in physical make-up, language and speech, in dress, in customs, in religion. He is a fearmonger, who encourages a fearful, xenophobic, isolationist and embattled world view in his listeners, an affront to the American flag.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.              –    Abraham Lincoln


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In My Eyes

Posted by Linda

Many people spend a lot of time searching how to be good parents, spouses, neighbors, friends.  The underlying issue seems to me to be “How to Love.”  There must be a thousand books on the subject: extensive religious texts, philosophical treatises, and psychological dissertations have delved the meaning of love.  Almost all great fiction has explored in some way the enigma and complexity of love.

We also have the potato chips of love advice: self-help books.  Loving For Dummies hasn’t come out yet, but may.   Some such are really “helpful.”

Lots of the counsel on how to love requires study, complex acts, lots of time, and even money.  “Isn’t love worth it?”  “Of course it is.”  A lifetime learning to love deeply is well spent–I’d say perfectly spent.  But sometimes loving someone in ways that work feels as frustrating and beyond reach as touching a star with your fingertips.   Other times it happens in the blink of an eye.

I mean that literally.

Years ago I read from the writings of developmental psychologist Rene Piaget.  One of his ideas that impacted me was the importance of eye contact between parents and their babies.  (In my words) he said we drink in who we are through our parents’ eyes.  He was referring to infancy; but I think it is also true for children of any age and moreover for our mates and friends, for strangers, and even for our “enemies.”

When we make eye contact with someone, our eyes send a feeling and message.  That person reads the message and takes it in. It may be a dozen things: “She likes me,”  “He loves me,” “He is afraid of me, or “She is not interested in me.”  The translation becomes a message about who I am.  I am likable, lovable, powerful, worthless.   Very wounded people may block or misread the message.  Very aware people may recognize and evaluate the message.  Most eye contact language is below the radar and builds the concept of “who I am” subterraneanly.   Eye contact is power.  That makes it a responsibility.  That makes it a choice.  And that makes it an opportunity to love: a simple way, always at hand, time-friendly, free.

I like Piaget’s concept because it shows us we can impart love just  by being aware that our eyes will reflect who we think the other is. What if we don’t feel love for the other, but feel indifferent or repelled, or afraid. Regrettably, there are people so disturbed that they may read even eye contact as a challenge.  Healing takes time and patience and presence.  Such exceptions do not describe most encounters.

More at risk are our daily encounters with family and friends.  It becomes awfully easy not to look at each other often, except as almost “business” meetings.  In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, the character Emily has died and is allowed to return to one day in her life to observe.  She chooses her 16th birthday and finds herself in the kitchen watching herself have breakfast as her mother bustles about doing chores and cautioning her to eat slowly.  Though no one can hear or see her, she cries out, “Oh, Mama, look at me one minute as though you really saw me.”

It’s probably the most quoted line in the play, because we all can relate to it.  We know Piaget is right.  The eyes have it.

How good it is to enjoy the riches of meeting and resting in each other’s eyes.  We can practice every day looking for the beauty in each other and reflecting it back as often as humanly possible. Laughing at a good joke together almost always involves happy glances into each other’s eyes. So does love.  And there, love quickens to beauty, and vulnerability, and tenderness.  Love could become our almost permanent message if we focus, just for a bit, on each other.

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Searching for a Way Out

Posted by Mike

What does a nation do when it realizes it has made a terrible mistake? During the Vietnam years lots of us thought that we had made just that. But because our President and government could not take that leap of faith that would have been required, it remained for the United States forces to be pushed out ignominiously, after – sort of, or,  maybe – having made the decision to leave. Our departure was chaotic, and the displacements of Vietnamese citizens Sacrifices.jpgwho at that point may have thought that they had chosen what proved to be the wrong side – our side – was disastrous for that generation of Vietnamese. The Vietnam Veterans’ memorial in Washington represents the sacrifice of American lives.

We are in a similar situation today in Afghanistan. Our entering the conflict there was considerably more reasonable, given the circumstances, than our foray in Iraq; but viewing the decision through the acquired wisdom of the past decade, it is obvious – again — that the decision to go to war is generally misguided. I am tempted to say “always,” but I’m not ready quite yet to lose most of my audience.

In the work that I do I review medical case files that often contain heart-wrenching stories about the private lives of people like you and me. I recently reviewed the case file of a Vietnam veteran. In the records the veteran who was a corpsman during the war told his personal story. I was reading it because the records were directly related to the purpose to which I was assigned. It was almost too painful to read, but his stories of death, loss of limbs and sight, pain and suffering of his own comrades, the enemy, and the civilian population caught in crossfire were truly unimaginable and again brought tears to my eyes. The happenings in Vietnam were only partially unique to that war. They are universal, and are occurring right now; and we are among the perpetrators and those responsible for the death, destruction and maiming. Those of us who have personally never had battlefield experiences can conveniently remain somewhat detached. Sort of like the pilot who presses the button to release the killing bomb. He doesn’t have to see the consequences. He doesn’t have to walk through the scene on the ground when the dust and acrid smell of burned flesh remain.

Given what I’ve said above, the most obvious scenario would be for the United States (international forces) to withdraw immediately. The sad fact is that if we did so, those Afghans who have been counting on our support – and some of whom are honest decent people, who want the best for their country – would be left holding the bag, like the Vietnamese we left behind. It’s clear that we must provide support to the people who have gained some freedoms subsequent to the Taliban’s losing control of the metropolitan areas, especially for the women in selected areas who have obtained some limited freedoms and opportunities for themselves and their daughters.

What about the international forces ordering an immediate Cease Fire, with the only military action contingent upon aggressive action by the insurgency? Coupled with the cease fire it would be essential to  initiate an immediate effort to engage all conflicting parties in dialogue, under the auspices of the United Nations. It’s true that back in the Vietnam years there was an interminable dialogue going on in France among the opposing parties – that didn’t get anywhere. Just because it didn’t work then doesn’t mean discussions can’t work in Afghanistan. The current situation has been a losing one in many ways.

It does seem to be true that what goes around comes around; we humans don’t really learn from the previous generations’ painful experience. We need to stop the circle of pain and suffering.

The following was written back in 1967. You have my regrets if you find it too obscure. At the time, Ojus was a crossroads town north of North Miami Beach. It may no longer exist!

An Example of Peace

(Dedicated to Bob, whose struggle it really was)

An example of peace they went
Showing the people how
In byways
And even in Ojus.
One might think the “Seven Tribes of Love” is
Rather pretentious for
A makeshift store there
That when you come right down to it
Sells only incense and cigarette papers
And a secondhand philosophy of life
As something new.

I said, “There’s no future in it.”
But that’s really only for myself.
I surely can’t speak for them
Just as they can’t for me
Even though they tried hard enough
To do just that.
But then having met only two
Hardly qualifies me as an expert
Or as having a general acquaintance
With Hippies.

After all –
We too were only two
And hardly from the
Common lot of straights.
Or so I fool myself.
My suggestion is
We keep an eye on the Flowering
And  wait and see.
Someone’s got to stop the killing.

Someone indeed has to stop the killing. It’s not just the President or Congress – and certainly not the hippies. It’s got to be you and me. We are all the responsible parties.

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Congruence

Posted by Mike

When I was in graduate school, among the most prominent clinical psychologists in the country was Carl Rogers. His focus was humanistic, and he called his approach client-centered therapy. One of his key concepts was congruence. It refers to a person’s presentation in interaction with others. To be congruent, one’s speech and ideas, emotional expression, and physical presentation should reflect the same theme. For example, if you’re thanking someone for a gift, one’s emotional expression and physical manner should express appreciation. I’ve been mulling over this idea of congruence for the past several days as I was in a situation recently in which several people I interacted with seemed to not be  congruent. Maybe people react differently in such a situation. What I tend to do is freeze up. I may not think “What’s going on here?” but that’s what I feel. I also experience a bit of confusion, what I’m experiencing from the other person just doesn’t add up and make sense.

It may be that an individual’s guardedness or insecurity will come across as a lacking of congruence. And of course that’s exactly what is going on. If I’m preoccupied with something that’s interfering with my ability to interact during the process of interaction, I’m not being congruent. One of the Presidential candidates during the debates two years ago was perplexing. His presentation seemed calculated and wooden; the words were right, but his emotional expression and physical presentation were stilted and unnatural. How can you trust a person like that, when it’s clear that there’s something else very important going on beneath the surface. It might only be a sort of perfectionism and ruleboundedness, but such qualities can have serious downsides in the heat of decision-making.

There is one kind of person who can come across as congruent, but is definitely not, and that’s the sociopath. These people are super smooth, and they can present idea, emotion, and manner perfectly congruently, and yet have a massive hidden agenda that the recipient of their attention must avoid at all costs. If anything, the sociopath is too smooth, too perfectly congruent. Given a little time with a sociopath they become unbelievable and the chinks in their defense become apparent. Hopefully this will occur before you discover that your wallet is missing!

Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987

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