Saturday, December 30, 2006

Receiving What We Send

My life partner and I were talking this morning about the phenomenon of receiving back from others what we send. If we send out negative vibrations, it should not surprise us to receive them back from others. Being kind and friendly to others encourages them to reply in kind. I have heard people say they can't find anyone to date. But sometimes when you watch them in action, their words and body language suggest a barrier no one would dare approach. I remember going to a business mixer several years ago and being disappointed not to meet anyone. When I attended the same function recently, I had a much different response. I realized that I was the one who changed and this time did not wait for others to approach me but approached them in an interested manner changing the whole tone of our interaction.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Whence Natural Law?

I have wondered for a while about natural law. Wikipedia describes it as "the principle that some things are as they are because that is how they are." Well, that may be, but who gets to decide what the natural law is? Does one find it written on the side of a tree somewhere? The theologian Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century stated that the rational nature of human beings defines natural law. I don't remember everyone getting together to agree on what natural law consists of. In reality governments and religions have been the ones to proclaim natural law. The whole discussion seems rather academic until we get to particulars such as contraception being against the natural law since everyone knows that sex is for procreation and without the option of procreation, sex is "disordered." That has been a source of controversy for some time. The whole matter remains a puzzlement to me. Anybody have any ideas?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Creating Positive Energy

Many years ago when I was studying physics, I learned that energy is never lost in the universe. It is possible to change energy from one form to another but not possible to create or destroy it. It was a bit difficult for me to understand. It seemed to me that machines as well as people could run out of energy. The reality is that they just run out of fuel until they are resupplied. If we can't create energy, we can at least change it from positive to negative energy or from negative to positive energy. Through our efforts we can make our immediate emotional environment toxic for those who come near us or energizing for them instead. What do you want to share with others?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Love the Ones You're With

One of my life partner's favorite sayings is, "If you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you're with." Not all of us can be with the ones we love at Christmas for various reasons. Rather than just keeping to ourselves and staying lonely under these circumstances, we can share some of ourselves with those around us. There are always many small ways we can add to the joy or at least lessen the burden of those we meet on a daily basis. Sometimes a kind word or a very minor favor reminds that person that he or she is worthy of at least some slight consideration even on the part of a stranger. It costs us very little, enhances someone else's life and also makes us feel better. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Learning from Giving

I talked with someone recently who decided to do something different this Christmas. She looked for people who seemed to be struggling with what they could afford to buy their children as gifts. She had with her a supply of twenty dollar bills which she offered to people she thought could one. The idea seemed simple enough. Putting it into practice was not so easy. You take the risk of offending someone by offering them money, suggesting that they could use it. Even people of limited means are sensitive to how people perceive them. In order not to make them feel belittled, she had to convince them that it was more for her than for them. I have also read about how someone bought a stranger lunch for no particular reason. Most of us donate money to charities or to a church. Such giving is usually anonymous and we never get to meet the one we are helping. The experience is quite different up close and personal.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

What Christmas present do we give to ourselves?

This is the time of year when we tend to be preoccupied with what to give as presents to people we care for. What would they like? What would show how we feel about them? What would make them feel good? I wonder how many of us stop to think what kind of gift we could give ourselves. I know I never did it until just now. There are a few things we could consider: permission to set time aside to enjoy ourselves, a small treat we have constantly put off, getting rid of the things or obligations which keep us from getting on with what is important to us. If you think about it, you should be able to make a good list for yourself. Then choose a few of the things you would like most. Best of all it doesn't cost anything.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

What Do We Expect of Ourselves?

In yesterday's post, I wrote about what others expect of us and how that tends to shape our actions. Probably at least as important are the expectations we have of ourselves. From what we have been told by our parents, what we have heard from others about ourselves and what we have learned from experience, we have ideas about what our capabilities are. We think we know what we can do and what we can't. We could be right or wrong. We might reach beyond our capabilities or be trapped by what we see as out limitations. Our expectations are only ideas we have about ourselves. We don't know our capabilities until we take the risk and stretch ourselves a little. Even then, we might have the capacity to learn skills we don't have at present. We sell ourselves short if we stop at the limits we think we have. Taking a chance is often risky but is the only way we can find out out true abilities.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Stigma of Ordinary People

When I was first studying psychology, I was introduced to a book called Stigma by Erving Goffman. In the book, Goffman wrote about how people who were different had a stigma or sign of their being different. People came to expect them to act in accord with their perception of how they should act in their capacity as a "different" person. This label applies to race, sexual orientation, physical and mental disabilities and other forms of differentness. It occurred to me recently that all of us have stigmas of our own. Through our experience with others they form an expectation of how we should react and they are put off when we don't act the way they expect us to. This makes it hard to step out of our shells and to be creative rather than predictable. It would be good for us to remember that when we active in a different way, people don't necessarily think we are crazy. It's just that we are not doing what they expect.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Renewing Old Friendships

I went to a Christmas party last night attended by former colleagues. Even though I have not worked with them for the past two years, they still invite my life partner and me to their annual party. After leaving other jobs, I have tended to move on and lose touch with those I worked with on a daily basis. Even though I do not see people from this practice frequently, I do keep in touch from time to time. Although I suppose it would become overwhelming to try keeping in touch with everyone with whom I have worked over the years, it is nice to keep up contacts and maintain some continuity with who and where I have been in the past. It gives me some guideposts to judge my progress and direction as my life develops.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Autonomy versus Solidarity

I am still reading Barack Obama's book. I ran across his discussion of the conflict in our thinking between autonomy and solidarity. We all want individual freedom: the ability to make and follow through wih our decisions without anyone keeping us from doing so. We also have a need for solidarity: a feeling of belongingness which makes us feel supported by others. As with so many other values, these two often conflict. Balancing them and finding a way to have a measure of both is one of our life challenges. As with other areas of our lives, nothing is ever easy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dogma versus Common Sense

Batrack Obama in his book, The Audacity of Hope, talks about the tension between dogma and common sense. In some ways it is easier to act in response to dogma, what we are told to believe by an authority we have come to respect, or whose respect we have inherited from our parents. It doesn't involve much thinking on our part and has usually stood the test of time. However, times change and the wisdom of dogma might not still be relevant. Common sense takes some work on our part. We need to trust our perceptions, testing them to be sure they are valid. Commonsense conclusions can fly in the face of dearly held dogmas, setting up a conflict within us. It is not comfortable, but we are more likely to act courageously if we stop to examine our beliefs to see how sensible they are.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Living Comfortably on a Powder Keg

We have come to a point in our American culture where we cling to narrowly defined extreme positions, seeing those who hold opposite opinions as the enemy. Where will that get us? Nowhere. If unchecked, our acrimony might be the destruction of our civilization. If we continue to fight with each other, we will waste our energy fighting while the world passes us by as irrelevant. It is time we start listening to each other even if what we hear makes us uncomfortable. We can gently share our discomfort with each other, inviting understanding rather than attacking our fellow citizens as enemies. This would be a radical change for our society, but one which is well worth attempting and may also be our salvation as a country.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What You Hear When You Close Your Mouth

Most of us want to be heard. What we have to say is important, at least to us. When we are looking for the chance to get in our two cents, we are often focusing on finding the opportunity and hear little of what others have to say. We want to have others hear us and accept what we have to say. I learned quite a while ago that it is possible to be considered a great conversationalist without saying anything of substance. All we have to do is listen politely to what others say and ask questions about what they are saying to let them know we are listening. Sometimes we find that others already agree with us and we don't need to spend any time convincing them of our point of view. Sometimes others are able to say more clearly what we are trying to express. Even if we disagree, knowing someone else's position gives us a bridge to communicate with them and state what we have to say in a way they can understand.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Treeless in Seattle

I read this morning about how the Seattle airport had cleared its decks of Christmas trees in response to a Rabbi being upset that there were no Jewish holiday symbols on display. It reminded me of Aesop's fable about the father, son and donkey. I also wondered what it would be like if no public displays of belief or tradition were allowed. No parades of statues through the streets of North Boston on Friday nights in the summer. No Ganandigan festival. No Reconquista celebration in Vigo, Spain. It would be a barren world with nothing to celebrate. Rather than making room for everyone to display their traditions, we would have dull, secular lives unsullied by anyone's cherished beliefs. There must be a better way. Would it not be better to know about each others' traditions rather than confining them where they are not visible?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Cooperation vs. Appeasement

I have been reading lately about the difference of opinion about whether to seek cooperation with countries such as Iran and Syria or to isolate ourselves from them as a way to avoid appeasing them. When I was pondering this, the final scene from the movie Dr. Strangelove came to my mind: a cowboy character riding an atomic bomb to his doom and to that of all who lay below. I thought that we can ride our arrogance to destruction or swallow our pride and talk with those who make us uncomfortable and even afraid. It is a humbling choice but one worth pondering.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wars and Rumors of Wars

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. I was not around then but did arrive on the scence in the middle of World War II. I came close to being drafted for the Vietnam War on several occasions but did not see it as having the same noble purpose as the war at the time of my birth. It seems to me that we are teetering on the verge of another world war focused in the middle east although no one I know has referred to it that way. World War I was seen at the time as the last great war, but it does not seem we have learned too many lessons from it other than how to fight more efficiently. We still do not seem to have learned to listen to each other very well. Sometimes I wonder what it will take for us to make this a priority in our world.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Death of a Friend

The Christmas season is usually a happy and a peaceful one for me. This year a friend died, disturbing my tranquility. He had been vibrant for years and always a joy to visit although I didn't see him that often. He showed us all his secret places in New England and added great joy and interest to our trips. He had been in poor health for a number of years and died as a result of complications of surgery to reset his hip. A duel is taking place within me between the happy memories and the sadness of his death. Christmas is set in the middle of winter when the earth is still and seemingly lifeless (at least where I live.) Still I know that the earth will spring to life in a few months. I need to remind myself that Michael's memory and spirit will also return when I need to think about him as I proceed through life's daily challenges.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Learning As You Go Along

I was thinking recently how much effort it took as a child to learn certain things like walking or tying shoes although I did not think about the effort then any more than anyone else did. Once I thought I was close to learning everything I needed to know. Now I realize that life is a process of endless learning. There are always minor things to learn such as how to print out part of an e-mail in the new version of Outlook. As I was growing up, there was no such thing as Microsoft Outlook. Many of the things I learn these days are not of great importance but do make life (and work) a little easier. Maybe the point is just to give my mind something to do to keep it sharp.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Accentuate the Positive

There is an old Johnny Mercer song which starts, "Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative." There are plenty of positive and negative things in our lives each day. We have a choice of which to dwell on. Dwelling on the positive tends to make our day go better. Dwelling on the negative has the opposite result. We tend to get what we emphasize and focus on. I have wondered why this is so but so far have not figured it out. I guess it is enough to accept it as fact. It seems to work in my life. Maybe when we look for the positive, we are more likely to find it. When we look for the negative, there it is waiting for us. We can choose whatever we want and at the end of the day have the results of our choices to comfort or bother us.