Unexpected Finds

I started reading Plato’s Republic this morning. I bought the Allan Bloom translation a while back and am finally getting to it. I only read the introductions and a couple pages of the book so far, but damn…it’s awesome. I’m glad I read the introductions because they gave me some really good insight as to why it was written and what we might get out of it by doing so.

Here are a couple quotes I’m already in love with:

From the introduction by Adam Kirsch

“In other words, Plato’s focus is not so much on the content of Socrates’s ideas as on the way those ideas affect and transform his listeners, enabling them to start actually thinking, instead of merely repeating platitudes.”

Philosophy doesn’t teach you what to think. It’s not a list of rules. It teaches to you how to think, to use your mind and navigate the world around you. When we say “My philosophy is…,” we don’t mean these are my rules for living. We should mean this is how I look at the world and decipher it’s meaning.

“…philosophy was fundamentally a subversive pursuit and had been recognized as such for most of history.”

Subversive! That’s why they killed Socrates. Philosophers aren’t supposed to tow the line of conventional thought. They blur up those lines and force us to re-think and define how we came to those lines. It should make you angry! We’d all love nothing more than to float through life on easy street, but that limits the future, not only ours but our children’s.

“The Enlightenment, taken literally, believed that the light could be brought into the cave and the shadows dispelled; men, in that view, could live in perfect light.” -Bloom

Socrates believed there was an elite that could understand things better and take care of the rest of humanity. Political rulers, priests, and professors. They had the books and the intelligence to take care of the masses. The rest needed to listen. If the man that came back from outside the cave came in saying, let me lead you out into the world so you can be free, they’d kill him. That may be true. But what I’d love is this idea from the Enlightenment. The cave is dark and shadowy, bring light in and every human will have to learn truth on their own and they will. Unfortunately, the older I get the more I start to think that just isn’t possible.

“His (a philosopher) situation is extremely dangerous, because he knows truths the rest of the world is determined not to hear.”

It’s like we’re all on a very fixed track to get to point B and we will not be dissuaded. The philosopher comes in with his wild ideas, maybe we can be kinder, maybe we can love each other, maybe we can not use force…what a monster. Everyone knows taxes must be paid to make roads for us to use. Everyone knows that women’s healthcare means being able to kill off unborn children. Everyone knows that if we don’t bomb the shit out of that country they’ll kill us all. Lord help the person that suggests maybe, just maybe, we can do otherwise.

Writing all of this I suddenly realize how poignant Dr. Seuss books are.

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Do You Belong?

Talking with a friend over the weekend, I found a few things suddenly come into focus. I love the way that works. I listen, I read, I think, and then while I’m saying something over lasagna, it all comes into focus on one point…like magic. My poor friend must have thought I was insane when I stopped in mid-sentence, “Shit! That’s it!”

Belonging to a community can be unhealthy. I know, you’re thinking…she’s lost her mind! We all need to belong to a community! Of course, we do…but, it can be unhealthy. You know that. You’ve probably been there. Belonging to a community is a relationship and some relationships can be unhealthy. When we come into relationships wounded and bleeding, the community probably won’t fix that, unless it’s a community of doctors.

In my life, I’ve always been hunting for a community to belong to. My family, my school, my work, my church, my homeschool groups, they all ended up in the same way. I walked in, I embraced it, I started to feel the ideas there resonate with me and then, at some point, I began to feel lonely. I started grasping at straws, maybe if I became more directly involved? What if I took the reigns here? What if I confided in another member how I was feeling? I became needy to those around me, or controlling, and then I felt neglected and misunderstood. And then I blamed them and left.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it. I’ve heard over and over again from several different ends of the earth, “I want to feel connected.” “I just want to feel like I belong.” “I need a community of like-minded people, but I just can’t find it.”

It made me think, do we all feel this way? Do most of us walk around thinking we’re alone in this world, that everyone else is part of a group, and we are the only one outside of the circle? Several times in my life, I’ve talked to friends from my past (thanks to social media connecting everyone) and found that when I believed I was hanging on to them and their close circle of friends, they believed the exact opposite. They thought that those were my friends they were tagging along with, my church they came to visit, my family they pretended to be a part of. It’s weird how different our perceptions can be of the same events.

So…what makes a community unhealthy? You. You make it that way. We need to start with ourselves, make ourselves healthy and ready for the give and take of a relationship. The relationship will not make you healthy and that’s just what community is, a relationship.

How does one start to make themselves healthy? Look inward, that’s a good place. For me, it was meditation that started me on the path to self-discovery. Ten minutes of meditation a day, helped me begin to take control of my own mind. One “7-day free trial” of an app, led to 21 days, a month, and then a year. That ten minutes, let to twenty, led to thirty, where I’ve happily been starting my day for several years. I never would have believed it would have the impact it has, but seeing is believing and here I am.

Journaling is the second thing. Whether you keep a notebook around to write in, an app to take notes in throughout the day, or sit at your computer tapping out words on a screen, writing can be very helpful to understanding yourself better, even if you never read those words again. There’s just something about writing out words that helps one to organize the thoughts, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. You don’t need to even write whole sentences. You can draw pictures, make lists, or just scribble. Some of my journals have pages filled with hateful thoughts. It’s as if I wrote them down to let them go.

A long time ago, I was seeing a therapist and the one thing that actually did help to bring about big changes in my life was making note of my moods on a regular basis. She had me get out a notebook and just start making a happy face, a sad face, or an angry face at intervals throughout the day. Next to the face, I’d write a word or two about my activities at that moment. No judgement, no thinking, nothing, just make a note. Happy Face: reading, Sad Face: watching the kids, Angry Face: going to bed. At the end of the week I could flip through and see my mood changes. Was the week mostly happy? Mostly angry? Was I busy? Most of the time, I would feel like my bad mood had followed me all week long, but looking back at my notes, it just wasn’t so. The more I did it, the happier I found myself. Simple and effective. I loved it. Whenever I find myself stuck in a negative feedback loop, I go back to charting like that. And guess what? Wait for it…now there’s an app for it! The one I’ve been using lately is called Daylio. It’s free but if you pay $5, you can set as many reminders to “check in” throughout the day as you want. I like paying for apps like this. I feel like it encourages people to make them. Give it a try!

And finally, for me, there was spiritual guidance. That guidance did not come from a church when I started. Church is just another community, another relationship to navigate. My guidance came straight from God. I opened my bible and started reading, not to understand but just to listen. I started making notes in my bible, writing down questions, and spending time in prayer and meditation. And then I went to reading books about specific topics, bible studies, etc., all mostly Christian based. I’m not sure how these books came across my path. I usually found them through articles I was reading, discussions I had with friends, ads (yes, they come in handy from time to time), and searches for “best books on…”

Some of the books felt useless to me, some were handed to me with perfect timing. All I did was try to keep reading, writing, and praying. I tried to keep my mind and heart open. I still do and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finding Jesus saved my life. I feel like he was there all along, waiting for me to reach out for him, and when I did, I felt at rest, saved. I found myself there.

I’m not the perfect Christian. I don’t pretend to understand it all. I do try to listen, and I follow my heart. I apply what I’ve learned in other aspects of my life to my relationship with God. When I feel hungry, I find heathy ways to eat. Usually I eat something good for me. Sometimes I don’t. I do what feels good, what seems right at the time. I learn from my mistakes and I forgive myself when I screw up. I don’t adhere to the dogma of one human church or another. I love my neighbor as I would myself and I love God with all my heart.

Over the years I’ve continued to try to find a community to fit into, one I would really feel a part of. I’m still searching, but now that I’ve really started to know myself and accept myself (with all my strangeness, mistakes, and frailties) as I would any other friend, I know I’ll soon be able to contribute to a community instead of use it. And that means the right one will fall into my lap just as I need it.

Do you know your true self? Have you accepted that person as good? Do you love her/him?

To Err Is Human

I reminded my son that he is human, and humans make mistakes. It seems obvious really, but I think we all forget that on a daily basis. We forget it about ourselves and the people around us.

Every day we screw up. We hurt people. We make dumb choices. We cut people off on the highway, post something that hurts a friend, buy the wrong thing, open the wrong business, hire the wrong person, vote for the wrong law or candidate, make a judgement that turns out to be complete unfounded…every…single…day.

Why? We are all doing the best we can with the information and skills we have at the moment. 99.99% of the time we didn’t hurt someone just to hurt them. We didn’t choose to fall in love with the wrong person because we just love pain. We didn’t spend all our money on crack because it’s just so much fun. We did it because we are trying to fill a need for ourselves the best way we know how, and we can’t see the future as clearly as we’d like.

What if we were a little more forgiving of ourselves and then passed that on to those around us? What if we realized that we are all flawed humans, scrambling to survive…and so is everyone else?

That person who hurt you? Probably could do no better at that moment. They would if they could, but they can’t right now. That doesn’t mean you should continue to let them hurt you. There are consequences for actions. It’s how we learn to do better. But we don’t need to hold a grudge or destroy that person either.

“Do unto others as you would have done to you,” really can’t help if we treat ourselves horribly. Learning who we are and respecting that person is the first step to loving others.

Could Empathy Be The Answer?

Sometimes I have a hard time choosing which podcast to listen to while I do the dishes. I scroll through the list and nothing seems to catch my eye. There are a couple that I can just listen to at any time because the interviews, even though they are often with someone I have seemingly little in common with or interest in, are always interesting. They rarely leave me feeling like I wasted my time. Tim Ferriss is one of them.

Yesterday I listened to this one https://tim.blog/2018/08/07/the-tim-ferriss-show-transcripts-ann-miura-ko/

Here’s the part that really struck me,

Ann Miura-Ko: So, it’s funny. My husband said to me in the past – and this is a lesson that I continue to try to learn and relearn – is that life is not a debate. And you know what he’s saying – and it’s funny. He was a debater as well in college and in high school and we joke that I would still have beaten him in high school if we had actually gone head-to-head. But, I think it’s a really important point that life isn’t about winning the argument. And he’s also said to me in the past, “You know, it’s not about being right.” And I think that’s so true and it’s something that I’m always trying to really practice in life and I think the debater in me makes it really hard. The things that you’re pointing out or what’s important about it is that people have a tendency to have an inner dialogue where they’re right. And instead of really listening to the other person, they’re coming up with the next argument that proves that person wrong. And so, if you go back to what I really loved about debate what I felt like I got out of it, it was actually this ability to see both sides of an argument, to really delve into a topic and understand why the side that I actually naturally believed could actually be flipped on its head. And that was a really important skill to develop and I think that was so much more important to develop than the skill to argue for my side. Because, I think in the world today, what we don’t see enough of is empathy for people you might even disagree with. And we get stuck in our version of truth and what is right and we aren’t truth seekers any more as a result. We’re truth winners.

Tim Ferriss: That’s very true. Yeah. Very true.

Ann Miura-Ko: And that’s a piece that really makes me sad is that when people are like, “Oh, this debate skill is so great to have because now you can ram people with your ideas.” And I’ve never seen a situation where you shouted people down and convinced them you are right. And I’ve seen situations where by developing true empathy for the other side, you actually create bridges and you create commonality, and you create situations where you can actually work together. And I think that’s the piece that I would take away from my debate experience. I would say actually making the person cry in cross-examination probably is not the skill that I should be using in real life, although maybe sometimes I do.”

Lessons learned? Find empathy for the people you disagree with. Shouting people down doesn’t convince them you are right.

Why does that seem to be so difficult these days? Why is “bullying” people into submission seem to be the only social skill we are really good at?

It seems everyone’s answer for getting the world they want to live in is to vote for a law to be passed or a person to run things and then put anyone who disagrees with the majority’s choices in a cage until they obey.

There seems to be no interest in empathy. Some people will give it a try if their adversary is just slightly wrong and the effort doesn’t seem to be too much to take on. But on the big things, the contentious, life-altering things, those things we’re not supposed to talk about at parties, there are few people that want to know the real why’s behind their so-called “enemy’s” thinking.

Why is that? Why are we all so interested in winning a game instead of seeking truth? Why can’t listen and try to understand and communicate instead of fight and win?

There is just so much to learn out there, so many people to communicate and connect with. I feel like I’m limited only to people who think like I do. If I express an opinion or point of view different than you, you block me, yell at me, or shut me down. That only makes me resentful and more set in my opinions, without the opportunity to learn or change them, or at least to know and understand another point of view.

How can we change this? Ask questions? Answer them honestly? Assume positive intent?

And I, my Robert Frost…

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Had dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Oh wow.

I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, but over the years my sons have made me aware of poetry I did not know existed, in the form of folk and rock music. They’d pause the music and repeat a line that moved them. “Mom! Can’t you just see that? Such poetry. This guy rocks.” I had never thought of Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead as poets. Poetry was those crazy stanza’s you read in old books, the words that make no sense when read in your head during class. The interpretations teenagers come to in class surrounded by judgmental peers and an authority that always seems to have the answers…that never make any sense to me. I never read any poetry outside of high school and its required reading.

But recently, I picked up a book I had “Complete Poems of Robert Frost: 1949” It’s old and the dust jacket disappeared long ago. I don’t know where I got it, probably at a used book store or the thrift store’s dollar book shelves. I only know Robert Frost because of a Simon & Garfunkel song

“you read your Emily Dickenson and I my Robert Frost, and we mark our place with bookmarkers to remember what we’ve lost”

A few days ago, I picked the book up and figured I’d give it a try, read a page or two and ruminate on it just before bed. The first night I read one or two short poems, ending with this one, The Silken Tent. It made no real sense to me, so I closed the book and went to sleep.

The next evening, I opened the book to my bookmarker and read that poem again. The crazy thing…it clicked. Suddenly I saw the picture. And I read it again. I smiled and closed the book.

A day later, I read it out loud to my son. It didn’t sound right, halting and confusing, he didn’t get the picture. He took the book and read it himself and started to see. I read it again in my head and got more. It touched my heart.

This morning I read it out loud again and again, putting pauses in the right places. It made more sense. I’ll try to read it to my son again and see what he thinks.

I am that silken tent! I stand on this earth surrounded by the love of those around me, my head erect and tall. I feel that I’m strong and freestanding until the time I start to be blown by the trials of living. That’s when I feel the pull of those guy wires that hold me up. They are not restraining, they comfort me and protect me from falling. It’s a gorgeous picture and I can’t wait to read it again.

Poetry…It’s not dumb. I just didn’t get it.

Ironic

I have a phobia of your phobia.

Fighting hate with hate.

Your anger makes me angry so I’m pissed at you.

Why can’t we just let people alone? Be an example of peaceful coexisitence.

“But if we do, they’ll hate and maybe hurt someone!”

So you’ll hate and hurt back? Where does that get us?