Sunday, June 19, 2016

We're 100% Responsible!

There is a similarity between the two recent events in Orlando. In one case, a kid escaped the bonds of his mommy into the mouth of an alligator and in the second, a sad and tragic slaying of many in a night club.

In last weeks Torah portion (“Naso”), the inventory of what each tribe gave to the temple is repeated twelve times. Given the idea that there are no extraneous words in the Torah, why the repetition? Wouldn’t it have been enough to say each tribe gave A, B, and C? No. No tribe was better than any other tribe. They were all responsible for any sin that was committed in their community.

One thought that goes through my head when I read of tragic events is a kind of self-congratulation that I didn’t let my son into the mouth of an alligator, and that my kids weren’t at the night club. It was the same feeling when another kid was kicked out of class for doing something “bad.” In addition, I think that I had no responsibly for what happened. 

Last night I remembered Werner Erhard's definition of responsibility: 
Responsibility begins with the willingness to be cause in the matter of one's life. Ultimately, it is a context from which one chooses to live. Responsibility is not burden, fault, praise, blame, credit, shame or guilt. In responsibility, there is no evaluation of good or bad, right or wrong. There is simply what's so, and your stand. Being responsible starts with the willingness to deal with a situation from the view of life that you are the generator of what you do, what you have and what you are. That is not the truth. It is a place to stand. No one can make you responsible, nor can you impose responsibility on another. It is a grace you give yourself—an empowering context that leaves you with a say in the matter of life. 
It has led me to believe that we are 100% responsible for everything that happens. This is tough for people to wrap their heads around. And it is obviously illogical as are most ideas that interest me.

And here’s the idea: the options we have in our lives are unlimited. The zoo in Orlando has unlimited options. The way that society creates and then deals with individuals who are agitated and mad are unlimited. We each have the opportunity to change the world. If a butterfly can flip its wings and cause a tornado on the other side of the earth, why can’t we? 

This idea is not meant to shame us all because we didn’t do something in the past, but rather to suggest that we take inventory of what we are doing now. Are we complaining at the zoo because their cages are “attractive nuisances”? Are we finding help for those in our community who are mad and angry? If not, we could do more… like the little boy in this story:
In this classic tale an old man finds a boy walking along the beach throwing beached starfish back into the ocean. however there are many starfish washed up on the beach—far too many for the boy to get them all. the man questions the boy, "how can you possibly get them all, why bother?" the boy acknowledges his limitation but retorts by picking up one sand dollar, just one and saying these words, "you're absolutely right mister, i can't get them all. but you see this starfish? i can save this one. it's worth it for this one..."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Out of the Box

Drawing by Ken Brown
Out of the box. Older than the box. I'm stuck. And I keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. So often I'm choosing between A and B and don't even consider D. What courses should I take? English or math? Wait, I'm supposed to be thinking outside the box. How about being a bus driver or a skid row bum?

Out of the box. It is easier for me to write about why we should be outside of the box. I can think of artists who did good work because they thought outside of the box.

Breaking rules is part of the trick. Breaking through the box is fun. How many constraints do I have because I live inside of a box. What freedom I  have here, and I just paint within the lines.

I once was criticized because I said it is more important to be interesting than good. The good has been done to death.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? Is that thinking out of the box?

What would happen if we were all someone else? If we are in the wrong body and we have to find where we belong.

What is the solution to the violence in the world? Gandhi thought outside the box. Are there many in the history books who did not.? How about the founders of the country. Did they think outside of the box?

The box tells us exactly what to do... If we want to lead a boring life. What would it look like if we really went out there? Why don't we? Why is it so hard? Why why why why? Are we in chains? What keeps us from opening the window? Why don't we take more chances with the one life we have?

What would it look like if we thought outside of the box. What would if feel like? Would it encourage others to get out of their box? Is that what liberation is about? Who is this devil that is laughing at us believing we don't have more choices?

Friday, June 3, 2016

You Are Too Impressionable

"Be still and know that I am God"—Psalm 46:10 (another illustration for book)
Bruce asked me to go to church with him. Both of my neighbors that I played with went to church every Sunday. They never asked me to join them. Why? Bruce did. I asked my mom. She was taking clothes out of the dryer, and I stood by the door of the utility room. I was framed by the doorway. We were about the same size since she was hunched over getting out the clothes and putting them into a wood clothes basket with wire handles.

“Mom,” I asked, “can I go to church with Bruce on Sunday.” “No,” she said. “Why,” I asked. “Because you are too impressionable.”

My mom was the expert on me, yet I was an Island.  I picked “Island” because I wanted my initials to be “K.I.M.” She named me after the character in Rudyard Kipling’s book, Kim, where the character by the same name was independent and resourceful at an early age. She wished me to be independent, yet insisted she knew me (and others) better than I knew myself. Could we expect less from a psychiatric social worker, raised on Freud?

I couldn’t argue with her because words were not my forte. I felt disconnected from her. As I look back, I see that I had come from a different time and place. I was her son in this life. I was tied to her, but yet what I’m seeing now is the opposite. I was not her son. I had something in me that yearned to understand the mystery of life.

I believed that Hell was behind the fence at the Catholic Church a block away. I couldn’t see beyond the solid brick fence, and I imagined a deep pit inside that went on forever. I later went to that church and marveled at the Latin that the priest recited. I felt that I had time traveled to a place that felt very familiar.

Behind me, in that kitchen, was a man. My mom could not see him and I did not know he was there. He was the witness to my life. I called him up today and asked him how my mom’s “you’re too impressionable” affected me for my soon to be 70 years.

In Zen, we talk about needing to step off a 100-foot pole. We need to give ourselves to something beyond reason. It is the important orgasm that we are all afraid of reaching. Somehow my mom was right. I was too impressionable. But now I realize it wasn’t to new experiences, but rather to finding out who I was. I feel like the adopted kid who wasn’t allowed to meet his real parents. It touched me deeply in one of the Carlos Castaneda books that Don Juan decided to trash his last name. That's where we came from, but not who we are. In the same way, The Prophet, by Gibran talked about how
“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
The man behind me touched my shoulder. I was walking down State Street in Chicago and he pinched my arm. I thought at the time he had shot heroin into me, and that I’d somehow know where to get my next fix. But no, he was telling me something different. Remember who you are. Remember who you are. Remember who you are. I say that three times because we didn’t do that last night reading something Buddha wrote that it was suppose to be written three times, perhaps as a mnemonic device to help us remember it.

I used art all my life as a means to tell people who I was and what I was feeling. Yet, it wasn’t enough, because I had kind of figured that out and it (or me) seemed like a closed system.

What I was looking for was something very very very big. Something that encompassed everything. The next week I went to six churches.

And years later, my mom would tell us of her extensive conversations she’d have with the black birds that would come to her kitchen window.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Payday Loans

I read an article this am about how PayDay loans were now going to have to adhere to lower interest rates. One of the arguments for these new regulations is that the industry was making great profits at the expense of those unfortunate people who aren’t “making ends meet.”

If this were such a profitable business, I wonder why new companies don’t come in and offer the same services at a lower rate. I suspect they don’t because it isn’t such a great business. Many of these loans are never paid.

I had a student once who had a choice of a “like new” camera at $100 at the Click Shop, or a $250 camera at Best Buy with a high interest rate credit card. He bought the $250 camera, which probably cost him $350 if it was ever paid for completely.

Fortunately I’ve never been in that situation. It is unfortunate to have to be there. Yet what is the solution? What was solved with the regulation?

The Payday loan industry claims that where the average store would have a yearly profit of $37,000 now they will have a loss of $28,000. So the regulation worked against the industry. Perhaps there will be no more Payday loan stores. What this means is that more cars will be repossessed and more people will not be able to pay rent.

I think this may be one of those situations where we were correct in identifying a problem but not correct in identifying a solution. I suspect that few will benefit from this regulation and many will suffer, from the industry to the individuals.

What are the solutions?
Education, for one. Many adults, including some with a college degree, can’t figure out how much 17% of $250 is.  
Education too on how to live on a limited budget.
And a host of other initiatives are possible. The obvious one might not be the right one.
4. Obama administration unveiling new rules on payday loans
The Obama administration is expected on Thursday to unveil federal rules to extend federal oversight to the $38.5 billion payday lending industry. The rules proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would require lenders to assess a borrower’s ability to repay, and discourage rolling over loans, which can pile up lending fees. Lenders say the new rules, now opening up for public comment, would gut the industry. Consumer advocates say the rules are necessary to protect borrowers who can be ruined by loans with effective interest rates that can exceed 390 percent. —From This Week, a online (and paper) news service.