Empathy over Courage

Bravery is a rare commodity. Many people who think they’re being brave only dare to do so from within a like-minded group, however small in number, and when they are genuinely in the minority spend more energy on protesting that the majority from which they’re excluded is unfair and unjust than on doing anything useful to change it. It may be true—knowing human nature, often probably is true—that one’s opposition is no exemplar of justice and fair-mindedness. But we’re seldom willing or able, ourselves, to make a cleanly balanced assessment and especially, to act wisely and compassionately on it either. We’re generally convinced that anyone else having anything good means less goodness for ourselves, and that that is a terrible thing.

What impresses me more than bravery, real or imagined, is seeing anyone express real empathy for others through their own beliefs, lives, and actions. I tend to doubt that we’re capable of doing or even wanting very lofty things, but I also think that small doses of empathy will go ever so much further than any amount of derring-do and action-figure heroics in bettering the world and the human condition within it. Daring to let another person be richer or more privileged than me or to have the last word, even when I’m fairly sure I’m smarter, closer to correct, or more deserving requires quite a different sort of courage than running into danger in anyone’s defense or their stead.

But treating others with such respect seems to me far more likely than argument and defensiveness, self-protection and fear, to get anyone to trust and respect me in turn. So shines a good deed. The unselfish willingness to accept another person’s reality as valid even when it might cost me something significant is a kind of courage I dream of having, hope to learn.Graphite drawing: Reach Down to Raise Up

Be Very Afraid. If You Really Like that Sort of Thing.

I have neither the knowhow nor the tangible resources for filmmaking, but if I did, I think my concept of the perfect horror movie subject would be the infamous occasion of Black Friday. As we Americans approach the national holiday I like the most of them all, Thanksgiving, I think with a shudder that Black Friday’s grim shadow lurks just behind it.
For if I have a tender feeling for the holiday that not only marks the anniversary of my first date with my soon-thereafter life partner and makes me immensely thankful for that gift but also marks the national celebration of gratitude in general, I have an almost antithetical feeling about the retail frenzy that follows it. The former only throws the latter into higher, less flattering relief.

I love shopping, don’t get me wrong, but I hate being told how and when to do it, and what or whom for, and to what magnificent extents. I dislike being so easily manipulated by commercial ploys and plugs as it is, and the stink of desperation mixed with hyperbolic greed on Black Friday becomes overwhelmingly off-putting to me.

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What makes us turn into beasts when we get a whiff of the hunt? When a crazy sale is advertised, do I become predator or prey? Or should I just pray?!

There are obviously large numbers of people who are not only comfortable with the event but energized and entertained by the spectacle and Olympian scaled enthusiasm packed into the post-Thanksgiving shopping extravaganza. I wish them all happiness and success in it. For myself, the greatest pleasure will derive from managing as successfully as I can to not even know it’s happening and staying immersed in the afterglow of my most overtly grateful time of year. Accomplishing that will be yet another reason for me to give thanks.
If I need any diversions during my quiet hideout from Black Friday, I can always work on a script for a rollicking thriller film with plenty of retail rowdiness and gruesome greed. Coming soon to a theatre near you!

Stars Everywhere

Photo montage: Stars in the DarknessThis world is a dark place. War and strife, fear, hunger, hatred, greed, self-righteousness, and poverty gnaw the bones of suffering people on every continent at every hour. And all of these menaces are, in accordance with early expressions of the idea of Tragedy, nearly entirely the making of our own species.

Little hope, at least in my mind, of that sorrowful truth changing as long as our species continues to dominate the planet. We are deeply flawed. Even the finest among us tend to forget themselves and their mortal limits at time; regardless of how educated, high-minded and genuinely well-meant their attitudes and actions may be, it’s sadly true that underlying those attitudes and actions is a firm belief in their rightness. Only natural that it’s hard, from that perspective, to allow that others might have an equal possibility of being right, or at least as wise and well-meaning, as they themselves are, and to show them the full respect of that acceptance.

What, then, of accepting life among my fellow flawed beings in this imperfect world? No comfort is found in denial or in persistently, aggressively resisting what may not have the possibility of ever changing. But to accept this grimness as an eternal truth and let it lie like lead on my soul is no help, either.

I look to the stars.

Physical stars exist in a surprising number of places, many lower and commoner than the depths of the sky, and I look to them and rally as I realize that they stand, every one, as beacons reminding me of what is good not only in the nature in which we imperfect beings live, but what is good within us as well. Small as our fineness may seem, individually and corporately, at times, it does exist, and if there is to be any hope of overcoming the dark, it must come from the nurturing of every little glint seen starring that darkness.

I look to the stars in the indigo distance of the sky, sparkling like promises of better things as they look back at me. I look to the lesser stars of reflected light that dazzle on earth, the  diamond dashes on every body of water and glimmering in every eye, never mind among real gems and the many things made expressly to be beautiful and good and positive. I look, more than anywhere else, at the multitude of stars that shine from the hearts of good and true people, people who are thoughtful and generous, merciful and hardworking, and kind and loving, sometimes despite and against the dark things of this world, and often, wonderfully, for the sole reason that they were made to be such earthly stars.

Richly Deserved. Or Not

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Seasonal Allergies

Can political correctness kill a holiday spirit? Oh, yes, it can. We’ve all seen it. There are times and places when and where we have to tread so lightly around people’s tender feelings regarding their special holiday or occasion–or someone else’s–that it’s hard to believe that any of us retain those passions and beliefs after a while. It’s as though we’re allergic to each other’s seasonal happiness. All the same, I do understand that we ought to show reasonable forbearance regarding others’ dearly held views, no matter how far from our own they may be, so long as those views aren’t harming anyone else. And so very, very few of them are, to be fair.

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Remember to tread lightly on others’ ground!

But if others want to celebrate things I’m not so attached or attracted to myself, who am I to stand in the way?  I like holidays, parties and celebrations very well. I may have even occasionally co-opted others’ holidays just because I think they’re wonderful excuses for enjoying the great things about life and history and happiness. Whether I do or not, I am happy to see my own holiday leanings in any odd spot that inspires me at any moment.

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Ho-ho-ho, happy people, whoever you are!

I’m from a pretty common kind of American, Protestant, middle class background myself, so it won’t surprise anyone that I grew up surrounded by the trappings of the middle class, Protestant American version of Christmas. Won’t even shock anyone that after my decades of being surrounded by it, I grew more than a little jaded at the horrendously fat, greedy, commercialized version it morphed into in the public eye and felt shy of celebrating Christmas in that atmosphere. But there’s that sense of tradition and family tied into it as well, and the knowledge that the origins of the holiday and the celebration of it are worlds removed from those crass retail versions of it that irritate me so. So when I see the famed color combination so associated with Christmas in this my home culture, I think I am in a more forgiving mood toward the genuinely human and sometimes very foolish ways that others spend their celebratory energies, and maybe even toward my own.

I wish you all a happy holiday season, whether you celebrate any particular occasion or just enjoy seeing others revel in theirs. There should be plenty of pleasure to go around!

Defeating Nightmares

graphite drawingNo matter how impressive and terrifying the monster, there’s always something that can defeat it. Most monsters have their own monsters, when it comes right down to it. Their tormentors may be superior powers, but in truth, it may well be the simplest and smallest, most innocuous detail that thwarts the fiercest monster.

It might even be me.

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Is it his own greed and hubris, or is it a clever prank I pulled that takes down the mighty monster? Not that it matters, as long as I win the day!

Kept at Bay

Greedy little nightmare,

You stole from me an hour

Of sleep that should have been repose

With twisted, dark and sour

Delirium and horror-shows

Of ghosts and ghouls and glee-

Filled monster tales and dragon-scales—

O! Set this captive free!

For if you deign to torture me

Incessant, sleepless grind,

I’ll out you in a rotten verse

And you will lose your mind.

Simplicity Itself

 

photoSimplicity, I think, is like most of the virtues and values that we humans might hold dear–those who have it don’t necessarily appreciate it, and those who talk the most about it tend to know the least about it.

The rich and comfortable are so obsessed with the idea or ideal of simplicity nowadays that there are magazines, fashions, classes and whole philosophical movements devoted to its study and cultivation. People will expend massive quantities of energy and spend large quantities of money on trying to simplify their lives and themselves, when very likely simply giving up the energetic striving and letting go of the amassed money would do the trick in a trice. (Perish the thought!)

The poor and underprivileged have ultimate simplicity forced upon them, and tend to choose whether to embrace the unsullied earthiness and quietly hardworking ways thrust on them by their circumstances or to battle against them. Probably a majority of people, both poor and rich, will always think the grass greener where they are not, and hardly give thought to how hard the next person is trying to get over the fence onto their own enviably other property. Dissatisfaction may be an essential part of humanity’s natural state of being, much as it naturally chafes us to think so.

On the other hand, looking at what dissatisfies us with as unsparingly honest a glare as we can might in fact shed some light on how to find better contentment, not necessarily by having more or less of something (tangible or ephemeral) but by giving it all its appropriate due and then saving our true love for the most meaningful virtues and values of all. At the very least, that narrows down the field for most of us. At its best, it frees us up to say that life is remarkably livable where we exist right here, right now, regardless of the shade or tint of the lawn. The simple presence of any one particular leaf of grass or bud of bloom in the one square foot of soil nearest to hand may be quite enough, at least for one simple day.photo