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Monday, August 31, 2015

Read This... On The Iran Deal

http://www.niacouncil.org/73-prominent-international-relations-and-middle-east-scholars-back-iran-deal/

“In addition to advancing non-proliferation goals, this agreement could be the key that unlocks solutions to some of the most intractable conflicts in the Middle East,” Trita Parsi, President of NIAC, said. “The region suffers from a diplomacy deficit and the nuclear deal paves the way for an increase in dialogue and diplomacy on a whole set of issues – which is critical for stability in the Middle East.”

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Dogs In and Among Us.

Good and EvelThe world we inhabit is in large measure the externalization of our interior states. We project onto the landscape of our lives the cultivated assumptions of our collective experience. Our availability to the impulses to become tragic actors, or otherwise, in the arena of our conflict driven reality is jarring; but a fact nonetheless. In the absence of moral restraint we become the rapist, the child molester, the robber, the terrorist, the murderer, the wearer of the long black coat with the assault rifle hidden beneath looking to create mayhem, the wielder of the long knife on the elevator. In the absence of a moral compass we become the oppressor of the disadvantaged, the enslaver of the stranger, the bigot. Without the compass of moral restraint we become the invaders of countries, the killers of innocents, the abductors of daughters, perpetrators of genocide. 
Without doubt we know that evil exists; we are certain of this because we are aware of its potential in each one of us. Evil thrives unless we make a conscious choice day by day, minute by minute, event by event, not to feed the mean dog within. That mean dog within each one of us fights the good dog all day and all night long. It’s bark is the awful precursor to its terrible, mangling bite. Many of us may resist the fact that we each harbor the best and the worst of all instincts within us. To those who think this I would say that history is full of examples of “good” people who are guilty of committing some of the worst atrocities. For good to be triumphant we must each commit to nurturing that other dog within… the good dog. Essential steps in the nurturing of the good dog in ourselves must take into consideration the factors that give ascendancy to the evil dog. We must identify these factors and act to replace them with more desirable traits. These factors include, but are not limited to the following:
OUR SENSE OF SECURITY OR INSECURITY… The most basic of our needs is the need to survive. Our need to survive is the primary driver of our responses in the various situations of our lives. The quality of our responses to perceived threats is a direct function of the quality of the values we cultivate habitually. Honesty. Courage. Indomitable Spirit. These are values that can be inculcated through commitment to the practice of a wholesome discipline. A wholesome discipline is centered around a true commitment to balanced living. A wholesome discipline strengthens body, mind, and spirit. This strengthening is necessary preparation for the many challenges that living presents. It is a truth well thought out and spoken that "the strong survive". The weak "fall by the wayside", often after taking the easy way out by regurgitating their internal chaos on the world around them. Those who cause chaos are destined for destruction... Self-destruction. The ultimate logic of our existence is that we do to ourselves what we do to others. Thus the ultimate law: Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
OUR INTENTION… The ‘thing’ in us that gives rise to, and that determines the quality of our actions is something called intention. Intention is the big WHY behind every action we execute. To have intention is to be able to determine at the most basic level what we want the desired outcome of an action to be. The good dog in us wants to act in a way that serves the common good. The bad dog’s intention is to serve self, regardless of the consequences to others. Every time we choose to act
in the best interest of the other we are feeding that good dog and starving the mean evil dog. Acting in the best interest of community is not easy, since it requires that we become more and more selfless in our behavior. It demands that we stifle our want of immediate self-gratification in the interest of perpetuating the common good.

Acting unselfishly engenders a nobility that although uncommon, is essential to the building of viable characters and communities. It is what we mean by “being in the world” but not “being of the world”. It seems like in today's world we invest a lot, too much in fact, in feeding the bad dog. This must cease. The strengthening of the good dog must become our existential priority. Ultimately it is how we potentiate the possibilities of being Mankind’s best friend”. To act to the contrary is to become our own worst enemies.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Word For The Vester Flanagans Among Us

"The essence of greatness is the perception the Virtue is enough"--- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Virtue ... It is defined as: moral goodness; upright living; righteousness. It is the conduct of one’s life in accordance with principles of Righteousness. It is doing to others as you would have them do to you. Virtue challenges us to lift each other up in the face of circumstances that are down-pressing. Virtue is that light in the darkness that warms the cold, comforts the afflicted, reassures the frightened, and points the way to those who may be lost.
Virtue moves us toward each other. It makes us care in a culture where one person’s mis-step or misfortune is treated as nobody else’s concern. Virtue opens our eyes where it is more convenient to be blind. When we care, we align our lives with the cause of Justice. When we align our lives with the cause of justice, we find ourselves in solidarity with the purpose of working to liberate our fellowmen from all circumstances that are dehumanizing. These circumstances range from personal habits of drug and sexual addiction to  the corporate cultivation of inhumane working conditions.
Virtue calls us to call each other to personal and corporate accountability. It challenges us to let our light shine as a guide to others. Virtue reminds us that an authentic love is not a function of our simple-minded heroism. An authentic love... A virtuous love, is the real work that we must each do to save ourselves from the despair bred by dysfunctional living. What we can all do for each other is to lovingly, but firmly, point the way to self-redemption. No person can save another person’s soul. The cultivation of self-control is absolutely necessary in each life. Virtuous self-control is liberating. It leads to a state of good health. Moral health. Physical health. Cultural health. Spiritual health. That is what salvation is! Anything less is religious vanity. Nothing more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Forbidden Fruit

Enters horned desire with bowing grace
But scant regard for the thorned trunk
That it must climb
To touch and taste
And pluck from its place… The prize of its obsession

Descends again with bleeding hands
And seeming cherished pain...
With scant regard for injuries self-inflicted
Totally oblivious to the slow death
Which creeps upon a soul
That constantly bleeds itself...

Comes stumbling now…
Under the influence of a fleeting satisfaction
And falls... Losing the grip it had
On the forbidden fruit
For which it sacrificed its life
For the promise of vain ecstasies
And finally reaps... The Grim Reaper’s due

Excerpt From: Roy Alexander Graham, In My Element Figtree Enterprises, Inc., 2012.
For more of my poetry visit www.figtreeenterprises.com

We Must Change

Change requires us to make the adjustments that become necessary as a result of the reality that “all things are becoming new”. We change our clothes because physical and physiological dynamics dictate that we do. If we don’t, our place in the socio-communal order becomes compromised. No one wants to be around tattered, stinking individuals. We shower to get rid of the dirt, the dead cells, and stench that results from our being in a physically and spiritually demanding world. Showering is a re-freshing experience. We should all embrace it, but for many resisting change the tatteredness of their general disposition is only superseded by the foulness of their bad behavior.
We change our minds because we should always be learning/ discovering new things. At some point we should accept the reality that the earth is not flat. At some point we discover that the place we occupy in this infinite universe is but a spec, all be it a most beautiful one, but a spec nevertheless in the grand scheme of things. Eventually we realize that each of us are but minuscule pieces in an unimaginably large puzzle. Minuscule, but essential pieces...
The role each of us can play in the functionality of this great puzzle which is Life is not to be underestimated. Ask Gandhi. Ask Martin Luther King Jr. Ask Malcolm X. Ask Yeshua. Ask Moses. Ask Mandela. Ask a tired lady who refuses to give her seat up to a white man and move to the back of the bus to satisfy the demands of a racist society. Yes, ask Rosa Parks! Ask my grandmother…and yours.
In the light of new discoveries, the assumptions we made in ignorance about life, and the operations of day and night, the comings and goings of the seasons, about the oceans, and the stars, and each other... must change. The historical assumptions that led some to deny others their rightful place in society based on pseudo-science, economic bias, and just straight up evil behavior, must eventually end up where they belong… on the garbage heap of history.

"Things" Change

Whether we like it or not, whether we are comfortable with it or not; things change. If you own a cellular phone, or a television, or some other cultural utility, you will attest to this. Nowadays before you learn your way around the newest iteration of your cell phone, it becomes obsolete. This applies to many things in our daily lives. Some of us embrace these changes, even look forward to them, hoping to somehow benefit from every advantage offered in the newest “thing”.
Some of us hold on to the old technologies, insisting that they still perform the “basic” functions so why bother. When the automatic transmission became the predominant trend in automobiles, some older drivers insisted that unless one could drive a “stick shift” with its clutch action and other cumbersome appliances, you couldn’t really “drive”. Instead of embracing the new ease of operation and the opportunities it represented for those whose physical and other challenges were not the same as theirs, they just wanted things to stay the same.
The unreasonableness of this view not withstanding, some people just need to have their ingrained default positions /prejudices overridden. This is necessary for progress, and is as true for advances of a scientific nature as they are for cultural, political, religious, and other advances. Change is endemic in a dynamic universe. It is inevitable in our world. It happens, and when it comes it necessitates the demise of the status quo. We either embrace it, or it envelopes us and renders us functionally redundant. Not a good place to be.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Let Peace Begin With Me...

To realize true fulfillment we need to call out the falsehoods that have prevented us from living our best lives, and abandon them. Number one among these falsehoods is the belief that others are to be blamed for the life we have. We will never change as long as we foster this lie. So let us begin by taking responsibility for the circumstances of our lives. If you don’t like them, get about the business of changing them. Don’t wait for change to come. Be about the business of bringing about the change you need. The greatest spiritual influences always lead us to recognize the seeds of our own redemption within. Jesus said to the man lying on his bed for years waiting to be healed: take up your bed and walk. He knew the potential that lay dormant in this person and called it out.

The turn-around we need in our lives, and our relationships, continues when we re-assert that idealism which is founded on the reality that we will reap what we sow in this world. When we sow disunity we will reap alienation. When we sow fear we will reap torment. When we live according to the flesh... that is, when we behave as if everything that feels good is therefore good for us... we will destroy ourselves. When we live according to the Spirit, when we walk away from that self-serving dogma that has us believing that it's all about us, we will reap the abundant life.

Let us be conscientious about the seeds we sow, because they will most certainly have their harvest in our lives. We are constantly being called to engage in an idealism that is fully founded on cornerstones of justice. The balanced scale is a symbol that indicates what must become the new measure of our relationships. This symbol reminds us to live in constant mindfulness of the fact that the justice that we seek must begin with us. The challenge we all face is to do to others as we would have them do to us. The table spread with the "bread of sorrow and the wine of violence", is not the feast our Creator intended. It is definitely not the banquet to which we should be inviting each other.

The media around us are saturated with the tragedies that are the results of our despising the beckoning of Justice and buying into the lies of corrupt influences. When sons and fathers murder each other, they are living out those lies. When we sexually abuse each other we are living out those lies. When we contribute to each other’s demise by peddling poisons for profit through our various enterprises, licit and illicit, we are acting as corruptors of community. When corporations despise their responsibility to be builders of communities, they are sowing the seeds of their own decline. When governments ignore their responsibility to help build a more equitable society, they are fomenting the very insecurity they pay lip service to wanting to protect against. When those charged with protecting and serving our communities become the agents of destructive prejudices, they are creating the conditions for their own obliteration.

We may at times become frustrated by the contradictions all around us, but becoming insensitive to the need for change is not an option. The stability and prosperity we long for will only come through an enduring commitment to Justice. This commitment to Justice is the only sure foundation on which the peaceful communities we long for will be built. The change we long for must begin in each one of us. We... You and I... must do the work necessary to resolve the contradictions within ourselves, and in every single relationship we inhabit. In the end it is an act of futility to expect of others what we ourselves are unwilling to give.





Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Our Prisons

Not very long ago I worked as a medical professional in a couple of our prisons in Pennsylvania. It was, to say the least, one of the most depressing vocational experiences I have ever had. I can state without hesitation that these places are the most dis-spiriting, the most de-humanizing environments that I have ever been in. It is a blatant untruth to speak of these places as experiences in rehabilitation. Anyone who has ever been in one of these facilities will not escape the impression that the culture of our prisons is in essence self-perpetuating. The prison experience as it is results for the most part not in a “correctional” outcome, but in the kind of broken person who will keep going back.
Human Rights Watch in a report in December 2013 has this to say about prison and detention conditions in the USA:
“Prisoners and detainees in many local, state and federal facilities, including those run by private contractors, confront conditions that are abusive, degrading and dangerous. Soaring prison populations due to harsh sentencing laws—which legislators have been reluctant to change—and immigrant detention policies coupled with tight budgets have left governments unwilling to make the investments in staff and resources necessary to ensure safe and humane conditions of confinement. Such failures violate the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
One of the foundational underpinnings of our ever-evolving civility is a belief in the inherent dignity of every person. It is this belief that guides our morality. It is what rationalizes our prohibition against discrimination in all its forms. A belief in the inherent dignity of the human person prohibits discrimination based on age, or gender, or race, or national origin. It is what has led us to insist on treating persons with disabilities as deserving of the right to life and liberty, and all the facilities that go with those rights. It is what makes us legislate against cruel and unusual punishment for those who violate the laws of our society, no matter how gross their transgressions. And so we must ask why it is that we are creating the conditions described by Human Rights Watch. A cursory look at the evidence may in fact lead one to conclusions that are not hopeful for our society.
In an economic culture that is intent on culling a profit out of every human circumstance, prisons are designed to be necessarily self-perpetuating. The idea is to keep themselves optimally occupied in order to maximize profits for those who now invest in them. Yes, prisons have become business opportunities. Some people speak of prisoners as “animals” and prisons are designed to make sure they remain as such. In truth I have come to believe that the recidivism that we complain so much about is in fact a desired outcome of those who operate these dens of human degradation.

Crime and Incarceration

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~Nelson Mandela
In the interest of the maintenance of law and order, civil society creates appropriate mechanisms by which it holds those who violate the strictures of the social order accountable. Our courts along with the prison system are a vital part of this process. Persons found guilty of breaking the law often find themselves at the mercy of the Court and it’s various agents. Our guiding principle at judgement is that “the punishment should fit the crime”. In his inauguration speech President George W Bush stated that: ‘A civil society demands from each of us goodwill and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.’ This is a standard worthy of our remembrance as we reflect on our perceptions of those who find themselves at the mercy of our courts, since our collective perceptions are operational in our eventual treatment of them.
Incarceration is a necessary part of the Justice system. Our society, through its courts, sometimes finds it absolutely necessary to imprison people…some for the rest of their lives. Because of the absolutely critical consequences of sentencing people to serve time in prison, we have a serious responsibility to make sure that our court system functions justly. Avoiding cruel and unusual punishment is a sacred duty that we must be vigilant in upholding. While we set out to appropriately punish offenders for their crimes, we have a responsibility to make sure that we make every effort to rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated. Most important of all, we have a responsibility to put in place every safeguard against unjust imprisonment. This is a most crucial responsibility as we set out to guarantee the freedom that is idealized in our most celebrated creed.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Three Suggestions For Enhancing Our Lives

There are events in the course of our lives that cause us to reassess the assumptions we develop when things do not go as we would have them. An unexpected illness. A heartbreak. Storms. A delayed or cancelled flight. Unsubstantiated dreams. Divorce. Death. These reassessments are necessary and useful. When life hands us lemons, we need to see the opportunities for the refreshment of our old, thirsty, outdated ideas and insipid attitudes. “Make lemonade”, someone says. We can, and we should. These are the thoughts and possibilities that keep us vitally connected to reality. We can practice this essential connectedness through the following basic exercises:
  • Relax. Calm down and find time for rest and the rehabilitation of your physical and mental parts. The fatigue that results from inadequate rest wears us out, and eventually tears us down. It depletes our sensory capabilities, and makes us prone to accidents of thought and physicality that jeopardize our own safety, and the safety of those around us. So the good we do ourselves by resting issues to those around us who are impacted by our presence and activities. It is essential therefore, that we become aware of this at home, at work, and in the public spaces that we share.
  • Pay attention. There is a tendency to develop tunnel vision when we allow ourselves to become worn out by work, and the frustrations and disappointments that are inevitable in the course of our lives. Tunnel vision is a function of the anxiety that is part and parcel of our being tired and overwhelmed. It keeps us from seeing the other possibilities available to us in the face of mechanisms that fail in our expectations. The voice of Wisdom speaks to us in these circumstances, and hopefully we listen. It tells us to stop and look around. It suggests that we silence that other voice in our heads that keeps telling us there is no other way out. When wisdom gets our attention we begin to take those deep breaths which add needed oxygen to the blaze of the fire of our possibilities. That fire is extinguished when we suffer “burn out”.
  • Reboot. Rebooting is the act of shutting down and restarting a computer that gives it a bounce intended to clear its “wedgitude”. Wedgitude is tech slang for “the state of being wedged”. We all get to that point in our own experiences where our “operating systems” need a wedgitude adjustment. Shut things down for a moment. Give yourself that bounce necessary to face the new challenges ahead.
Replace the worn and obstructive pieces of your operation, personal and otherwise, and give yourself reasonable time to “come again”. In other words, reboot! Trying to operate with a “wedgie” in your os (operating system) results in debilitating dysfunction. Avoid system failure. In the words of the Desiderata: “with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams; it is still a beautiful world.” So reboot, and carry on.