Monday, November 27, 2006

Muze of the week

I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand the other person. Our first reaction to most of the statements (which we hear from other people) is an evaluation or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. When someone expresses some feeling, attitude or belief, our tendency is almost immediately to feel "that's right," or "that's stupid," "that's abnormal," "that's unreasonable," "that's incorrect," "that's not nice." Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to the other person.

Adapted from Carl R. Rogers, On becoming a Person (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), pp. 18ff

Friday, November 17, 2006

Counter Intuitive

Last night I was discussing the behavior of "fitting in." Reflecting on this, I remember what I was a child and so greatly desired to "fit in" with all the other kids. When I think of it a little further, I realize that I was trying to fit in not just at school, but at home, in my extended family, pretty everywhere I went. I have heard that this is fairly common for children. It has something to do with growing up.

Like usual, I try to fit everything into my religious view of the world, and I came to the conclusion that God made us in such a way that we want to "fit in", or to "belong". But in God's great creation, we are given the desire to belong not simply for earthly reasons of survival, but so that we would desire to "belong" to Him. I believe that our wanting to "belong" here, is a reflection of our longing to belong to God's community. Ultimately we want to "fit in" in heaven. We want to be part of a group of people who all have a common thread - unbounded love of God and being loved by God in return. (perhaps I got the order of those two loves backwards, oops).

Anyway, the discussion led to the topic of differences among people. Here in our American culture we easily get so caught up wanting to belong (which nastily turns into conforming) that some people coerce others. We almost all have had experiences where an 'adult bully' at work or elsewhere tries to be the one that everyone must conform to. They get really mad and out of control when someone resists them or crosses them. It's often "my way or the highway," and they have no problem making your life hell unless you conform to their ways. This view on life is sad because it does not take account for the blessing it is to have differences. These people act like "If the whole world were like me, it would be a better place." What pile of crap, huh?

We talked about how differences are a great thing and should be lauded and cherished. The Catholic Church teaches that the Lord made us all in His image, but unique and unrepeatable. So why focus on only the commonalities? Of course this little piece of revelation hit me pretty hard. At school we talk about management styles and so forth, and I have been convicted that my style is not very good (not very developed is more like the truth.) I tend to instinctively have a "conform to me" style. That is, I like to think through everything as thoroughly as possible, make some conclusions, and base my decision on that. There is nothing wrong with this as long as I live in a world by myself. In reality, other people think differently than I do and respond to things differently. So what may be best for me is not always best for others. Further, what I conclude may not line up with reality - it is only guaranteed to line up with my perception of reality - very different things most of the time. So I have been learning to surround myself with people who are like me in the big fundamental things, but very different than me in the the way they perceive the world. I am learning to appreciate these differences and rely on the diversity to help me grow in my understanding of people and God. In management I will need to rely on this diversity to help me make recommendations that I may never have come up with on my own.

It seems that our culture could use a little more appreciation of difference and a little less focus on similarity. It is a difficult uphill battle because of the way this country was founded. We were a bunch of people from different cultures, histories, and backgrounds, and we had to come together to build a nation. We needed to focus on what brought us together, those things that bind us. Because of the division of Church and State, religion could not be a national binding factor, we had to find other things, and we did. Because of this, as Americans are brought up with the value of finding the commonalities and minimizing the differences. But this has now come back to plague us as a people. Perhaps in the early founding days of this country, the differences were so huge and obvious that they were properly utilized. But now, we have our own American culture and "sameness," and difference gets lost.

In the big scheme of creation, God made us different so that we would need one another. So that we could do things in cooperation that would be impossible on our own (America would not exist if not for diverse cooperation.) To more perfectly reflect the image of the Trinity.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Conversation to Conversion

How often do we talk about stuff, get excited about it, then go away and do nothing about it? It seems all too often in my life.

I was talking to myself today on the way to work today (shut-up, all people talk to themselves) and I made a slip of the tongue a couple of times and said "conversion" when I meant to say "conversation." This led me to think about those two things together.

Yesterday I had a couple of great conversations with people that led to a deeper insight about myself, my life, and the Lord. I let these thoughts linger in my mind for a while as I drove home, but by the time I arrived at my house and started working on a school paper, all those great ponderings simply disappeared in a *poof*.

So as I was driving this morning, I wondered how often this happens to me. As I reflected I sadly came to the conclusion that I talk more than I act when it comes to this great spiritual stuff. I have developed a great capacity to think and ponder deep spiritual things, but I often don't allow it to make it down to my heart or into my actions. As sad as this is, it is convicting to me that I may be a "poser." I dread the thought that people may see me as a big mouth that continuously spews forth. With that conviction in mind I have resolved to talk a little less and act a little more. No one likes the talking head.

The way that I'll know I'm successful is that those people around me will notice a change.

I must never get contented with where I am in my spiritual journey. I must constantly press on to greater depth. I need to let these conversations lead to conversions.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Politics and Leadership

With all of the Election stuff going on, I have taken some time to reflect on the leadership of our country.

It seems to me that “leadership” is something that I cannot identify with politics. I was recently ranting about my opinions about politics when a friend of mine said, “Why don’t you run for office?” That was a good way to shut me up, but also to get me thinking about it. Here are my conclusions:

When I was in philosophy class we talked about Plato and his ‘Philosopher-King’ idea. Plato, the extremist that he was, believed that most people do not know what is good for them, so it takes a special kind of person to rule over them as king – it takes a philosopher he said (convenient, since he was a philosopher). Of course, he lived in a time where there was a clear distinction between social classes and anyone not in the noble class was considered ignorant of what is best for them.

We have a bit of a different social system going on here in America. We believe that everyone, regardless of creed, race, or other differences, has equal rights to freedom and knowledge. While we still have some social class divisions, we not longer hold that anyone who is not ultra-wealthy is ignorant of what is best for them. With that in mind, I personally believe that as a culture we have strayed too far from the Truth. Of course, as a actively practicing and believing Catholic, I believe that “truth” is what God has revealed to us as a race over the last several thousand years. Our American culture has strayed far from this truth and we continue to get farther and farther away. If we do not understand these revealed truths, then it is impossible to know what is best for us.

On that point, I believe that many people in America do not know what is best for them.

Back to the point at hand: Leadership and politics are not coinciding anymore. I believe that at one point in history they did, but not anymore. Why do I say this? I define leadership (in this narrow context) as leading people in a way that keeps their best interests in mind. A parent leads a child by doing what is best for the child. Does the child know what is best for it? Usually not; the child only knows what it wants and doesn’t want. Our American culture has produced a bunch of adult children who do not know what is best for them, they only know what they want and they cry when they don’t get it. A true leader would do what is best for them regardless of the whining and screaming. Our current politics is set up on the right idea – our elected politicians are supposed to represent the people. But this assumes that the people know what is right for themselves, and I believe that assumption is not being met. So what we get are political representatives doing whatever a mob of angry adult-children want, not true political leaders.

So why won’t I run for office? Because I refuse to give into the whims and wants of the mob; I would instead insist on doing what I know is best for them. But since it is the mob that elects its representatives, I would never get elected because it would be abundantly clear to them that I would not do what they want. Democracy fails when the people are longer in touch with the Truth and what is best for them. This is the state I believe we are in here in this country. As much as I disagree with many of Bush's choices, he has at least given an effort to be a true leader by doing what he believes is right for the country, reagrdless of what the mob is screaming. He may not be popular, but what good leader is in times of distress?

This failure of democracy is one of the many reasons why I respect the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. They do not suffer from these problems in the same way we do.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bring on the segregation!!!

LOL. What a scandalous title huh? Well I needed something to get your attention!
I have recently been fed up with the "let's include everyone in everything" syndrome and the "let's empower everyone to equality" syndrome.
I was recently having a conversation about "labeling" and "grouping" things. I noticed that when it came to "judging" things like style of clothes, people do not get all bent out of shape, but when I talk about "judging" people, they get all crazy and unreasonable. They often spout something about Christians not judging people and such, but I think they misunderstand me and misunderstand what the Church actually teaches. So let me take this moment to clarify:

Judging people is not right according to the teachings of Christ, only God can judge a person. We are called to "love the person", but not their bad deeds. So when a person is doing something that goes against me or my beliefs, I should love them as my brother or sister in Christ and pray for them, but condemn their actions and call them on to greater accountability. That is true love of a person - to care for the betterment of their entire being. So there is nothing wrong with judging peoples deeds/choices; as long as people understand that to judge someone actions does not mean judging the person as a whole. Hate evil, not people.

On the other hand, we as humans need a way to deal with the barrage of colors, shapes, and other input our senses receive every moment of every day. Think about a newborn baby: to them they know nothing of shape and pattern - everything is a conglomeration of colors constantly moving and changing (so say the "experts"). In order to deal with their new world, the human brain starts categorizing patterns of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound. It even starts relating certain patterns in one sense to patterns in other senses by cause and effect relationships. All said and done, when a person reaches a certain cognitive threshold, they are able to cope with and interact with the world around them. They learn by putting things into categories, which requires that they make a judgment about anything and everything. Is 'a' like 'b', or more like 'c'? How about 'd'? Adolescence is all about pattern matching and categorizing. It is the only way that we can make sense of the world around us. So why is it that when a person becomes an adult they get torn apart for categorizing people? This is only a natural way of dealing with the world around us. Some people are old, some young, some male, some female, some heterosexual, some homosexual, etc., etc. There is nothing wrong with this as long as we don't judge the people within the groupings. We can judge their deeds, but not the people.

So bring on the categorization and "segregations" of a population! It is a good and useful thing to do by helping us cope with our world and making sense out of it. Just don't go too far with the whole condemnation thing.