Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Tower of Babel v A Community of Language

Ideas wear out quickly. Words rot more quickly still. And when thought itself is tainted, it proportionally corrupts all the words to which recourse is had in the hope of putting it right again. –Henri de Lubac

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule. –JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

Today, there is no longer a “community of language” (Voegelin) in our nation. It is almost as if we are living in the shadow of the Tower of Babel where each individual is speaking a language unknown to anyone else. When by Justice he means “vengeance,” and her use of the word Liberty has nothing to do with our God-gifted “unalienable Rights,” how do we carry on meaningful conversations?
Listening to the national conversation during this last election, all I could keep thinking was “So much wasted oxygen.” People were constantly making the mistake of thinking that because they all were speaking English, they understood what was being said and heard. One of the more frustrating experiences for me here was how people were using the word Capitalism. Monte screaming at Television: “For crying out loud, at least consult a dictionary before you start swapping ignorance!”
As I asserted in my last post, what is needed is a Rectification of Names. However, what can we as individuals do on a national scale when the Keeper of the Dictionaries (Government Schools) so often insists upon redefining words in a manner that supports the Establishment, as well as its own institutional and ideological agendas, rather than keeping words from deterioration and corruption?  Because this is the case, in the present, I believe there is not much we can do, nationally. We can, however, begin extending the community of language, incrementally -- from individual to individual, from family to family, and community to community.
And how do individuals do this? It begins, of course, with my speaking the truest sentence that I know, where the individual words of my sentence reflect, as accurately as possible, the truth of my mind and experience. Integrity in communication must be my mantra. My truest sentence will contain no word games, no smuggling of ideas within words that I know will be misunderstood but will allow me wiggle room in future communications. People should not need the skills of Sherlock Holmes to discover exactly what you are saying. We must go farther than this, however, and regain contact with what the words we are using meant before being corrupted. (Eric Voegelin, “Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality!”)
Many of you on all sides of the political spectrum have been expressing your concern for the future of this nation. My question for you is this: will you begin disciplining yourself in your communication, speaking as truly and accurately as possible? This begins with making the effort to dig into heart and head for the truth of you, and then using words with uncorrupted meaning packed inside.
You say that your concern for the future of your family, community and nation is real. Okay, how willing are you to watch less Television, cut back on the time you spend playing games on your Smartphone and get to work on the process of the Rectification of Names? In other words, how willing are you to begin reading and courageously and respectfully sharing your knowledge with others?
How important is your spiritual and psychological health to you? After all, if the words we are using are corrupt, what sort of corruption is gradually taking place in our minds and hearts?

            I want to be careful here and not oversimplify the task before us. The Rectification of Names is not some panacea or magical formula that will dispel all confusion and conflict from either the nation or your family! It is, however, the first major step in the process, for without first agreeing on the meaning of words and the experiences to which they refer, we’re stuck in the shadows of the Tower of Babel. 
            I know. We feel small and insignificant. We are all Hobbits against the Dark Lords. What can we do toward the Rectification of Names, toward stopping the tides of corruption that have led to such national confusion and conflict? We cando what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set.” A community of language starts with our families, our friends, and with us – with you. Don’t think in terms of “the tides of the world,” but, rather, in terms of personal integrity.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rectification of Names

It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.

It was not the man’s brain that was speaking it was his larynx. The stuff that was coming out of him consisted of words but it was not speech in true sense: it was a noise uttered in unconsciousness like the quacking of a duck.

--George Orwell, 1984

If the names we call things are incorrect, if the words we use are not tied to reality, what sort of communication can we expect? Furthermore, if there is no mutuality of understanding each other’s words, how can we ever expect anything other than ongoing confusion and conflict? If this is the case—if each is using words arbitrarily – then family, community, society, culture, and business suffers.
Deep, eh? Well, I ripped it off from Confucius who made this point when describing The Rectification of Names:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

In seeking “to speak the truest sentence that you know,” attention must be given to the words you are using in expressing your thoughts and feelings: to the Rectification of Words. Words mean something, not just anything. Think of a word as a language-symbol that places boundaries around an experience or idea: “I mean this, not that.”
Think of the breakdowns and breakups caused by the quacking of the word “Love,” romantic or otherwise! Now, consider some other Great Ideas (Mortimer Adler) -- Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, Liberty, Equality, and Justice. All we need do is look around and see the confusion and conflict that are created when people unpack the meaning of these words so as to smuggle some other foreign idea into the conversation.
The Confusion of Names is at the root of many of our individual, familial, relational, and societal conflicts. Or so I believe. For example: What is Truth and is there any such thing as objective Truth? What does it mean to be a Good man or woman? When Jefferson and Co. penned the Declaration of Independence, what were they meaning when they said one of our “unalienable Rights” was Liberty? When they wrote that, “all men are created equal,” what did they understand the word Equal to mean?
These words were originally coined to describe specific experiences, so their meanings are rooted in history. Yes, the meaning of words can evolve, but it can also devolve and be corrupted. What we are after is the uncorrupted meaning of the words we are using.
The Rectification of Names is the only avenue to begin dispelling confusion and conflict, whether in a family or a society, a spiritual community or a business. Arbitrary meanings only add to the confusion and exacerbate the conflict. The destruction of words is only “beautiful” to pseudo-intellectuals, conmen, and tyrants.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Next, The Rectification of Names: The Tower of Babel v A Community of Language 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Demanding the Truth

My last post concluded with, “And before we start pointing out the speck of lies in the other guy’s eye, let’s do some personal work on the log that is in our own eyes.” While thinking about this personal work, I ran across a passage in Hemingway’s The Moveable Feast. He was writing about how he always found it difficult to begin a new story and how he would continually tell himself, “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” Thinking about this, it occurred to me that this is where we want to begin.

Speak the truest sentence that you know.

Whether it is in conversation with yourself, your family, a friend, or a co-worker, let your next sentence be true. In other words, demand the truth of yourself. This presupposes, of course, that you know the truth of yourself.
What am I truly feeling or thinking? What do I actually believe, and why? Not what am I supposed to be feeling, thinking or believing but what is the truth of me, what is the truth to me? Yes, yes, when we speak our truth we want to be appropriate and wise.  However, how often do we use these sentiments to actually bleed the substance of our truth from our sentences and, consequently, from our souls?
How can we insist upon “the truest sentence” from others, if we ourselves prefer comforting lies that shelter us from disturbing facts, unsetting realities, and soul-rattling truths? “This is what I believe (not), how I feel (nope), what is true for me (hope they bought that),” is a sentence that gives others permission to lie to you and robs you of the authority of integrity while questioning their sentences.

Thinking With Your Own Mind
It seems to me that many people choose to allow others to think through their brains and speak through their mouths. They are talking heads with talking points and muted souls, not individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. When asked a question the default position is to repeat the beliefs of the tribes to which they belong: political tribes, religious tribes, social tribes, ideological tribes, etc.
Before you speak, ask yourself: do my words have any correlation to the truth of things as I view them? Have I dug deeply enough into my mind and heart to know what is actually there? When it comes to my beliefs, am I merely parroting others, repeating the thoughts of those I respect or fear, or am I expressing the results of my own studies and deliberations?

I would rather discover I was wrong about the “truth” of my beliefs and ideas than mindlessly echoing what turned out to be true. I would rather be an honest heretic than mindlessly orthodox. (And religions are not the only institutions with orthodoxies!) I would rather say, “I don’t know,” before trafficking in stolen goods—pretending my words and thoughts were actually mine, while knowing I had pilfered them from someone else.
We need to stop being robots, giving the controls over our brains, hearts, and mouths to others. Stand up to the “intellectual terrorism of institutions” (Voegelin) and tribes that demand we fall in line and repeat the company line, “or else.” 

Demand the truth of yourself.

Come to your own conclusions.  

Have your own voice.

Now. Speak the truest sentence that you know.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Loudest Lie

We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.  Eric Hoffer

Machiavelli said, “For a long time I have not said what I believed, nor do I ever believe what I say, and if indeed sometimes I do happen to tell the truth, I hide it among so many lies that it is hard to find.”

“O, my,” you say. “Wilson … he has got to be the patron saint of modern politicians-journalists-media-_______(fill in the bank with your favorite villain)!”

Question. Which is the greater evil: Is it the fact that so many of our politicians, journalists, and media moguls are the greatest liars ever to spin a yarn, or is it the large percentage of the population who are demanding the lie?

How is it that, while we would never dream of lying to others, we constantly lie to ourselves? “I do not want to know what I know and see what I see… I don’t want to be disturbed by frightening facts. The lie is more comforting.”

Let us all chant the wisdom of Big Brother:

War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
--Orwell, 1984

Ahhhh, sweet comfort.

Sometimes, however, “sanity is a cozy lie.” (Sontag) It takes courage to face reality (personal or societal) and embrace the initial madness that accompanies acknowledging the truth, after so many years of hiding in lies.

Have you ever had that experience? Eyes are opened and the heart is aghast: confusion, madness, anger, mortification: “I was a foooooooool!” And then the creeping realization that somewhere back there,

I. Choose. The. Lie.

Hiding from the truth doesn’t change the truth. Denying facts does not change the facts. Pretending that reality is other than what it truly is only feeds the hiding-beast and makes his looming and inevitable appearance all that more costly. And before we start pointing out the speck of lies in the other guy’s eye, let’s do some personal work on the log that is in our own eyes

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beware of People

Beware of people void of self-awareness: they will trip you up and cost you big time, and not even know it.

Beware of vampires who continually suck the life out of you, always taking but rarely giving: they are not your friends.   

Beware of people who never make up their minds, agreeing with everyone and no one: they are unstable and unreliable.

Beware of average people: they are satisfied with an average life, produce average work, and only want and give an average love.

Beware of stupid people: they despise knowledge and have a phobia of discipline

Beware of the gossiper: one day he will betray you.

Beware of people incapable of anger: they are incapable of love and revere nothing as sacred.

Beware of people who “honor” you while making light of and, thereby, trashing all that you value: what they call honor is actually condescending pity.

Beware of people who are too quick and effusive in praising you: they are after something.

Beware of people that do not inspire you to be a better person but, rather, lead you toward being smaller, meaner, more foolish, or to betray your values and principles.

Beware of people who wish to tilt the scales of justice toward the poor or the rich: they are not seeking moral equity but vengeance or self-aggrandizement.

Beware of envious people who do not celebrate the good fortune and success of others: they do not want to possess the “good” or to earn it for themselves — they want to destroy it, along with the individual(s) who possesses it.

Beware of people who constantly ridicule and condemn others: their bitterness and mean-spiritedness are infectious.

Beware of ideologues and utopians: the slightest disagreement and, in the blinking of an eye, they will sacrifice you to their cause like a fatted calf.

Beware of becoming a person to beware of.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Finding Wisdom

Listen to advice and take criticism if you want to be wise the rest of your life. –Proverbs19.20

Without counsel plans go wrong: but in the multitude of counselors they are established. – Proverbs15.22

The other day my son was telling me about a friend of his who had made a questionable decision. He asked him to whom he had gone for advice and he said, “My friends!”

Monte IV: O man … you’re screwed.

There is wisdom in seeking a multitude of counselors regarding major decisions in our lives. This is only true, however, if The Multitude is comprised of wise people.

Seeking wisdom from a man about building a successful business who has never done so himself is not so wise

Seeking parental advice from a childless woman is not a wise move

Listening to counsel about how to grow in wisdom and maturity from someone who has been stuck on being 16 for the last 15 years should make you question the depth of your own wisdom!

 “Yes, I think you should jump off of that cliff. I mean, hey, I have zip experience here, but, dude, it feels so … right!”

Why in the world do so many people end up taking advice from people who are clueless? There are probably as many reasons as there are people. Sometimes we take the advice because it is what we wanted to do in the first place. Sometimes we want to have plausible deniability: “It’s not my fault things fell to pieces, he/she/they told me to do this!”
The last thing we want is to sit around and swap ignorance with people. “I talked it all out with people who care for me and we agreed this is what I should do.” Great. Caring people are a wonderful gift but was she an expert in the field of your inquiry? Did he have years and years of experience that backed-up his advice?  

The Multitude
In considering from whom you will seek counsel, a good rule of thumb is, “The older the better.” As Emerson said, “The years teach much which the days never knew.” People who have years of experience can tell you what consequences to expect from most any decision you are considering.
I also highly recommend professionals (psychologists, financial planners, family therapist, Life-coaches, etc.). The zillions of hours these people have spent sorting through thousands of scenarios gives them a breadth and width of knowledge and wisdom that is difficult to find elsewhere. Plus there is the added benefit of their not being emotionally invested, as well as not having entered into the “unspoken conspiracies” (Dan Tocchini) we have with so many of our friends: “If you don’t expose my rot, I wont point out yours!”
In evaluating people regarding whether or not they are wise (Hat-tip to St James):

Wisdom is pure: it does not contain advice that would debase you or others.

Wisdom brings peace: the wise person always seeks the way of peace, not contention.

Wisdom is gentle, willing to yield: the wise are not, by nature, argumentative.

Wisdom is full of kindness and care: the wise are predisposed toward the good of others.

Wisdom is full of good fruit: the evidence of having lived wisely. (This is the point I was making about seeking out people who have long term experience and success in the areas where you need counsel.)

Wisdom is not partial or hypocritical: it is not about playing party against party, and does not ask that you take a position or path based on deceit.
Wisdom sometimes appears on the surface to be irrational. Charles Dickens wrote that, “There is a wisdom of the head … and a wisdom of the heart.” This is something I have been thinking about for years now. I suggest that the truly wise have learned when to follow the head and when to follow the heart, as well as when to integrate both.  There are times when it is wise to follow the path revealed by logic and the common sense that comes from experience. There are also times when the “Heart has reasons which reason knows nothing of.” (Pascal) This doesn’t mean the heart is without “reason,” only that the head has yet to understand. Sometimes EQ (emotional intelligence) trumps IQ! Or so I believe …

Copyright, 2012, Monte E Wilson 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Attention! Attention! Attention!

Attention (Merriam-Webster):
A: the act or state of applying the mind to something
B: a condition of readiness for such attention involving especially a selective narrowing or focusing of consciousness and receptivity

I once read about a man in the 13th century who traveled hundreds of miles over difficult terrain for the opportunity of communicating with a Zen Master. I say, “communicate,” because this Guru did not speak out loud, he would only write.

Seeker: Master, please … after all the decades of your searching for enlightenment … what is the key to wisdom?

Guru: (Taking piece of charcoal and writing on stone) Attention

Seeker: What?

Guru: Attention! Attention!

Seeker: You aren’t understanding me … I am seeking after wisdom…

Guru: Attention! Attention! Attention!

            Yes, yes, well said Mr. Miyagi! Attaining wisdom demands we pay attention. However, this begs the question: to what or to whom? Ahhhh, yes, Daniel-san, Miyagi has hope for you. Attention is context specific: within this or that context, what are my goals, what is my mission, my purpose here, and what behaviors will keep me moving toward success? Our attention then is focused upon congruence between context, our goals within that context, and behaviors.

If I am in a business meeting and my attention is on my children at home, there is a lack of congruence, yes? My mental energies are focused someplace other than my present context which will have an adverse effect on my behavior and, subsequently, the attainment of my goals

If I am on a date with my significant other and my goal or purpose is for her to feel loved and adored and my attention is focused on business, my behaviors will not support my goal.

The reality is that my behaviors are going to follow the direction of my focused consciousness. I can say all I want that I am focused on this business task, the diet I am on, or the relationship I have with this person or those people. However, if my attention is consistently somewhere else, sooner or later, my behaviors will point in the direction of where I am actually applying my mind.
Note: I can be aware that my child is at home sick with the flu and still pay attention to my goals in the business meeting. I can be aware of the fact that there are important matters to take care of at the office and still focus my attention on my date. Conversely, I can also be aware that my business or relationships are failing and not be focusing my attention on their success. Awareness is not attention.
Chunking up from particular contexts in my life to my life over-all: what I pay attention to is what I am going to get more of. This can be a good thing, or not so good. On the other hand, what I do not focus my attention upon will (potentially) wither and die. This can also be a good thing or not so good!
One of the first things you learn when you are being trained to drive at high speeds is that you will go in the direction of your focused attention. If you are looking at that looming wall your reflexes will take you in that direction. Look at where you want the car to go.
Switching metaphors for a moment: what you feed increases its capacity for growing. What you starve dies. Over time, we “feed” what we are paying attention to. We “starve” what we are not paying attention to.

Pay attention to your health, you will get healthier.

Pay attention to what will make you more successful in your career, the possibilities for success increase.

Pay attention to the health of the relationships that are important to you, those relationships will deepen.

Pay attention to increasing in wisdom and understanding in every context of your life, your wisdom will expand.

Don’t pay attention to any of these things and the possibility that they will ever be yours is minimal to no-way.

The first step to success in all contexts of life is Attention! Attention! Attention!

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Art of Avoiding Reality

I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow. – Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind

What we repress does not simply disappear; at an unconscious level, it remains active. --Nathaniel Branden

Mature people face life head on. (That’s a double entendre, folks!) Seeing what they see and knowing what they know, they engage their hearts and heads so as to make the wisest decision possible regarding the issues at hand.
Immature people often seek to avoid what is in front of them or inside them demanding their attention, especially if it is something that makes them uncomfortable. If I do not own my actions or my emotions (past or present), I cannot learn from them and cannot grow beyond them (if this is what I need to do).
In his book The Art of Living Consciously, Nathaniel Branden highlights three avoidance mechanisms. I will summarize.

One of the more common avoidance mechanisms is to simply unplug your conscious mind and let it drift wherever it will.

As your direct supervisor, you need to know that I have not been satisfied with your performance. (Cue sound of birds chirping outside, while he silently sits there wondering what’s for dinner tonight.)

Your son is struggling in school. (Cue sound of crickets, while her mind drifts to that new dress she is hoping to wear this weekend.)

I think our relationship is in trouble. (Cue perfect imitation of zombie)

We call such non-responsive people “numb,” “asleep at the wheel,” adrift,” “checked-out,” and etc. “If it doesn’t reach my conscious mind, it doesn’t exist: therefore, I don’t have to deal with it.”
Another avoidance mechanism is to wave the white flag and surrender to your emotions. “I am so confused/anxious/hurt/angry/fearful/hopeless/lost/broken.” It is one thing to acknowledge that I am having these feelings while remaining aware of and engaged in seeking understanding of the source of these emotions. (“Head on.”) It is an entirely different matter to surrender to these emotions and, effectively, turn our minds off. “I give up, I don’t want to know, don’t want understanding.” Why wouldn’t someone want to understand? It is easier to hide in the emotions of the moment then to start facing reality because, once I do this, I will need to start making decisions and taking responsibility for the outcomes.

I am ticked-off: don’t even think about challenging me.

I am confused: I can’t be expected to understand anything right now.

I am hurt: its impossible to deal with this issue right now … and I plan on staying hurt for months or even years to come!  

The third avoidance mechanism is distraction. This is when I focus my attention on anything other than where it should be. I am distracting myself (and others!) when I am blame shifting, making excuses, intellectualizing, playing the clown, or engaging in any other activity that will push reality off into the distance.
I wonder if defensiveness could also be a form of avoidance. While Branden does not cite this as an example, elsewhere he does write,  “Defensiveness is the enemy of consciousness.” Upon being confronted by feedback (from people or circumstances) that makes us uncomfortable, if, instead of non-defensive listening, we begin pushing back, we cut off our ability to receive information that can help us adjust our behavior and attitudes in the future. Maybe defensiveness falls under the category of “distraction”? Anyway--
Each of these mechanisms has the same aim: to avoid knowing and seeing. As Branden wrote, “Psychologically, what is being avoided in all such cases is consciousness. Existentially, what is being avoided is reality.”

“If I do not allow myself to know what I really feel (or feel in some context) and if I deny and disown any feelings or emotions that disturb my equilibrium or my self-concept, I repress vital information about my beliefs and values (of which the feelings and emotions are expressions). Therefore, I cannot learn from them, cannot revise them, and I can only go on being frightened any time they threaten to surface. If I do not allow myself to recognize and own actions that now distress me to remember, if I do not take responsibility for them as mine, what will prompt me to act differently in the future? I will have learned nothing.”

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2012