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Before I go into a full rant, let me begin by saying that I am fully aware that dundaheadedness (nimrod in US English) aka mumuishness is not limited to any particular ethnic group or type of person.  After you travel the world enough you just wonder about the human species sometimes.  In addition, oppression of the minority by the majority is not unique to the US, it is the result of obliviousness combined with herd mentality.  In any country, under represented populations face an uphill battle in terms of rights and just treatment.  It is the responsibility of the majority population to take safety precautions that ensure the rights of all are protected and upheld in the same manner as their own rights.

I believe in the 1st amendment and freedom of expression.  However, I do not believe that this equates to a free pass or the ability to justify wrong doing as self-defense and then decry that others have no right to be indignant.  There is no denying that police work is highly stressful and dangerous.  In this country, liberal gun policies exacerbate the risk.  In 2012, in Chicago alone, homicides already exceeded the number of dead troops in Afghanistan meaning it was literally safer to live in a war zone on the other side of the planet.  Police see these statistics on a daily basis and it would be foolish to expect them not to be apprehensive when out on the streets.  HOWEVER, it is also true that there are statistics to show excessive use of police force is not isolated to the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, MO.  By one account, US police have killed over 5,000 civilians since 9/11 and those dead are disproportionately Black and Latino.

Sadly, this is not the only source citing such statistics.  If race were not an issue, one would expect fatalities to mirror the percent distribution of the general population (i.e. if there are more whites, then more whites would be killed).  The opposite has shown to be true.  Black males are killed in the highest numbers. The same is true with victims of police brutality. As a result, it is data, not stereotypes, that lead many of us to outrage in situations like Ferguson.  For the record, people of color are not the only ones aghast with indignation and outrage.  Conscientious Caucasians are raising their voice as well.

With this information, it is absurd to state that the Michael Brown shooting should be examined strictly as a self-defense case and not in the context of racial tension.  This is an attempt at revisionist history and it is unforgivable in this day and age.  The United States may have abolished the legalized genocide commonly known as the slave trade in 1865 (after Cuba, Russia, Moldavia…) but the systemic inequities that flourished under this system have not been abolished.

A story is better than 1,000 words so here is one particularly absurd case:

Black Egyptian, Mustafa Henfy is told he must declare himself white?!?!

So one watches the footage and thinks, come again?  Surely this went by the wayside in the 1960’s.  Think again!  The poor man is fighting this battle in 2012!!!  If racially motivations are never an issue, why would there be a never ending controversy over Egypt’s racial heritage? In a non-biased world, we would just celebrate our unique differences and be thankful we don’t all look or think the same way (plus enjoy each others foods and cultures).  It is an indisputable fact that it is possible to be genetically black AND Egyptian.  It is also a fact that US government data exists proving that race has been used to commit appalling atrocities and is a subject that must be treated with utmost sensitivity.  The fact that Henfy is fighting a battle on this issue is in and of itself evidence of the systemic inequities of oppression that are not buried but rather carried out in thinly veiled misdeeds.

So, for those who say too many of us are are unduly upset, what is most appalling is what has NOT been officially stated by the Ferguson police.  As an example, a proactive and sensitive message after the incident could have looked like this:

A tragedy has just occurred in a police encounter with a young male.  The male is dead and, as police who value human life, we wish to express our deepest and most sincere apologies to the family and friends.  Nothing will bring the young man back.  Rest assured his death is not just a statistic to us.  We have placed the officer involved on desk duty until an internal investigation is complete.  We welcome eyewitness accounts because our goal is to understand the situation in its totality so that we can ensure situations like these do not re-occur.  Again, while sorry is not enough we ask for your patience and temperance.  We remind you that police are humans and not infallible beings.  The officer involved is filled with remorse and regret and will receive counseling.  We will also make community counselors available to the family and community if they so request.  Thank you for your understanding during this difficult time.

Instead, there was riot gear and armed escalation.  How do such actions demonstrate any level of good will?????  Most important, why should such actions be allowed to happen with impunity????

 

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If you saw the title and thought this is going to be a nice deep metaphysical discussion on growth through suffering, let me save you some time: read another blog.

Yes, I know, how can someone who claims to follow the Catholic faith say suffering has no purpose and look at the crucifix on the alter during mass??? Are you a non-believer or a heretic some would ask.  Well, I define the Divine as all which is good, wholesome and loving. Suffering is none of these so if you require my belief in the Divine to include a belief in suffering as a necessity then I am a very proud non-believer.  If requisite suffering is to be held as the norm then I am a heretic as well.  There, see, no lightening bolts.

So do I deny suffering exists? Not by a long shot. Look anywhere and you can find it. However, what is it you seek?  Do you seek to always find suffering in the midst of happiness and call it inevitable or do you seek to find happiness in the midst of suffering and call it vindication?

Now you see the conundrum: you can trap yourself in logical quicksand where all roads lead to suffering. To get out of quicksand you need to stop struggling/moving about, stay calm, stay focused and find a rope, branch, plank, something that is outside the quicksand and use it as a bridge or a lever to get out.

The mind can trap itself quite contentedly in futile endeavors. So, let’s look at suffering. The best response would be proactive. If you can see quicksand in advance, you avoid it. Ok so you cannot do this with fellow human beings and call yourself human. Yes you can. You can make sure in advance that hunger does not exist and therefore the suffering it causes is avoided.  You can make sure there is wealth for all so the suffering of poverty is avoided. This doesn’t mean stopping those who have more money than they can ever spend themselves from having what they want. It does mean there is never a moment where someone who needs money to spend on life’s essentials (including vacation and recreation and decorative items) does not have any.

Some would say, such a world will be a horrible place and we will have uncontrolled population explosion. What leads you to such an assertion?  At an existential level, it is scarcity and the fear of loss that drives excessive reproduction and consumption.  There is solid economic data on this (click here).  It is also the fear of loss and scarcity that drives voluntary blindness (I don’t want to think about things I cannot solve  OR   This is just the way the world works).  Voluntary blindness is not avoidance it is negligence. In its most blatant form it is deceit and planned malice. Planned malice because the same brain and effort that is being used to neglect things can be used to find solutions. Deceit because claiming that planned negligence is unavoidable let alone a Divine intention is an outright lie!

So, what do I see when I look at the crucifix? I see a frustrated being exhausted from trying to get us to realize: idiot, there was always another way! I told you to imagine yourself in my image. Unless you want to see yourselves tortured, dead and hanging on crosses, why would you celebrate this?  As a Divine being I can resurrect myself into anything. As a mortal, can you??? If you know your time is limited why spend it on acts of destruction? Why fill yourselves with hate and vindictiveness?  If you want revenge for a wrong, why make it hurtful, why not find something amusing or better yet healing (as in put the stupidity of doing harm in blatant display)?  Most of all, why spend time doing everything that is the antithesis of what I represent then call on me asking for salvation???

Soooo, as you can see, I don’t want to get hit by lightening bolts and I don’t want to have to answer that last paragraph of questions either. It’s much easier to avoid suffering by being proactive and trying to find solutions to things (even if all I can create is a teeny weeny idea) than to practice negligence and accept suffering.  Do I feel peace when I look at a crucifix?  Yes, absolutely.  I know the better way is guaranteed.  All I have to do is not do things that lead to the crucifixion of others.

If you have lived a life full of suffering, stop believing this is your destiny, that it is inevitable, that it is what the Divine (whatever form of higher power you believe in) intended for your life. That is both irrational and wasteful. If you don’t believe in any higher power and only believe in natural order, if death and destruction were meant to be the norm why would there be life and beauty anywhere???  Balance you say. The universe is not a see-saw. There are many cycles and patterns but take heed of this: if you enjoy being a predator, there is always a bigger one (it is a matter of when, not if, your adversary shows up).  Sooo, you can spend your life looking over your shoulder and preparing for what you can never be ready for (your own annihilation), or, you can choose another way….

 

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Given the plethora of connectivity platorms and tools (internet, cellphones, mobile devices, social media), many are dubbing the resulting interactivity as The Relationship Era. This has made me ponder: is there a time in human history when we have not been focused on relationships? Put another way: is our current focus sharing/ad lib communication or relationship building?

Due to the multi-faceted use of the term “relationship”, I will simply define it as a solidarity connection that is built over time and is predicated on mutual trust, respect and benefit. It differs from an “association” in that there is a commitment to maintaining and growing the depth of connection. Both can offer highly beneficial outcomes.

To illustrate, a millenial once asked me: were you born before cellphones? I naturally answered yes but was compelled to ask why this was a curiosity. The answer: how did you talk to each other? My reply: face-to-face, over the phone (regular phone), and in letters. Response: do you feel you had a deeper/better connection with people then as opposed to now?

My initial reaction is yes. There is something that arises from face-to-face interaction that I cannot substitute with technology. Seeing a person’s personality is very different from reading it. Technology allows some to step back and be more reflective while others become more uninhibited; a few put forth alter egos they don’t share in person. At the same time, technology does facilitate connectedness with established relations as well as opens doors to connections beyond one’s immediate or traditional sphere of influence.

However, the question: why do we communicate? is a compelling one. If, as was put forth to me, the objective is to establish deeper connections, who do we want to do this with and how many real connections can we effectively manage?

Number of contacts is an outreach measure not a relationship measure. Even in contractual connections, the contract duration is governed by the extent to which a relationship is maintained (hence the notion of “engagement”, ie remaining actively and voluntarily involved). 

Reflecting on human history, I personally believe we have always been relationship centered; however, we now have tools that enable us to focus on reaching out to and remaining visible with a large number of contacts. In light of this, one has to ask, to what end?

I leave the answer open for reflection and discussion…

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From childhood we are indoctrinated to believe that power and money are bad and turn us into bad people.  Phrases like, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” or “money is the root of all evil” fill our daily vocabulary, and worse still, our sub-conscious awareness.

The irony of all of this, and the danger, is that it turns us into helpless victims when the reality is, power and money are neither good nor bad, it is the choices we make on how we use them that determine their impact.  Even more important is the need to recognize that, if we buy into this philosophy, we surrender the power over our daily lives, we surrender the ability to impact the world around us, not because we are acting, but rather because we are failing to act.

Ok Cecilia, what are you really talking about?  Right now, everything:

  • surrendering our ability to create jobs for ourselves by saying it is only government or large businesses that can create jobs;
  • surrendering our ability to help each other out financially by saying it is only banks who can lend money to people;
  • surrendering our ability as adults to stop bulling in schools by hiring experts to solve the problem instead of telling our children AND children who are not our own that such behavior is 100% wrong and will not be tolerated;
  • surrendering our ability to stop the media from the constant spew of negativity and vitriolic confrontation by tuning in to shows that are full of intrigue and people shouting at each other or people plotting against each other or denigrating each other (aka reality tv and talk shows and murder shows and gossip shows)  when the simple way to change this tide is to watch (or do) something different;
  • surrendering our ability to uphold Constitutional rights on which the United States was formed by allowing extremists to call all Muslims terrorists or state than anyone who is in favor of upholding equality for ALL is a Nazi or a Facist, or failing to recognize that the Constitution calls for separation of Church and State so if homosexuals have a Civil Union (legal issue) it has no impact on whether they have a Religious Union (where each religion can impose it’s own moral bias while still allowing everyone else the freedom to have their own beliefs).

Yes, my list could go on forever and it is not limited to the US. Here are foreign examples:

  • accepting that corruption is just the way things are and paying bribes which not only surrender ones power but, worse still, finance the oppressors so they can gain more power at one’s expense!
  • electing politicians who are well known to take money from special interests (public or private) and spend all their time pandering to those special interests while ignoring requests tied to the one thing that enables them to hold elected office in the first place: your vote!
  • supporting political regimes, anywhere in the wold, which maintain their dominance by banning opposition or worse still, torture, imprisonment, and other acts of hostility or violence for the simple reason that it is “personally or strategically convenient” to do so at this particular point in time!

Of course I could go on forever but my focus is now adequately clear. Little wonder the world is in a mess and yet we lament as if it takes power or money beyond what we have individually available to change this.

It is time to abandon the false notion and to reclaim our personal power.

First and foremost is the need to recognize that emotions cause the release of chemicals in our body and nervous system.  Prolonged exposure to the same type of emotion (positive or negative) is as addictive as taking drugs such as cocaine. In the same manner a drug addict gets accustomed to the chemical stimulus of a drug and needs more of the drug/stimulus, our bodies intuitively realize the connection between our behavior and the release of chemicals and start reacting in a way that will generate the type of chemicals that have accumulated in the system. Hence, if the stimulus is constantly negative, we will do increasingly negative things;  if the the stimulus is constantly positive, we will do increasingly positive things.  For those unfamiliar with literature on this concept, here are some references:

CharmingHealth.com “Negative Thought Patterns could Instigate Addiction Tendencies” http://www.charminghealth.com/negative-emotions/addiction.htm

The Economist (Feb 12, 2004) “I get a kick out of you: scientist are finding out that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people.” http://www.oxytocin.org/oxytoc/love-science.html

HealthMad.com (Aug 12, 2007) “The Physiology of Anger” http://healthmad.com/mental-health/physiology-of-anger/

Additionz.com (emotional checklist for addicts: hint, if you find you have a lot of these symptoms, you need to find ways to start managing your emotions) http://www.addictionz.com/feelings_and_emotions.htm

As with anything in life, the goal is to maintain a balance.

The second step is recognizing when one is having a reaction that is based on fear (fear that if I help someone else I will not have enough for me, fear of being ridiculed, fear that if I accept a different perspective/behavior I will become the same way, fear of being retaliated against…).  As Frankin D Roosevelt once so eloquently and succinctly stated:

“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

You can read the full and inspiring speech here http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/apr/25/greatspeeches

With respect to what one can do, an easy first step is to alter our behavior.  If we accept the falsehood that only certain people such as Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt, Mayor Bloomberg…have the power/money/both to effect change in this world, we miss the golden opportunity to make the most radical change of all – change in the world immediately surrounding us.

The most recent example of an unsung hero I’ve seen is Shirley Sherrod. Who? The woman who works for the US Dept of Agriculture, got fired because an extremist deliberately misrepresented her speech and claimed she was racist so nobody bothered to verify the truth, and, was then hired back when the very people she was alleged to have harmed publicly stated she was the one person who did something to help them.

Nobody has given Ms Sherrod a plaque, nobody has given her a medal.  How she stays sane and positive through all of this is a mystery to me, especially after hearing the famous speech during which she shared pieces of her life story:

It is about 43min long and well worth listening to.  However, for those who prefer reading or the Cliff Notes version, here are the highlights:

Ms. Sherrod grew up in the South (Baker County, Georgia) dreaming of moving to the “freedom” of the North because African Americans who had gone North would come and visit relatives showing off fancy cars and clothes.  Unbeknown to their Southern relatives, many Northerners were pulling a Gatsby move (borrowing and renting clothes and cars in order to create the illusion of wealth).

She grew up in a family of of 5 sisters with a father who, despite loving his daughters dearly, wanted a son so badly he gave all the girls boys nicknames.  When she was 17yrs old and filled with excitement about going to college up North, her mother got pregnant for the sixth time and her father announced to everyone this was his son.  He was right but never got to see his son because 2mths before his son was born, he was murdered in June of 1965 by a white man and, despite there being 3 witnesses, there was no conviction.  Being the oldest, Ms Sherrod had to give up her dreams of going to college up North and stay in Georgia to help her mother raise her siblings while also going to college.

Prior to this, the county Sherriff lynched her uncle (Robert, aka Bobby, Hall) in the early 40’s and, much to everyone’s surprise, an all white federal jury convicted him of depriving her uncle of his civil rights (murder against a black man would not stick on those days).  The Sherriff appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court and the Court overturned the conviction on the basis that the appropriate charge was murder; the Court also issued a statement saying that, in order to convict of murder, intent had to be proven thereby setting the Sherriff free.  Details of the case Screws vs United States can be found here http://supreme.justia.com/us/325/91/case.html There are some who are attacking Ms Sherrod by saying her statements are false because the court records state that her uncle was murdered and do not state that he was lynched.  To such people I would ask: is murder by any other name any less deadly?  You are missing the forest for the trees.  The important issue is not the word that she used to describe the act but the fact that it took place and was sanctioned by a man who took an oath “to protect and to serve”! Why is it those words (protect and serve) are very conveniently missing from your rhetoric? Yes, there are many outstanding law enforcement officials who deserve to be highly praised but Sherriff Screws was certainly not one of them nor is such a heinous act defensible or excusable in any way.

When Shirley Sherrod graduated from college she again had hopes to leave Georgia but, the mystery of fate, her job opportunity came up with the USDA in Georgia.  By now she is fed up of living in Georgia and, understandably fed up with those who were white.  Fate or hand of God, a white couple (Roger and Eloise Spooner) are assigned to her for assistance because they were in danger of loosing their farm.  She did her duties per her job description and put them in the hands of an attorney.  Much to her surprise, the couple came back to her office after some time in sheer desperation.  The attorney had done nothing and they were certainly going to lose everything if she did not help.

This was the transformational moment in her life.  She suddenly realized poor white people were not treated any better than poor black people. She remembered stories told by her parents and other older adults that  Jim Crow laws in the South had be instituted because it was necessary to keep people working at extremely low wages and in horrible conditions in order to make profits.  The “benefits” gained from indentured servitude and slavery had to be preserved in order for this to continue.  However, after slavery was abolished the poor were beginning to band together and it was necessary to drive a wedge between poor whites and poor blacks so Jim Crow laws were put in effect in order to create the illusion of preferential treatment but the truth is that poor whites were just as exploited and oppressed, just in different ways.  All this came rushing back to her in a single moment and a rage lit inside of her because she realized that this white couple begging for her help was no different from any member of her family who had been victimized.  Ms Sherrod decided she would do every thing in her power to ensure that their rights were preserved.  She succeeded and the couple was able to keep their farm!

You can hear their gratitude in their own words

It was also at this moment that Ms Sherrod realized the fight is not a fight about race but a fight against those who continually use their positions of influence, money and/or power to spread fear, false information, and, to oppress others.  She realized the importance of taking action to undo such misdeeds in one’s daily life, not just through legislation or demonstrations.

I will end by saying this should be a lesson to us all in how to do the right thing in our daily lives (even when we are filled with hurt and anger).  I find it often helps to have a mantra as a guide during difficult times.  For me, the Rotary 4 Way Test is always helpful:

4 Way Test of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Let this be your guide the next time you have to Think, Say, or, Do anything.

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What is freedom…?

Happy 2010 to ALL!  Wishing everyone peace, prosperity, freedom & happiness.

Why am I starting on this note of all things?

There has been a lot of press over the recent bombing (may I add foiled) attempt on the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.   Not more than 2 weeks before the attempt I was on the same route as I traveled from Nairobi to my apartment in Pittsburgh.  When the news hit I had to laugh wryly.  I remember going through security in San Juan after the shoe bomber struck and asking the female agent who was patting me down if a person put a bomb in his/her panties would they check my underwear too?  (YES!!).

A lot of mixed feelings on this one.  Ultimately, security was enforced by ordinary civilians who were educated enough to be watchful for strange activity (can’t say I would have been as vigilant or pro-active since I’m always in my own world).  One wonders what all the heightened security measures bring if it was normal civilians with no security briefings who were able to put a stop to the attempt.

On the other hand, whether domestic or foreign, mad people with guns or knives attacking their peers, or those who take pride in calling themselves terrorists, it is very clear that there are those who take great pride in spreading fear and violence.  I can’t begin to fathom why such behavior is justified although a friend of mine told me that I had to learn compassion.  I was told, those who know love and support spread love and support.  Those who are filled with fear and terror feel the need to spread fear and terror so rather than get angry one should feel sorry and compassionate that a human being could be so deprived of love that he/she feels that the only option in life is violence.

Like any journey in life, my journey to pure compassion will be a long one.  I can be compassionate as long as I don’t see those I care about affected. (-:  At the same time, I have to recognize that compassion allows one to see the commonalities in others.

Take yesterday.  One of those rare days where not only was I able to watch both Oprah and full news programs I like but both Oprah and World Focus touched on the same topic – Islamic women and veils.

Western propaganda portrays Islam as a religion that promotes violence against women and gives them no choice.  The burka is taken as a symbol of female degradation and wearing veils is proposed to be outlawed in countries like France.  (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-moves-to-outlaw-the-burka-and-niqab-citing-galit-1861411.html).

The truth is that the original Sharia law allowed women legal rights that Western systems did not allow for them until the 19th and 20th centuries. (see women’s rights http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharia).  Women still tend to be revered by non-extremist Islamic men and a true Muslim man will always take a phone call from his mother (even if he is in the most intense business negotiation).  Just like in any culture, the role of women in the Islamic world is a complicated one full of contradictions (both spoken and implied).

The question then becomes one of tolerance. When those of us in the West say we want freedom, what do we mean by this?  Do we mean freedom as long as it looks and talks just like we do, OR,  do we mean freedom to self-determination even if we don’t agree or understand the choices made by others?

Violence is something that, at least in my interpretation of the world, every culture and every religion condemns.  It is simply counter productive behavior.  Why then are acts of violence so prolific?  As we condemn others, do we play any part in eliciting the violence that is brought upon us?

There are always 2 sides to any conflict and to illustrate let me go back to the example of the wearing of the veil by Islamic women.  Contrary to popular belief, it is not prescribed by religious doctrine.  It is more of a cultural norm just like the wearing of skirts was the accepted norm for female attire in the Western world for many centuries.  Would I personally wear a burka – no. Not because it means anything one way or another but rather because I have zero cultural appreciation for it and I have never tried it.  To me, I imagine (never having worn it) that it would mean quite a bit of heat plus I’m used to having my face and hair shown in public.  However, if someone were to tell me that I had to move to a culture where the norm is for women to walk around naked, regardless of whether or not it was safe, I would be equally and vehemently opposed simply because it is not what I am culturally used to.

The burka and veil ARE a choice for many Islamic women.  Lest you think I’m making this up, take a look at women telling their own stories

Oprah show

http://www.oprah.com/article/oprahshow///20091021-tows-women-world/6

http://www.oprah.com/media/20091021-tows-dubai

World Focus (minutes 11:08 to 16:11)

http://worldfocus.org/blog/2010/01/07/full-show-january-7-2010/9157/

It is said that in order to kill another human being we first need to dehumanize them.  Perhaps this is the root of all our problems? Instead of seeking to value the humanity in each other, we seek to ignore it.

What is clear from both sets of commentaries and videos is the women feel culturally attacked.  They feel like the very essence of who they are is being devalued by everyone who labels Islamic people with the broad brush of terrorist.  It reminded me of the sentiment here in the U.S. after 9/11.  Showing or wearing the flag was deemed to be culturally appropriate, a show of solidarity.  How would people have felt if a campaign had been started in other parts of the world to say that everyone who showed or wore the American flag was a terrorist/promoted the oppression of others? Would it not have elicited the same anger and pain that we are causing on others with our words?

There are those who would like to dismiss this with statistics.  Right now those committing acts of violence in the world are of the Islamic faith they would argue.  Really, what about the violence that goes on in ghettos and poor neighborhoods any where in the world?  Are these all Islamic people too?  What about massacres like Columbine and terrorists like Timothy McVeagh?

We are indoctrinated to believe that those of Islamic faith promote and support wonton violence through “jihad” and that they hate us.  However, research shows the opposite, the more violence, the less general support there is for such tactics among those of Islamic faith (http://www.newsweek.com/id/138508).

I carry a U.S. Passport and yet if someone were to take the Simpsons or Desperate Housewives as an accurate representation of me as a person living in the U.S. I would be infuriated.  Why then is it we feel it is ok to stereotype others and why are we surprised when they get equally infuriated?

I am not foolish enough to believe that this blog post will change the world but if I can get at least 1 other person to first seek the humanity in others before resorting to labels and blanket bias, then there is truly hope for all of humanity in this new decade that starts in 2010.

For 2010 and beyond, I wish that EVERYONE on the planet have TRUE FREEDOM OF CHOICE!

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Hello world!

Please bear with me while I learn how to use this.  My posting style will be ad hoc and will cover both personal and professional interests.  More to come…

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