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GIVERS AND TAKERS — The Normalcy of Need

In No Particular Path, PeaceAble on December 7, 2016 at 11:35 am

The First Nations, for the most part, had no concept of ownership of things. We are given only temporary custodianship in this world, and that is both a gift and a responsibility. Our purpose is to consume only what we need and to leave the rest, both to meet the needs of others, and so that the world can replenish its resources for our future use.

But within that statement is the very troublesome word “need.” The word has connotations of weakness, inferiority, and shame. And that’s too bad, because need is at the very heart of the human condition and the nature of our relationships. There are six things you need to know about needs.

  1. Everyone has them.

Anyone who has sat through Psychology 101 has probably heard of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. There have been several versions of his famous pyramid, but the basic idea is that human beings have a range of needs from the basic biological needs all the way up to our need to self-actualize; to become as fully aware of and as comfortable as possible with our own humanity. Some of these needs are important to our physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual health and well-being. Others are necessary for our growth and development in all those areas.

But our needs aren’t identical. Each of us has greater needs in one area than in another: and each of us is successful in getting at least some of our needs met.

2. Everything we do is an attempt to meet our needs.

And the corollary to that is that we nearly always attempt to meet our needs in cooperation with other human beings. Basically, we trade one need for another. If I have a physical need for food, I may trade some of my cash (which you need to meet your physical needs) for some of your food. If I have a need to validate my sense that I am a good person, I may give you food and thus trade for a feeling that I have done a good thing. Most of the time, the trade-offs can get quickly complicated. If I have a need to express my creative and spiritual self through sharing a musical gift with others, I may trade that gift for payment to perform in front of an audience you provide; they have a need to satisfy their aesthetic needs which they satisfy by paying you for the privilege of hearing me perform. If I am a poor person in an isolated third-world village who needs medical assistance, I may trade that to a doctor who needs to satisfy his altruistic needs by performing the service for free, with expenses paid by a rich person who needs to maintain a reputation for philanthropy.

Whenever we enter into any kind of relationship with another human being or other human beings, no matter how trivial or momentous, no matter how simple or complex, no matter how intimate or distant, we are each of us getting some need met by the interaction.

  1. We nearly always multi-task the meeting of our needs.

When I get something to eat, I may be satisfying my need for food, for basic survival. But I may also be meeting a need for maintaining the health of my body, by choosing nutritious, healthful food; and I may be satisfying my aesthetic needs by choosing food that pleases my eye and my palate; and I may also be satisfying my social needs by sharing my meal with others, which may also satisfy my needs for love and belonging; and if I cook the food myself, or provide it in some other way that reflects back on my abilities in some way, then I may also be satisfying my needs for self-esteem and self-actualization.

All of our needs are systemic. They affect each other. None of my needs are isolated from my other needs.

  1. Sometimes we meet our needs in healthy ways; other times, not so much.

We all eat some junk food once in a while. (Yes, even that organic, vegan, low sugar, gluten-free, whole-grain chocolate chip cookie you just ate is junk food.} We consume all kinds of junk, from pizza to internet click-bait. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Junk meets important needs for us or we wouldn’t consume it. Moderation in all things (except coffee and chocolate, but only organic, free-trade, sustainably and humanely sourced for both and only 70% or higher cocoa content.), right?

We all make uncomfortable and challenging compromises in our relationships with others and ourselves. Sometimes we even make dangerous ones. It is generally accepted that someone in an abusive relationship, if they end that relationship and do nothing else, is about ninety percent likely to form a new abusive relationship. Why? Because they have learned somewhere that in order to be loved, they must expect pain as part of the relationship. That’s the trade-off. They trade their need to be loved for the other’s need to be powerful. Sometimes, we will sometimes trade freedom for even the perception of security, or vice-versa. The artist will ruin her health rather than give up her art.

But it’s not all about hurting ourselves for reasons that are difficult for others to understand. A mother can go without food to ensure that her children are fed. A firefighter can ignore personal safety to rush into a burning building to save someone else. People will stand in the cold, risk arrest, violence, condemnation in order to support a cause which has no direct effect on them, but satisfies their need to be of service in the world.

  1. Virtually all bigotry, hatred, cruelty, and violence are needs-based; but so are compassion, love, understanding, and healing.

And the corollary is that they are the same needs. The need to feel valued by ourselves and others can be exaggerated and perverted into a need to feel superior to someone. Love and hate are often described as two sides of the same emotional coin. The need to have enough to survive and thrive can easily become a need to have more than enough; and with a perception that resources are limited, a need to keep others from getting more than you. The need for security can become a need for control. Fear is the dark side of trust; judgment is the dark side of compassion or understanding; apathy is the dark side of empathy.

  1. Understanding our needs can help us to meet them in healthy ways.

Because none of us wants to be “needy,” most of us have developed a bad habit of understating, self-justifying, rationalizing, or denying the needs that affect us most. And because we aren’t being honest about our needs, we often seek out unhealthy, even self-destructive ways of satisfying them.

Things like fear, anger, stress, depression, even bigotry and hatred are expressions of serious needs that are not being addressed in healthy ways. Violence is always a result of failing to meet needs in healthy ways.

Whenever we find ourselves in negative spaces, it is useful to ask (and answer honestly) several questions:

— What are my needs here? Have I identified them accurately and given them appropriate importance?

— What am I currently doing to try to satisfy those needs?

— Is it working? Is it healthy? What else could I do?

— Who can I trust to help me? What trade-offs am I willing to accept?

It might even be better to spend time each day checking in with ourselves, rather than trying to do this kind of assessment when we are already in crisis.

Ultimately, we are all in this together. We are all givers and we are all takers in equal measure.  We need each other. Understanding our own needs can help us to understand others’ needs as well. And then we can find ways to help each other.

The Treadmill and the Highway: Liberal, Progressive and the Relativity of Movement.

In No Particular Path on October 23, 2016 at 12:13 pm

All motion is relative.

And our experience of it is personal and related to how we perceive the fixed points against which it is measured.

A few years ago, as I was driving cross-country, I entered Utah on I-70, where a sign at the Colorado/Utah line warns that there will be no services for the next 106 miles. That is a truly frightening thought for a New Englander, but it was not the distance that I noticed while I was driving across Utah, but the lack of a sense of movement through it. The mountains that rise above the high plains are well in the distance, so they seem to move along with you as you go, like the moon. And the landscape up close is unchanging to the unfamiliar eye, which does not see that this bit of desert is subtly different from the one just passed ten minutes ago. The untrained eye sees the whole without being able to distinguish the parts; as the untrained ear hears all the beauty of a symphony without being able to distinguish the violins from the violas. I had no reference points for sensing movement. I had no idea how far I had gone because the environmental cues I rely on for determining progress were missing; there was too much sameness, it was all too vast, I was in the middle of the ocean trying to navigate by individual drops of water.

On the other hand, I have occasionally joked to friends who were working out on a treadmill that they were literally “going nowhere fast.” But here the problem isn’t vastness, but intimacy. On a treadmill, you are, of course, moving. It wouldn’t do you much good if you weren’t. But the reference points for that movement are almost all your own body. Your movement isn’t so much through space as within it. You’re not trying to get anywhere. In fact, the point is to create movement exactly where you are. Progress is measured internally, not externally. Heart rate, blood pressure, breath and the burning of calories are all kinds of movement. We have decided not to listen to the whole orchestra, but to pay specific attention to the oboes, the percussion, and the movement of the director’s baton.

Now, I am, obviously, I hope, building a metaphor here. Or at least an analogy.

I think of myself as a progressive. I prefer the term to the much-maligned “liberal” label. It seems to me that one can be a liberal as a kind of treadmill. It’s internal. I can believe things. I can be philosophical about it all. The movement is all my own. There is nothing inherently wrong about that, of course. As a liberal, I have to look at the world and process what I see in ways that will energize and strengthen parts of my perspective, such as my moral and ethical codes, my knowledge and understanding of ideas and events, my empathy for the experiences and perspectives of others, and my sense of place in the world. Unless I exercise these internal aspects of myself they may become unhealthy, calcified. I am a white sixty-nine-year-old, middle-class, American male, influenced by my culture and my environment. So if I do my best to understand and empathize with the experiences of women and people of color; other cultures and beliefs; and those caught in whirlpools of poverty, mal-education, and cultural oppression; and if I make the effort to see the special privilege of my color, my class, and my sex; then I can count that as progress, even if I cannot do more right now to change those things.

If I am a progressive, on the other hand, then I need to get off the treadmill occasionally and go run outside. I need to do things, not just think about them. But to do that I need broader points of reference against which to measure my progress. In a world where there is so much that might be changed; where there is poverty, hunger, oppression, and bigotry of all kinds; where there is rape and murder and abuse of all kinds; it can be hard not to feel as though we are getting nowhere fast. The mountains we are aching to reach always seem to move with us and ahead of us, and it’s hard to tell one tumbleweed from the next or the last. I can “adopt” a child in need or a whole village, but I cannot adopt the whole world without a sense of futility. I can send money to a GoFundMe effort that will buy one beautiful child a life-saving operation, but I can’t save them all. I can move from understanding and empathy to learning how to be an ally to women and people of color and all who have been “other-ed”, and to finding ways to use my privilege to eliminate that privilege, but bigotry and oppression and privilege will still be there.

The trick is to find a place between the highway and the treadmill. We each need to understand our own path, with its unique landmarks and signposts, with its own hills and valleys, so that we know how to measure our progress by where we are and what kind of movement we are trying for. We need to seek ways to strengthen our inner selves without losing sight of the need to actually get somewhere.

And we need to stop judging our progress by the standards of people on different paths than ours or by comparing one measure of progress to another. If life is ecological, then every action, however small, makes a difference. We can say to ourselves, “Today I will help this veteran in this way, and I can do this other thing to help this immigrant.” I can say that I understand that all lives matter, but today these particular lives need special attention. I can send five dollars to GoFundMe and five more to a large political movement. I can applaud the work of people who stand with the Lakotas against the pipeline, but know that my personal movement needs to be measure by dropping off a box of food to the local food pantry. I don’t need to choose between their importance, I only need to understand where I am on my path, what kind of distance I need to travel, and how I will know that I am moving.

There is a short video circulating on Facebook right now that illustrates the theory that the solar system is moving through the universe. The result is an image of the planets moving not in simple elliptical orbits, but in vast spirals through the cosmos. It’s a beautiful thing to contemplate, but it is impossible for most of us to observe or sense. If our solar system is going somewhere and carrying us with it, then where is it going except some relative next point, and where is it leaving from except wherever it is right now? And in the vastness of the universe, where everything is so distant that it seems to move with us or away from us, how do we measure our progress?

All that most of us can do is move through the smallness of the space we occupy physically, spiritually and cognitively. We must each strive to understand and diligently observe the measure of our own progress. And we must refrain from using our reference points to judge the progress of others. The snail’s pace is as admirable as the cheetah’s, as long as we understand that it isn’t a competition.

All movement is relative.

Take My Advice. Stop Giving Advice.

In No Particular Path on March 2, 2016 at 8:48 am

A response by a friend to a post about advice reminded me of something I used to tell students in my communication classes: it is usually a bad idea to give people advice about their lives. Giving advice can go so wrong in so many ways and go right in only one.

Let’s start with the ways it can go wrong.

It is possible that you may give advice, the other person doesn’t take it and they’re right. It works out well. Suddenly, your advice seems less valuable. Perhaps you experience this as a personal loss of value in the relationship. Do you resent the fact that they didn’t listen to you? Why did they ask your advice at all if they already knew better? Perhaps you feel a little foolish as well as disregarded. What if this isn’t the first time you’ve given advice they haven’t taken and their choice worked out well? Are they trying to make you feel foolish? And what about the other side of it? Perhaps the other person is feeling somewhat superior now; perhaps they’re a little smug that they didn’t take your advice, that it is clear now that they knew better all along.

Or perhaps you gave lousy advice, the other person took the advice and it turned out badly. Now it’s your fault. Having already given you at least a share of the responsibility for their decision, they may now be perfectly willing to give you all of it. “You told me to do that!” they’re angry because the results weren’t what they needed or wanted; and they are angry at you, and resentful, because you own the advice.

Maybe the advice was good advice, but they didn’t take it and the result was terrible. Guess what? It’s still your fault. “Why didn’t you make me do what you told me to?” “You didn’t tell me it would be this bad!” Now you’re not only clearly smarter than they are, you didn’t work hard enough to make them see that. They feel foolish for not taking the advice and they feel inferior because you were right and they were wrong. And how do you feel? Can you resist the temptation to remind them that you gave them good advice that they didn’t take? Do you feel a bit superior and ego-vindicated because they didn’t listen and screwed up?

Let’s imagine, however, that you give the other person some really good advice; they take it; and everything works out wonderfully. But afterwards there seems to be a change in the relationship, subtle at first, but unmistakable. They keep saying how grateful they are, but they also seem somehow resentful. Perhaps they are feeling somewhat in your debt and don’t, really don’t, know how they can repay you. Gifts of all kinds – including the gift of advice – can create an imbalance in a relationship where one of the parties cannot give or has not given equally. There is a sense of sudden inferiority that can come with the sense that the other person was smarter or cleverer or better able to say how to act in your life than you were. Debts and obligations of all kinds can leave us feeling diminished, resentful and in conflict. Are these rational behaviors? Perhaps not. But humans don’t always act rationally. And by the way, the advice giver may also feel uncomfortable with the situation. Other people’s gratitude is nice at first, but can become a burden of its own. Any imbalance in a relationship, even a well-intentioned one, any change, even a good one, can cause stress.

But what about the one thing that can go right? You and the other person might have a strong, close relationship built on years of trust, understanding, perhaps love, and a clear sense of boundaries and personal responsibility. You give the advice and then let it go. You want nothing and expect nothing. The other person either follows it or not, but in either case, however it turns out, you walk away with the relationship intact, supporting each other. If you have this kind of relationship with someone, and if you are the kind of person who can genuinely give without expectation or obligation, then you may successfully give occasional advice.

But this is not the norm. In most cases, giving advice is a risk; one that we are often either oblivious to or in denial about. But there is another way to go. If someone asks for advice, ask them what they have already considered. Really listen. Get them to talk about the problem and the strategies they’ve already thought about. Encourage them to think it through, support them in reaching their own decision. If you think of other possibilities, put them in the form of questions: “Have you considered . . .?” “Is it possible that you might . . .?” Add to their options without advocacy, but help them see the possibilities and risks of all the choices. It is still possible that they might make a decision and blame you for it: “I would never have thought to do that if you hadn’t brought it up!” But the risks for you are less than with straight out advice-giving.

Human beings are unpredictable, contradictory, and emotional. Murphy’s Law (If something can go wrong, it will.) is about us, not about some outside force in the universe that we have no influence over. Remember that and give advice sparingly and with great care.

Or not.

It’s just a suggestion.

It’s your decision.

Really. Do what you want.

Oversimplifying the Choice

In No Particular Path on December 7, 2015 at 5:59 pm

“Your life is a result of your choices. If you don’t like your life it’s time to make some better choices.” (Attributed to something called KUSHANDWIZDOM from a site called Mentor Channel.)

I see these sorts of memes regularly. They are intended to be motivational, but, in my opinion, they are overly simplistic; and they can actually be harmful.

Based on my well over thirty years of teaching about human behavior with a strong emphasis on how choices affect our lives and the relationships we have with others, I find that such sentiments are too dismissive of the kinds of choices available to each of us, too easily used to “blame the victim,” and too quick to see every choice as life-changing.

Let’s be honest. Not everyone has access to the same kinds of choices. Those born into wealth and privilege have a far different set of choices than those born into poverty and deprivation. Those with easy access to quality, well-funded, perhaps private academy education will have a very different set of choices than those who are herded into underfunded, overcrowded inner-city public school systems. The rural middle class will have different choices from those of the urban middle class. Those who are read to and encouraged to read, those whose creativity is nurtured by others, those whose self-esteem and self-image are strengthened by family and community will have the tools to make better choices than those who have been, from birth, demeaned, dismissed, discriminated against, and subject to the worst sort of negative influences. Each of us is tasked with making the best choices we can within the specific circumstances of our lives, but those circumstances are, for the most part, not in our control. To tell someone to make better choices at least requires us to have some understanding of what “better” means in the context of that person’s life. We make choices that we believe will help us get our needs met. So forgive us if the choices we see available to us don’t satisfy your idea of what might be better.

When someone has been hurt, is suffering in some way, it’s far too easy to say, “Well, if you’d chosen better . . .” You were raped? Well, if you hadn’t dressed like that, or walked alone at night, or watched your drink more carefully, or done or not done something; if you’d only made better choices. You’re a single mother living in poverty? Well, if you hadn’t had sex with that jerk you thought you were in love with, or if you had stayed in school, or if you had used birth control even though the guy you were with didn’t want you to. You say he abused you? Well, you should have left him, you shouldn’t have antagonized him; there are lots of nice guys out there, why don’t you find one of those? You’re unemployed and don’t have any marketable skills? Well, you should have studied harder, gone to college; you could always flip burgers at minimum wage. No matter what the circumstances of our lives, there is always someone who will be willing to tell us that it’s our own fault. We could have and should have chosen more wisely, done it all differently; and if we only start right now and make “better choices” our lives will be magically better. But what about those other choices that were made for you? What about the “better choices” that might have been made by the rapist or the abuser or the people responsible for your education, the people who have discriminated against you because of your sex or your color or your beliefs or your disabilities? What about the fact that the choices they made have forever altered the choices available to their victims?

Too many of us have developed the habit of looking back over our lives and trying to determine specific choices that, if only we’d made them differently, would have made whatever is wrong with our lives all better. But life doesn’t work that way. There are no such magic moments. We might be able to identify choices that are more clearly mistakes now than they seemed at the time; but all we can say for sure about choosing differently is that something would be different, not necessarily any better. Life is about the entire path, not just one turn or another, one crossroad or fork, one hill or valley. Life is an accumulation of choices and events, about the confluence of a nearly infinite number of choices, happenings, environments, the expected and the unexpected, the tragic and the miraculous, some of which we could influence, most we could not. Make better choices? Which ones? When? How? Don’t tell me to make better choices unless you are prepared to help me see what better choices are available to me and to help me make them. Don’t tell me that my own bad choices have gotten me to where I am unless you are prepared to tell me how much you can empathize with the real experiences of my life.

Those who think of their lives as successful are prone to think that they have created their lives all by themselves; that their own choices are wholly responsible for that success. That allows them to think less of others and their choices. It can also allow them to avoid any responsibility they might have for the circumstances of anyone else’s life. It creates a culture of self-proclaimed superiority. It justifies all kinds of social, economic, educational, and cultural inequities and abuses. I’ve got mine, it seems to say, so it must be because I’m better, I made better choices.

The choices we make in response to the circumstances of our lives are, of course, important. They do make a difference. But we can never be certain exactly what that difference might be. Most people are doing the best they can to find positive ways to meet their needs; but when the healthy choices aren’t available to us and the need is great enough, we will make unhealthy choices. Telling us to make “better choices” ignores the reality of our lives and does nothing to help us see what other choices we might make.

I Dream Who I Am; Not Who I will Be.

In No Particular Path on October 5, 2015 at 9:33 am

“Dream as if you’ll live forever; live as if you’ll die tomorrow.” This meme, in various forms and attributed to various people has been showing up on my FB feed lately.

No.

I won’t do that.

I won’t indulge in timeless fantasy, only to live in fear that my dreams may not come true if I don’t do them right now. Dreams aren’t blueprints, they’re works of art – as realistic or abstract, as representational or as surrealist as we want to make them. But they’re present, not future. Tomorrow they will have changed somehow, sometimes for the better, but not always. When we rush to make our dreams concrete, because we know that our lives are short, we risk the dreams and our lives both.

Artists and poets – artists of all kinds – have spoken of the transience of art in two ways. Art is never really permanent. Like everything else, it can die; it can be destroyed by accident or by design. And works of art are not immutable. They are, in fact, constantly renewed each time some new person encounters them. Artists often hate to finish a painting, writers hate to write the end. There’s always something that could, if one went back, be made different, made better; something that reflects who one was when the work was begun, but not who one is today. Dreams are like that. They tell us more about who we are now than they do about who we will become; or even who we really might wish to become.

Our lives are always lived in the present, though we may seek to avoid that fact. We spend our present time either regretting the past or celebrating it; we spend it either dreaming of the future or trying to control it. But everything we do is a choice, and choice is always present tense. Tomorrow I may die or I may not. What I do today I may regret tomorrow or celebrate. It may lead me in the direction of my dreams or in a direction I could not have imagined. And I cannot know which until it is done, and what is done cannot be undone.

Humans exist in a constant state of both loss and gain, both grief and hope, both beginning and ending. We are conscious of the past, anticipate the future and pay far too little attention to the present.

All of our lives thus far are prologue. The past may be foreshadowing, but it is not prediction. What I did yesterday exists only in my capacity to remember it; what I do today belongs to today; and what I will do tomorrow is possibility, not promise. I savor today not because tomorrow may not come, but because today already is.

There is a similar meme that advises us to tell those we love that we love them today, because tomorrow they may not be here to tell. I think that’s foolish. Love expressed out of fear of lost opportunity is love coerced. I express my love today because I can, so why would I not? If I say I love you in the morning, repeat myself several times during the day, then remind you of it before we go to sleep, it isn’t because I fear that I may not get another chance. It’s because I can think of no better bookends to the day and no better library between them. And if tomorrow you are no longer here, or I am not, then I will believe that every expression of love we have made will live forever. As a breath ripples out into the world and can never be recovered, each new expression of love ripples out and marks our presence. Each new expression of love that we take in, like each new breath, brings with it the oxygen to feed the fire in our souls and give us life for this moment and this day.

And so I will dream because I live today. My dreams keep me conscious of my desires, my hopes, and my fantasies. Today I dream who I am today, and tomorrow I will dream anew.

I will live as though I am alive now, in this moment. And if tomorrow comes I will live then as I live now. If it doesn’t come, then I will have lived to that last moment according to the dreams of every moment.

I know that I will not live forever. I cannot know if I will die tomorrow. But I know that I am here today and I can choose what to do with that.

I will love as I breathe, so that I can draw in that which ignites my soul; and exhale it rippling out into the world.

6 Reasons We Should Stop Trying to Calculate the “Salary” of “Stay-at-Home Moms”

In No Particular Path on April 8, 2015 at 10:02 am

Every year for at least the last 15 years or so, someone has come out with an article claiming to calculate the dollar value of the work of a “stay-at-home mom,” or “homemaker.” But if we genuinely value and want to support the work that women do, then we should stop making pointless and arbitrary calculations. Here are six reasons why.

1. What is the Job Description?
These analyses all begin with some specific idea about what the job entails. These ideas are, to be blunt, unrealistic, gender-biased, and chauvinistic. One way to show this is to rethink the calculations using a gender-neutral argument. What we are really talking about is a family relationship involving two adults and at least one child. One of the adults, Adult A, has agreed to take employment outside the home for a salary or wage, and this employment will provide the family’s sole source of income. The other, Adult B, has agreed to remain at home with the couple’s child and not take paid outside employment. But what does that mean about the actual work each does in support of the family relationship? It is foolish to imagine that relationships in which one partner does nothing but go to a paid job and the other does everything else represent any kind of norm. The analyses also imply that Adult B is an employee of Adult A. One recent article made the claim that the author “can’t afford” his stay-at-home wife because of one of these “salary” computations.
2. Breaking Adult B’s Job Into Smaller Parts is Misleading.
These arguments always make the mistake of isolating out some of the tasks of the stay-at-home partner as though they are separate jobs rather than small parts of the overall job. Then they label those small parts as though they are separate and distinct jobs. A web site called Salary.com lists those jobs as daycare teacher, chief executive officer, psychologist, cook (some sites say chef), housekeeper, laundry operator, computer operator, facilities manager, janitor, and van driver (other sources call this a chauffeur). Another recent article included nannie, personal shopper, financial assistant and even PR assistant (because the author apparently expects his wife to serve as an adjunct to his own career by attending, and sometimes hosting dinners and parties related to his work).
But, to borrow the punch line from an old joke, calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it one. I have, out of some necessity, become a fairly competent do-it-yourself-er. I have, for instance painted both the outside and the inside of my house. I am actually quite proud of my skill at cutting-in paint along the ceiling or the door and window trim. But I would never claim to be, in those moments, a painting contractor. Someone who straps the kids into their seats and heads for the mall, or dance lessons, or soccer practice, or the grocery store, or all of those does not suddenly become a chauffeur. If Adult B takes on the responsibility of keeping the checkbook balanced, and maintaining a simple family budget, this is not the equivalent of being a professional financial officer. Cooking the family’s meals does not make one a chef. And so on. Calling what I do at some point during my day a “computer operator” doesn’t actually make me one.
The analyses then make some claim as to the “average” number of hours a week spent on each of these jobs. Aside from the question of the validity and accuracy of these averages, there are few professional jobs that would ever be broken down this way. I was a college professor. The job involved a variety of tasks. I taught; I planned my classes; I assigned, collected, evaluated, and I graded assignments; I kept track of students’ progress and a record of their work in the class. I also did a certain amount of committee work related to the things such as the college curriculum, long-range planning, goals, and mission. But I got paid for the whole job. I didn’t get paid one amount as a group leader, something else as data analyst, another amount as computer operator or word processing specialist or lecturer. The job is the whole job, and the value of the job is not the sum of its parts. Even an attorney, who needs to document her time for each client by the separate tasks performed, charges for an hour’s worth of her time, not differently for each thing she does.
3. The Calculations Ignore Overlapping Work and Multi-tasking.
When Adult B packs the kid or kids into the van and heads for the store to pick up some groceries, several of the jobs overlap. But isn’t buying groceries one of the responsibilities of a chef; isn’t planning what food to have around part of child care; if there is a spontaneous side trip to the cleaners are we in the realm of laundry operator; and can we really separate out the driving necessary to get to the store and home again from the tasks of shopping and getting the cleaning?
4. The Calculations Ignore Everything Adult A Does Besides The Salaried Work.
This has two parts: first, the totality of Adult A’s contribution to the family is diminished, and the real value of what everyone in the family does is imbalanced. I think we can assume that, in a healthy family, the principle wage earner doesn’t simply go to work, come home, and do nothing else. So how do we figure A’s other contributions into the formula? Do we add value every time A stops at the store on the way home, cooks dinner, cares for the child, helps with homework, rakes leaves or replaces a washer in the kitchen faucet? Perhaps we could subtract those activities from Adult B’s “salary.” And let’s remember that the tasks of family life change over time, they aren’t a fixed set of chores or responsibilities. Do we reduce Adult B’s salary over time because as the child grows the time spent caring for and educating the child becomes less as those tasks are handed over to other people, such as the public school system? Do we increase the salary if the child is home schooled? If the family buys a lawn tractor shall we recalculate the contribution of the person who mows the lawn?
5. Who Works For Whom; And Who Pays For What?
The tasks of a marriage are not simply categorized into his-and-hers. If B’s work at home supports and supplements A’s work outside, then A’s salary is earned for B’s work as much as for A’s. Unless we make the calculations based on the idea that B is an employee of A; that everything B does is in the service of A; that, in effect, A is the boss. Since the perception of calculations that claim to value what “stay-at-home Moms” do, isn’t this just a perpetuation of the chauvinistic, male-centered idea that the wife is subservient to the husband? Given such a perception, why not go all the way and include “sex worker” in the list of job titles? If we are going to calculate how much A “owes” B for staying at home, how do we calculate what B owes A for A’s unsalaried contributions? And what of all the other costs of being a family? How do we figure in the cost of a mortgage, utilities, car payments, clothing, food, medical care, insurance, and contributions to a retirement account? Shall we simply divide all those costs in half and deduct B’s half from the salary we have calculated for B? Or do we simply assume that all those things are A’s responsibility because A earns an actual salary, not a virtual one?
6. Everyone Loses.
This sort of analysis, because it relies on rigidly categorized and arbitrarily assigned ideas about what the husband and the wife do in a marriage, is actually kind of insulting to everyone. It insults the women and those who stay in the home, whom it claims to be valuing, by calculating that value in monetary rather than personal terms. It insults wage-earners by reducing their contribution to a paycheck. It insults all the people who actually do the professional jobs on the list by ignoring the real complexity of their work, the extent of their professional training and experience, and the struggles they may have gone through to earn the kind of salaries imagined for them by those who do these analyses. It insults those who both work for a wage and do all those unpaid tasks as well by suggesting that one must either work outside the home or in it, but can’t do both. And it insults normal healthy families by dividing what they do into impersonal tasks rather than elements of a much richer and more meaningful relationship.

The issues of equal pay for equal work, of the under-representation of women in the paid workforce, of our perceptions of “men’s work” and “women’s work” and gender roles generally all need serious discussion and resolution. The nature of marriage and the roles of men and women in relationships need to be addressed in order to deal with the reality that marriage is not a single thing, but as varied as the people who enter into it. Also, the reasons some people decide to leave salaried work are equally varied. The stay-at-home Mom may also be an artist, a gardener, a writer, a volunteer, or active in any number of activities outside the home. These days, the stay-at-home Mom might very well be a Dad.
Perhaps a good starting point might be to recognize and declare that we will no longer reduce the value of the work people do to nothing more than a wage or salary. If people really got paid what they are worth for the value of the work they do, then teachers would get paid more than baseball players, there would be no such thing as a “volunteer” fire department, and no executive would earn four hundred times as much as his average employee. And we should stop devaluing the work of people who don’t get a wage or salary. The worth of every human being and the work they do is always going to be more than the sum of the parts. And we need to recognize that healthy families are shared, common, and mutually supportive relationships that are harmed when the people in them are encouraged to think of them in reductive and mercenary terms.

Depression, Suicide, and Selfishness: Reflections on responses to Robin Williams’ Death

In No Particular Path on August 12, 2014 at 3:45 pm

Robin Williams’ suicide has, of course, resulted in a flood of well-wishing, condolences, and remembrances of his brilliant comedic and acting talents, as well as references to his humanitarian work and insightful commentary. It has also brought up some things that I believe deserve more honest and sensitive discussion than they have so far received. I am referring to the issues of depression and suicide, and the related idea of when an act is selfish.
It is a good thing that so much has been written in support of those who suffer from depression. Called an “invisible” illness, depression is often undiagnosed or badly diagnosed, often treated in a kind of knee-jerk fashion with a variety of pharmaceuticals, confused with temporary down times and reasonable sadness, and sometimes simply dismissed as nothing to worry about. Women especially have been misdiagnosed and over-medicated. Men have often been encouraged in denial and told to “man up and shake it off.” It will be a very good thing if, this time, a public figure’s struggle with depression generates some honest talk about the disease.
Suicide is, if possible, an even touchier subject than depression. Technically, attempting suicide is, in most places, a crime. A successful suicide can mean that life insurance policies will be invalidated, that the cause of death will be expressed in euphemisms and evasions, and that churches will refuse sacraments and funeral services. Even the elective suicides (physician assisted or otherwise) of people who are terminally ill and suffering are approached with a sense that, somehow, staying alive is something other people owe us; and keeping people alive regardless of their needs and wishes is a noble act. Both in terms of medical ethics and practice, and in terms of the social contract and individual freedom of choice, suicide needs a more thoughtful and sensitive discussion than it has generally received.
Which leads us to the question of “selfishness.” In the midst of the overwhelmingly supportive responses to Williams’ death, there have been a few voices of criticism, mostly around the charge that his suicide was a selfish act. Countering that have been articles, such as that by Dean Burnett for The Guardian, that have argued, based mostly on arguments about the serious and poorly understood nature of depression, that are saying that it is wrong to call his act selfish.
As one who has suffered the loss of a loved one, my wife of 25 years, to suicide, I would like to offer a bit of counterpoint. Let me say first that I would have felt less compelled to write this if the charges of selfishness had been held back for a reasonable amount of time or had seemed less harsh and critical; and if the response to the idea had been less vitriolic and more sensitive. Because I believe that suicide is, in fact, always a selfish act; but I don’t intend that as a condemnation of those who choose it. It is, I believe, the ultimate selfish act, the final, irreversible act of self-interest, when the individual puts his own needs first regardless of the potential consequences for others, especially for those closest to him. It is also a personal choice for which I cannot fault someone whose suffering has brought them to that place. I believe that, especially when life itself has become our biggest burden, we have the right to decide to end that life. We can argue endlessly about whether suicide is moral or immoral, whether it is a threat to human society or a natural extension of human freedom, but it would still be a selfish act.
The suicidal person will often justify the act by claiming that they are doing it for others. “I don’t want to be a burden.” “I don’t want you to have to see me suffering this way any longer.” But the most common real life response to a suicide for the people who loved her is not to feel relief, but to experience abandonment, anger, a sense of helplessness and impotence, grief, self-blame and the blaming of each other, embarrassment, shame, regret, guilt and a host of other negative consequences. We twist ourselves into knots trying to explain the suicide, to understand it. We tell everyone who will listen how much we regret not having seen what was happening, not having made an unmade phone call or visit, for having been angry or disappointed or something with the person, not having said “I love you” often enough or sincerely enough. We are driven close to or even into depression built on grief; and we worry that we might, ourselves, be infected somehow with the possibility of suicide. In private we alternate between sobbing grief and angry outbursts. We slowly put our lives back together, but we never feel as though the other’s death made things better for us.
It can be argued that suicide is not a rational decision, but that would be true of any purely selfish decision. And I’m not sure it is always irrational. Robin Williams had suffered terribly from addiction and depression. He was aware of those struggles. He had talked about how addiction never went away but just waited until one thought that it was OK then struck again when one’s guard was down. He knew what he was dealing with. Lacking evidence (which we may someday have) about his final thoughts, how can we be certain that he was not making a considered, rational, personal choice at the end? Is it really irrational to say to oneself, “I’m done with the struggle and I’m ready to go now”? They say that there are signs that someone is considering suicide, and those signs sometimes include a desire to wrap up loose ends in their life, to try to control what will happen after they die, to begin to cut burdensome ties and complete promises and finish responsibilities. Could it not be argued that those might sometimes be rational actions?
I think that we should be slow to judge, both the one who has died and those who are responding to that death. The suicide had his reasons, and it is good that we are becoming more sensitive to those reasons. He might have been depressed, or in pain, or simply ready to move on to the next adventure, as the elders in native communities once did. But we know at the end that he was thinking first of himself and his needs; as was his right. On the other hand, those who criticize the suicide may themselves have considered it and been pulled back from the ledge; they may still harbor some anger about being “saved,” or some doubt about whether they were really wrong; or some sense of loss of control, or disempowerment because they were prevented by others from making their own choice, especially if the things that led to the attempt still afflict them. They may have been left behind by someone else’s suicide and are still struggling with all of the things I mention above, and they may need to call the suicide out for selfishness in order to reassure themselves that they are going to be okay.
Of course Robin Williams’ death is a significant loss to all those who were entertained or moved or inspired by him and his work and life; the same can be said of anyone who chooses her own death and leaves behind the people who loved her. But it is not necessarily unloving to feel anger, to feel that the other person has been selfish, to feel that we are somehow hurt by the other’s choice. It is normal and natural. Each of us arrives at this place uniquely and we will respond uniquely to what has happened. I think that we ought to respect those responses.
I greatly admired Robin Williams; his passing grieves me; but I simultaneously believe that his choice was a selfish one and respect that choice as his to make.

The Path Has No Regrets

In No Particular Path on June 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I like to think that I have no regrets about my life. And perhaps that’s true. And perhaps regret is the wrong word to use for the way we respond to the past. Guilt, regret and blame are all judgments about the past that allow us to believe that if we or someone else had simply behaved differently at some particular point, made a single specific different choice, then things would be better than they are. Self-congratulation is the same response when we are happy with who we are or what we have and tell ourselves that it is because we chose well at some specific point that has made all the difference.

We judge our lives, and in the process select certain specific choices for special consideration. There’s nothing wrong with this. We cannot live our lives amorally. A moral code is important to being human. Without a personal sense of right and wrong, good and bad, we couldn’t self-actualize, couldn’t prioritize, couldn’t participate effectively in the social contracts our interactions with others require of us. But guilt, regret, judgment and responsibility are not all the same thing, and it is possible to evaluate, and judge, and take responsibility for our choices, without guilt or regret.

The best we can say is that had things been different, had we chosen differently, then the present would be different – but we cannot know whether better or worse.

I know that in my life I have hurt and been hurt. I have loved and been loved. I have chosen well, in ways that nurtured and cherished and were healthful and positive; and I have chosen badly, in ways that were harmful and destructive to myself and others, that sought to meet my needs without consideration of the consequences for myself or others. I have given and received. I have made human choices and human mistakes.

I cannot even say that I always meant well, that I have always tried to be kind or patient or gentle or even honest or authentic. I believe that I never intended to do harm, but cannot say I did everything I could to prevent it.

We all have needs –social, spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, material – and we seek to have those needs met. Sometimes we try to meet them in life-affirming, healthful, nurturing, responsible ways, and sometimes we seek to meet them in self-destructive, harmful ways. Sometimes we meet them through our own, separate, individual ways; sometimes we seek the help of others. Relationships are always about the meeting of needs. In healthy relationships, people help each other meet their needs in healthy ways; there is an ongoing discussion, even negotiation, about the meeting of needs and both the possibilities and the limits of the relationship in getting those needs met. There are compromises, and sacrifices, and disappointments, and disagreements; and there are cooperation, and acceptance, and allowances.
In the end, of course, we can do nothing about the past except regret it or embrace it. About the present we can do nothing except live it. About the future we can do nothing except fear it or be open to it.

I am who I am today, with all my fears and sadness, with all my moments of courage and all my joys and all my passion for life, because my choices (as so many wiser than I have said before) have led me to this place at this time. I don’t regret anything in my life, despite the mistakes, despite the sorrows, despite the hurts; and I don’t claim any special gift of wisdom or brilliance or personal superiority despite the proud moments, the achievements and triumphs, even despite the love.

My hope for the past is that I can keep it in my human heart and let it inform my soul; my hope for the present is that I will see my choices clearly enough to make them in healthful, nurturing and peaceable ways; my hope for the future is that life will bring me opportunities to make those choices and that I will not run from them, or judge them, but will face them with a heart and soul that know the value of the past, and the challenge and possibility of the present.

The path itself has no regrets. The stones do not desire to be flowers; the hills do not wish to be valleys. The sun does not regret the storm and the cloud feels no guilt for its shadow. Falling is movement, as is standing up again. The present is fleeting and this moment contains all the truth of our lives.

Choosing and Creating Our Reality

In No Particular Path on August 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm

I believe in the existence of free will.  For me, nothing about life makes any sense without it.  But belief in free will isn’t necessary in order to understand about human choices.  Whether we are free to choose or not; whether there is some biological or spiritual imperative that compels us to choose a particular way, or whether each new choice is a surprise to both human and God; we nonetheless experience our actions as choices.  When I order my cup of coffee in the morning, and I decide whether to get a medium or a large; whether to get a decaf, a regular, or a blend; whether to add a pastry to the order; I am not able to feel the distinction between a free choice and a predetermined outcome.  I am only conscious of the choice I make as a choice.

More importantly, I am conscious that my choices have consequences.  If I get some caffeine in my coffee, I am aware that I may feel somewhat enervated afterwards; if I go with the pastry, I know that my blood sugar level may be affected, and in a family with a history of diabetes, it’s not a good idea to overdo that.  I take these risks because I choose to.  If I don’t feel as well as I would like later on, I can look back at my choices and understand something about why that is, and how I might want to choose in the future.

I am also conscious of possible meanings, evaluations, and judgments that I and others might make about my choices.  Do I feel good about my choices, or bad?  Perhaps I have a quick inner dialogue with myself in which I might tell me I am drinking too much coffee, that I need to eat fewer pastries and lose some weight; that I shouldn’t spend my money on such frivolities.  Perhaps I defend myself: I’m pretty healthy for a man my age; I have to die of something, after all; all things in moderation, you know.  Am I weak, courageous, foolish, wise, healthy or unhealthy?  Even these possibilities require choices.
There are, of course, some things that we do not choose.  Although there is evidence that I might learn how to become self-aware enough to consciously affect my breathing, my heartbeat, my brain waves; there is no evidence to suggest that each pulse is a deliberate choice, each firing of a synapse something I decide about, each breath preceded by a choice to breath or not.  It is also true that some things outside of ourselves have an impact on us.  If it rains, it is not because I have chosen the rain.  At the very least, I cannot experience these things as choices.

On the other hand, the things I do not choose create the necessity for choice.  Have I dressed for the weather?  Do I pay attention to my heart so that I can avoid problems or know when to seek medical treatment?  Where do I place the blame or credit for the things that happen to me?  Suppose, for instance, a tree limb falls on me and I’m injured.  I could take the blame or credit myself: I shouldn’t have walked this way; I should have heard the sound and ducked out of the way; or if I hadn’t reacted as quickly as I did, it could have been much worse.  I could blame or credit God or fate:  God must be trying to tell me something; God is punishing me for some sin, known or unknown; I’m just unlucky; or I’m fortunate it didn’t land on my head and kill me; God must have been watching out for me.  I could find others to blame or credit: I need to find out who owns this tree and sue them for negligence; this place ought to have signs warning people that there might be falling tree limbs; I will have to thank the instructor of that course I took on emergency preparation and first aid, because she taught me how to respond appropriately in this situation.

My response to the situation, moreover, is not just a choice about how to respond, it is also a choice about the meaning I create from what has happened; and a choice about the language I use to express that meaning.  And these choices build on one another, overlap, fold back into layers of choice and meaning and more choice and more meaning.  And the process continues long after the event itself has passed.  Every time I remember what happened, every time I tell the story, I will recreate the event and the meaning of it.  Memory is creative, not static.  Meaning is fluid, not fixed.  Underlying it all is choice, both conscious and unconscious.

In his 1968 book, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, Harry Browne describes freedom not in absolute terms, nor in terms of forces acting upon the individual, but in terms of the choices the  individual makes regardless of the forces acting upon him.  Paraphrasing Browne, we can define freedom as action based on our understanding of three aspects of our choices.  First there is the understanding that we can choose, that choices are always available to us.  Some of those choices may be undesirable or dangerous or ineffective.  Some may seem reasonable or desirable or better in some way than other choices.  We may be able, in any situation, to see a great many possible choices, or only a few, but there will always be the possibility – and the necessity — of choice.  After the recognition that choices exist, there is the understanding of possible consequences.  We can look at each choice (or as many as we choose to look at) and make guesses about possible outcomes for each choice.  What is the worst that I can imagine happening if I choose this way; what is the best?  The third step is to accept responsibility for my choices and the reasonable consequences of those choices.  If I can effectively negotiate these stages of choosing, then I can choose in ways that will more often lead me to the things I need and desire.  But these stages are neither simple nor obvious.

The fact that choices are always possible is not an indication that all choices are always possible.  Actually the opposite is true.  Each of us is always limited to the available choices at any moment, and those choices may be limited by our own prior choices, the actions (and choices) of others, and the circumstances of the present situation.  If I am a prisoner, I cannot simply choose to open the cell door and walk out of prison.  If I am poor, I cannot choose to buy a million-dollar mansion to live in.  If I am physically unable to walk, I cannot choose to run in a marathon.  But a prisoner can choose to act in ways that might eventually lead to his release (unless his sentence disallows that), or in ways that make his imprisonment more bearable; someone living in poverty can choose to act in ways that might lead her out of poverty; and someone who can’t walk might have the choice to enter a marathon as a wheelchair participant.  If I am a prisoner, then I have made choices that have led me here.  There is no need to judge these decisions at this point, however.  I may be a political prisoner, incarcerated for acts of conscience; or I may, in fact, be guilty of some act of criminal violence; the point is still the same:  I am a prisoner because I have made choices which led me here.  And my choices have interacted with the choices of others – the dictator who has chosen to oppress his people and outlaw dissent, the legislators who have passed the laws that I have violated.  And all these things are subject to perception, interpretation and judgment.  The dictator and the rebel may each feel that his actions are necessary for the good of the country.

My choices may be limited, also, by my knowledge or understanding, by my perceptions and judgments.  I cannot consider choices I cannot know or imagine.  Ignorance and naiveté interfere with choice.  I cannot apply for a job I don’t know exists, for example.  I may believe some choices are unavailable to me because I have learned that they are unavailable.  If I am continually told, as a child, that I am not smart enough or not attractive enough, or not strong enough, then it will take a great deal of risk on my part to choose things that would require intelligence, or attractiveness, or strength.

This combination of choosing, experiencing the consequences of our choices, creating meaning from those consequences, and choosing again is the way in which we create our reality, our personal truth about who we are, about what the world is like, and about how we should act in that world.  It is the way in which we create, define, and manage our relationships with others.  And in any moment it is everything we bring to that moment.

No Particular Path

In No Particular Path on August 17, 2012 at 5:29 pm

No Particular Path

There is no particular path to any particular end. There is no particular end to any particular path. Rather, we create the path with every step we take, and each new step is both ending and beginning.

Perhaps the most fundamentally human activity is choosing. In every human endeavor — as distinguished from our instinctual, biological, reactive, genetically programmed behaviors — there is an element of choice. It is that element of choice that allows us to be creative and adaptive. It is the consciousness with which we choose that allows us to see meaning in our experiences, to make judgments about our lives, to develop morality and ethics, to be individually unique, and to respond to stimuli in ever changing, ever evolving ways.

Each new choice generates consequences that require another choice that generates new consequences that requires another new choice and so on ad infinitum. It is this endless series of choices and more choices that, step by step, builds the path of our lives and, moment to moment, makes and remakes us and the individual perceptual universe in which we live. Each new choice is predicated on the past and carried into the future; and both past and future are changed in the process. Each present moment exists only in the reality of our choices as they rush along, both carrying us and carried by us.

Perhaps the second most fundamentally human activity is the creation of meaning. We are rhetorical beings. Everything we are, everything we do and everything we experience has meaning for us and others. We create and express this meaning through language, both verbal and nonverbal. We choose words and actions that both create and express the meanings we have for our experiences. Thus, meaning is the first consequence of choosing, and the basis for subsequent choices. In addition, it is our awareness of choice that helps create meaning. Since I know, at some level, that you choose the messages you are sending me, then I can interpret those messages and create meaning for them that is accurate to the extent that I can understand the choices you have made. I will misunderstand you to the extent that I cannot accurately assess those choices.

Consider the present moment. Where are you? What are you doing? Whom are you with? What is happening about you? And how are all these things affecting you? Whatever answers you come up with to these questions, they will be incomplete. You may be able to recognize that you are physically in a specific place at a specific time, but where is that place? What is its relationship to other spaces? What is its latitude and longitude? What is the time of year and so where is the Earth relative to the sun, and where is this spot on the Earth relative to the sun? Or the moon? Or the whole solar system? The galaxy? Keep extending the space, and location and time become less and less clear. And in any case, these things are all arbitrarily determined by language. “The United States of America” is simply a name we have given to a location, “the western hemisphere” names a relationship to other places on the planet, but what does “western” really mean on a sphere? Similarly, you may be able to name the person you are with, but how much of who that person is do you really know, understand, even have language for? You may be able to say that certain events are occurring, even say something about your relevant feelings and responses to those events, but this will be selective, because all you observations and experiences are being filtered through the perceptions you have already formed over the entire course of your life.

Now try to consider how it is that you have arrived in this place, at this time, under these specific conditions. Can you walk yourself backwards through your life, reconstruct your choices and say how or why they have brought you here? Can you even identify just one or two choices which, if you had made them differently, would have changed your life so that you would now be somewhere else, under different circumstances? Can you say whether things would, as a result, be better or worse? It’s a hopeless, impossible task. There have been too many choices, too many changes, too many consequences on consequences. And even trying to remember the past requires us to reconstruct it anew each time; and the reconstruction changes the memory, is selective about the details, and is filtered through our perceptions as they are now, not as they were in the past we are trying to recall.

And yet, that is the process by which we construct our lives. It is not simply a process of accumulation, however. We are more than simply the sum of our experiences. Because we are constantly creating meaning, we are also constantly reconstructing our lives. We are creatures of perception; No two people are ever having precisely the same experience. The events swirling around them may be objectively the same, but each is having his or her unique experience of them, and each will leave the experience changed in unique ways.

Life is a continuous process. There are no end results, only the process itself. All consequences are consequences of the moment, followed immediately by new consequences. Suppose that you are walking along a fence rail and you fall off and break your arm. Was breaking your arm the consequence of choosing to walk the rail? What was that choice a consequence of? Perhaps you took a dare. What led you to take the dare? Perhaps you felt you had to prove something to someone else. What led you to think that way? And is the broken arm the final consequence of that chain of causality? What if you then become fearful of taking risks? What if the cast becomes a sign of pride, a symbol of your courage? What if the bone never really heals properly and the arm remains forever weak? What if surgery is required and you are left with a visible scar? Whether you look to the past or the future, there is an unending and ever changing sequence and pattern of events. At every moment we carry with us the totality of who we are at that moment, all of our experiences and perceptions — physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. At every moment we carry with us the infinite potential for whatever future we might create out of choices not yet made. At every moment we have only that present moment in which to choose.

Of course, this is not a simple process. These are no simple choices or simple consequences. We are physical creatures, emotional and psychological beings, and (most of us would agree) spiritual entities. As we live the process of our lives, we are choosing at all these levels, experiencing consequences in all these ways, creating meanings that are formed by all these influences, and all of this is happening simultaneously, continuously, and mostly unconsciously. I recently saw a magazine cover with the teaser headline “Happiness is a Choice.” I want to be clear that this is not what I mean when I talk about choosing one’s path. We cannot simply choose happiness, or choose wealth or power and have it magically appear for us. Happiness is one possible outcome of many paths. We can, however become conscious enough of our own choices so that we can more often make choices which help us meet our needs, and thereby make us happy in the present.

This is what I mean by the “no particular path” statement.  Life is a process of making choices in an attempt to meet our needs (which may, of course involve helping others meet their needs).  How consciously make those choices, how much awareness and presence we bring to them, the better able we will be to choose well, and the more satisfied we will be with the path we are creating.

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