Sunday, June 26, 2016

Food for Thought

"Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think."
~Thomas Edison

"Thinking is the hardest work there is which is probably why so few engage in it."
~Henry Ford

I've sat down to create this post a few times over the past couple weeks, sometimes just staring at the screen unable to focus my turbulent thinking, other times ending up by deleting what I had just composed.  Troubled because although I could well  be in the ten percent of people that Edison designated, I know I am not in the eighty-five percent.  I am willing to do the hard work.  I value critical and creative thinking.  I work to understand my own thinking, as well as that of others.  I struggle when I can't.

Why have I struggled?   Because, over and above the obvious craziness of the Orlando horror, the circus of this year's political campaigning and now Brexit,  I am on the verge of despair.   Not only because of the lack of cooperative, responsible thinking but what appears to be the downright refusal to do so.  It's not just the oversimplification of complex issues or rampant generalizations.  Or the name calling and innuendo, the righteous polarization.  Or the casting about for blame rather than determining responsibility.  Or even the out and out lies.

  • It's hearing a neighbor say he can't understand why so much air time was given just because a  bunch of "queers" got killed.  Or the  pastor who said he was only sorry that more of these "pedophiles" weren't killed.  Or another pastor who called the murders God's retribution.
  • It's the Governor of Florida saying that Isis is responsible for the murders, not the killer with a semi-automatic.  (Now Isis doesn't have to claim responsibility, our politicians will do it for them.)

  • It's our seeming inability to consider it could be an act of terror AND a hate crime.

  • Or that compromise in any way could be a win.

  •  It's the refusal to let a bill come before the House of Representatives even when it's obvious it would have been voted down.

  • It's the outright refusal to answer a question, not just to sidestep it.  And the reluctance or inability of too many interviewers to drive for anything more.

  • It's panel members who shout at each other, talk over each other, make snide comments, demand a respect for their point of view that they do not give others' opinions.  

  • It's the TV ad calling for telephone calls to assure that Donald Trump is not denied the presidency...not the nomination, but the presidency.  And I thought the election was to take place in November!
  • It's the feeding, the fueling of fear, anger, distrust, hatred, no matter the consequences.

  • It's the labeling of anything remotely moderate or tempered as weak or stupid, ill-informed, elitist - anything that will serve to diminish it.

And then, this morning a moment of clarity - during one of the Sunday morning political shows, the topic of fact checking came up in response to claims made by the major candidates.  One of the panel simply dismissed fact finding as an example of journalistic elitism and followed his assertion with the statement that the American People don't care about facts!  End of the conversation.  One man blithely declaring he speaks for the American People (all 300+ million of us) and asserting that we are not interested in the facts, - or, as challenged by another panelist, care about hearing the truth.  Not only a refusal to think anything other than what someone tells them to believe, but a devaluing of those who even suggest that they do.

Less confusion, yes.  Less dismay, no.

I know fear and hatred are not new.  I know partisanship and polarization are not new.  I have been voting since the 60's after all.  But the issues are so much more complex today and the sheer mass of humanity so much greater.  The consequences of the demagoguery that is sprouting up around the world could be devastating.  We should be thinking more not less.  We should be thinking together.

Less confusion, yes.  Less dismay, no.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Reason to Get Up in the Morning

purpose (n):  the reason for which someone exists
The New Oxford American Dictionary

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life would most likely approve of this definition. As might the throng of readers who have purchased his book in the ten years since it was first published, making it the second more translated book in the world, second only to the Bible.

This definition and the Rev. Warren's thesis have bothered me since I first encountered them.  The idea that each of us has a single life purpose and that only if we discover it and live to achieve it, will we be fulfilled, flies in the face of my experience.

At first, I thought my reaction was simply because my generation rarely used that word to describe why they existed, or even why they made the decisions they made.  Commitment -yes; responsibility - yes; achievement - yes.  Sometimes, merely survival.  Or the Catholic catechism reason for our existence: "to know, love and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him in the next."   The closest I came to the concept of life purpose was when the nuns tried to convince me that I had a "calling" to become a nun.  (Until my constant questioning convinced them that I would have trouble with the vow of obedience!  Somehow the calling ceased to exist.)

I  recognize that there have been individuals throughout history who have lived lives of a singular purpose.  Think Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, various famous artists. But personally, I have known wonderful people who would have told you they didn't act from any all-encompassing purpose.  I have known happy and satisfied people who would look at you askance were you to ask them to define the purpose of their lives. Plus, I consider myself to be a content adult, only mildly neurotic, who has done some worthy things in and with my life, and I have never been able to declare a life purpose.

Eventually, I settled on merely disagreeing, with little more than an occasional twinge when I came upon another book purporting to "help you discover your life purpose."   

Then, a few months ago, I began to read books and articles about successful aging.  And would you know it, much of the research pointed to having a purpose as an essential ingredient in aging well.  However, the distinction was having a purpose, not Purpose with a capital P.   Simply put, a reason to get up in the morning.  Purpose as meaning.  Purpose as direction.  Purpose as commitment.  Now, this fits with my experience.  

In my late teens, I would have said that what drove my choices was wanting to be the first woman in my family to go to college.  Later it was to be a good wife and a good teacher...good at my jobs.  Still later it was to survive the aftermath of divorce .  With each new change, a different purpose or commitment, a new direction. Sometimes just to weather the transition between what was and what could be. The constant, not a Life Purpose but the life changes that call for different purposes.

I think finding a new reason to get up in the morning may be one of the most challenging aspects of retirement and the ensuing years, especially if your previous reason has been success in your career or acquiring things or status.  Some folks approach this stage of their lives  already knowing what that reason will be - travel, the arts, an interest, hobby or commitment to which they can now devote all their time, their role as grandparent or community elder,  etc.  

Others, and I include myself, need to take some time to explore what might engage their skills and expertise, what new directions beckon to them, perhaps to regroup and soul search awhile.  To remain open to possibilities they may have dismissed when younger or possibilities they never imagined to exist.  

Either way, purpose with a small p.  Purpose as reason to get up in the morning.  Purpose as an ingredient in the recipe for aging well.