Friday, February 21, 2014

Getting Gold?


Compassion is not easily come by, or we would practice it more. Like everything though, it is not a question of whether or not we have it or use it, but a question of 'how much?' If one were made up of only ten ingredients and there was a scientific measure of apportionment for our materialization so that each individual was to be exactly the same as another, then we might expect each of the ten ingredients to be a 10% of the Whole, but that is not the case. We each have a little more of this than of that. And we each comprise a certain admixture that also changes as we mature, evolve, and decay. There is no stasis. Anabolism precedes katabolism. And phylogeny precedes ontology. Only one person gets the gold. (Or in Canada's case, one team glitters above another.) Does that make the rest idiots, fools, lazy, or muppets? Can we be conscious of the concentrations of the admixtures within ourselves, let alone of an 'other'?

These Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, have brought the distinction of hundredths of a second to light. That so very much can ride on such a minuscule apportionment of time! That years and years worth of training and hopes and dreams can be so easily upset by a slide into the boards, by the fall of another causing you to fall too, by the missed opportunity to score, by the sheer luck of the post stopping the sliding puck! What else but to treasure the journey toward the goal, to appreciate that one can walk, run, skate, compete, and have been lucky enough to get the support and wherewithal to have gotten a placement into the Olympics in the first place. And then to witness the nations being represented by people from other nations. Persons of Chinese origin represent Russia, the USA, and Canada too. The historical ethnicity of names comprising a hockey team is astounding. That Latvian goalie, shutting out 55 of 57 shots on his goal in a single game, will soon enough represent an American team. We are a melting pot of cross cultural identities, of transposed persons, of mixed races. And we compete to see who wins, inspiring youngsters all over the world to get off the couch and away from the computer in order to attain the physical (and mental) potential in them too. But only one will get the gold. It is the journey that is important. It is the enjoyment of the process. It is the treasure of believing that one has a chance! But it is the realization of that word, chance, that might be brought to mind at almost every step in play. The slightest of mishaps, of bounces of the puck, of slips of a ski blade, and... Skill and chance go toward the day; let us prepare our skill, and chance what may!

Yet tears and upset and anger at the self (or others) abounds. Even a string of silver medalists could hardly crack a smile of gratitude or appreciation when being awarded; gold had been plucked from them in the last three minutes of a three period game. To have so much attention focused on a dark puck doing exactly as they bid, over the process of so many years, and to be so close, was to have them appear thoroughly undermined when it came down to the wire. And that they should be so hurt and wounded and disappointed stands to reason. It might've been better to give them a fifteen minute break in the locker room, all to themselves, while the Gold winners kept outside in a parade of glee. And then, once the losing team had had a chance to regroup, and to put their game faces back on, to let them come out into the spotlight of their accomplishment with grace and gratitude. But to have nowhere to hide so soon after such an upset evidently was truly terrible. It showed. Yet the cries of poor sportsmanship abounded.

Try not to exclaim when you cut your finger, trip and fall, get your toe stepped on, get a door close on you, have someone take what you thought was a waiting parking spot. Try to forgive yourself when you make a mistake, miss a shot, forget a date, overlook a birthday, neglect to call or do not answer an email. And then just think of what it must be like to be there, a whole country with its eyes on you, and someone else beats you to the draw. So close, but... Over!

Only one person gets gold. But as the rest of us come well to know, getting gold is not all.


Monday, February 17, 2014

'Pure' Potential?

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, words can never harm me," went the childhood saying. And yet the very things that have harmed me most are words. Once a girl calls you ugly you do not forget. Words like stupid, stinker, monkey, thief, or bastard can stick. Some words can be altered with time. Ignorance can be addressed. Laziness can be corrected. Cruelty can convert toward compassion. Selfishness can redirect toward altruism. But it is those words of others that propel us toward action, toward world views, toward adherence to ineluctably inculcated values that might give one more than a pause to examine. That someone not only came up with that slogan as seen in the photograph above, but then have gotten it materialized into such a blatant banner that it so evidently be bruited about not only to locals, but thereafter to reach the world's social network is fodder, indeed, for redress. Or what's a revolution for?

Juxtaposed to that photo of the Economic Freedom Fighters' slogan is the purported quote from Terence McKenna, as seen below. The implication in his words is that we who do consume, who are relatively free to spend economically, are "morons" for being the obliging victims of cultural engineering. The objective is to be free. The intention is to stop the manufacture of goods from our dying resources. The purpose is the reclamation of one's mind in order to think for oneself. But the collective goal is clearly not that we, "...must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate."


When I was a conscript in South Africa's 10AA Regiment during the early 1970's there were many moments I experienced of pure hate. It had to do with the complete self-righteousness I felt as a result of my training, of what I'd experienced, and what I'd come to see as the only solution to overcoming an 'other's' hatred. It was not dispassion. It was not indifference. It was neither pragmatic nor academic; my core was motivated in those moments by the passions of pure hatred. That is, until I came to realize that my problem was that I blanketed an entire and undifferentiated group with my need for vengeance, rather than my retaliating at an individual. And even then, as I matured, I saw that being like an other hate-filled individual, so wrapped up in a wish to kill, was to impair any sense of potential for a revolution at all. Revolution, for me, became synonymous with evolution. One must achieve something better, more elevated, more compassionate, inclusive, assimilative, and integrative. And though the process by which I came to crack from my belief that I was invulnerable to the impairment of my own contentions remains secreted away in my consciousness, I am convinced that each and all of us, given sufficient time and influence, might change for the better too. Or does a leopard never change its spots?

Nurture versus nature has long been a debate. Cowboy movies have made it so very clear: After the bad guy is dead everybody lives happily ever after. But our modern world (along with Clint Eastwood) introduced Unforgiven, as well as Bill Clinton, and we no longer are quite so sure who the good and the bad guy is. Integration would have it that the man who stands so smiling at that banner of hate (as above) might easily be nurtured from participation. Surely even a revolution built upon such hate-filled precepts as that slogan is designed eventually to bring about a society that will be free from tyranny and oppression? Surely the collective objective is that we all might coexist in a state of harmony and accord. At least, eventually. You think?

But juxtapositions continue to fragment and divide. However subtle. Real revolution, I submit, takes place not so much by the sticks and stones imposed from without, but from that which is made to churn in one's mind, good or bad. Cautious then, words by which we ignite potential.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Altruistic Actions

(This anonymous image, found on Facebook, I hereby name: A Tadpole's Potential?)

Three wise old bullfrogs brought their gifts. They came from different and far away countries, across the great twin ponds, and they bestowed on the tadpole the priceless treasures of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. The tadpole was too young to understand what these words might mean, let alone the potential inherent in the five years worth of gifts. Together, it was like giving him his future, as seen in the picture above, in which, for lack of insight, and for lack of annual examination, and for lack of trying alternatives, all he saw was the reflection he expected. For the next four years the tadpole, although he had the ability of their language, and was provided with the means of instant correspondence, took no initiative to show connection. The few phrases elicited from him came only after coercion from without; overseers had to bully him to write. Eventually the wise old frogs stopped communicating. They kept up their gift-giving, each year sending yet another parcel of the three precious potentials. For them, a commitment had been made. But they were decidedly disappointed that the Gold, the Frankincense, and the Myrrh went essentially unexplored. It was like giving special lures and hooks and bait with which the tadpole might feed himself royally, only to find the potential unused. The gifts may as well have been peanuts, popcorn, and bubblegum. And eventually? Well, at the very least, they knew the tadpole had survived what otherwise might have been the great drought from any kind of sustenance at all. Yet the expected results were so comparatively unfruitful that the old bullfrogs wondered if they should bother to revisit the pond again. After all, a more responsive tadpole might have learned to leap yet further, become transmogrified. But altruism, in the meantime, held sway.

Without a verb a sentence has no soul. The Subject is given meaning. Each thing is given more significance, more potential, when we invest it with action. The rock bakes. It crumbles. It broods. It supports. It acts as a building block, a foundation, a heat-stone, a pumice stone, a lode stone, a pendant, a pebble in the sling of time, a symbol of friendship passed between two. Even left entirely to its own devices it occupies a space in this universe around which other matters flow. The value of something is proportional to that which views, encounters, or uses it. The ant finds the rock to be a mountain. The elephant finds it barely perceptible. The geologist finds it to be a glittering jewel. But people, when we adjudge them to be non-productive, are deemed to be wasting potential. The verbs by which they move are not particularly invigorating.

Love is action, declares a wise friend. Feeling is all, declares a renowned poet. Yet unless there is reciprocity of action we often feel that love is one-sided; is unfruitful; is given to an unworthy; is unappreciated. Thing is, so much of giving is like sowing seeds; the action is that of giving toward a future beyond one's control. Our intentions may produce fields of sunflowers, but a hurricane can wipe all out, except for the unnoticed seed that, small and unappreciated amongst the rocks, is left to struggle toward the light. And from it, and from the genes in its very struggle, may yet grow the future of more sunflowers with yet stronger stems. So, as altruism has it, sew!

Contributing toward life is an action not necessarily always seen. Many models of hierarchies reveal persons who give of themselves without expectations of acknowledgement. They exercise altruism at its finest. That is not what Bucephalus or Flicka or Silver or the golden Trigger had in mind when plunging into danger; theirs was an action of reciprocation. It is persons who give anonymously, who clean up messes without anyone to see them, who return stranded starfish from among hundreds back into the ocean, who make a difference. Not everything need be useful. Not everything must change. Even wild horses do not necessarily have to serve. But metamorphosis is inherent to some species. Evolution depends on it. And yes, we have potential!

Like the magic in the picture above. (Kindly respond with "Got it!" should you divine its gift.) It's not that we do not wish to give it away; it is that we know that treasuring life is both a subject, and a verb. 

(Detail of sleeve in my painting, Passing Through Too)