Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Charter for Compassion

Sunday, November 9, 2008

It's A New Day

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Proud to be...

There is a song by Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA”, that is one of those songs that usually gets and emotional response if it is played to a large crowd. Here in my part of the Southeast at least it is almost revered as much as the “Star Spangled Banner”. But I have to admit, I have always had a little bit of a problem with the song. There is a line in the song that brings the song to a crescendo: “... And I gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today, 'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land; God Bless the U.S.A....” At this point people usually stand up and clap and cheer. It has taken me a while to figure out what exactly, at a gut level, my distaste for the song has been about. I have begun to wonder if I have just lost all sense of being patriotic.

The election of Barack Obama as president helped me to finally pinpoint what it is about that whole patriotic thing that I have had problem with. In the song, the “…defend her still today” is what bothers me. You see to think about something in terms of “defense” or having to protect, implies an atmosphere of fear. And I think that has been why I have a problem. If we are always responding out of fear vs. compassion or love, then we will have to build more barriers and fortresses to “protect” ourselves from what we fear. For me, there in lies the problem of the last 8 years of our country... or really the whole history of our country since the end of the Civil War.

My belief is that the fear has caused us to breed greed and thus the predicament of where we are financially in the US. It is a simplistic explanation of our current economic crisis, but at the very core, that is what has driven it all; fear that we will loose what we have, the greed to get more than what we need and then take a posture of defense to protect what we think we deserve to keep, which feeds into this whole warped idea of “defending our freedom”. We tout freedom as a value we hold most dear, but our actions around this have not been contiguous with what we preach; “defending freedom”. At least what I think of when I think of freedom.

I am just old enough to remember growing up on the tail end of the civil rights movement of the early 1960’s. I grew up in the South and did not realize or understand fully until much later in life the significance of that time period. I remember when the issue of “busing” came up in Cary, NC, where I was raised, and all of the resentment around that on both sides of the issue. Of course I was not affected directly in that I was white and lived in an affluent part of the county. I do remember the racist comments that were made about the African American students that were being bused from Raleigh to attend the school that I did. My school went basically from being less than 10% African American to close to 30% African American overnight. There was a lot of unjustified fear that was bred through all of that. Some of the white parents were convinced that we would all turn into drug addicts or be mugged in our school… The good news of course is none of that happened. In fact I ended up with some African American friends who enriched my life and went very quickly from being “that colored kid” to being simply my friend; the obvious differences in skin color quickly faded and we were just all people and didn’t notice or even care who or what color there was. I also remember during those years going on a school trip and driving into the town of Selma, NC where there was still a big bill board that said, “The Knights of the Klu Klux Klan welcome you to Selma, NC”. I remember one or two of my black friends seeing it and a look of fear coming over their faces as they sunk into their seats. Truly, their freedom was lost in that moment… I wish I could have defended their freedom then… If only I had known how…

So this brings me back to president elect Barack Obama… I have been watching with enthusiasm this week the festivities and excitement we are seeing in our nation over the outcome of our election. I have been moved by what all this really means. I think as a country we have finally “gotten it”. Not totally because Barack Obama is African American and we elected him, but because the type of change he is recognizing that we need as a country. I think he truly understands the fear that has driven our country to where it is now. I think he understands that in order for us to truly have freedom, we all need to have access to the same basic needs such as quality healthcare, education, housing and jobs. Until everyone has the basics, there is no way we can “pull ourselves up by the bootstraps” and have true freedom and liberty in our country. Poverty and the lack of basic needs nearly always breeds loss of empowerment. No empowerment causes fear; as does the other extreme of opulence and too much power.

I have to admit after the last two presidential elections, I have been disturbed with the direction of our country. It goes back to the whole fear approach that has been taken. No I have not forgotten 9/11 and the pain that event brought our country. I truly believe we need to defend ourselves from attackers; it’s a basic need of safety. But I do not agree that we should go to war to “defend our freedom” when we have not been willing to work together within our own borders to assure people basic necessities of healthcare, education and jobs. If you really want to provide freedom then we need to free people from poverty and lack of basic needs; along with the oppression of racism and hatred. And I am happy to say, I feel like we are on verge of beginning to accomplish that with our next president at the helm…

I can say now I am proud to be an American… When you see that a little over 52% of the people support a person as president that also just happens to be African American, we are finally getting it… Not because he is African American, but because of color blindness that it represents. When you see the celebration of his victory and look at the crowd to see a mixture of faces that are black, brown, yellow, red and white we are finally starting to get it… when you see the joy and elation of a 90 year old African American who has lived through some of our country’s worst oppression of racism, we are finally starting to get it… As I watched the celebration on election night I could hear, running through my mind, the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “…I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal’. I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together…" And I believe, we have finally gotten it…
For that I am proud to be an American!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The leaves are falling and so are gas prices...

With the coming of autumn in my neck of the woods here in East Tennessee, one usually expects trees ablaze with stunning colors that are truly breathtaking. However, this year, it is not so much that way. We have had a very dry September and October, not to mention the summer months, which has really dampened the colors this year. This year they have seemed almost pasty and pastel as compared to the usual vibrant reds, golds and yellows we normally see. It just does not seem as much like fall or how it ought to. It all “feels” different... On the other hand, I was able to buy gas this morning for $2.35 a gallon! That made it feel a little better considering that just a month ago I remember very painfully putting $5 a gallon gas in my car. Then there are the other two main topics of that are looming... the financial market and the presidential race. Those two things not only feel different, but they are different. It is a blessing that I am not a political scientist or a finance guru or my stress level would be out the roof.

If you are like me, you might be spending a lot of time thinking about all these things here lately. The leaves changing, gas prices, the election and the stressed out financial markets... The thing is, with all four of those things, I have absolutely little to no control. For the election I can vote (and did). But with the other three, leaves, gas and the financial market, I can’t control that any more than a snail could build a house. It is kind of a helpless feeling. What I mean is that I would love to get one of those “Easy Buttons” and make the leaves the exact hue I think they should be, drop the price of gas at least $1 and have the candidate I support to win automatically. (He is of the blue variety just in case you want to know or have not guessed already.) The truth of the matter is that there is, in reality, very little I have direct control over past my own actions. What is a paradox though is that my career centers around helping people get control of their own lives. Which begs the question, what do we really have control over?

In my private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, people only come to see me because something in their life is out of control...or at least it feels that way to them. With people that come for marriage counseling, it might be a spouse that has been unfaithful. Or on the less serious side, it might be a young newly married couple trying to make sense of how to negotiate making new rules for their family. The problem being that they base their view of the relationship on the assumption that things should work like it did when they lived with their mom and dad or when they were single. Sometimes it is a person who is struggling with chronic depression and anxiety that just seems to be taking over their life. Or it might be a person who has experienced the trauma of abuse and is trying to make sense of it all. In a nutshell, most people that come for counseling and therapy are experiencing very common life problems. But what drives them to seek counseling is that the symptoms they are experiencing are unmanageable for whatever reason. In other words, with all the things they have tried so far to “fix” the problem , it is just not working. And for that reason, their life feels out of control and unmanageable.

My job as a therapist really boils down to helping people sort out what they have control of and what they don’t. Then helping them to come up with solutions to how to make changes in what they do have control of. Sounds simple doesn’t it! To use the well known cliché, “easier said than done”... Where it gets complicated is that people have this natural propensity to go after what they want, rather than what they need. To make things even worse, is that most of us really have a hard time distinguishing between want and need. And the more energy spent going after “wants” rather than “needs” just screws everything up. To give a very simple example: I “want” the leaves to be a perfect combination of colors and last for at least a couple of weeks. But I “need” to be satisfied with what God gives me in the way of fall foliage... I have no control over what I want, the leaves being “perfect” colors. But I do have control over how I appreciate what I am given... less than colorful leaves. You know, the whole glass half full vs. half empty thing. I have a choice of being upset that the over-all colors this year are so less than brilliant. Or, I can take delight in the fact that one tree in my front yard that has been absolutely stunning this year.
There are so many things in life that I have little or no control over. Tomorrow is election day and by this time on Wednesday we will know for sure, who our next president will be. I exercised what I little control I have in the outcome of the election by voting early. (I think that my “blue” candidate will win this year). I hope that the campaign promises made will make a difference and end some of the angst people are generally feeling about the economy and the state of the world in general. My hunch is though; there will be more things to come up in the future that will cause more anxiety about life; like the leaves not changing the way I want them to, gas prices going back up or a volatile financial market. In other words, change is inevitable. Most of the changes that occur, I do not have control over. But one thing for sure I do control is my attitude and the way I view the changes. I can choose to go through life kicking and screaming or I can choose to sit back and just enjoy the ride... I think I will just enjoy what God hands me and take delight in that...