Posted on | September 7, 2014 | No Comments
Sometimes we are faced with difficult situations. Should I say what I truly think, or should I pretend everything is just fine and let the situation slide? The “nice” way is to let the slide happen. But what if allowing the slide means that more unpleasant things follow on? What if people get hurt? Should the foreman of a factory just be nice to the inefficient worker – even if the defective parts produced threaten innocent consumers? Obviously not. Yet shouldn’t that worker also be entitled to respect….?
This is exactly the situation faced by Arjuna in one of the most sacred of texts of India, the Baghavad Gita. He faces a battle, and then realizes those are his relatives in the opposing rank. What should he do? He agonizes, but eventually decides that he must do his duty to what he sees as right. He must fight.
What can we conclude from this?
Compassion is good, but too much passive compassion steps over the line to cowardice. A colleague of mine calls this “idiot compassion”, and it is not real compassion at all. It’s an easy way out, one that brings worse things afterwards. Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence did not mean that people failed to protest what they saw as wrong. Instead, they faced a violent situation without offering violence – even though they were brutally treated. Do we have the courage to do that?
Without courage compassion cannot truly exist.
Posted on | August 16, 2014 | 2 Comments
I realize I’ve not posted here for some time, and there’s a reason. Life is busy, and joyous and active — and sometimes those small delights of life seem almost impossible to “share”. But they are real, even so.
For instance, there’s the delight I feel in greeting 18 month old Zoe at the front door, when she smiles her wonderful smile that says, “I just made it up all this steps, almost on my own!” At such moments I’m too busy giving her a hug to whip out the iPhone. I’m too engaged in the moment to record it, and I’m feeling my joy too much to be able to put anything on hold and note it down. “Catch joy flying” William Blake advised. That’s what I’ve been doing, I guess…..
Posted on | July 30, 2014 | 2 Comments
That’s a term I see a fair amount these days. The way it’s used is that this is something one has to do before one dies — before one “kicks the bucket”.
Yet there’s a sense also that this is a statement says : “I won’t have truly lived unless I have a list of things I completed”. The suggestion is that life is a series of events that have to be ticked off a list because without that it would not be meaningful. Go to Vietnam, check. Did that. Go to China, check. Did that.
But life isn’t like that.
We don’t look at a loved one and say, “Was loved, check. Did that”. We don’t say “Had a beautiful day, check. Did that.” What we tend to say is, “I had a beautiful day and I want to keep having more beautiful days as often as possible as long as I live”. Or we know we are loved and we say, “I am loved, and I wish to keep on being loved and loving others until I croak”. Isn’t that closer to what matters? That’s not a once-off deal.
We do ourselves no favors by looking at the world this way. Let’s stop turning life into a commodity by creating bucket lists.
Posted on | June 24, 2014 | No Comments
I recently took a few days off to be in the countryside – the real countryside; quiet and still, and yet alive with small creatures. I relinquished all usual communication devices and found myself slowing down, noticing more, breathing more deeply, feeling profoundly connected to something more vital than usual.
And yet here I am writing about it in a public forum.
Why is it that we need Nature, love the peace it brings – and yet we seem to be only too eager to return to the daily whirlwind? This is the human dilemma. We love quiet but crave activity. There’s nothing wrong with that (it’s not as though we can easily change it). Yet it’s a question of getting the balance right.
Fair quiet, have I found thee here?
And Innocence, they sister dear?
Mistaken long I sought you then,
In busy companies of men…
That’s Andrew Marvell, praising the garden he loved. He felt the contradiction, too, back in 1660, and yet he was drawn back to politics and the bustle of daily life, inexorably. We need that tension between calm and quiet. The challenge is how we choose to balance them.
Posted on | June 11, 2014 | No Comments
If you’re at a loose end tomorrow, Thursday 12th June at 8pm, tune in to my newest interview with Maureen Holleran. Here’s a link that ought to take you to a gorgeous web-page she’s created:
Posted on | June 5, 2014 | 2 Comments
Tomorrow, in case you haven’t been made aware of it, is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, and of the dreadful carnage that eventually led to the downfall of Hitler. Few veterans survive, but some will be there, at least.
Normally I don’t like to give much space to discussions of war. Yet this is one occasion I must say a word or two, since my own father was injured in WW2 and my father-in-law landed on D-Day and lasted six weeks before he was wounded. All my English relatives suffered from the terrifying effects of German bombings, and an uncle I never met was killed at Arnhem. Both my wife and I grew up in the shadow of traumas carried by our fathers, who felt they had to do what they did – and who so nearly paid the ultimate price. We have been marked by their sadness and trauma, too.
I have complete gratitude for their bravery, sacrifice, and sense of what is right. War may be ghastly and wrong, but leaving a Hitler loose in the world, unchecked, is unthinkable.
War takes several generations to be cleared from any society. We’re not free of it yet because we keep engaging in them. The victims are not just the combatants. That’s worth remembering, too.
Posted on | June 3, 2014 | No Comments
I like old style real bookstores. I like old style junk shops, too.
I know I can buy all that stuff cheaper on line, but I miss the browsing. I miss the chance encounter with something that piques my interest. That’s why I like those guest houses and hotels that have a take-a-book and leave-a-book libraries for their visitors.
When I was writing my doctoral thesis, all those years ago, a chance encounter with a used book in a dusty corner led me to a whole new section of research. It changed my life – without that book I might have given up on the thesis, and so much else.
So yes: I miss not just the old style stores but the moments of synchronicity that they allow. I like the twists of fate that are part of the process.
When we’re busy looking for gold we can sometimes miss the diamonds. Make space in your life for luck.
Posted on | May 15, 2014 | No Comments
Attributed to Abd-er-Rahman III of Spain, 960AD
“I have now reigned about fifty years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to be wanting. In this situation I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot: they amount to fourteen.”
Posted on | April 27, 2014 | No Comments
I’ve been reading some recent books, with interesting results. Me Before You by Jojo Mayes unfolds a fascinating tale of a caregiver who develops an ever-deepening relationship with her quadriplegic charge. It turns out to go deeper than one might think. Next Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children had me turning the pages (which is fun in this young adult novel), but ultimately I found myself saying things like “That idea was taken from… (fill in the name of the famous young adult author)”. I also started reading Wichita, which had good reviews. It seemed rather similar to the young adult novel, though, somehow.
With reluctance I turned back to D.H.Lawrence. I say reluctance because I’d put The Rainbow aside simply because I found it cut too near my nerves, even though I’d read it before. The struggles of the characters to understand themselves and each other are so precisely examined that I would put the book down at the end of each day feeling as if I’d had a layer of skin removed, or perhaps as if I’d been flayed.
Lawrence’s book is nearly 100 years old now, but it still surprises me with its insights. Some books are like a walk through the neighborhood – you notice that the house on the corner is up for sale or that the kebab place has changed hands again. Small, very manageable surprises that you don’t have to break stride to notice. Then there’s Lawrence, who reminds us of the things we’ve preferred not to see, and who shows us things we could never have noticed on our own, but which change our lives.
I’ve nothing against easy-to-read. Yet there’s also a place for books that turn us inside out.
Posted on | April 13, 2014 | No Comments
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